Spicy Red Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk and Spinach

Christopher Kimball

Milk Street

“Located on the southwestern coast of India, Goa is known for its use of chiles, spices, coconut, and bright acid (an influence from Portuguese colonization). Split red lentils cook in minutes, making this a quick weeknight meal. Coriander, fennel, and turmeric captured contribute complex spicing without requiring half the spice cabinet. Chile spice is tempered by coconut milk, and a shot of lime juice cut through the legume’s starch. Early and late additions of fresh ginger added welcome brightness and kept flavors vibrant; a wand-style grater was best for grating. If you can’t find ground fennel, grind fennel seeds in a mortar and pestle or a clean spice grinder. Both virgin and refined coconut oil worked, as did yellow and brown mustard seeds.

Don’t substitute brown or green lentils for the split red lentils in this dish. Red lentils break down as they cook, thickening the cooking liquid, and providing the ideal texture for this hearty soup. Other lentil varieties remain intact even when fully cooked.” —Christopher Kimball in his 2018 Beard Award–nominated Milk Street: The New Home Cooking


  • 1 onion, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut or peanut oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated ginger, divided
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • One 14-ouce can coconut milk
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 6 ounces baby spinach (about 6 cups), roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • Unsweetened coconut flakes, to garnish 
  • Chopped tomato, to garnish 


In a large saucepan, combine the onion, oil, garlic, and 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt. Set the pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened and are just beginning to color, 7 to 9 minutes. Stir in 2 teaspoons of ginger, the mustard seeds, turmeric, coriander, fennel, and pepper flakes and cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add 3 1/2 cups water, coconut milk, and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook the soup until the lentils have broken down, 30 to 40 minutes.

Stir in the spinach and return the soup to a simmer. Remove the soup from the heat, add the remaining 1 teaspoon ginger and the lime juice, and season with kosher salt to taste. Serve, garnished with coconut flaked and tomato, if using.


Adapted from Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street: The New Home Cooking (Little, Brown and Company 2017). Get more from Milk Street.


4 to 6 servings