Spicy Red Lentil Spread

Created by Laura Wright

When I was in culinary school, I did a co-op at an up-market vegan restaurant. The experience was interesting (um, most of the kitchen staff were obsessed with barbecue and charcuterie), but one of the more important takeaways was this fantastic spread. Its flavour is intense and upfront with cumin, sriracha and tons of fresh herbs. Making the spread was one of my daily prep responsibilities along with fava puree, large batches of boiled beets, fresh bread and chocolate terrines among other things. After service each night I would ravenously (and probably sweatily) grab a giant piece of leftover focaccia, slather it with this spread, dribble a little bit of balsamic reduction on top and relax for about two seconds before cleaning my station. It was a sweet, spicy and delicious bite.

The reduction and homemade bread isn’t necessary though. This spread has so much going on. It’s full of spice and really satisfying with the lentils. It’s amazing on sandwiches with avocado and arugula or with some simple flatbread, veggie sticks, crackers, whatever your preference. At the restaurant, we served it molded into little oval forms on the plate with a petite parsley bouquet emerging from the center. I serve it really simply: smeared on a nice plate with a heavy pour of olive oil, little flecks of the chopped parsley on top and olives on the side for good measure.

Print the recipe here!
SERVES: A whole lot of people, seriously.
NOTES: I know it says this in the recipe already, but I can’t stress it enough: you must add the cornmeal while the lentils are still hot. This is what makes the spread stiffen up a bit and hold its shape. Also, stir the lentils while they’re cooking, making sure to scrape the bottom. The first time I made this at the restaurant, I neglected that little morsel of advice, which resulted in about an inch of burnt lentils on the bottom of the pan, YIKES!

1 cup red lentils
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 medium yellow onion, small dice
1/2 cup tomato sauce
3 tbsp sriracha (or to your taste)
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne
3 green onions finely sliced (green parts only)
4 hearty stems of parsley, leaves finely sliced
salt and pepper

Cook the lentils.  Place them in a medium saucepan with 2 cups of water over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and simmer until lentils are soft and liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently (you may have to add more water as it’s cooking).

Scrape the hot lentils into a medium mixing bowl and mash together with the cornmeal until a smooth, uniform texture is achieved. Add the cumin and cayenne and mix. Set aside.

In a small sauté pan over medium heat, cook the onions until soft and on the verge of turning brown. Add the tomato sauce and sriracha and let simmer for a couple minutes to merge the flavours. Scrape into the lentil mixture and stir to combine.

Allow the spread to cool before folding in the herbs. Season the entire mixture to taste (a fat pinch of salt is good here) and serve.

23/06/2011 (Last Updated 26/10/2022)
Posted in: appetizer, autumn, creamy, earthy, gluten free, lentils, nut free, refined sugar-free, salty, snack, spring, summer, tomatoes, umami, vegan, winter


  • Karishma Suchday

    Is there a substitute for cornmeal?

    • Laura

      You can simply leave it out! It does offer a nice textural element, but it’s not 100% necessary. The flavour of the dip is amazing without it.

  • Leigh

    Hi. Thank you for this recipe. Can’t wait to try it. Do you think I can replace the cornmeal with bread crumbs?

    • Laura

      The cornmeal swells up and adds a lot of great texture to this dish. I think breadcrumbs would just get soggy and wind up making the dip a bit more bland unfortunately.

  • Heike

    is the cornmeal added uncooked? or does it need to be cooked first?

    • Laura

      The cornmeal is added in its uncooked state!

  • Danielle

    I am truly surprised that there aren’t 1000 comments on this post because it is just THAT good. My friend Allison told me about it About 3 years ago and I have been making it consistently ever since. This recipe is a staple in my diet, at least bi-weekly. I find it is just so forgiving, too, which is welcomed. I have made it without cornmeal, with basil instead of parsley, with other hot sauces that aren’t sriracha,with only green onions or only white onions instead of both green and white, and it has never failed me. I have used it on almost anything in it that you can think of- potato chips, tortilla chips, sandwiches, cold in salads, in pasta, with so many veggies. I LOVE this recipe. Thank you so much for sharing! xo

    • Nancy

      Thank you for sharing that you left the cornmeal out (corn allergy).

  • Liz

    Hi there,
    Your recipe sounds delish and I’d like to make it. Just want to clarify on the cornmeal, is this what you make polenta out of (coarsely ground maize) or is it something finer? Not sure if this is the same cornmeal as in Australia.

  • Vanessa

    I’ve made this twice and it’s been demolished in two seconds flat! Even my little kids love it. What a great alternative to hummus. I brought it most recently to my kid’s soccer practice for a potluck, and it was such a hit. Everyone was talking about it. It’ll be making an appearance at my holiday party for sure. Thank you very much for sharing it! It’s delicious. And beautiful work overall. Love your photography and writing :-).

  • chill

    that’s what we call tomato sauce in england- ketchup!
    i presume you mean like a tomato pasta sauce..
    anyway, i’m going to make it now!

    • Sara

      No we don’t! It’s ketchup.

  • Chill

    is ‘tomato sauce’ ketchup?
    sorry, just checking!?

    • Laura Wright

      Hi Chill, It’s actually tomato sauce!

  • Laetitia

    This is so delicious. I’ve made it 3 times already and I love it. I am going through your blog one recipe at a time and I am really enjoying it. Thanks for all those great recipes.

  • Shannelle

    Can harissa be used instead of sriracha?

    • Laura Wright

      Hey Shanelle! Harissa will most definitely work–sounds so tasty. Its consistency tends to be thicker than sriracha though, so you may have to add a bit more liquid to fully purée the mix.

  • Mich

    this sounds absolutely delicious! im trying to get more into awesome spreads, so keep em coming.