Tikka Masala is traditionally a creamy spiced curry chicken dish that is most often served over rice. In order to cut the cost and make it virtually prep-free, I converted it to a vegan dish with lentils instead—same great taste made with a cheaper plant-protein alternative. I love to serve mine over fresh baby spinach and top with tomato if I have some on hand.–Brittany Williams

A white bowl filled with tikka masala lentil, garnished with cilantro, with a wooden spoon resting inside.

Tikka Masala Lentils

5 / 4 votes
These tikka masala lentils, which can be made in your Instant Pot or on the stovetop, are healthy, easy to make, and packed with flavor from the combination of fragrant Indian spices, coconut milk, and tomato paste.
David Leite
Servings4 servings
Calories308 kcal
Prep Time25 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Total Time55 minutes


  • 1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
  • 1/2 medium (about 4 oz) yellow onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup (7 oz) brown lentils
  • 1/2 cup canned full-fat coconut milk, shaken or stirred
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves


  • Preheat an electric pressure cooker using the SAUTÉ function. If using an Instant Pot, adjust the heat to MORE.
  • When the pressure cooker insert is hot, add the oil and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it softens and becomes translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the curry powder, garlic powder, paprika, turmeric, salt, cayenne, cinnamon, cumin, and black pepper and combine. Stir in the water, lentils, coconut milk, tomato paste, and lemon juice.

    ☞ TESTER TIP: Premix your spices in a small bowl that can be added all at once to the pressure cooker.

  • Place the lid on the cooker and make sure the vent is in the SEALING or pressure position. Using the display panel, set to cook at low pressure for 15 minutes.
  • When the cooker beeps, let it naturally release the pressure for 10 minutes. Switch the vent valve from the SEALING to the VENTING or pressure release position. Use caution while the steam escapes.
  • Top with cilantro leaves and serve.


How To Make These Tikka Masala Lentils On The Stovetop

No pressure cooker? No problem! These lentils can easily be made on the stovetop. In a Dutch oven over medium heat, sauté the onion in oil until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the spices and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in the water, lentils, coconut milk, tomato paste, and lemon juice, and bring to a simmer. Cover, adjusting the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are very tender but not mushy, 25 to 35 minutes. If the lentil mixture becomes too dry, stir in up to 1 cup more water.

Adapted From

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 308 kcalCarbohydrates: 39 gProtein: 16 gFat: 10 gSaturated Fat: 6 gMonounsaturated Fat: 1 gTrans Fat: 1 gSodium: 368 mgFiber: 19 gSugar: 2 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2020 Brittany Williams. Photo © 2020 Ghazalle Badiozamani. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Absolutely amazing recipe! I loved making these lentils. A one-pot dish that’s very easy to make and a delicious result. It serves 3 generous portions.

Absolutely smashing. Such a lovely version of tikka masala. I served it in a baked half of a delicata squash with some lamb meatballs on the side. I took the suggestion from the headnote and roasted a few tomatoes to serve on top of the lentils. These lovely, luscious lentils almost melt in your mouth with each glorious bite.

Even though there is some cayenne pepper in the spice mix, it’s a rather gentle overall spiciness, as the coconut milk tempers the heat. If you enjoy tikka masala, you will be very impressed with this take on it.

It’s not a pretty sight, but this is extremely delicious. And practical. And easy. And impressive. AND a wonderful stand-alone or base for a myriad of possibilities! Can you tell? This is definitely to be added to my dependable, repeat arsenal. I loved this dish and am looking forward to making it again-maybe with some creative additions. Wonderful vegan recipes that can include added protein sources are helpful to diverse households.

Being electronically challenged (it’s a miracle I have wi-fi and an iPhone), I pulled out my trusty, enameled cast-iron 4-quart Dutch oven. I followed the directions accordingly and it was just a matter of assembly after that; the addition of spices/seasonings, lentils, and liquids came along in short order. I brought it all to a simmer, covered it tightly, and cooked it until the lentils were tender, but NOT mush. The aromas were heavenly and perfect for a snowy day.

Voila! While not instant, the total simmer time was 35 minutes. The complex flavorings imparted a wonderful, subtle heat that we really enjoy. I served it over a bed of baby spinach, kale, and chard, topped with some lovely tomatoes. A crusty bread would have been a nice addition.

Question: Do we REALLY need to cook food so quickly? And I wonder: are there delicious tempting scents filling the air with quick-cooking methods? If not, that would be a sad thing.

