Curried Red Lentil, Kale and Sweet Potato Soup

Prior to making this soup, I didn’t think much of “lite” coconut milk. Our server at Pizzetta 211 said it best (though I have no idea how we got on the topic, as nothing in our meal was vaguely coconutty). “Lite coconut milk is a scam,” she declared, when you can simply buy full-fat coconut milk, dilute it with an equal amount of water, and voilà: two cans of “lite” coconut milk for the price of one. I couldn’t have agreed more. (And I feel the same way about “lite” beer: that it is rather like making love in a canoe.)

But I’ve made this soup with both light and full-fat coconut milks, and though this is potentially the first time I’ve ever said this in my life, I prefer the lighter version, which makes a brothier soup that lets the spices come through. (Light coconut milk actually contains one quarter of the fat of the regular stuff, so if that is all you have, you could try adding a quarter of the can and making up the rest with more water.)

This recipe was inspired by a couple of beautiful posts from around the web: a red lentil and garbanzo bean soup from Scaling Back (recipe adapted from an Ayurvedic dal recipe in The Esalen Cookbook by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks), and a curried sweet potato soup from Love and Lemons. I put the two together, added some kale, and swirled in some plain yogurt.

Then I made it five more times. We can’t seem to get enough.

The soup creates its own fragrant broth with the help of spices, tomato paste, and the aforementioned coconut milk. The red lentils, which cook more quickly than other varieties, break down into a creamy puree after a brief simmer. Cubes of sweet potato hold their shape, and kale adds some welcome form and texture.

As for the flavors, curry powder, ginger, garlic and chile give it a warmth reminiscent of kitcheree, the spiced Indian rice and mung bean stew. The flavors are complex, but in a friendly, straightforward way that makes me unafraid to serve it to anyone and everyone. The lentils, sweet potatoes, kale, coconut milk and warm spices all lend a delicate sweetness that contrasts beautifully with tangy yogurt and perky cilantro. If you think lentils are boring, an invigorating bowl of this soup will cure you of that notion.

This soup is stupid healthy, inexpensive, quick to prepare and to cook, and it keeps brilliantly. It makes a nourishing one-bowl-meal for lunch or dinner. Feel free to use any variety of kale or other greens. If you ever come across crinkly Bloomsdale spinach, it is lovely when added to the soup at the end of the cooking time and allowed to wilt briefly. I think it would be nice with with a scoop of cooked millet, rice or quinoa, too.

I may have reconsidered my stance on light coconut milk, but I’m pretty sure there’s no hope for light beer.

Mental for lentils:

French Lentil and Spinach Soup
Lentil Walnut Pâté
Lentil Soup with Chestnuts and Fennel

One year ago:

Blood Orange Upside-Down Cake

Two years ago:

Chocolate Bouchon Cakes with Black Pepper Ice Cream

Three years ago:

Cardamom Plum Jam Crumble Squares

Curried Red Lentil, Kale and Sweet Potato Soup

This soup keeps very well in the refrigerator for up to a week, though the kale and cilantro will lose their verdant color. If you like, blanch the kale separately in a pot of lightly salted boiling water until bright green and crisp-tender, drain it, and run it under cool water to stop the cooking. Drain and store it separately in the fridge, and add it, with the cilantro, as you heat batches of soup (pictured here). This will keep it green and retain its texture. If you’re sensitive to heat, you can leave the jalapeño out altogether. For a vegan option, omit the yogurt and finish the soup with a squeeze of lemon. As I mention above, you can probably substitute half a cup of regular coconut milk plus 1 1/2 cups of water for the light coconut milk if that’s what you’ve got.

