Spice-Roasted Cauliflower in Coconut Tomato Sauce with Lentils

Created by Laura Wright
4.95 from 136 votes

Roasted cauliflower with spices in flavourful coconut tomato sauce with red lentils is a simple vegan dinner recipe. Inspired by both dal and coconut milk curries prevalent in Southeast Asian cuisine, this meal cooks up in about 40 minutes.

An overhead shot of roasted cauliflower in a coconut tomato sauce. The dish is garnished with fresh cilantro, nigella seeds, and ground chillies.
An up close, overhead shot of roasted cauliflower in a coconut tomato sauce. The dish is garnished with fresh cilantro, nigella seeds, and ground chillies.
An overhead shot of a single serving of a saucy cauliflower dish that is garnished with cilantro and nigella seeds in a wide bowl. There is a blue linen napkin nearby.
An overhead shot shows ingredients used in a cauliflower and coconut tomato sauce dish.
A slight 3/4 angle shot shows split red lentils being added to a pot of sautéed shallots and spices.

I’m so excited to share this warming, flavourful, and fairly simple spice-roasted cauliflower in coconut tomato sauce! I roast and caramelize the cauliflower with some spices for an extra boost in flavour. While the florets are roasting, I make the flavourful and slightly rich sauce that’s boosted with split red lentils.

The inspiration for this recipe:

  • I was inspired by coconut milk curries that are popular in Southeast Asian cuisines when working on this recipe. I also try to uphold that traditional flavour balance of spicy, sour, salty, sweet and bitter. 
  • Additionally, using the split red lentils in the sauce is inspired by dal (which refers to the lentils themselves/pulses in general but also dishes that contain them), a lentil-based stew cooked many different ways all over India. The dal tadka in Plant Based India is a go-to in our house! It’s worth noting that coconut milk is used in the cuisine of Southern India as well. A great and delicious-sounding example of this from the Vegan Richa blog can be found here.
  • All of this is to say: as far as I know, this recipe is not an authentic representation of any one cuisine or dish in particular, but it is certainly inspired by the traditions discussed above.

The base of the sauce is shallots, ginger, garlic, ground spices like chillies, cumin, and fenugreek, canned tomatoes, split red lentils, and full fat coconut milk. This is all cooked down until the lentils are breaking up and “melting” into the sauce. Once it’s done, you can leave it as-is for maximum ease or blend it until silky smooth. Then I add the roasted cauliflower! From here, all you have to do is heat it through and garnish with fresh cilantro, lime, and Nigella seeds. 

I recommend serving this vegan dinner recipe simply with some cooked rice (or another grain that you like) or flatbread. You could also make up the sauce ahead of time and keep it in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. From there, all you have to do is warm it through and roast the cauliflower. 

If you like this recipe, I bet you’ll also love the Sweet Potato Coconut Milk Stew with Lentils & Kale, Seven Spice Chickpeas with Tomatoes & Coconut or this One-Pot Rice & Veggies with Chickpeas & Dilly Tahini.

An overhead shot of spice-roasted cauliflower on a parchment lined baking sheet.
An overhead shot of a hand using a wooden utensil to stir up a pot of coconut tomato sauce with red split lentils.
An overhead shot shows roasted cauliflower florets that have just been added to a pot of silky and rich coconut tomato sauce.
An overhead shot of roasted cauliflower in a coconut tomato sauce. The dish is garnished with fresh cilantro, nigella seeds, and ground chillies.
An overhead shot of roasted cauliflower in a coconut tomato sauce. The dish is garnished with fresh cilantro, nigella seeds, and ground chillies.

