Spice, Spice Baby: Red Lentil Patties with Spicy Tomato Jam

Red Lentil Cakes with Tomato Jam

The past few months, I’ve been trying to make healthy changes in my life.  Nothing too drastic – I’ve cut back on coffee, eat lots more fruits and vegetables, scaled back my portion sizes, started taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and exercise more regularly in general. Small changes, but they add up… I’ve lost a few pounds, and I feel a lot stronger and healthier than I did just a couple of months ago.

I’ve also been challenging myself to eat more meat-free meals – not because I don’t like meat (quite the contrary, in fact), but because I felt like my meals were slipping into a meat-and-two-veg rut.

Meat’s easy, even if you’re not feeling inspired.  Just cook up a hunk of animal, add a couple of vegetables and something starchy, and voila… a balanced meal emerges.  Except it’s also kind of boring, especially if it’s the third time that week.

Vegetarian dishes, on the other hand, always feel more interesting to me.  I suppose it’s because I’m forced to fight my instinctive urge to thaw out a pork chop and call it a day, or maybe because the base ingredients like beans, legumes and tofu need to be spruced up since they’re rather uninteresting in and of themselves.  Regardless of the reasons, though, I’m rather pleased with the way my little experiment has been going so far.

Red Lentil Cakes with Tomato Jam

Take these lentil patties, for example.  I dreamed them up for the Recipe Revelations recipe contest sponsored by Canadian Lentils, and they’ve become an instant favourite.

Aside from being absolutely delicious, they’re also incredibly healthy. Red lentils are naturally full of fiber and iron, both of which I often don’t get enough of in my day-to-day diet, along with a healthy dose of lean protein. As far as meat alternatives go, they’re actually better in many ways than the real deal.

The idea behind these patties was to combine the texture of Middle Eastern falafels with the flavour of an Indian lentil dal, and I think I succeeded rather admirably. Eaten straight out of the pan, they’re delicately crunchy and golden-brown on the outside, tender on the inside, and with an earthy, slightly nutty lentil flavour accented with golden brown onion and Indian spices.

Spicy Tomato Jam

It’s the spicy brick-red tomato jam that seals the deal, though. Like a traditional Indian chutney, it adds a bright sweet-and-sour counterpoint to the earthiness of the lentils, while echoing the Indian spicing with a pungent blend of cumin, mustard seed and chili flakes.

Since it’s made with canned tomatoes, this jam can be made pretty much year-round, though I’d suggest swapping out for 1 lb of fresh Romas once fresh tomato season rolls around. You’ll likely have some leftovers, since the recipe makes a little over 2 cups of jam, but I think you’ll find it makes a rather stellar substitute for ketchup (it’s particularly kickass with oven-baked sweet potato fries dusted with a little garam masala).  In fact, you may never go back to ketchup again.

Red Lentil Cakes with Tomato Jam

As a combination, the patties and tomato jam are surprisingly versatile.  I originally intended them to be served up together as an appetizer or small tapas/mezze style plate, but they’re also substantial enough to double up as a tasty meatless main – just pair them up with a simple green salad for a quick lunch, or pop them in a soft bun with a generous slathering of jam for an Indian-inspired take on vegetarian burgers.

Whether you’re vegetarian, flexitarian or meatarian, I think you owe it to yourself to try these out at least once. What have you got to lose, besides that boring ol’ predictable meat-and-two-veg routine?  As far as small changes go, this one is pretty darned delicious.


