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Madras Lentils

Have you seen the yellow Tasty Bite pouches of ready-to-eat Madras Lentils? They are often sold at Costco. Anything convenient and yummy is a tempting purchase, and those lentils are even pretty healthy!

What might contribute to how yummy they are is that they have oil, butter, and cream, along with the nutritious lentils, tomatoes, and ginger. I wanted to create a make-at-home version that would inevitably be cheaper (those pouches are $3 apiece, and are fairly small) and would be just as flavorful without the extra fat and dairy.

If you have an Instant Pot or Crock Pot, this meal is extremely easy! Just chop up an onion, red pepper and garlic,  and you’re over halfway there.

As if cheap and easy isn’t enough, this dish is bursting with nutrition. Lentils and beans are high in iron, and the vitamin C in the tomato sauce and red bell pepper helps increase the absorption of iron. Did you know there is 3 times more vitamin C in a red bell pepper than in an orange? (Those orange juice companies…making us think oranges have a monopoly on vit. C!)

Getting iron from plant sources (non-heme iron) has also been correlated with a lower risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. Several studies have linked heme iron with an increased likelihood of developing diabetes (you can see a couple of examples here and here).  Just one more reason to get your iron from sources like lentils and greens instead of red meat.

I’ve made several test batches of this recipe, and my 1-year-old daughter has been the most enthusiastic taste-tester! I hope your kids love it as much as she does.

You can use any kind of lentils you have on hand. I’ve even used red lentils, which are mushier than brown ones, and it was super delicious, almost more creamy.

If you make this recipe, please let me know how it turns out by coming back to leave a rating and comment!

4.84 from 31 votes
Madras Lentils (Instant Pot, WFPB, Vegan)
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
25 mins
Total Time
35 mins

Delicious lentils in a flavorful (but not spicy) sauce. Quick to make in an Instant Pot, slow-cooker, or on the stove. 

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: indian, instant pot, lentils, madras
Servings: 6 servings
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp grated ginger root
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 14-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup lentils, uncooked
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika (regular paprika won't be as good--splurge and buy smoked!)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • optional for more Indian flavor: 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 can small red beans
  • chopped cilantro for garnish
  • optional: rice or naan for serving
Instant Pot Directions:
  1. Set Instant Pot to Saute setting for 6 minutes. Saute onion, bell pepper, garlic, ginger, and spices until onions are fragrant and starting to get soft. 

  2. Add tomato sauce, vegetable broth, and lentils. Set Instant Pot to High Pressure for 18 minutes for red lentils, 23 minutes for brown lentils. Let it quick release or naturally release, whatever you have time for. Stir in can of red beans, and serve with cilantro and rice.

Slow Cooker Directions:
  1. Combine all ingredients in the crock pot, and let cook on HIGH for 2.5-3 hours, or on LOW for 6-8 hours, or until lentils are tender. 

Stove top Directions:
  1. Saute onions, bell pepper, and ginger in a splash of water on high for 5-10 minutes, until onions are soft. Add garlic and spices and cook 2 minutes more. 

  2. Add remaining ingredients, and bring to a simmer. Let cook, covered, at a slow simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring and adding more water or vegetable broth, if necessary, to prevent the bottom from burning. Cook until lentils are tender. 


Nutrition Facts for 1/6 of the recipe: 222 calories, 1.2 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 634 mg sodium, 41 g carbs, 8.3 g fiber, 13.9 g protein, 73% vitamin C, 21% iron, 27% vitamin A. 

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  1. I was so glad to see Instant Pot directions because I’ve only made beans in it. Now I know how to use the Saute feature. The recipe is a winner. The whole family liked it. I made it tonight for the first time, and we even had guests. They, too, commented several times how good it was. I forgot the cilantro, which would have made it even better. We put chopped avocado on ours.

    1. That is so good to hear! I am glad you were brave enough to try my recipe for the first time with guests!

      1. Hi Crystal, dried beans take about 30 minutes in a instant pot, so they might not cook completely. I always soak my beans first and then cook them for at least 30 minutes, but since red beans are pretty small, it might work. It would be great to avoid more canned food. I’ll try it next time and let you know!

  2. I made these tonight and the whole family gobbled them up!! They were so tasty!! Thank you!

  3. Super easy, super delicious. Next time I will add some add’l ginger & some heat, like red pepper flakes or chilies.

      1. Just made this for dinner tonight and immediately felt compelled to write a review. My very first review ever! (Not kidding) I have been attempting to help ease my family into the WFPB way of life for a couple years now. It’s always been difficult finding family friendly recipes and even posts on Pinterest. Then I stumbled across this recipe today and after reading reviews, I had to give it a shot. So fast forward a couple hours, one small grocery bill, and five “Yumms” later….I am one happy Mom with 3 happy kids. This was literally the first vegan meal my middle child has ever eaten and enjoyed! He literally request it again. This is my “chicken nuggets and fries, please” son. I was so excited I also made the Pineapple Dole Whip and Homemade granola bars from your blog as well. All 3 were hits! My oldest said “What a night of great food!” That’s a first for sure. So thank you…you have given me hope and inspiration on this journey of health for my family. I truly feel like we can make this change and still have yummy and delicious food in our lives.