Spice-Roasted Cauliflower in Coconut Tomato Sauce with Lentils

Roasted cauliflower with spices in flavourful coconut tomato sauce with red lentils is a simple vegan dinner recipe. Inspired by both dal and coconut milk curries prevalent in Southeast Asian cuisine, this meal cooks up in about 40 minutes.
4.95 from 136 votes
An up close, overhead shot of roasted cauliflower in a coconut tomato sauce. The dish is garnished with fresh cilantro, nigella seeds, and ground chillies.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings 4 (WITH SIDES)

Ingredients

Spice Blend

  • ¾ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground chillies
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds

Cauliflower & Coconut Tomato Sauce

  • 1 medium head of cauliflower cut into florets (about 6-7 cups florets)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • spice blend (see above), divided
  • 1 large shallot fine dice (about ½ cup diced shallot)
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup split red lentils
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes (from a can!)
  • 1 cup full fat coconut milk
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice, plus extra for serving
  • handful chopped cilantro, for serving
  • Nigella seeds, for serving

Notes

  • This recipe is inspired by coconut milk curries popular in Southeast Asian cuisines. Additionally, the split red lentil addition to the mixture is inspired by dal (which refers to the lentils themselves/pulses in general but also dishes that contain them), a lentil-based stew cooked many different ways all over India.
  • I like to purée the finished coconut, lentil and tomato sauce mixture in the blender so that it’s silky smooth. But if you’re feeling lazy, you don’t have to! Just add the roasted cauliflower to the sauce in the pot.
  • Light coconut milk would also work fine in this recipe. If you don’t like coconut milk or you’re allergic, I recommend a super creamy milk like oat or cashew to replace it.
  • I recommend having all of your ingredients measured and prepped from the start. The timing with the cauliflower roasting and the sauce coming together works out really well this way!

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F. Set out a large baking sheet.
  • Make the spice blend. In a small bowl, combine the turmeric, cumin, ground chillies, coriander, cinnamon, fenugreek, and fennel seeds. Stir to combine and set aside.
  • Place all of the cauliflower florets on the baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil, half of the spice blend, and some salt and pepper. Toss to coat the florets in the oil in spices. Arrange the cauliflower in a single layer and slide the baking sheet into the oven. Roast the cauliflower until deeply caramelized, about 40 minutes, flipping and toss the florets at the halfway point.
  • While cauliflower is roasting, make the coconut tomato sauce. Heat the remaining oil in a large, deep skillet or braiser over medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the shallots. Sauté shallots until very soft and translucent, about 5-6 minutes. If the edges start browning, lower the heat.
  • Add the remaining half of the spice blend, ginger, and garlic to the skillet and stir. Continue to sauté until very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the split red lentils to the skillet and stir.
  • Add the crushed tomatoes, coconut milk, and vegetable stock to the skillet and stir again. Bring this up to a boil and then simmer until the lentils are totally soft and starting to break up, about 25 minutes, stirring often. If the lentils seem to be sucking up too much liquid, just keep adding more splashes of vegetable stock (or coconut milk if you want to go a bit richer).
  • Once it's done, season generously with salt and pepper and add the lime juice. At this point, you can use an upright blender to blend the sauce OR you can leave it as is. I prefer to blend it for 1 full minute until it’s completely smooth.
  • Once the cauliflower is cooked, remove it from the oven. Pour the puréed sauce back into the skillet and add the cauliflower as well. Stir to combine over medium heat, bringing it up to a boil.
  • Garnish with chopped cilantro, nigella seeds, lime zest and extra lime juice.
A 3/4 angle shot of a single serving of a saucy cauliflower dish that is garnished with cilantro and nigella seeds in a wide bowl. There is a blue linen napkin nearby.
30/11/2022 (Last Updated 13/03/2024)
Posted in: autumn, coconut milk, creamy, earthy, gluten free, lentils, main course, nut free, refined sugar-free, roasted, sauce, side dish, sour, spicy, spring, summer, sweet, tomatoes, vegan, winter

52 comments

Recipe Rating




  • Laura

    5 stars
    Loved this! First effort was fantastic. We wanted a special recipe for our one and only homegrown cauliflower and I’m glad we chose this. Fantastic! Just like all your recipes!

  • Ondrea

    5 stars
    This was amazingly delicious. I too did not have fenugreek or fennel seeds on hand but I used a mix of garam masala and turmeric for the spice mix and it turned out delicious! Definitely adding this recipe to my favorite recipe list.

