This madras lentils recipe is an affordable Indian dish that is packed with protein and full of flavor. So skip the instant pouches, and make your own easy Instant Pot madras lentils at home. You’ll save some money and LOVE the flavor.
What are Madras Lentils?
I haven’t been able to find any information on an actual dish called “madras lentils” in India. The name madras lentils comes from a pre-packaged pouch of instant Indian lentils. Madras is the former name of Chennai, a city on the Bay of Bengal in eastern India.
But there is an Indian dish with the same ingredients, and similar texture, called Dal Makhani.
Dal Makhani is a popular Indian dish made of black lentils, red kidney beans, butter, and cream. The name means “buttery lentils”, although a dal can be any pulse that is split in half.
Dal Makhani is a rich vegetarian dish that can be the main meal, a side dish, or part of a buffet.
What are Foods Called Pulses?
When you hear or read the term pulse in relation to food, they are talking about a category of legume. While the legume family includes any plant that grows in pods, pulses are the dry edible seeds within pods.
Dry peas (think split pea soup), chickpeas, lentils, and beans are all pulses. These different varieties of pulses have actually been protein staples around the world for thousands of years. They are shelf stable, affordable, incredibly nutritious, and so versatile.
That makes pulses an essential part of a well stocked pantry, especially in times like this.
With low amounts of fat, and high amounts fiber and plant based protein, they’re a wonderful way to keep your family full and healthy.
Ideas for Cooking with Pulses
You can use pulses in soups, dips, salads, dairy free cheese, and even bake with them!
I’m such a fan of pules, that I was hired by USA Pulses to create my own recipe for madras lentils to share with you.
While this post is sponsored, I chose to work with them because I love helping people learn how to cook easy and delicious foods on a tight budget. Cooking with pulses is a great way to do that, and you can visit pulses.org for all the tricks and tips you need to prepare pulses.
They even have a new recipe generator tool to make it easier to include pulses in your meals!
Recreating Indian Madras Lentils for the Instant Pot
Because part of the appeal of madras lentils is their convenience, I wanted to make this madras lentils recipe as simple as possible.
By using the Instant Pot, cooking time is greatly reduced, and you can use the sauté setting to get maximum flavor before pressure cooking.
I also decided to use red lentils, which are the softest lentils with the shortest cooking time. This does change the texture of the dish a bit, but saves you cooking time.
How to Cook Madras Lentils
Here’s everything you need to know to make this madras lentils Instant Pot recipe. We’ve got the ingredients, possible substitutions, instructions with step by step photos, nutrition info, and even ideas for what to eat with madras lentils.
Ingredients You Will Need
These are the main ingredients for the madras lentils. This recipe is flavorful enough for adults to enjoy, without being too spicy for children.
- Coconut Oil
- Yellow Onion
- Fresh Garlic
- Fresh Ginger
- Red Chili Powder
- Kosher Salt
- Red Lentils
- Canned Peeled and Crushed Tomatoes
- Water or Broth
- Canned Coconut Milk
- Lime Juice
- Canned Small Red Beans
The next set of ingredients are all optional. You can add diced jalapeño with the onion and garlic in the beginning if you would like a spicy madras lentils dish. I like to use the other ingredients below as toppings, or add ins, after the madras lentils are done cooking.
- Jalapeño (optional)
- Cilantro (optional)
- Red Chili Flakes (optional)
- Diced Tomatoes (optional)
- Flaky Sea Salt (optional)
Coconut or Dairy –
I used coconut oil and coconut milk because we have some dairy allergies in the family. If that’s not an issue for you, or you don’t like coconut, you can swap them for butter (or ghee) and heavy cream.
Fresh Vegetables/Aromatics –
The onion, carrots, garlic, and ginger add a wonderful flavor to this lentil dish. While I recommend going with fresh versions of each of these, you can use refrigerated garlic or ginger pastes, and even minced garlic from a jar if that’s what you have on hand.
Make sure to finely dice your onion, carrots and garlic. This gives them extra surface area to release their flavors in such a short cooking time. A fine dice also helps them better blend into the texture of the madras lentils.
I highly recommend sticking with the cumin, chili powder, and salt. If you want to add in additional spices, try a little smoked paprika or some garam masala.
As I mentioned earlier, this recipe uses red lentils which are the softest, fastest cooking lentils. Madras lentils are typically made with black lentils, but they have a longer cooking time, and are less likely to be found in a typical grocery store.
I have tried this recipe with both brown lentils and green lentils, in addition to the red. I find that the red lentils are my favorite, because I never have to worry about them being undercooked and crunchy. Red lentils also only need a 2-4 minute cook time in the Instant Pot!
The texture of madras lentils made with red lentils is similar to fresh refried beans. But there is additional texture thanks to the diced carrot, and the red beans that are added after cooking.
If you would like to have a little more shape left in your lentils, you can use green or brown lentils with a 15 minute cooking time.
I have also tried cooking up about ½ cup of red lentils on the stove while the madras lentils are cooking in the Instant Pot. I cook them for 6 minutes in boiling water and then strain. That gives me about a cup of firmer red lentils to mix in with the Instant Pot ones.
I have made these madras lentils with both canned tomato sauce, and with crushed tomatoes. I liked the crushed tomatoes a bit better, so went with that for the recipe. You can also do one can of each, if you want a slightly soupier madras lentils recipe.
Water or Broth –
The choice of using water or broth is completely up to you. Every time I’ve made this recipe, I’ve used water. But I know it would also be amazing with vegetable or chicken broth.
