This lentil stir fry recipe is quick, easy and completely customizable! Make it with almost any vegetable you like and pack in the flavor from a tasty, refreshing sesame-soy-lime sauce.
Serve as-is or alongside some cooked rice for a delicious weeknight meal. This is also great for meal prep if you can reheat food where you learn or work.
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Is Lentil Stir Fry Vegan?
Lentils are a great way for vegans to add a convenient and nutritious source of protein to stir fry meals. While some lentil stir fry recipes are not vegan, it’s usually simple to veganize a stir fry recipe.
Stir fry ingredients are often customizable, and this recipe is no exception! It’s best to follow the ingredients in the sauce more closely, but the lentils and vegetables are quite versatile.
Ingredients for Vegan Lentil Stir Fry
You can make this recipe with pretty much any vegetable or type of lentil. Read below to learn how I make this recipe, and some substitutions to make it your own. Feel free to get creative!
- Onion, garlic, ginger: These ingredients create the stir fry’s aromatic. They each add a ton of flavor and make for a tasty stir fry. You can use as much or as little of these ingredients as you like! If you don’t have fresh onion, garlic or ginger on hand you can substitute for the powdered option. Up to 1 teaspoon of onion or garlic powder and up to ½ teaspoon ginger powder could work.
- Bell pepper, celery, carrots, zucchini: These are the vegetables I use! I like that they offer a range of colors and are mild in flavor. You can use any vegetable you like. Some other tasty options are broccoli, bok choy, snow/ snap peas, mushrooms, cabbage and bean sprouts.
- Lentils: Another base ingredient for this recipe is lentils. I use canned brown lentils as it’s super convenient, but you can use any type of cooked lentil you like! If you use a can, simply drain and rinse the lentils before using.
- Cashews: This delicious ingredient adds such a great flavor and texture to the stir fry. I highly recommend using cashews, but other nuts or seeds could work in its place. Leave it out entirely if you prefer.
- Soy sauce: Soy sauce is a great place to start when making stir fry sauce because of its salt and depth of flavor. I typically buy low sodium soy sauce as it’s salty enough for my tastes, but you can use whatever you like or have on hand. This recipe also works when using tamari if you need a gluten free option.
- Hoisin sauce: This sweet sauce helps to balance other sharp flavors in the stir fry sauce. I love hoisin sauce and don’t have any great ideas for alternatives, so try to use it if you can.
- Rice vinegar: Some acidity from vinegar also creates a tasty, flavor-balanced sauce. White or apple cider vinegar can also work.
- Mirin: This ingredient is one of my favorites for adding subtle flavor. It can be harder to find mirin in grocery stores, so leave it out if needed or replace it with some other type of cooking wine (or even white wine).
- Lime zest and juice: Fresh lime zest and juice are truly what makes this one of the best stir fry sauces! It adds such a great flavor. I haven’t tried this recipe with lemon but imagine it would also be tasty.
- Sesame oil: This is my favorite oil as it’s packed with a delicious and unique flavor. I don’t have any substitution ideas because there’s nothing quite like a good sesame oil!
- Brown sugar: While hoisin sauce provides some sweetness, I like to add brown sugar. This helps balance out the sourness of vinegar and lime juice.
- Corn starch: The easiest way to thicken stir fry sauce is with corn starch. Make sure it’s well mixed into the sauce and there are no clumps. I imagine another type of starch would work too, but I’ve never tested it.
How to Make Stir Fry with Lentils
This lentil stir fry is a quick cooking meal, which makes it ideal for weeknight meals when you want something hot, tasty and nutritious.
It all comes together very fast, but take your time to get it just right! You'll appreciate your efforts when you eat and enjoy this hearty meal.
Step 1: Prepare the Vegetables
It’s important to have all the vegetables ready before you start cooking. If you’re following the vegetables in my recipe as listed below, you’ll need to:
- Peel and dice or slice the onion
- Peel and mince or crush the garlic
- Peel and mince or finely grate the ginger
- Wash, remove the core/ seeds and dice or slice the bell pepper
- Wash and slice the celery
- Peel, wash and slice the carrot
- Wash and slice the zucchini
Make sure the lentils are also ready to go. If you use canned lentils like I do, drain and rinse the canning liquid away. If using home-cooked lentils, just have them out and ready to go.
Measure your cashews in advance (if you want to) so they’re ready to toss in. I rarely measure an ingredient like this and usually toss in however much I feel like!
Step 2: Prep the Sauce
Just like with your vegetables, it’s critical to have the sauce prepared before you start stir frying.
The sauce is easy to prepare; simply mix all the ingredients together. Make sure there are no clumps of corn starch in the sauce when you add it, otherwise you’ll have a clumpy final sauce.
You can either whisk everything in a small bowl, using a fork or whisk, or shake it all together in a jar.
Step 3: Cook the Stir Fry
Once everything is ready to go, it’s time to stir fry.
Warm some oil in a large pan over medium-high to high heat. Once heated, add onion and cook for 1-2 minutes. Onion takes a while to soften so it’s best to give it a head start.
Next, add your garlic, ginger, celery and carrots. Celery and carrots also take a while to cook so give these vegetables extra time as well.
My preference is for each vegetable to be cooked but still crisp when done. Some people prefer softer vegetables and that’s okay, but you’ll need to adjust your cooking time.