5.0 from 4 reviews
Red Lentil Patties with Spicy Tomato Jam
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
These dense lentil patties are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and generously spiced throughout - especially when topped with a dollop of brick-red spicy tomato jam.
Serves: 6
Tomato Jam
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • ½ tsp mustard seed
  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 can (796 ml / 28 oz) plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
Red Lentil Patties
  • 1½ cups red lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
  • Canola oil (for frying)
Tomato Jam:
  1. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium-low heat, saute garlic, shallot and ginger in oil for 2-3 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the mustard seeds and continue cooking for 2 minutes, or until fragrant.
  2. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring the jam to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, uncovered, for 45-60 minutes or until the jam is thickened and glossy, stirring occasionally to keep the jam from burning. (Note: Canned tomatoes can vary quite a bit in terms of liquid content, so use the texture of the jam as your guide - if it's still very runny after an hour, continue cooking until thickens up to the consistency of bottled ketchup)
  3. Let cool, then spoon into jars and refrigerate until ready to use (or for up to 2 weeks).
Red Lentil Patties:
  1. In a large saucepan, bring the lentils and water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the lentils are very soft. Drain the lentils well.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large heavy-bottomed skillet, saute the onion in olive oil for 5-7 minutes, or until onion is soft and golden-brown. Add garlic, cumin seed and garam masala, and continue cooking for 2 minutes or until garlic is soft and spices are fragrant. Remove from heat.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked lentils, sauteed onions, eggs, flour, salt, pepper and cilantro.
  4. In a large heavy-bottomed skillet, heat 2 tbsp canola oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, use a ¼ cup measure to drop batter into the hot oil and flatten out into ¾" thick patties using a spatula. Fry the patties for 5 minutes per side or until golden-brown and crisp, adding more oil to the pan as necessary. (The patties are a little fragile, so be gentle when turning them over to ensure they stay in one piece.)
  5. Serve warm or at room temperature, accompanied by spicy tomato jam.




  1. says

    I’m curious to know if these really hold up as well as they look in the photo. I would think that they would be rather difficult to keep in the shape of a patty in the pan. I wonder if the recipe would work if it was made more like falafel. Curious to know if you can soak the lentils and then put them in the food processor and then form them into patties to cook. If anyone has tried, I’d love to know how it turned out!

    • Isabelle Boucher says

      I try to test out most recipes on the blog at least three times, and I found that the patties held their shape every time as long as I was gentle when turning them over – though the same could be said of most pan-fried patties, like latkes and crab cakes. They’re actually pretty sturdy once they’re cooked.
      That said, I have seen similar recipes that do use the soak-and-grind method you’re describing (here’s one from Bon Appetit), so it would potentially work. The finished patties would have a very different texture from what you see in the close-up shot of my patties, though, with a fairly smooth texture instead of the nubbly one that comes from using whole cooked lentils.
      As a side note, what you see in my photos is always the real finished product that came out of my kitchen. Unlike with McDonald’s ads, what you see is what you get, because I don’t believe in making my food look like something it’s not. In fact, the plate in the shots is usually my lunch or dinner as soon as the photos are done! :) (I do admit to using Photoshop to remove stray cat hairs, but I like to think most people don’t have two cats who shed as much as ours do.)

  2. says

    I tried to make something very similar the other day with added veggies! it turned out delicious. I love the tomato jam/chutney- gonna have to try that out soon :)

  3. Sunny says

    I just made these with my little daughters. We modified the recipe because we had to use what we had on hand. So unfortunately no cilantro, but luckily we had some fresh sweet red bell peppers, some red onion an green onions from our herb garden. We didn’t have most of the things in the ketchup list, so we just mixed ketchup with thick black cherry jam and added a bunch of crushed red pepper flakes. It tasted awesome with the patties. Thanks for the great recipe!!! We r on a budget so I am always trying to improvise with “what we have”!! The girls videotaped themselves for most of the prep work on these, and they r happy the lentils will “make their hair grow”!!

  4. says

    Hi There,
    These were delish! LOVE the tomato Jam. Do you have the nutritional info on your site?

    • Isabelle says

      Glad you enjoyed these, Rachel! I don’t currently calculate the nutritional info for my recipes, but there are a few sites out there that have free recipe nutrition calculators so you can get the info for yourself.
      That said, I can tell you offhand that red lentils are packed with fiber, protein and iron, while tomatoes are a good source of vitamins A, C and various antioxidants … so even though the patties are pan-fried in olive oil, they’re still great for you!

