Coconut Red Lentil Soup (Esalen Ayurvedic Dal)

A vibrant red lentil soup (or stew) that is always hugely popular. A friend turned me onto this Ayurvedic dal recipe from the Esalen Cookbook years ago. Red lentil based, curry-spiced coconut broth with back notes of ginger and tomato, with slivered green onions, and a finish of cilantro or kale.

Coconut Red Lentil Soup (Esalen Ayurvedic Dal)

Let's talk through the story of my favorite red lentil soup. Years ago, two of my neighbors hosted a soup party. It was an inspiring affair - big pots of simmering soups and stews, house full of chatty, friendly people. Part of what I liked was the simple premise. The hosts (David & Holly) made a number of soups, guests were asked to arrive with their drink of choice and one thing to share - salad, appetizer, or something sweet.
Coconut Red Lentil Soup in a Bowl

The Inspiration:

One of the vegetarian soups that night was a beautiful shade of yellow-orange. It was a light-bodied, curry-spiced coconut broth thickened with cooked red lentils and structured with yellow split peas. It appeared to be a beautiful take on lentil soup. When I asked Holly to tell me about it, she mentioned it was based on an Ayurvedic dal recipe in the Esalen Cookbook, a favorite of hers. I suspect that recipe might have been inspired by the Bengali-style cholar dal where you see chana dal punctuated with raisins in many preparations.
Ingredients for Soup on a Marble Counter

Holly happened to have an extra copy of the Esalen book, and sent me home with my belly full, a new cookbook tucked under my arm, and a few suggestions related to the soup. I still make this soup regularly, love it (so much!), and thought it might be fun to revisit it today in video form - enjoy! I've also included some notes related to adapting this soup to the Instant Pot.


What Makes this so Special?

The method used to bring this soup together caught my attention. While your lentils are boiling, you saute lots of scallions in butter (or ghee, coconut oil, or olive oil) in another pan. Add to those scallions a fat dollop of thick tomato paste along with plenty of toasted spices and you're on your way. This flavor bomb is what you stir into the lentil base. Golden raisins plump up with curry broth. There are beautiful back notes of ginger, and depth from that tomato paste. It all comes together in one amazing bowl of restorative, lentil soup goodness. To be honest, I consider the raisins optional and make this often without - or sometimes I swap in some chopped dates.
Red Lentil Soup

Topping Ideas:

I've cooked this soup countless times over the years and tend to finish it with what I have on hand. The original recipe has you go big on cilantro. But you can see in these photos I sometimes pile it high with extra scallions and freshly-baked kale chips. Other ideas:

  • finish with a few big handfuls of finely shredded green cabbage
  • stir in a few big handfuls of chopped kale
  • fry 30-40 fresh curry leaves in a few tablespoons of oil adding some chile flakes (or torn chiles), mustard seeds and cumin seeds in the last 15 seconds or so. Pour generously over each bowl
  • finish with deeply roasted tomatoes and omit the raisins

Coconut Red Lentil Soup in a Bowl

A Variation

There was one variation that I noted after cooking this because it stuck out to me as particularly delicious. I was out of scallions and ginger but still wanted to make something along these lines. Instead I used a strong paste made of chopped garlic and serrano peppers - probably a 50/50 blend. I added a few tablespoons of the mixture in place of the scallions in the recipe. The end result was feisty, strong and really wonderful.

I hope you enjoy this as much as we have over the last decade or so! Here's where you can find all the soup recipes, if you want to explore more. And there are lots of lentil recipes in the archives as well.

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Coconut Red Lentil Soup (Esalen Ayurvedic Dal)

4.33 from 131 votes

See the photo in the main entry if you aren't sure what type of lentils and split peas to buy. For those of you who are curious, I used the Terre Exotique Madras Curry Powder I picked up in Paris - it looks like it is available here now too (I think I've come across it on Amazon's grocery section). Vegans - you can easily make this vegan by using coconut or olive oil in place of the butter called for.

  • 1 cup / 7 oz / 200g yellow split peas
  • 1 cup / 7 oz / 200g red split lentils (masoor dal)
  • 7 cups / 1.6 liters water
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh peeled and minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons butter, ghee, olive oil or coconut oil
  • 8 green onions or scallions, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons golden raisins (optional)
  • 1/3 cup / 80 ml tomato paste
  • 1 14- ounce can coconut milk (or less)
  • 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, plus more to taste
  • one small handful chopped cilantro (and/or lots of kale chips)
  1. Give the split peas and lentils a good rinse - until they no longer put off murky water. Place them in an extra-large soup pot, cover with the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the carrot and 1/4 of the ginger. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the split peas are soft.
  2. In the meantime, in a small dry skillet or saucepan over low heat, toast the curry powder until it is quite fragrant. Be careful though, you don't want to burn the curry powder, just toast it a bit. Set aside. Place the butter in a pan over medium heat, add half of the green onions, the remaining ginger, and raisins (if using). Saute for two minutes stirring constantly, then add the tomato paste and saute for another minute or two more.

  3. Add the toasted curry powder to the tomato paste mixture, mix well, and then add this to the simmering soup along with a splash of coconut milk and salt. Add more coconut milk if you want it creamier.

  4. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or so. The texture should thicken up, but you can play around with the consistency by adding more water (or coconut milk), a bit at a time, if you like. You can keep it more brothy and soup or stew-like, or simmer longer for a thicker consistency - more like many of the dals I've had. The thicker this gets, the more I like it, and it's extra great the day or two after cooking.