  • Lorissa

    5 stars
    This recipe was great! Very flavorful and easy to make. My family of four ate it all up and wanted more so my only suggestion is to double the recipe. Thanks Laura!

  • Zahra

    5 stars
    loved this – flavorful and filling, and the kids loved it too

  • Mel Robinson

    5 stars
    Oh wow! Phenomenal, very impressed how good this flavour is! Didn’t have fenugreek so subbed for curry powder and it’s still delicious, thanks

  • Morgan

    4 stars
    Very delicious but mine was too soupy and not saucy enough. I will try less broth or more lentils next time. Amazing taste!

  • Courtney

    5 stars
    This was absolutely delicious! I roasted the cauliflower in the air fryer to save time, took only 10 minutes. I also did not have fenugreek or fennel seeds but used garam masala instead. If found 3 cups of broth were too much and ended up having to remove some liquid but at the end this tasted fantastic and will definitely become one of my staple recipes.

  • Carron

    5 stars
    Absolutely delicious. We rate all new recipes out of five and this scored 5+++. Thickened the sauce at the end with a little cornflour. I would eat this every single week. The sauce is divine

    • Laura Wright

      Thanks for leaving this kind comment and review, Carron!
      -L

  • Marion

    4 stars
    Very nice. Added extra cumin and a corn starch/water slurry to thicken the sauce. Quite mild flavours. May add garam masala next time.

  • Siobhan

    5 stars
    Delish! I had to improvise a bit but it turned out great. I actually sauteed up tomato paste with the shallots and garlic, then added spices, THEN added about 1/2 cup Rao’s marinara sauce. (I’ve been out of town for awhile and the cupboard is quite bare!) Rao’s isn’t sweet, or over-processed, and the marinara doesn’t have peppers etc. so it really was just like a tomato sauce. Finished the cumin on a different recipe last night so used some paprika. I must say it was sophisticated and delicious. Topped with cilantro, scallion, chick peas and almonds and a little feta cheese. WOW will make again! Thank you!

  • Misty

    Made this for dinner tonight and it was such a perfect dish for a rainy, Sunday evening. I didn’t have fenugreek or fennel, so maybe missed out on a bit of depth of flavor, but seemed yummy to me. Added a touch of maple syrup at the end to replace the fenugreek. The lime is not to be skipped (SO GOOD). Served with chickpea orzo and some sauteed snap peas. Already looking forward to leftovers tomorrow.

  • shawna

    5 stars
    Another winner to go into rotation! You have a knack for nailing flavour combos…
    Can you advise to how this might freeze? I appreciate freezing portions for work lunches, and am relatively new to freezing with coconut milk.

  • Jess

    Hi,
    I was wondering if you can use green lentils for this recipe? Thank you!

    • Laura Wright

      Hi Jess,
      Green lentils will not work in this recipe. I use split red lentils because they “melt” and break down into a sauce as they cook. You will not get the same effect with green lentils without significant time adjustments and additional liquid.
      -L

  • Sarah Scully

    5 stars
    This was delicious. Thank you. (I never know what “ground chiles” means exactly…Cayenne? I used Urfa and fresh skinned/crushed tomatoes, to canned.) yumm…

  • Mary

    5 stars
    Fab recipe!! It has become one of my regulars. Kid approved too!!! (Mine anyway … Today… Tomorrow might be different!)

  • Barbara

    5 stars
    This recipe is delicious! I added a stalk of broccoli florets only because I was using a smaller head of cauliflower, proceeded with recipe and it was amazing and will definitely make again.
    Five stars and beyond!

  • Mary

    2 stars
    Oh My!! Fantastic. I’ve made several times and everyone loves it. I prefer it with more vegetables, usually doubling the cauliflower or adding broccoli into the mix. The spice mix is delicious and I use it often with roasted veggies. Thanks Laura!

  • Chantal

    4 stars
    Really nice balanced flavours. Loved all the spices and it was super easy to make.

