A Frugal Recipe: Curried Lentil Risotto


In keeping with Frugal Bento Month, this inexpensive yet delicious spicy vegan recipe, which could be a main protein or a combined protein/carb in a bento, is a guest post by Sarah of Get Cooking, where she blogs about her adventures in eclectic home cooking in New York.

When I studied in France on my own during college, I had to re-learn how to cook (and shop!) for one. I didn't have much fridge or freezer space so anything I bought fresh had to be used immediately or it was wasted. For the most part, I lived out of my pantry with the help of my host-mother's amazing spice rack.

One night, a group of students decided to have a little dinner party. The only thing I had at home that I could stretch for five people was a large can of lentils. My host-mother had recently shared with me her recipe for curry risotto, which I'll eventually get around to transcribing, and I had curry on the brain. I substituted the lentils for the rice and that night my curried lentil "risotto" was born. My friends loved it and it has been a pet recipe of mine for the last several years. I've been tweaking it ever since.

When I got back to the States, I found dried lentils much easier to find than canned. (Note that both canned and dried are easy to find in French supermarkets.) Dried lentils actually work a bit better in this recipe, so I'm kind of glad I can't get the canned, wet variety. With dried lentils, however, you need to over-season them a bit because it takes a lot for the flavors of the curry to come through the dense lentil taste. Like rice, dried lentils also soak up a lot of liquid. If you are using dried lentils and would like to use this as part of a bento, definitely make it the night before as I find this recipe far too involved to handle in the morning. Canned lentils will probably cook a bit faster, but it still takes time to get the flavors to peak so unless you really like cooking in the morning, plan this for dinner and save some extra for the next day's lunch.

For packing in a bento, I would cook the lentils down a bit longer to create a thicker pastier consistency (as shown in the photo above). If you are planning to eat it over a light starch such as plain white or brown rice, or couscous, you might make it a bit soupy (as in the photo below) so that the starch can soak up the juices.


Recipe: Curried Lentil "Risotto"

Makes 4-6 Servings

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 2 Tbs. vegetarian bouillon/powder (I use Osem Chicken Consomme powder which is vegan)
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 1-2 tsp. yellow curry powder (or some mixture of coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, fennel, cloves, mustard seeds)
  • 1-2 tsp. of garam masala (a spice mix made of cloves, allspice, cinnamon, black pepper, available at Indian/South Asian grocery stores as well as many supermarkets)
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds or ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • salt to taste (bouillon may have already contributed a bit)
  • handful or two of raisins

Coat the inside of a tall-sided stainless steel soup pot with the olive oil, and bring to a medium heat. Add the lentils. Stir with a wooden spoon to coat with olive oil and allow to roast for a minute.


Pour in 2 cups of water and all of the spices. Gently stir lentils immediately to make sure none have stuck to the bottom of the pot.


Add all of the seasonings except for salt.

Stir gently and constantly. When the lentils begin to dry, add another cup of water. Stir, repeat as necessary, until lentils are soft and fully cooked.

Taste to make sure lentils are cooked and to check the saltiness. If they need more salt, now is a good time to add it. If there is still a lot of liquid but the lentils are cooked, you can serve as is or continue to cook and stir to allow the excess liquid to evaporate.


Remove from heat. Add the raisins.

Serve with couscous, rice, a tofu vegetable stir-fry or alongside non-vegetarian proteins such as chicken, pork, lamb or shrimp (see my pineapple shrimp recipe as shown above). As with most curry-based dishes, the flavors becomes more pronounced over time, making these lentils a perfect side dish in both warm and cold bentos.

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Re: A Frugal Recipe: Curried Lentil Risotto

The lentil dish looks scrumptious, and the shrimp and okra look delicious as well. Thanks for sharing these recipes!

Re: A Frugal Recipe: Curried Lentil Risotto

This would go really well with seitan also.

Re: A Frugal Recipe: Curried Lentil Risotto

That okra looks delicious. Can you elaborate on it? Steamed, sauteed?

Re: A Frugal Recipe: Curried Lentil Risotto

If you click on the link to the Pineapple Shrimp recipe at the bottom of this post, it should direct you to how we prepared the okra *^_^* Hope you all enjoy the lentils and more of our recipes!

Re: A Frugal Recipe: Curried Lentil Risotto

Lentils and curry goes so well together. I can't wait to try this! Check out a potato salad recipe I just posted in my blog. I think it will go well in a bento.

Re: A Frugal Recipe: Curried Lentil Risotto

This is a very creative way to cook lentils. I cooked this for todays bentou and had a few spoons yesterday evening: DELICIOUS

Soak the lentils?

If using dried lentils, is it necessary to soak them first, or should one just extend the cooking time?

Re: Soak the lentils?

Lentils don't need to be presoaked, unlike other dried beans, which makes them very convenient!

Re: A Frugal Recipe: Curried Lentil Risotto

Find more Lentil Risotto in my recipe blog search:

Re: A Frugal Recipe: Curried Lentil Risotto

I've been looking at these photos forever trying to figure out what looked so good about them. You've adjusted their color. Thank you! I never realized to do it for my photos, but I have a terrible yellow light in my kitchen that really gives everything a bad tone. I'm going to be adjusting them a bit from now on to try to get closer-to-life colors. Thanks!

Re: A Frugal Recipe: Curried Lentil Risotto

Yum, this looks like a great recipe! I've never roasted lentils in the pan like that before (although, I do that often with rice dishes...) Will try it the next time I make lentils, Thanks for sharing!

This was SO tasty!

I made some the other night, but I omitted the bouillon and cinnamon (I didn't have any, it on the list now) and it was most tasty! I took some for lunch the next day, and I had some today with the miso-marinated pork, tamagoyaki, and onigiri. When I popped the top on the box at lunchtime today, my coworkers were impressed with the rice balls with furikake on top and the sliced omelet roll.
Thanks for the recipes, Maki!

Delicious with stir-fried vegetables!

This is a simple yet fantastic recipe. I cooked it this evening using one clove of fresh crushed garlic (as I had no garlic powder) and I omitted the ginger (as I did not have this either) but the result was still marvellous.

I had some courgettes, peppers and tofu spare so I chopped into sticks and stir-fried, I let the lentils go a little dryer than normal and put the two together.

Slightly unusual but fantastic and left me wanting more. This will definitely be added to my regular dishes. Thanks for the recipe!

Re: A Frugal Recipe: Curried Lentil Risotto

Can you make this with red lentils instead of green? I have an overflow of them!

Re: A Frugal Recipe: Curried Lentil Risotto

You cannot believe how long ive been googling for something like this. Through 5 pages of Google results without finding anything. First page of bing. There you are. Really have to start using it more often!

Re: A Frugal Recipe: Curried Lentil Risotto

I wonder...would this freeze well?

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