This quick and easy 30-minute spinach curry is a vegan saag recipe with creamy red lentils that's a reliably tasty and healthy vegan dinner without added oil or coconut milk.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
Quick and easy. This tasty recipe deserves a place in your rotation because it delivers your desired flavor in 30 minutes. I'll be honest; we eat a lot of vegan Indian curry recipes in our house, but none as often as this one. Make a big pot on the weekend, and you have lunch ready in a jiff.
Clean nutrition. This is an excellent example of how wholesome ingredients with just the right flavor profile can make a delicious meal without added oil, full-fat coconut milk, or coconut cream. You'll never miss them - this curry recipe is THAT good!
Simple ingredients. You only need a few ingredients to make this reliably delicious dish. I use homemade garam masala spice blend, but you can buy it too.
Ingredients, Notes, and Substitutions
Red lentils. Quick cooking, packed with protein and iron, comes in low-fat bites with red lentils. The creamy texture and earthy flavor are delightful. And they cook in 15 minutes. Win!
Spinach. Use 8 cups of chopped fresh spinach or skip the chopping and use fresh baby spinach. 10-ounce box of frozen spinach. Thaw and press the excess water from the frozen spinach before using.
Red onion. Red onion is sweeter than yellow onion, although you can make that substitution if you like. Finely diced red onion also makes a nice garnish.
Curry powder. Use a standard curry powder but consider how spicy it is before adding crushed red chili. Curry powder blends often add cayenne pepper or ground chili powders.
Garam masala. Traditional to Indian food, garam masala has a warm spice profile, subtle notes of cloves and cinnamon, and ground coriander and cumin seeds.
Lemon juice and zest. Lemon accentuates the spinach and overall flavor of the curry. Use the zest of ½ the lemon and half the juice (2 tablespoons) to start. Then add more after tasting. If you aren’t using a fresh lemon, use the juice and adjust as you go.
Cilantro. This is an optional ingredient because it can be challenging to find in certain seasons, and some people don't like it. In that case, you can add it as a garnish. If you are a cilantro lover, you can add it with spinach.
Please see the recipe card at the bottom of this post for the complete list of ingredients with measurements plus recipe instructions.
In addition to or if you want to make this recipe without chopped onion, consider adding grated fresh ginger or a few gloves of minced garlic to the curry base.
Add chopped kale, mustard greens, or other greens if you want (or have less spinach. Add the greens-spinach mixture at the end.
You can add a cup of light coconut milk if you want a super-creamy texture. We don't think you need it, but we certainly won't stop you.
Add easy crispy tofu, fewer red lentils, or more vegetable broth for even more protein, and turn this into a vegan palak paneer. Or omit the lentils and add chickpeas for a quick chickpea spinach curry (chana saag).
Add a few tablespoons of tomato paste (tomato puree) or cook diced sweet potatoes with the red lentils for a different take on potato curry (aloo palak).
Instructions and Pro Tips
Step 1: Heat a large pan, soup pot, or Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the curry powder, garam masala, salt, 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, and red chili (if using).
Step 2: Add the broth and red lentils. Stir the bottom of the pot to clear it.
Step 3: Bring the ingredients to a rolling simmer over medium-high heat. Cover the pot and cook the lentils for 15 minutes or until they are tender. Then lower the heat if needed to keep it simmering, not boiling over.
Step 4: To finish, add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and the spinach. If you want chopped cilantro in the dish, stir that in. After that, taste the curry and adjust the seasonings. The spinach takes just a few minutes to wilt.
Timing tip: Consider your spinach first. Frozen spinach should be thawed and pressed, so start thawing before cooking the curry. Otherwise, you can chop fresh spinach as the lentils cook.
Frequently Asked Questions
Store leftover curry in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 5 days. Keep it separate from leftover rice and noodles.
Spinach curry can be frozen for 3 months. You can also freeze curry in portions for easy use when you need a quick meal. Thaw it in the refrigerator before reheating.
Red lentils create a creamy texture as they simmer and break down. They naturally thicken as they cool after cooking. Cooked lentils can be thicker at the bottom of the pot, so stir curry before serving. One of the best ways to thicken curry is to cook it longer. This reduces the water.
Thaw frozen spinach in the refrigerator overnight or rinse it in warm water and set it on the countertop. After thawing the spinach, press the moisture out by placing it in a colander and using the back of a spoon.
More Red Lentils Recipes
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30-Minute Spinach Curry
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- 1 medium red onion - chopped
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- 2 cups red lentils
- 8 cups spinach - chopped
- 1 whole lemon - juice and zest
- 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes - or ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ cup cilantro - chopped (optional)
- Heat a medium pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions, stirring them constantly until they soften (3-4 minutes).
- Stir in the curry powder, garam masala, salt, 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, and a few red chili flakes (if using). Then add the vegetable broth and red lentils.
- Bring the ingredients to a slow boil, then reduce the heat so they are simmering. Cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes until the lentils break down and are tender.
- Mix in the spinach, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and cilantro (if using). Stir the spinach to wilt it.
- Taste and adjust the lemon juice or add more salt, crushed red chili, or black pepper as desired.
- Serve over rice or noodles.
- Use a 10-ounce box of frozen spinach to replace the fresh. Thaw and press the spinach before adding it to the curry. If you forget to thaw it or only have time to run hot water over it, cut the broth back by 1 cup to cook the lentils.
- Add more vegetable broth if the lentils start to dry or the curry is too thick.
- Chopped cilantro is optional. Stir it straight into the pot with the spinach, or use it as a garnish.
- Store curry in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze it for 3 months.
Nutritional information is an estimation only.