  • Barb Clough

    5 stars
    This was delicious! I roasted a can of drained chickpeas along with cauliflower (added oil and some of spice to them as well – worked great!
    Wish I had some nigella seeds to try! Agree with others – the lime juice was a perfect addition… along with the cilantro! We also had some naan and a green salad – perfect meal!!

  • Emma

    5 stars
    This recipe turned out so delicious! Will definitely be making again. Thanks, Laura, for helping pull me out of my winter cooking rut :)

  • Mary Joy

    5 stars
    I recently made this and it was absolutely delicious! The combination of roasted cauliflower with a creamy coconut tomato sauce and lentils adds an amazing depth of flavor. The addition of spices adds a delicious kick, making it a great alternative to hot soup. I serve mine with some crusty bread to make it a more enjoyable meal!

  • Jessica Brodeur

    5 stars
    I made this earlier this week and it’s going to be a repeat recipe in my house!

    I used 1.5 heads of cauliflower, not sure if mine were a little smaller but 1 felt like not enough. The spice blend was delicious, though next time personally I will skip the fennel because I’m nota fan of any licorice-y flavours, and that flavour came through. But the other spices were so good, I could tell by the smell that they would be delicious. The sauce is perfection, I could drink it up! I ate as a main dish with brown rice on the side and it was a luxurious, warming, complex meal that satisfied me and felt so cozy.

  • Megan

    5 stars
    Wow!! This is one of the most delicious recipes I’ve ever made. I’ve never been tempted to eat an entire head of cauliflower in one sitting. And the sauce is so tasty too!! I will be making this many more times!!

  • Jackie

    5 stars
    Delicious! As others suggested, I used the full cans of tomatoes and coconut milk and reduced broth to 2 cups. Can’t wait to eat the leftovers for lunch – thank you!

  • Sara

    5 stars
    I made this tonight and it was amazing. Everyone loved it and we will fight for the leftovers. Delicious.

  • Maggie

    This was DELICIOUS! I loved the addition of the lime juice, as it was the tanginess that it provided that I think bumped this recipe into ‘definitely make again’ territory. :) My only quibble–I wish it could be written to use up the whole can of tomatoes and coconut milk–I had small amounts of both left over after measuring out 1 cup of each and often those little leftovers end up going to waste for me.

  • Helene von Graffenried

    5 stars
    I’ve cooked this yesterday evening and everybody was excited above average! The flavour is so warm and spicy and the lemon just adds the right amount of freshness. It also looks pretty with the different colours. Thank you for this great recipe!

  • Kate

    5 stars
    Fantastic and well-spiced! I didn’t want to have leftover coconut milk or crushed tomatoes, so I used a full can of both and doubled the lentils (and spices) to account for that. Still used just about 3 cups of veggie broth. Will definitely make again!

  • Raquel

    5 stars
    This was outrageously good! I really don’t love lentils and neither does my husband, but try to eat them because they have a lot of protein. I LOVE how the lentils in this recipe are blended into a smooth, silky and rich sauce so you can’t even really tell they are there! The deeply roasted cauliflower adds a great twist.

    My tips – 1) I questioned the importance of blending the sauce because of the extra effort but am glad I did as was suggested! I just used an immersion blender directly into the pot which made it a lot easier than transferring. And 2) I felt a little sweetness and richness was needed. I added a tad of maple syrup and next time plan to add tomato paste!

  • Dana

    5 stars
    Yes, this was a bit of work but definitley worth the end result! I agree that the cauliflower shrinks up quite a bit, and I could have eaten the entire tray on its own with that delicious spice blend. I debated whether or not to puree the sauce, but I did and would certainly do so again. The creaminess of the sauce with the roasted caulfilower was super pleasing and really elevated this dish for me. I’m considering making the sauce in my small dutch oven next go around and attempting to puree with a hand blender to save some time and cleanup.

  • Kate

    This look amazing! I’m planning to make it this week but was just wondering if I don’t have ground chillies, is there something I can substitute it with? Maybe chili powder or smoked paprika?