You can even use homemade vegetable stock from veggie scraps, or chicken or turkey stock from a carcass. If you want to finish up the can of coconut milk you use the cream from, it may be good to use that as part of your liquid, although I haven’t tried that yet.
You can also increase the amount of liquid by a cup or so if you want more liquid in your madras lentils.
Red Beans –
The canned red beans are the small red beans, NOT kidney beans. That said, you can use kidney beans if you don’t have small red beans. Kidney beans are a bit firmer and not as sweet.
Start by dicing your vegetables and setting your Instant Pot to sauté. Don’t worry about the time it lists, because you will be canceling that when you are done.
Scoop a tablespoon of coconut oil into the Instant Pot and let it melt.
Add your diced onion and carrots (and jalapeño if using), and cook while stirring until the onion is translucent. Then add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute.
Dump in your kosher salt, cumin, and chili powder and stir.
Then add the lentils to the pot and mix it all together. Let this cook for a minute or two, until the spices are fragrant. This toasts your spices a bit, and adds flavor to the lentils themselves.
Now add in ½ cup of coconut milk or cream. I like to scoop the coconut cream from the top of the canned milk for a richer texture.
Now add in the lime juice, tomatoes, and the liquid (water or broth) then stir well.
Put the lid on your Instant Pot and set the vent to Sealing. Press stop/cancel, then press manual and cook on high pressure for 2-4 minutes. I found 4 minutes to be the perfect cook time for me, but you can do less if you don’t want it pureed quite as much.
Once the madras lentils are done cooking, quick release the pressure by carefully turning the steam valve with your hand below it.
Drain and rinse a can of small red beans, then stir them into the lentils.
Add any toppings as desired and serve!
Also, just in case you want some help with dicing your vegetables, I’ve got step by step photos on how I dice mine quickly and easily. Not saying it’s the only way, or the best way, but it works great for me.
How to Dice an Onion
How to Dice a Carrot
What to Eat with Madras Lentils?
Our favorite way to eat madras lentils is as a main dish for meatless Monday dinners. Everyone gets their own bowl with whatever toppings they prefer, and we pass around toasted naan for scooping them up.
Because madras lentils have vegetables, protein, and fiber, we usually just include some fruit for dessert.
I also like mixing them in a bowl with some broccoli slaw and cherry tomato halves for a quick lunch.
If you can’t imagine a meal without meat, try serving madras lentils as a side dish with grilled sausages, burgers, or lamb chops. They’re also a wonderful healthy alternative to baked beans for serving with hot dogs or BBQ chicken, and a yummy side to ham.
Are Madras Lentils Healthy?
Madras lentils are incredibly healthy thanks to the powerful nutrition of pulses, and all the lovely vegetables that become part of the puree.
These madras lentils are also dairy free, gluten free, and vegan (as long as you use water or veggie stock).
Pin to Save Madras Lentils for Later
Don’t lose the recipe! Pin the recipe here and then leave a photo in the comments of the pin once you’ve made it. We love to see your creations!
Share Your Thoughts!
Have you had madras lentils before? Do you have a favorite way to eat lentils? We are always excited for new ways to try them. Let us know in the comments!
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 medium carrots finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 jalapeño, finely chopped (optional)
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
- 2 cups red lentils
- 1/2 cup coconut cream (from can of coconut milk)
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 can crushed tomatoes (make sure it says peeled!)
- 4 cups water or vegetable broth
- 1 can small red beans
- chopped cilantro (optional)
- red chili flakes (optional)
- diced fresh tomatoes (optional)
- flaky sea salt (optional)
- Heat your Instant Pot on the saute setting, then scoop a tablespoon of coconut oil into the Instant Pot and let it melt.
- Add your diced onion and carrots (and jalapeño if using), and cook while stirring until the onion is translucent. Then add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute.
- Dump in your kosher salt, cumin, and chili powder and stir.
- Then add the lentils to the pot and mix it all together. Let this cook for a minute or two, until the spices are fragrant.
- Now add in ½ cup of coconut milk or cream. I like to scoop the coconut cream from the top of the canned milk for a richer texture.
- Now add in the lime juice, tomatoes, and the liquid (water or broth) then stir well.
- Put the lid on your Instant Pot and set the vent to Sealing. Press stop/cancel, then press manual and cook on high pressure for 2-4 minutes. I found 4 minutes to be the perfect cook time for me, but you can do less if you don’t want it pureed quite as much.
- Once the madras lentils are done cooking, quick release the pressure by carefully turning the steam valve with your hand below it.
- Drain and rinse a can of small red beans, then stir them into the lentils.
- Add any toppings as desired and serve!
- Our favorite way to eat madras lentils is as a main dish for meatless Monday dinners. Everyone gets their own bowl with whatever toppings they prefer, and we pass around toasted naan for scooping them up.
- I have tried this recipe with both brown lentils and green lentils, in addition to the red. I find that the red lentils are my favorite, because I never have to worry about them being undercooked and crunchy. Red lentils also only need a 2-4 minute cook time in the Instant Pot! If you would like to have a little more shape left in your lentils, you can use green or brown lentils with a 15 minute cooking time.
- If you only have red lentils but want some firmer lentils in there, put ½ cup of red lentils in a pot on the stove and add water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 6 minutes. Strain in a colander and gently mix into your madras lentils when they finish cooking.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 252Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 789mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 9gSugar: 17gProtein: 10g
Nutrition information is an estimate only.