Red lentil Thai chili

Sometimes I get bored of cooking. Actually, I often get bored of cooking. The idea of cooking one of the same five meals I have in rotation makes me just uuuugh and the idea of finding a new recipe and trudging to the store like a jerk to get all the stuff for it sounds terrible. In times of first-world crises like these, I turn to the Google doc I keep of various recipes to try. They’re all recipes I got excited about at one point, whether they seemed easy to make or insanely complicated to make (see Double Rainbow Coconut Cupcakes) or whether I just stumbled on them somewhere and they sounded delicious.

When I went to the list to try and find something, I realized that I’ve been fretting about graduate school too much to even update the list properly. It was mostly full of desserts. But near the bottom, I found a recipe I dug up online ages ago that I’d felt too intimidated to make. . . UNTIL NOW. It was a recipe from Post Punk Kitchen that modified a recipe in Clean Eating for Red Lentil Thai Chili. I’d avoided it for so long because of the Thai red curry paste and the coconut milk — both things I’m not used to and thus terrifying. BUT NO LONGER.

The chili sounded like a tasty, spicy alternative to mix up your usual chili, and included some of my favorite things, like sweet potatoes, cilantro, and chili powder. The recipe also used a lot of canned things, which appeals to my lazy side. By the time I actually gotten round to making this recipe, I’d learned from my travels that Thai red curry paste is nothing to be afraid of — it’s super common and easy to find. Low-fat coconut milk, not so much. Apparently the makers of coconut milk want to keep that shit as high in fat as possible. I avoided a near disaster in Whole Foods where I almost bought the kind of coconut milk you put in your cereal, rather than the kind used in Thai food, just to find something low-fat.

At the suggestion of one of the commenters, I decided to cook the chili in my crock pot, rather than over the stove. I peeled and diced the potatoes, cut up garlic, and sliced the red pepper (leaving out the onion, of course). I sautéed the garlic and the pepper, then threw them and the sweet potatoes into the crock pot with the vegetable broth, lentils (I didn’t actually have red lentils, so I used green instead), and all the spices. It felt strange to be sautéing things at noon.

According to the mystery commenter, I was supposed to cook everything on low for about six hours, then add the cilantro and coconut milk and cook for another half-hour-ish. The problem was:


My crock pot was completely full. It hadn’t even occurred to me to measure this out and make sure it would actually fit. The actual, non-crock-pot recipe called for cooking the ingredients in a very specific order. I’d already poured them all in together, so there was no going back. I turned the crock pot on low, and hoped the stuff would maybe cook down a little bit, enough to add almost two cups of coconut milk.

It didn’t. Six hours later, the crock pot was, if anything, even more full than it had been when I started. I decided I’d ladle it out into my biggest pot. I had no idea how many cups my biggest pot could actually hold, so I just went for it.


To my amazement, it actually fucking worked, coconut milk and all. I let the soup simmer for another half an hour, until the coconut milk was heated all the way through.

I added a squeeze of lime, some salt and pepper, and a little extra cilantro on top. Mine doesn’t look as chili-like as the soup in the photo — the coconut milk thinned the broth out quite a bit. I was worried it would taste watery, but hot damn it was flavorful. I thought all the different spices and the coconut milk might make this a sort of flavor clusterfuck, but it was delicious. The lentils didn’t seem to be quite fully cooked — they hadn’t gotten as soft as I wanted. Next time, I’d cook this on high for an hour and then cook it on low for a few more hours. And cut it by a third. In order to get the more chili-like texture, I could always make it like the recipe actually suggests. But in the end, the reheated leftovers thickened up well. Following recipes is for squares.

Jill Kolongowski is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. When she’s not cooking, running, or reading, she sometimes blogs at Follow her on Twitter at @jillkolongowski.

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