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 128 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.

Ingredients
  • 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)
Instructions
  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.

Notes

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.

Serves
6
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!

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Comments

Two of my favorite things, lentils and curry. I can't wait to try it. Thanks for sharing.

Laura

yum yum yum! making this for dinner tonight. will likely have some leftovers--anyone know if this freezes ok?

Amy

Super delicious! I made this recipe yesterday... thanks!

twinsgarden

Lentils are my favorite legume! In Greece we usually eat the green or brown ones cooked in an entirely different way than the Indian. I've never tried red ones. I must.. soon! Magda

my little expat kitchen

We eat some form of lentils at every meal, being Indians and vegetarians, and I am always trying to find another new way of cooking our innumerable lentils. I made your soup today and it was simply awesome!

kp

I made this today -- it was absolutely delish! Did not have green onions so I subbed leeks. I made a double batch and the consistency was pretty thick -- perfect over a brown rice/wild rice blend. Its 10pm and I can't wait to have leftovers tomorrow!

Leah@befullwell.com

After sunny and 60* yesterday in Minnesota, today we're back to a wintry mix at 30*. Typical Minnesota March. We made your soup in response to the chilly weather and loved it. We made a little garlic naan on the side for dipping - fantastic! Thanks :)

Liz

My husband made this recipe this week. ohmygod, it is SO good. I am eating a bowl right now over jasmine rice and I am a happy girl. Thanks for the wonderful recipe and for writing your excellent blog.

Cathy Curtis

I made this last night and it was indeed good, but it seemed to be missing something that I often find in Indian food. Maybe it was the heat of spicyness? Does anyone have any ideas of what to add to this?

Amy

Heidi, once again a recipe that I just had to make. I had most of the ingredients, I had green split peas so I used those. Delicious!!!! I think the only change I would make next time is to bump up the vegetables by adding one more carrot. Thanks again for the healthy meal ideas!!!

Debbie

Omigoodness, Heidi! This is an AMAZING soup! I made it tonight for two hungry men and they loved it. The combination of flavors is simply arresting. Every spoonful is packed full of character and depth. Mmm... I can still taste it. Warmed us all up on this cold evening. Thanks for this, and ALL your recipes! I cook from your site at LEAST once a week :).

Lauren Z

We loved this recipe in our house . What's more, it was easy to make, sophisticated and healthy, and 4 out of 5 in the family loved it (that's impressive for us). I'm a relative newbee to your blog but find many of your recipes appeal to my sense of taste and style. Thank you!

Amy S.

Amazing, Heidi your food looks so delicious. I recently made a challenge to myself to cut the crud out of my diet and it starts with one month of eating only recipes from your site. My questions is how do I store some of the prepared foods? I made the 4 servings of the nutty cinnamon Quinoa and heat one up each morning, that worked well. Saving and reheating this soup is also easy.... tonight I plan to make the grilled zucchini Quinoa and am not sure if I should just cut the recipe into quarters or if it will save in batches to eat throughout the week.... thoughts? Thank you!!

Robin

Whew...I don't know if perhaps my curry powder was a little hotter than most have used but I probably could've used 1 tbsp instead of 2. I love spicy food but I can barely eat this soup--I way over-curried :( That said: The raisins are a brilliant addition and I added 1 cup of frozen corn towards the end because I was out of split yellow peas and the texture is good. Going to add a bit of yogurt and see if that cools the fire! :)

@lynneux

Hi, I stumbled upon your blog doing a google search for vegetarian recipes. Your food photography is absolutely beautiful and inspiring...and the concept of your blog is great! Cracking open one of the hundreds of cookbooks sitting on my shelves is something I've been meaning to do forever and NOW I have a reason to do it...Thanks for the motivation! :)

Melissa

SO easy and delicious! I had to use pureed carrot (I had used all the whole carrots for baby food yesterday), but it still tasted great. My 10-month old gobbled it up and waved his hands and feet for more! I did end up simmering this for quite some time - close to 90 minutes. The house smelled amazing and the texture was perfect.

Sarah

I made this the other night and it was a hit with the ENTIRE family (which is a shock!). I did not have tomatoe paste, exchanged green onions for chopped yellow onions, regular raisins, and no Curry but added a Turkish spice mix (garsala?). This is a definite keeper!

Molly

My mom makes a variation on this soup in which she slowly sautes tons of onions with curry powder and butter and then adds them to the cooking red lentils. It's so hearty and satisfying, but I can't wait to try your gussied-up version!

small kitch cara

I made this last night and found it to be very tasty but a bit mild for the mood I was in, so I added some leftover salsa verde w/chipotle ... admittedly a strange cross-cultural violation of the sort I normally wouldn't commit, but to my surprise the flavors complimented one another, and the added heat was a "plus." I served over brown rice as recommended. Yum!

Dean E.

Soups on now! Smells divine.

Carol

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