  5. Karen says

    I simply can’t thank you enough for sharing this recipe – this came out sensationally and it is a rare find keeper for me. Mine didn’t look as pretty as your photo but wow did they ever taste good. Just a point to note the patty part of the recipe doesn’t list garlic in the ingredients but in the method it is mentioned, I used 2 cloves crushed – it was delightful – thanks again.

  6. Asiya says

    Looks great…can’t wait to try! My mom makes something called Waday/Vaday which is a deep friend lentil donut..lentils anyway are great :)

  7. Grubarazzi (@Grubarazzi) says

    Very cool recipe. I just bought a big bag of red lentils and looking for recipes to use them in. This one is a winner.

  8. Beth Michelle says

    These lentil patties look wonderful. But, that spicy tomato jam has me!!! That stuff looks insane! YUM

  9. Suzanne says

    These veggie patties look really tasty, I like the tomato jam too, I too get tired of the same ole meat..2 veggie etc. I’m pinning this to try in the near future. Congrats on the top 9!

  10. Natasha says

    These are awesome, I didn’t have garam marsala but I made them anyway and the Tomato Jam made up for the missing marsala, absolutely delicious! I love finding meat-less recipes, as I’m trying to have at least 1 or 2 meat-free days a week :)
    Thank you!!

    • Isabelle says

      Since the garam masala is one of the primary spices, the patties would be a little on the bland side without it. I’d suggest either making your own, assuming you have the basic spices on hand (Sommer at a Spicy Perspective has a great homemade garam masala recipe you can use as a starting point), or you can try using curry powder instead (which will give you a different flavour, but should still be quite tasty).

  11. says

    This looks absolutely wonderful. I stopped by for the patty recipe but the jam has my mouth watering too. I’ve been eating more vegetarian too, lately. Maybe it’s the coming spring and knowing that soon there will be so many fresh and exciting vegetables in the market. There’s definitely something clean about going veg.

  12. says

    I’m not a vegetarian but I also love the variation of vegetarian food. Patties are one of my favourite things to make and just by adding lots of spices they usually turn out delicious.

  13. Geraldine Saucier says

    What a great meatless dish:) I am a fan of lentils. I can’t wait to give this recipe a try.

  14. says

    These look so delicious – I am in love with lentil patties and spice is my middle name (after chocolate ;)

    Choc Chip Uru
    Latest: Lemon Polenta Raisin Cookies + Mini Berry Yoghurt Tropical Bundts

    • Isabelle says

      Great minds think alike, don’t they? :) Sorry to hear your lentil cakes didn’t turn out… hopefully you’ll have better luck with this recipe!

  15. Kiri W. says

    Oh wow, I don’t know which one I like better, the lentil patties or the jam :) Sounds like a wonderfully delicious yet healthy dish :)

  16. says

    I was looking at my lentil supply a few days ago and realized I really need to use some. These sound amazing, especially the tomato jam.

  17. says

    I’m in love and I can’t wait to try these. The jam looks good but I’m excited about the lentil patties — nice use of my favourite spice Garam Masala.

    • Isabelle says

      I’m still discovering garam masala, but it’s definitely becoming a regular feature in my cooking.
      Then again, that might be partially due to the fact that the last time I bought garam masala, I was in an Indian shop that only sold it in enormous bags… I think there was maybe 2-3 cups of spice mix in there! I honestly don’t know what to do with it all. :)

  18. says

    Oh, I am with you on vegetarian meals…I would eat vegetarian everyday if my husband would let me. Ha! As it is we do it veg quite a lot. You can bet that I’ll be making this very soon. Wow. What a stunning and tasty recipe. Highly impressed. I think you’ll be the winner! I am off to check out the FB page and vote for you!

  19. says

    Oh my goodness! I just saw these on Pinterest and fell in love. My hunny grew up on a farm where they cultivated lentils (amongst other things) so any time I can whip up something with lentils in it – he’s furiously happy. These are being printed and repinned as we speak!! Beautiful, just beautiful!

    • Isabelle says

      Thanks! I’m all for promoting spousal happiness through food… hope your hunny likes them! :)


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