Once the carrots and celery start to soften, add bell pepper and zucchini and cook for 2-3 minutes. You’ll want the vegetables almost completely done (to your liking) before adding lentils, cashews and sauce.
Once your sauce is in, stir continuously until it’s thickened. This takes about 1 minute but you can keep cooking the stir fry as long as you like (until all the vegetables are done to your liking).
Step 4: Serve
Once the stir fry sauce thickens, serve hot as-is or with a side of rice or other cooked grain!
Garnish to your liking. I love adding sesame seeds and sliced green onion.
How to Create a Balanced Vegan Meal
This recipe has it all! The lentils provide protein, carbs and fiber along with plenty of other nutrients. The cashews add some protein and fats while the sesame oil brings in some additional healthy fats.
Beyond that, there’s a ton of vegetables in this meal!
You can add extra carbohydrates by serving with rice or some other cooked grain. Add extra veggies by serving with cauliflower rice for a lower carb alternative.
Top your stir fry with extra cashews and/ or sesame seeds for more flavor! Green onions also make a tasty topping.
Stir Fry Variations
There are endless variations you can make with this recipe.
Any vegetables you like or have on hand can work; you certainly don’t need to use what’s listed below. However, I recommend using the same amount of vegetables listed, otherwise you may end up with too much (or not enough) sauce.
The stir fry sauce ingredients are also pretty flexible. See above for substitution ideas.
How you serve this stir fry can also create endless variations. Serve with any type of cooked rice, or even cauliflower rice. Using rice noodles is also a tasty way to serve this stir fry as it’s quite saucy and that delicious sauce will coat the rice noodles well.
If you like, you could also serve this with quinoa or another cooked grain of your choice.
Also, don’t forget to get creative with how you top this stir fry. Extra cashews are delicious as are white and/or black sesame seeds.
Add a boost of flavor by topping with sliced green onion or even a fresh herb (cilantro is delicious with this sauce).
How to Store Leftovers
Refrigerate leftover stir fry in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or even a week, depending on how fresh your vegetables were. Reheat it in the microwave or in a pan on your stove over medium heat until warmed through.
Lentil Stir Fry (Vegan)
- Mixing bowl (or medium-sized jar)
- ¾ cup onion , sliced or diced
- 2-3 cloves garlic , minced
- 1 tablespoon ginger , minced or finely grated
- 1 ½ cups bell pepper , sliced or diced (about 1 medium pepper)
- ¾ cup celery , sliced
- ¾ cup carrots , sliced
- ¾ cup zucchini , sliced
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cups lentils , drained and rinsed (about 19oz canned)
- ½ cup cashews
- green onion , sliced
- white sesame seeds (and/ or black sesame seeds)
- rice (or rice noodles)
- cashews (extra)
Step 1: Prep the Vegetables
- If you’ll serve this stir fry with rice, start that now since it can take some time to cook rice. If you’re serving with rice noodles, they cook quickly and can be prepared anytime.rice
- Before you begin, wash and cut all the vegetables. You can cut the vegetables however you like; I slice all the veggies for this recipe.¾ cup onion, 2-3 cloves garlic, 1 tablespoon ginger, 1 ½ cups bell pepper, ¾ cup celery, ¾ cup carrots, ¾ cup zucchini
- Drain and rinse a can of lentils. You can also use freshly cooked lentils if you prefer. Any type of lentil can work for this recipe (brown or green are best).2 cups lentils
Step 2: Prep the Sauce
- Add all the sauce ingredients to a bowl or jar and mix thoroughly by whisking (or shaking a jar that has a lid). Set aside.4 tablespoons soy sauce, 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons mirin, ½ tablespoon lime zest, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 2 teaspoons corn starch
Step 3: Cook the Stir Fry
- Warm some vegetable oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Begin stir frying by adding onion and cooking for 1-2 minutes, or until they start to soften and turn translucent.¾ cup onion
- Next, add garlic, ginger, celery and carrots. Cook, tossing the ingredients around regularly, for about 2 minutes.2-3 cloves garlic, ¾ cup celery, ¾ cup carrots, 1 tablespoon ginger
- Then, add bell pepper and zucchini and cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until the vegetables are almost cooked (to your liking; this may take longer if you’re looking for softer vegetables).1 ½ cups bell pepper, ¾ cup zucchini
- When the vegetables are almost done, add your lentils, cashews and sauce to the pan.½ cup cashews, 2 cups lentils
- Cook for another minute or two, until the sauce thickens. Stir regularly once the sauce is in the pan.
Step 4: Serve
- You can serve this stir fry with a side of rice or over cooked rice noodles. You could also serve with quinoa or another grain. Cauliflower rice can also work if you want a lower carbohydrate option.rice
- Top with extra cashews, sliced green onion, white and/or black sesame seeds, or any other topping of your choice.green onion, cashews, white sesame seeds
**Can substitute for cooking sherry or white wine Nutrition information calculated based on stir fry only (ingredients listed above) and does not account for additional ingredients used to serve, like a rice or noodle base. Accuracy of nutrition information cannot be guaranteed (certain ingredients may not have all nutrients listed in the database); amounts may vary (and will vary depending on brands of ingredients used); all nutrition fact values rounded to the nearest whole number.
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About Nicole Stevens
Nicole is a long-time vegan with a Masters of Science in Food and Nutrition.
She helps people thrive on a vegan diet with balanced recipes.