        1. You just made my week Casandra! I want so bad to help people enjoy healthy food, so it is very rewarding to hear that your children liked it. Thank you so much for taking the time to tell me, it is very encouraging for me to keep at it!

  4. What are small red beans? Are they kidney beans?

    Also what is the tomato sauce referring to? Is it passata or is it a tin of chopped tomatoes?

    Thank you 🙂

    1. You can use kidney beans, but there are also cans literally labeled “small red beans.” Any bean will be fine. 🙂
      The tomato sauce is a can labeled Tomato Sauce, it’s pureed tomatoes, not chopped. Passata would also work, but I’ve never seen passata for sale before! We must have very different grocery stores, haha! Enjoy!

      1. How can something so simple be so tasty? I had some kidney beans to use up so I replaced the canned red beans. I also didn’t have canned tomatoes so I used concentrated tomato paste with some extra broth. Fabulous! Tastes like a richer, more complex version of the pouch stuff.

  5. I found this recipe by searching for a copycat of those Madras lentils. I’m so glad I found your recipe. It was delicious! I used ginger powder since I didn’t have ginger root and didn’t have a bell pepper on hand. I also added a few Indian spices during the sauté mode to give it a little more Indian flavor. My husband, baby girl, and I loved it. Definitely a keeper!

    1. Aw, makes me so happy! There’s nothing better than when everyone (including the baby!) likes a recipe.

  6. Wow, Faith, this recipe is so good! It’s my first time using my Instant Pot and I wasn’t too confident I’d succeed. But your directions were so clear and it actually turned out just right. This recipe is delicious. Your spice combination is perfect and very flavorful. I’m passing this on to my family today. Thank you for sharing such easy and healthy recipes. I love reading your blog!

    1. Aw thanks so much Rebecca! It made me so happy to see your name on a comment. So glad you liked it and had a positive first time Instant Pot experience!

    1. Dry lentils. I’ve never used canned ones before, so that clarification didn’t even cross my mind. However, the beans are from a can. Thank you for the question so I can clarify the recipe. 🙂

  7. Excuse me while I eat these straight from my pressure cooker. They are absolutely delicious! I omitted the chili powder because my kids seem to have a sixth sense for any kind of heat. They haven’t tried it yet, but I’m positive it will be a hit with them, too! (If not, more for me and I can’t express how much I love these.) Thanks for such a great recipe!

    1. Haha, you’re excused! Can’t say I don’t eat these straight from my pressure cooker, too. Thanks so much for the feedback!

  8. Quick question on the Madras Lentil recipe… which method of cooking tastes the best I. Your opinion. I have time to make any of them. Thank you!

    1. I think they all taste about the same, but the slow-cooker method might have deeper flavor with the longer cooking time. Let me know what you think!

  9. This was such a hit! My whole family loved it and asked me to make it again. I added Garam Marsala and cut the ginger in half due to personal preferences. Sooooo good. This is the first of one of your recipes I tried and I can’t wait to check out the rest.

  10. I love Indian food and agree the packages are expensive. $4 average grocery. I have started shopping monthly at an Indian grocery and the packages are $2 there with multiple brands and many selections

  11. I really like this recipe, but my only issue is that the lentils were still a bit firm. I think next time I may let it slow release and see if it makes a difference.

    1. Uh oh, I’m so sorry! That’s really frustrating when you’ve already let the instant pot release and they’re not done. Some letils do seem harder (older?) than others, I’ve had this issue before. Slow release, or a few more minutes of cooking, is a great idea.

  12. Super easy and yummy! Based on your comments about red vs brown lentils, I did half cup of each to get a creamy texture while still having whole lentils. Worked great! Next time I may reduce red lentils to 1/3. Also brown lentils werent quite cooked so will add some cook time or slow release for a few minutes.

    1. THIS comment is to thank you for your CLEAN and easy-to-navigate website and recipes! No annoying pop-up ads or videos!!! Easy to follow directions. Alternative cooking instructions. I browsed quite a bit because of this! BRAVO!

      1. Haha, thank you! I agree, it’s hard to focus on a recipe these days with all the unrelated videos popping up on every food blog!

  13. I plan on making this on Sunday (I will come back and review) but wanted to ask – what lentils did you use for this recipe? (I want my meal to have the consistency like in your pictures) Thanks!

      1. I forgot to come back and rate it (sorry) it was just as good as it looks! I added the garam masala and smoked paprika as recommended – it really does add to the flavour profile! I used kidney beans as we don’t have the small red beans here and green lentils, both which worked fine.

