This cozy and flavorful meal may be the perfect vegan comfort food.
With rich, spiced red lentils over oven-crisped potatoes, it’s crispy, creamy, spicy, savory, and super easy to throw together.
🍲 About this recipe
A few years ago, when I was visiting one of my brothers in Chicago, we stopped into a neighborhood restaurant for a late dinner.
I can’t remember the name of the place, and I think it has since closed, but I’ve never been able to forget the meal: red lentil curry over french fries. Such a simple combination, and so, so delicious.
While the exact spice profile of that dish has faded from memory, I’ve played with the elements that I remembered until I landed on this recipe. It may not be exactly like the original, but the balance of sweet and savory with soft and crispy makes it incredibly satisfying.
And if you use frozen french fries, it’s an easy weeknight dinner.
Then again, you could also take a little bit more time and use any fried or roasted potatoes you fancy.
Me, I plan to try the lentils over tater tots, latkes, and whatever other potato variations I can dream up.
If you are interested in more comfort food recipes, check out my Next-Level Vegan Chili or Butter Beans with Tomatoes and Mustard Greens. And for more lentil recipes, Red Lentil Soup or Lentils and Roasted Tomatoes are a few of my favorites.
As one of the quickest dried legumes to prepare, red lentils are a standby in my house. They are nutritious, delicious, and have a wonderfully soft and creamy texture.
For this recipe, be sure to choose split red lentils. In their dried form, they will look like small, reddish-orange disks. If you substitute other varieties of lentils, the cooking instructions in this recipe will not be correct, and you will get very different results.
Any savory, crispy potatoes will work in this recipe, but to make it super easy, I like to use frozen french fries.
I just toss the steak-cut fries into the oven at the same time I add the lentils and broth to the pot on the stove. This way, I don’t have to fuss over timing things correctly, because everything is ready at about the same time.
You can mix it up though, using fried or roasted potatoes, or even preparing them in an air-fryer.
Onion and garlic
Onion and garlic serve in their usual role in this dish, forming the savory foundation for the lentils.
I like to use a white or yellow onion for purely aesthetic reasons; red onions will work just fine, but their brilliant red-violet pigment can make the color of the finished lentils a bit dingier.
Soy sauce, tomato paste, and maple syrup
These three ingredients may seem incongruous, but they play together surprisingly well, contributing a balance of sweet, salty, and umami notes.
You could substitute Bragg’s aminos or tamari for the soy sauce, and a bit of sugar for the maple syrup, but I would not recommend swapping another ingredient for the tomato paste.
Cumin seeds, turmeric, coriander, smoked paprika, bay leaf, and an optional spike of cayenne pepper lend fragrant, smoky-sweet elements to this dish. If you don’t have all of the spices, you could substitute a spice blend that contains these main ingredients. For example, many commercially available curry powders could work, in a pinch.
Preheat the oven according to the directions for your french fries.
In a large pot or deep pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and stir for a minute or two, or until they start to sizzle and pop.
Add the rest of the ground spices and stir until they are blended into the oil.
Stir in the onions until they are coated in the spice mixture. Saute for about 8 minutes, or until the onions are translucent.
Add the tomato paste and the garlic, stirring to combine everything well and to allow the tomato paste to begin to darken a bit in color.
Add the water or broth, the lentils, and the bay leaf. Increase the heat to bring it to a boil, then reduce to a lively simmer. Continue simmering, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.
Spread the potatoes on a baking sheet and place them in the oven. Prepare them according to the instructions on the package. The brand that I use takes about 20 minutes to bake.
The lentils are done cooking when they are very soft. When they are soft enough that they fall apart when you stir them vigorously, add the maple syrup and soy sauce. Taste to see if you want to add any salt or pepper.
Serve each portion by placing the fries on a plate, then topping with the lentils and any optional garnishes just before you are ready to serve them.
🧰 What you’ll need
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Part of what makes this recipe such a great option for an easy weeknight meal is the minimal list of equipment:
- A knife
- A cutting board
- A dutch oven or other large pot
- A sheet pan, if you are preparing the french fries in the oven