vegan japanese curry in a bowl with rice

Vegan Japanese Curry with Red Lentils (Gluten-Free)

Learn how to make Japanese curry, roux and all, from scratch with this easy vegan recipe. Hearty, healthy comfort food made in your own kitchen!

vegan japanese curry served in bowls with rice and tea on the side

Curry is a staple in Japanese home cooking because it is delicious, filling, and can be made easily with boxed roux. While boxed roux is very convenient and delicious, sometimes it’s hard to come by and may contain dairy or other animal products. Not to mention there can be lots of preservatives and sodium in some, so when you have time I highly recommend making your own roux. Homemade food always tastes better in my opinion!

ingredients for homemade vegan japanese curry

INGREDIENTS

Roux

In cooking, roux is typically made with equal parts fat and flour. In this recipe, I use a bit more flour to thicken the curry more, and we also add the curry powder after the flour has browned, just to toast it and activate the flavors a little.

  • Oil ⟶ I personally like using olive oil, but if you don’t like the flavor of olive oil then use a neutral oil such as vegetable oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil, or refined coconut oil. You can also use vegan butter.
  • Flour ⟶ I use good ol’ all purpose flour, but you can use a gluten-free flour if you’d like (just be careful of the cooking temperature, as some flours may brown more easily depending on what they’re made of).
  • Curry Powder ⟶ Since this is a Japanese curry, you want to use Japanese curry powder if you can find it (or make your own blend). I use S&B curry powder*.
  • Cocoa/Cacao Powder* ⟶ In Japanese, we call this kakushi aji or hidden flavor. It’s not an essential ingredient, but it helps bring out the other flavors and also creates that deep, dark curry flavor we know and love.

Curry

You can customize your curry as you like. Add in different vegetables (eggplant and broccoli are some of my favorites), leave the lentils out (but use about half as much vegetable broth), add soy curls, serve it with tofu katsu, or just keep it simple. You do you! However, there are a few key ingredients you’ll want to keep:

  • garlic, ginger, onions, carrots, celery ⟶ the aromatics of this dish (in addition to the roux, of course) and key for good flavor
  • Japanese Worcestershire Sauce ⟶ I like Bull Dog Chuno Sauce* but use what you can find (check the ingredients though as some may contain fish extract).
    • SUB: If you can’t find Japanese Worcestershire sauce, you can use a regular vegan brand and add more applesauce or sugar as it won’t be as sweet.
  • Tomato Paste ⟶ adds a little umami and sweetness, and also helps to thicken the curry
    • SUB: ketchup
  • Soy Sauce ⟶ adds umami and salty flavor
  • Apples/Applesauce ⟶ makes the curry slightly sweet
japanese red lentil curry served in bowls with rice

HOW TO MAKE JAPANESE CURRY ROUX

Making the roux does take some time (about 15-20 minutes) and you have to stir constantly, but it is SO worth the effort. Nicely browned roux really adds a lot of flavor and makes this curry shine. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium low heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the flour and stir, stir, stir! Don’t let any of the flour stick in one place too long or it will burn.
  2. The roux will gradually change from white to blond to brown like peanut butter and then dark brown. I stop my roux around the peanut butter stage.
  3. Turn off the heat and add the curry powder and cacao powder. Stir for another minute.
  4. You don’t want to keep the roux in the pan since it will continue to cook from the residual heat. You can either stop your roux earlier when it’s still a light brown, or — very carefully since it is VERY hot — transfer the roux into a separate bowl.
vegan japanese curry in a bowl with rice

JAPANESE CURRY FAQ’S

Can I make the roux in advance?
Yes! In fact, I highly recommend making a large batch of roux and freezing it in ice cube trays. It will last for months in the freezer, and you’ll have a delicious pot of curry ready in no time! Let the roux cool to room temperature, then freeze in ice cube trays. Once the roux has frozen into blocks, pop them out of the ice cube tray and store in a freezer-safe bag.

Can I make it gluten-free?
Yes! Just use gluten-free flour and be mindful of the cooking temperature as I’ve found some flours to burn more easily.

Where can I buy Japanese curry powder?
I get mine from a local Japanese market, but you can also buy it online from Amazon*.

Can Japanese curry be frozen?
Yes, but remove the potatoes first. Potatoes do not freeze well, so remove the potatoes from the curry and keep them in the fridge to eat over the next few days. The rest of the curry should freeze just fine.

How do I reheat curry?
For optimal results, reheat your curry on the stove. You can use the microwave, but the flavor and consistency will be best on the stove.

How is Japanese curry different?
While it originated from Indian curry, Japanese curry is nothing like it now. Japanese curry is much less spicy with a milder, sweet flavor. Its flavor is more subdued, but in a way that makes it comforting, delicious, and leaves you craving more.

japanese curry in a bowl with rice

STILL HUNGRY?

Check out these other Japanese comfort foods!

hands reaching for a bowl of vegan japanese curry with rice

I hope I’ve inspired you to make your own Japanese curry from scratch! If you try it out, don’t forget to tag me in your photos on instagram @ellielikes.cooking, leave a comment/rating down below, and let me know how you liked it! I love seeing all of your tasty recreations 🙂 Happy cooking! ♡

Vegan Japanese Curry with Red Lentils

Learn how to make Japanese curry, roux and all, from scratch with this easy vegan recipe. Hearty, healthy comfort food made in your own kitchen!
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time50 mins
Total Time1 hr 5 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Japanese
Servings: 6

Ingredients

Roux**

Curry

  • 1 onion sliced
  • 2 potatoes chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 inch knob of ginger minced
  • 3 carrots chopped
  • 2 ribs of celery chopped
  • ¾ cup red lentils
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp Japanese Worcestershire sauce*
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1-2 grated apples or ½-1 cup applesauce adjust to desired sweetness
  • 1 zucchini sliced
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce*

Instructions

  • Heat oil in a pan over medium low heat. When hot, add in flour and stir constantly until it turns light brown, about 15-20 minutes.
  • Once brown, add in curry powder and cacao powder and mix briefly, about 30 seconds. Take off from the heat and set the roux aside.
  • Heat a bit of oil in a large pot. Add onions and cook about 10 minutes until lightly caramelized.
  • Add potatoes, garlic, ginger, carrots, and celery. Stir and add the vegetable broth.
  • Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium low and add lentils, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, and grated apple. Simmer until the lentils are cooked and potatoes are tender.
  • Add roux, zucchini, and soy sauce and continue cooking until the zucchini are tender and the roux is completely dissolved. Add more vegetable broth or water as needed if you want a thinner curry.
  • Serve with rice.

Notes

**Roux: If you love curry and make it weekly, or even every other week, I highly recommend making a big batch of roux (think 5x). It will save you so much time in the future and you’ll be able to whip up a big batch of curry in no time! Let the roux cool to room temperature, then freeze in ice cube trays. Once the roux has frozen into blocks, pop them out of the ice cube tray and store in a freezer-safe bag.

*Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases, but the price remains the same to you. Thank you for supporting Ellie Likes Cooking!

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