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 6 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 20 minutes. Let it quick release. Stir in can of red beans, and serve. 

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.

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

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

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