Yellow Coconut Curry Red Lentil Soup (Vegan, Gluten Free)

We got an unexpected snap of frost last night and my daffodils have finally gone all crispy-dry from the global weirding. Half of the blooms on my camellia have gone brown as dark bread; the other half are that polished bubble gum pink. I keep eying my blueberry bushes nervously, unsure if the tiny blossoms truly made it through the erratic hot and cold of the last week.

The ever-lengthening days are telling me Spring is here. But the cool air is telling me to head indoors and make another pot of soup!

Soup is a main-stay in my life. It’s my happy place, my go-to, my simple magic. Just fry up some onions and spices, add veg and a protein, stock, lemon juice or vinegar. Keep it as is or blend it up for a buttery smooth concoction. Serve it with bread, with rice, with quinoa, with greens. I always feel golden after a bowl or two.

Soup isn't my whole world. My current everyday cravings also include: mushrooms on toast, pad thai, thai-style green curry, tamari wilted spinach with tahini and seaweed, crispy salmon, sweet potato fries, blueberry pie, good sourdough bread and yellow curry. Oh, and grilled artichokes with fresh aioli.

Clearly I am a savory-over-sweets kind of lady.

But when I went to throw together dinner last night, I happened to have Chitra Agrawal's new book Vibrant India on hand. I spent some time flipping through it yesterday and — although I have yet to do a deep dive on it yet — it’s already inspiring me! I love learning international cuisine techniques and I feel like I’ve learned a lot simply by casually browsing the chapters. Needless to say, I’m excited to devour every page!

Since yellow curry has been on my mind for the last few weeks (ahem, *YEARS*) I decided last night was the perfect time to use up some red lentils, carrots and red peppers. Time to let myself be a soup-lady once again!

The soup I have for you today is inspired by a couple of the techniques I found in the Vibrant India book: frying mustard seeds and using flaked coconut in yellow curry.

Toasted mustard seed gives this soup a particular depth, sweet aroma and richness that I love. And I find using flaked coconut to be a brilliant, cheap work-around to buying canned coconut milk. It’s also traditional to make curry pastes and condiments with fresh flaked coconut, which imparts a freshness and richness to food without heaviness. In the case of this soup, dried flake coconut hydrates in the soup giving it a wonderful coconut aroma and flavor without making the soup overly-rich. It's fresh, tangy, bright and light -- nothing like the heavy, cream-based curries you get in most Indian restaurants.

This one-pot curry red lentil soup is easy, spicy, aromatic, nourishing and cozy. And it's spiced with toasted mustard seed, tamarind, black pepper, lemon and garam masala-style yellow curry powder. 

I am currently using a curry blend from Frontier (ingredients: turmeric, coriander, cumin, lemon peel, black pepper, powdered lemon, cardamom, cinnamon, garlic, cayenne) — a variation on garam masala. This recipe from Epicurious is very similar to the Frontier spice blend.

You can buy garam masala in most super markets these days. If you’re lucky enough to live near a gourmet, international or Indian grocery store, you can probably buy it in bulk quantities. Just be sure to check the heat level on the garam masala you are buying, because some mixes include hot peppers while others are completely mild.

I love eating this red lentil soup with a side of hot basmati rice, topped with freshly chopped cilantro. For the featured photos, I didn't have any herbs to garnish (alas!). In fact, this whole photo shoot and recipe development was impromptu. But it was so good I had to share! Messy imperfect styling and all. Hope you guys enjoy this soup as much as I do! I might even make it again tonight, that’s how much I love it!

Yellow Coconut Curry Red Lentil Soup (Vegan)

Created by Renee on March 24, 2017

A 25 minute soup that’s spicy, aromatic and cozy.

  • Cook Time: 20m
  • Total Time: 20m
  • Serves: 4


  • 4 tablespoons olive oil / neutral cooking oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind powder
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (the very small flakes, not the large chips)
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 4 carrots, sliced thinly into rounds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted yellow curry powder (i used frontier brand madras curry)
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 3 cups water or low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
  • juice 1/2 lemon
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper + more to taste
  • cayenne, to taste (I used 1/8 teaspoon)


  1. Heat oil on medium high heat until shiny. Add 1 mustard seed. When it pops, add the rest of the mustard seeds and the tamarind powder and give it all a quick stir, covering the pot with a lid to keep oil from spattering. Cook for just a few seconds — the mustard seed popping will slow down.
  2. Stir in the the onion and cook until the onion begins to sweat, 2-3 minutes. Then stir in the garlic and coconut flakes, cooking 1 minute more.
  3. Add the red pepper, sliced carrots, curry powder, red lentils, water, peas, juice 1/2 lemon, salt and pepper. Cook for approximately 15 minutes, until the lentils are soft. Taste and add cayenne + more salt and pepper as you like. Serve hot alongside your favorite grain!