6 moderate main course-sized servings

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1/2 a jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, minced
2 teaspoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt (more as needed)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
5 cups water
1 (13.5 ounce) can light coconut milk
1 cup split red lentils
1 medium sweet potato (8-10 ounces), peeled, diced 1/4-1/2″
1 bunch kale
3-4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
whole milk yogurt, for serving

Melt the oil in a large soup pot. When it shimmers, add the onion. Cook over medium heat until tender, about 10 minutes, adding the jalapeño, ginger, garlic, curry powder and salt as you prepare them, and stirring occasionally. Add the tomato paste, and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until a film forms on the bottom of the pan. Add the water, coconut milk, lentils, and sweet potato, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until the sweet potato is tender and the lentils are soft and partially broken down, about half an hour.

Meanwhile, slice the kale off the stems. Discard the stems and tear the leaves into 1-2″ pieces. Wash well, drain, and add to the pot when the soup is done. Simmer until the kale is wilted, tender and bright green, another 5 minutes or so. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro.

Ladle the soup into bowls, and top with a dollop of yogurt.

The soup keeps very well in the fridge for up to 5 days. It will continue to thicken, so thin it with water, coconut milk, or vegetable stock if needed.

38 thoughts on “Curried Red Lentil, Kale and Sweet Potato Soup”

  1. Glory Osky this looks good! I'm totally going to try it just as soon as I can. Where do you find ingredients like Bloomsdale spinach? I never heard of it but I'll ask over at Whole Foods. Thank you for such wonderful soups! :)

    1. Hi Mom,
      I bet you could find bloomsdale spinach at a farmer's market. It's so good! It's very sweet, holds its shape better than regular spinach, and doesn't have that tannic thing going on that makes my teeth feel fuzzy. And it has a pleasant, crinkly texture.

      What is Osky? Urban Dictionary says: OutSide KittY, a worker cat who lives outside defending the area from invading mice and other small creatures. :)
      Love you!

    2. Gloryosky, Zero! Was one of my family's sayings, too–came from an old cartoon, I believe. I still say it. Don't look up Osky, look up Gloriosky! OR Gloryoskee! One of those should get you there, if they have some sort of slang dictionary from the older generations. My parents, who said that, would be in their nineties now, if they had lived, so it is from maybe the thirties or forties…

  2. This sounds so delicious! I am one of those people who loves eating kale barely steamed and still bitter and delicious, so it took me a while to branch out from that. But one of my favorite new ways to prepare it is to simmer/stir fry it up with some coconut milk and garlic. Bringing sweet potatoes and curry spices into the mix would be awesome!

    You're also kind of selling me on this lite coconut milk. Or should I say selling me on the idea of keeping in mind that there may actually be some instances where the "lite" characteristics are ideal for what you're trying to create. It's funny when things like that happen — it's something that you almost don't want to be true. Kind of an "ugh, well, I thought you were dumb and pointless and that's what I've been telling everyone, but maybe you're ok sometimes…I GUESS" situation. (:

    1. Ha – totally! I've certainly felt that way about certain people in my life before..
      Your coconut kale stir-fry sounds amazing and simple. I'll have to try that sometime! Thanks for the sweet comment, Carey. :)

    2. This is a family favorite now…..the only change I made was to mix in some purple sweet potatoes. We love the added color!

      Thanks so much

  3. Hi,

    Fell for the click on foodgawker before I visited your space. This soup looks amazing and very hearty. its a meal in itself. With a piece of bread or a cup of quinoa, I am so done! I always used to buy Lite coconut milk as its a flavour enhanceer it itself> Add it to any gravies or indian curries and it makes it creamy and enhances the flavour and makes it silky smooth. Add a 1/4 cup when you cook basmati rice and it makes it white and rich in itself!


  4. This soup looks like just the thing for the crappy grey weather we've been having lately… that colour is just so cheery and bright.
    I've made soup with red lentils and sweet potatoes before, but it's always been pureed. Love the idea of making a chunkier version like this one!

    1. This is indeed a great antidote for crummy weather, both color and flavor-wise. So sorry you're in the thick of it.
      As I made this last time, I was thinking it would be nice pureed, too. Maybe next time. :)

  5. Hi, I just made this tonight. It was amazing. Thank you for the recipe. I switched out the yogurt for tofuiti sour cream and made it vegan. Perfect soup!