What a delicious main or side dish! Simple and easy to put together; I had all the ingredients in my pantry. The spice mix is the star of this recipe. We had it plain with a broiled piece of cod the first night, and then added some basmati rice to the mix for a vegetarian meal the next night.  Flavors were fantastic!

I have always loved Indian food and this was a great way to get those delicious flavors in an easy to make vegetarian dish. We served this with rice and some homemade garlic naan bread for the perfect dinner. Next time I would double it and freeze leftovers for future quick dinners!

I loved the spice mixture in this too; other tikka masala recipes I’ve tried in the past seem to rely too heavily on curry powder for flavoring. I used green lentils as that’s what I had on hand, it worked perfectly still. I also let it do a natural release for 20 minutes just because I lost track of time, didn’t see any impact as the lentils were tender. I would add some bell peppers in with the onions next time, and throw in some spinach or kale after it was done cooking, just to add some more nutrition, texture, and bulk it up a bit more.

These lentils are comfortingly warm and spicy, hearty enough for a main course with rice or as a side. We loved the level of spice, neither too much nor too little and found ourselves wanting seconds. The onions were soft and translucent in about 5 minutes.

My Instant Pot wasn’t cooperating with respect to natural release of pressure so after about 5 minutes I vented the pot. The results were still rich, creamy lentils that had cooked to perfect tenderness. While delicious as is, the lentils could easily work well with a protein for a non-vegan dish. My taster and I both thought several different options would work such as pieces of chicken or sausage.

I love Indian spices so when I saw this recipe I wanted to make it. As I read through it, I noticed that it was a recipe to be used with an electric pressure cooker which I don’t have but I thought lentils are so quick and easy to cook, this could easily be adapted to a stove top recipe so I did it on the stovetop with some minor variations.

This gets extra credit for ease of preparation as well as for intense, wonderful flavors. While doing prep work, I had mixed all of the spices in a small bowl so that all I had to do was tip the bowl’s contents into the IP. This makes much more sense than measuring and adding all of the ingredients separately.

I have had my IP for years now. I use it at least once or twice a week. In all of the time that I have owned it, I have never used it on the low pressure setting. Instead, every time I have used it as a pressure cooker, it has been on high pressure. I thought, perhaps, this had been a misprint, but I was eager to try something new. I did cook the lentils on the low pressure setting for 15 minutes, after which, I let it have a natural release until the display read LO:10, which only means that it continues to release for 10 minutes. Unless you like watching paint dry, there is no need to watch the display until you see the read out you desire. I just set a timer for 10 minutes, which I started as soon as I heard the 10 beeps that indicate that your cooking time is finished in your IP. As soon as the 10 minutes were up, I went over to my IP, and the readout indeed read LO:10. My pressure cooker button was no longer raised, so I could, at that point, open my IP. My lentils were, indeed, very tender.

The spices in this dish are wonderful. They all work together to make something so much more flavorful than what just a couple of the spices could have done on their own. In fact, the next day, the lentils were even more spicy than they had been on the first day, after just cooking them. This is a dish that I look forward to revisiting often.

Tikka masala lentils are perfect for those long days when you are very tired, but still need to make dinner. With very minimal prep, this is really a “dump it in the Instant Pot” kind of recipe that requires very little effort. We ate these lentils with a bit of store bought naan and a salad and it was a perfect busy day meal. I think that I would double the recipe in the future, but otherwise, we really enjoyed this recipe for it’s quick preparation and tasty finished product.

I made this dish twice in one week. Need I say more? The lentils are perfectly and gently cooked, as if they simmered in a carefully tended pot on the stove. The sauce is creamy, flavorful, and well spiced with a hint of tang. I also love a recipe that relies heavily on pantry items because I don’t have to go to a store if I am craving it.

I served the lentils over rice and garnished with cilantro, and both my husband and toddler loved it.

This is an excellent weeknight meal, quick to make and comforting to eat. The spicy flavor of the lentils works very well with spinach as suggested in the head notes and also over rice. We liked it so much that we fought over the leftovers for lunch. Next time I make it, I will double the recipe.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    This was outstanding – perfect seasoning with a wonderful, balanced flavor. I chose the stovetop method vs using my instapot and it could not have been easier. Next time I may modify by adding a little spinach or kale. Thanks for sharing this recipe – would love to see more Indian cuisine recipes!

    1. Thanks, Tommy! And we’ll definitely continue to add to our Indian repertoire. We’ve got some good ones coming up, so stay tuned.