        I making it again on Sunday (so excited!) I finally found Brown lentils (YAY) so I will be using those and still having trouble finding red beans that ship to where I live so I was thinking maybe using Adzuki beans, just to see what it would be like with a smaller bean rather than kidney.

        Definitely recommended this recipe!

      2. I forgot to come back and rate it (sorry) it was just as good as it looks! I added the garam masala and smoked paprika as recommended – it really does add to the flavour profile! I used kidney beans as we don’t have the small red beans here and green lentils, both which worked fine.

        I making it again on Sunday (so excited!) I finally found Brown lentils (YAY) so I will be using those and still having trouble finding red beans that ship to where I live so I was thinking maybe using Adzuki beans, just to see what it would be like with a smaller bean rather than kidney.

        Definitely recommended this recipe!

    1. I haven’t, but I’ve frozen lentil meals before and it works well. I think it would freeze great!

  14. My husband loves the packets of Madras Lentils from Costco. He took one bite of this last week and set aside the packet. ‘Nuf said.

  15. Loved this – delicious! I definitely used the garam masala, also added a cup of chopped spinach at the end for extra veggie power. Will be a regular staple!

  16. I often crave those Tastybite packages of these lentils, but with prices increasing everywhere I looked for a more affordable option and happened on your recipe. These were DELICIOUS!!! I recently bought garam masala for the first time because we are cooking at home a lot more and love Indian food. It took this dish next level. So so good, thank you for sharing this one. It is a keeper!

    1. My son made your Madras Lentils for our dinner tonight. First of all it smelled amazing while he was cooking it. He said that when he started sautéing the vegetables in the pressure cooker it really boosted his mood! It came out so beautifully. He served it with jasmine rice, garlic naan and garnished it with cilantro. It was absolutely delicious!!! I immediately sent it to my married daughter and she texted back’ YUM!! I have regularly bought the Tasty Bites Madras Lentils from Costco but now we can make your recipe anytime. I don’t have to wait for them to go on sale. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!

      1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Nothing like a good meal and good smells to boost your mood. Better price and better ingredients than the store bought pouches! Way to go!

  17. I will be trying this soon. I see it makes servings. How much are the servings? 1/2c? 1c? I just want to make sure I make enough for everyone 🙂

  18. I was looking for a Costco madras lentils copycat recipe and fortuitously ran into your website!
    This recipe was so delicious! And I loved the extra bonus of being able to use instant pot!
    I cut the recipe in half since I was only cooking for two— worked great. (Same cooking time and just threw the whole can of beans in since I didn’t want to save half a can!)

  19. Thanks for creating this recipe!
    I followed the recipe to a T today, my first time. I know that the addition of acidity lengthens lentil cooking time, and can toughen beans, and I think the tomato sauce did that. I cooked it in the slow cooker for 5 hours, often on high. Next time I’ll cook lentils in the broth and make the curried tomato sauce and put them together once the lentils are fully cooked. I also think I’ll decrease chili powder and increase the Madras curry powder I have at home.
    Either way, it was very yummy.

    1. Thanks Margaret! Lentils do vary in cooking time quite a bit based on how old the lentils are, too. Great tips.

      1. The flavor profile is amazing. I used the instant pot method. I wouldn’t recommend the slow release method. The lentils were mashed. So tasty, I don’t care. Next time though I won’t slow release.

  20. Very tasty. I didn’t have red beans so I added red lentils. It wasn’t as saucy, but still delicious and very easy to make. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I’ve never tried canned lentils, but I don’t see why not! Just don’t add the water since the canned lentils won’t be absorbing any.

  21. I made these last night. They were so good that when I opened the fridge this morning and saw the leftovers, I immediately got excited to eat lunch.

    I doubled the recipe to have extra for freezing. With only dry red beans that hadn’t been soaked, I put them in the instant pot for 12 minutes while I prepped everything else. I also added 1/2 can of coconut milk to make them a bit creamier.

  22. This is wonderful! I’ve made it several times. Even my husband loves this (and he doesn’t love eating vegan)! I follow the recipe (and didn’t add the optional garam masala). It’s perfect the way it is! I use French green lentils which are great because they don’t turn to mush. Thank you!

  23. Hi! So excited try this, as we loved the “yellow packets” in the past. I cooked the small red beans last night. In this recipe, are you referring to the chili powder type of mixed spice made to use in chili, or the straight ground peppers? I am not usually so picky about following a recipe, but am looking forward to this tasting similar to the old favorite! Thanks!

  24. Nope on the stovetop version. Waited over an hour for lentils to get soft only to learn with some quick googling that attempting to cook them in acid and salt without pressure forcing the moisture in was doomed from the start. Cook lentils in water first.

    1. Good to know! I almost always cook mine in the Instant Pot, so I’ll make note of this in the recipe. Thank you!

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