  5. Sprinkle each bowl generously with cilantro (or lots of kale chips) and the remaining green onions.


Instant Pot variation: For Instant Pot users, one of you (thanks Andrea!) just wrote to me and said this soup works great in the IP: saute the spice, onions, tomato paste, ginger, and raisins. Add the lentils, split, peas, ginger, carrot and water and cook on high pressure for 15 minutes with a natural release. Then, I add the coconut milk.

This recipe has been adapted over the years from the 2006 edition of the Esalen Cookbook. The version you see here (along with relevent notes) is how I tend to make it circa 2023.

Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
35 mins
Total Time
45 mins
If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

Post Your Comment


To Hillary, Legumes take different times to cook based on how dry they are when you start. Some brands have been stored for a long time, so they have had time to dry out. You could try another source; one with lots of turnover. Also, at altitude, legumes take longer to cook since water boils at a lower temp if you are up high. A pressure cooker helps with this. hope this helps


I always cook with brown lentil and am very excitedf about this dish with red lentils...I will try it this weekend!


Lovely Soup.. Looks perfect n delicious.. :)

Hari Chandana

Oh, this soup looks absolutely fantastic. I've been stalking your website for awhile now, but unfortunately I'm a freshman in college living in the dorms (Needless to say, dorm food is a far, far cry from natural cooking). I spend so much time daydreaming of all the recipes of yours I'll make when I get an apartment next year! Thanks for the inspiration. Luckily, I'm making a visit home tomorrow, with access to a kitchen :) This soup will definitely be a product of a weekend well-spent!


Ok, so: Creamy, coconut-y curry broth = Win Lovely sweet raisins to offset a savoury dish = Win Hit of freshness from fresh ginger & herbs = Win All this WIN plus the big jar of red lentils in my pantry I've run out of ideas for means I am SO making this for dinner tonight! :) Question for Heidi: The one ingredient I lack is split peas. To save a trip to the grocery do you think I could sub in a cup or so of frozen corn kernels towards the end of cooking for some texture? What do you think?


I have a really hard time cooking split peas until they are soft. I follow the recipe to a T, but still after 30 minutes, the split peas are still quite hard and dense. I've cooked split peas for 2 hours before, and they still are hard. Does anyone have any suggestions or tips? (I have a Le Creuset dutch oven, so my pot is definitely retaining heat!) Thanks! (BTW, thanks, Heidi for all the great recipes!)


I made this last night. It's the best lentil soup I've ever made. Heidi, you rock!


I see coconut and I shudder...I see coconut milk and I swoon! Great soup. Now, you must quit recommending cookbooks :) I just got Good to the Grain and the first thing I did was make the Kasha Pudding...........very nice. Next are the Figgy Scones. Thank you again!


The kale salad from the Esalen cookbook is incredible, you'll be blown away by it. I recently made it on Jane Spice.


I just made this for dinner and ended up burning the roof of my mouth because I could not wait for it to cool down before I had a spoon! It is so very worth the burn. Absolutely yummy. I cooked the lentils in the pressure cooker to save time - for about 15 mins - and followed all other directions per recipe. I am already looking forward to a tasty lunch tomorrow.


In Southern parts of India, an everyday staple in most homes goes like this: prepare seasoning in ghee/clarified butter or oil, a bit of mustard seeds, cumin, dried red chillis (can be substituted with paprika), crushed garlic or asafoetida and a sprig of curry leaves. You need to get your seasoning right here. The mustard needs to pop while cumin should brown a bit before you throw in some chopped onions and grated ginger, saute till onions turn transparent and pour this over the cooked and mushy lentils and finish off with fresh coriander leaves garnish. That's a basic South Indian dal recipe. You can take add chopped greens, especially spinach, amaranth leaves or fenugreek leaves work very well. There are innumerable combinations that go with split pigeon peas and the above basic seasoning. Bottle gourd, ridge gourd, tomato, lemon cucumber and pumpkin to name a few.


Really good the first day, but absolutely awesome the next day. It's thicker the second day, making it what I would call a Thai-inspired vegetarian chili. I made it with French lentils, substituted ground ginger for fresh, and used McCormick's Hot Madras Curry Powder, which was fine for me, but too spicy for the kids. I'll go with a milder curry powder next time. A real keeper. Thanks Heidi!


What a fun party idea and this soup sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing!!


This sounds delicious, and I have everything it calls for (minus the split peas, but that's easy to pick up), BUT! I have a deep and abiding hatred for cooked raisins in anything. Any ideas for a substitute? I could always omit them, I realize, but I thought I'd see if you had any ideas for something that would be compatible with the rest of the flavors in the soup.


I made this for dinner last night, unfortunately without golden raisins which I thought I had but didn't. I also couldn't find yellow split peas at my local grocery store (wah!) so I used yellow lentils instead. Anyway it still came out really delicious! We thought it could have used even a little more kick, but maybe I should have toasted the curry powder longer...? But thanks for the recipe! :)


Yes, time to wave goodbye to all our favorite winter foods - I'm a little sad! But the sun that's finally out here in Boston is cheering me up :-) The addition of raisins to this soup is something I wouldn't have thought of - love it!

Michelle @ Find Your Balance

Heidi, this soup is delicious. I happened to have all these ingredients at home yesterday. So, I prepared the soup. It came out exactly like the picture. Thank you fo sharing.


Love this recipe! Made it for dinner but substituted raisins for chorizo - couldn't resist using it up. Lovely recipe. We'll make this one, again.


I just made this soup for dinner and it is amazing! YUM!


this look incredible and I'm excited to try this out! I was wondering, other than a hunk of crusty bread, what would you serve alongside this? I know that it is hearty enough to be a one-bowl gig, but i like sides to round out meals. would love your thoughts!


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