    • Laura Wright

      Hi Kate!
      Crushed red pepper flakes are a great substitution for ground chillies. Apologies for not getting to your question faster.
      -L

  • Sheila

    5 stars
    Absolutely delicious!!! The flavours are amazing and it came together super quick – love!!!

  • Sue

    5 stars
    This was quick, easy and flavorful! Thanks for the recipe.

  • Wendy

    5 stars
    Made this tonight and it was really delicious! I didn’t have high expectations for some reason but had a cauliflower to use up and all the other ingredients except fennel seeds. Glad I did! It was so flavourful, satisfying and good combo of textures. I didn’t bother blending the sauce. Thanks for the awesome recipe!

  • Roe

    5 stars
    Made this tonight, so delicious! Next time I’ll roast two cauliflowers, (one shrunk) -had lots of sauce left over and everyone loved it so much they would’ve had seconds. Roasted till crispy, shitake mushrooms, sprinkled them on top, layered baby bok choy on the bottom of the plate before putting cauliflower on plate ( just to add a green element) So glad I have sauce left over, will roast cauliflower again in two days!!! So yum!

  • Brooke

    5 stars
    I made this tonight and it will be adding it to the rotation; so simple and delicious. I made only a few minor modifications based on what I had on hand: threw some spinach in at the end, simmered a whole cinnamon stick with the sauce instead of ground cinnamon, and mixed in tamarind paste instead of lime. I really like dal, but when I try to make it myself it always comes out grainy. I appreciated this technique for incorporating lentils into a smooth, creamy sauce.

  • Cara

    5 stars
    I just made this recipe this morning for lunch and upcoming meals this week – it tastes AH-MAZING. Followed the recipe exactly save for the fact that I added potato to my roasting pan as my grocery store only had small heads of cauliflower. It was really easy to put together and the timing of each component worked out perfectly. Please, never stop posting your recipes… you’ve even made me like eggplant!

  • Anna

    5 stars
    This was so so delicious! Exactly what we needed today. Mhhh! Greetings from Germany

  • Katie Jane Saunders

    What would you think of adding spinach at the end?

    • Laura Wright

      Hi Katie,
      I think that would be great! You could probably throw in a few handfuls and it will wilt into the sauce nicely.
      -L

  • marion

    4 stars
    I made this recipe for lunch with some little modifications in the spice blend (didn’t have them all). I also reduced the amount of broth because i only had passata on hand. It took a while to reduce obviously. A little bit time consuming but veeeeeery tasty. Loved it !

  • Claudia

    5 stars
    Delivering this to my daughter’s tomorrow for their Friday night dinner. It’s absolutely delish and easy to prep. I double timed and was making a salad that required some veggie roasting as well. My only change is that I used the entire 15 oz cans of coconut milk and crushed tomatoes since I didn’t know what to do with what remained in the cans. I reduced the veggie broth to 1.5 cups to accommodate for this revision.

  • Charlotte Morris

    4 stars
    Good recipe! I added some cashews for extra crunch and it worked well

  • Silvia

    5 stars
    I so very much want to try this recipe!! Sounds awesome! I prepare something similar but with chickpeas and vadouvan curry for the cauliflower. I have a question about the lentils: is it not necessary to soak the lentils overnight? I’ve used red lentils in the past and always had them about 8 hours in water, maybe it is because you say split lentils and mine weren’t split?

    • Laura Wright

      Hi Silvia,
      You do not have to soak the split red lentils here, which can be helpful if you’re making it last minute. If you have the time, soaking the lentils for this recipe will definitely help them break down faster in the sauce.
      -L

  • Sue

    Thanks for this new recipe Laura. I love all your creations and I’m sure this will be a winner too!

  • Lynn Spencer

    Hi Laura, can’t wait to make this! What size can of crushed tomatoes? 14 ounce or 28 ounce? Thanks!

    • Laura Wright

      Hi Lynn! Sorry for the confusion. The recipe calls for 1 cup of crushed tomatoes from a can. I use crushed tomatoes all the time in my cooking, so I just save the remainder of the tomatoes in the fridge for another use. I’ve re-worded the ingredient in the recipe in light of this–thank you!
      -L