    1. Hi Oana,
      Hm, that's a drag – I'm sorry that happened. I've made this recipe 6 times, and have yet to see the coconut milk curdle. My only suggestion would be to let the mixture cool a bit before adding it, to be safe, then heat it gently and don't let it boil. Good luck, and let me know if this helps!

  6. I was immediately excited when the recipe first popped into my email but had to wait a week before I could make it. I made it last night–didn't have jalapeno so used another hot pepper instead. Don't do that and this recipe is Fantastic. (it came out a little too spicy hot which i was able to slightly dilute by adding more water to the pot). Other than that, FANTASTIC. I didn't do the yogurt part to keep it dairy free. Looking forward to my leftovers for lunch today. Thanks for an incredibly yummy and easy recipe. Note, is it just me, or are sweet potatoes, kale and other greens the theme of this winter?

    1. Hi Mini,
      I agree – I can't get enough sweet potatoes and greens this winter, and I seem to be in good company! I'm SO glad you like the soup (and were able to rescue it from being too spicy – we've all been there). Thanks for the note! Happy cooking. :)

  7. I made this soup at work today and everyone loved it. I will be making it again, regularly. I have been loving everything kale lately!

    Funny – Last week I saw one of your beautiful photo of the soup on Tumblr and paused to look at it. Then, a couple of days later stumbled on it again when I searched for a matcha/cocoa nib cookie recipe. I'm happy to follow you on Facebook now. Thanks.


  8. I had no kale or cilantro but I tossed in some fresh basil I had on hand instead and it was marvelous. I also had only green lentils and served it over basmati rice. I was so surprised at the flavor. It was incredibly pungent. I also added more salt than called for, but I was raised in the South so I tend to have saltier tastes. I've seen so many vegetarian curry recipes that included lentils and I never thought they would be so flavorful. Thanks for this wonderful recipe. I am now a fan!

    1. Hi Sher! Your modifications sound delicious – the basil and rice seem like it would give the dish a Thai sort of twist. Yum! I'm so glad you liked it. Thanks a bunch for commenting.

  9. Wow! I made this tonight and it was AMAZING! Truly restaurant quality. I made two changes: I left out the jalapeno because I don't like hot food – the curry powder gave it enough heat for me. I also used regular coconut milk because that's what I had on hand. I liked it this way and don't think I would use the light stuff. Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly. I will be making this again and again! Thank you!

  10. This soup is delicious! I made it for dinner tonight and it blew me away. All of the ingredients contrasted so well together. I like food super flavorful so upped the curry to 4 teaspoons and only used 4 cups of water. I also added turmeric and a large tomato. I was in the mood for butternut squash instead and also used a small yam on hand. I guess I changed it a bit but I do that to all the recipes I make hehe. Served with basmati rice. The cilantro on top completed the soup. Yum! Making this throughout the Fall. Thanks for sharing your recipe!

    1. I love playing around with recipes, too! Your variations sound spot-on – thanks for sharing them. Love the idea of using butternut in place of the sweet potatoes. Yum!

  11. My husband and I just finished two bowls of this – each! – and it is now one of our favourite soups. Thank you! I made a couple of substitutions: yam for the sweet potato and red chill flakes for the jalapeño (so I could control the heat a bit better). Turned out amazing!

  12. I made this last night and it was awesome. I loved the flavors of the coconut milk, the curry and ginger. The sweet potatoes gave it a nice texture and a touch of sweet goodness. I loved everything about this soup. I had it this morning for breakfast with fresh gluten free flatbread. Yum. Thank you so much. It's my favorite soup.

  13. I made this for dinner tonight with a scotch bonnet pepper (just one, seeds included), boniato potato and radish greens. It was so good! My uncle, who eats like a bird, asked for seconds. Thanks so much!

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