Vegan Colombian food: Arroz con coco and lentils

A lot of Colombian food is either accidentally vegan, or easily veganized. In spite of the fact Colombians put animal bones in just about everything (waste not, want not?), it’s pretty easy to work around that. Incidentally, if you have a gluten sensitivity, you may also be interested to know many Colombian foods are naturally gluten free.

Arroz con coco and lentils are my favourite vegan Colombian dishes. They’re both vegan by nature (although some people use meat stock in their lentil recipes). The first time my mother in law made these lentils for me, I ate so much she was scared I’d get sick (for the record, I was hungry and I don’t think eating 12 ounces of beans in one sitting is weird at all).

I hope you guys will try at least one of these recipes (hopefully both). They really are amazing. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can make patacones (fried plantain) to go on the side!

vegan colombian food

Rice and lentils – staples of Colombian cuisine

Arroz con coco (Rice with coconut)

This is probably my favourite Colombian recipe of all time. The first time I tried it at a party, I chased down the chef and made her give me the recipe on the spot! It comes from Colombia’s Caribbean coast, and has a fantastic tropical flavour. It’s quite rich, but it makes an amazing dessert or indulgent side dish.

1 can coconut milk (regular – it’s important that you don’t use light coconut milk for this recipe)

2 cups rice (you can use any type, but white long grain is traditional)

1 Tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1/3 cup raisins

  1. In a medium saucepan, pour the coconut milk into the pan and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the milk has separated into coconut oil and brown crumbs (the crumbs, called titoté in spanish, are made of the remaining coconut solids). Keep a close eye on the coconut milk during this time and make sure the coconut milk stays simmering.
  2. Add the rice, salt and sugar to the coconut oil and “crumbs”. You can add the raisins at this point, but I prefer to wait until later on to keep the raisins from getting too plump.
  3. Continue to cook as you would regular rice – approximately 25 minutes.


Colombian lentils (lentejas)

Lentils are a staple of many of vegan diets. They’re also central to most Colombian diets as well. Everyone in Colombia has a favourite lentil recipe, and they vary by region. For example, in Nariño, where my mother in law is from, they usually add potatoes to lentils. I prefer my lentils sans potatoes (since you usually eat them with rice and plantains), but if you want to add potatoes, do so as the lentils are cooking.

2 cups lentils

1 cup diced new potatoes (optional)

1 tsp smoked sweet spanish paprika or pimentón ahumado (in Colombia they use red bell pepper – I prefer the smokey flavour of the paprika. It must be spanish paprika, by the way!)

2 teaspoons vegetable bouillon, or two bouillon cubes.

1 teaspoon turmeric (healthy and adds colour!)


1 Tablespoon oil

1/2 onion

4 cloves garlic

4 green onions (scallions) chopped fine

1 cup diced tomatoes – fresh, if possible, canned is ok.

1 teaspoon salt

  1. Place the lentils in a pot of 6 cups water (I soak them for a few hours first and use my pressure cooker) with the bullion and turmeric (and potatoes, if using). Cook for 30 minutes in a pressure cooker, or 45 minutes on the stove top.
  2. While the lentils are cooking, make the guiso (I have no idea what you call it in english, sorry!):
  3. Put a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan, and add the onions and garlic and cook until soft. Add the green onions and chopped tomatoes (and fresh bell pepper, if you’re using it). Salt to taste (about a teaspoon) and cook until the tomatoes begins to change colour (in about 10 minutes they will become slightly redder – if you’re working with fresh tomatoes. If you used canned, you can ignore this and skip straight to the next step).
  4. Add the scallions and sprinkle smoked paprika over the top.
  5. Once the guiso mixture is throughly blended, add it to the cooked lentils and cook for an additional 15 minutes or so.


You might feel like you are spending FOREVER cooking lentils. That’s why I recommend a pressure cooker. This dish requires that the lentils be extremely soft. They should still retain their shape, but barely! All that cooking is worth it though, I promise!

I recommend serving the rice and lentils with a green salad. You can use the traditional Colombian salad dressing: salt and lime juice. This helps balance out all that oil in the arroz con coco!

Interested in more vegan Colombian food?

Let me know if any of you try these recipes. Arroz con coco and lentils are easily my favourite vegan dishes, and I hope you’ll enjoy them, too. I’d love some feedback on whether you would be interested in any more vegan Colombian recipes.

7 Responses to “Vegan Colombian food: Arroz con coco and lentils

  • This sounds super delicious! I wouldn’t have known that Columbian food is so vegan-friendly. And gluten-free too? Sounds great to me! Oh and I love patacones! They would make a lovely side to this dish. YUM.
    Thanks so much for sharing your recipe at Healthy Vegan Fridays! I can’t wait to try it out =)

    • Thanks, Kimmy! Yes, a lot of Colombian food is gluten-free. The coasts tend to use corn and rice as their main source of carbohydrates, and corn and yuca (cassava) flour is even used for baking. They have so many delicious breads – if I was gluten-free, I would just eat Colombian arepas and forget about the gluten-free bread substitutes (I think foods that are naturally gluten-free always taste better than the ones that have been adapted to make them g-free. Thanks for stopping by!

  • So excited to have you link up with Healthy Vegan Fridays! This dish looks amazing! I’d love to see more veganized Colombian dishes!

    I’m Ecuadorian (well my dad is from Ecuador but I have have duel citizenship in the US and Ecuador) so this dish looks similar to things I have had while traveling to Ecuador. I often ate beans and rice there as many restaurants offered mostly fish and meat but the bean dishes were tasty too. 🙂

    We loved having you link up with us for #HealthyVeganFridays! I’m Pinning and sharing!

    • Thanks, Mary Ellen! I don’t do recipes very often, but maybe I’ll do it more! I love Colombian food, so I tend to make veganized Colombian food fairly often. They aren’t usually all that healthy, but they are vegan at least 😉 I’ll have to make vegan empanadas before the end of the month and take some pictures;)

      • Oooh, I have always loved empanadas but can never eat them! I’d love to see that recipe!

        We’ll be featuring your Colombian food on HVF this week!

  • I would like to try both! These are all ingredients I like already, so I appreciate the new flavors presented here. Also, I’m always up for trying new recipes so if you have more to share, please do!
    Jess, fellow Calgarian, aspiring Vegan

    • Hi Jess! Thanks so much for stopping by. It’s always nice to have the ingredients for a recipe on hand! I hope you like the recipes 🙂

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