Dals are essentially thick stews made with lentils and traditional Indian spices. On my web site, this is one of my most popular recipes. Make it once and it will never leave your regular rotation, I promise.
- 1/4 cup water, plus more as needed
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1/2 cup dried red lentils
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 tomato, chopped, juices reserved*
- 3 ounces (about 5 tablespoons) tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Cayenne, to taste
Red lentil dal recipe
There are almost as many ways to spell dal as varieties of this classic Indian dish. But, whether you call it dal, daal, dhal or dahl, it’s likely that you’ll have a recipe for it stowed away in your kitchen. Allow us to share ours a smooth, red lentil curry flavored with warming spices.
After a long, tiring day, or one which has strained our emotions, we crave dal. There is something so comforting about the texture of soft, cooked lentils and the nurturing warmth of spices. It’s a soft, cuddly blanket for the soul.
Dal is easy food you can eat it out of a bowl, with minimum fuss, or scooped into fluffy naan or flatbreads. You can add extras as you see fit: a spoonful of coconut yoghurt on top, or a side of chutney. A sprinkling of coriander. Or, just as it is.
A world of different dals
Each region in India has its own preferred dals. Some of the most common ones, which you can find all around the country, are masoor, moong and chana dal. The dish has had a lot of time and space to develop, which is perhaps why so many varieties exist today.
Some early Indian texts even note that dal was served at a wedding in 303BC!
Dal made its way to Indian palaces, where – so the story goes – only chana dal (made with split chickpeas) was acceptable. Serving anything else to royalty was liable to send you to a sticky end.
Meanwhile, moradabadi dal was created in 1625 when the third son of the famous Shah Jahan – the fifth Mughal emperor, who had the Taj Mahal built – established the city of Moradabad.(1)
This type of dal is made with moong dal and is usually served as part of chaat (as a savory snack).
Lentils in Ayurveda
Evidently, we’re not the first to pick up on dal’s delicious, soothing and nourishing properties. In fact, traditional Ayurveda has a lot to say about the benefits of these lovely legumes.
According to Ayurveda, red lentils like the ones we use in our recipe have a sweet and astringent flavor (rasa). According to the tradition, they are cooling, light and soft.(2)
This means that they help balance Vata, Pitta and Kapha, the three types of energy (doshas) which are present in all things.
Interestingly, the lentils themselves are astringent enough to imbalance Vata (the energy associated with movement). However, cooking them with oil and spices, as in a dal, renders them ‘tridoshic’, meaning that they balance each of the three doshas.
In short, dal is as close to a perfect food as you can get in the eyes of Ayurveda.
In using red lentils to make our dal, we have opted for convenience and ease of sourcing. Most supermarkets and groceries stock red lentils, while you may need to visit a specialist supermarket or look online to find other traditional lentil types.
Officially, that makes our dal a masoor dal, as the dish is usually named after the type of lentil or pulse used.
However, as you might expect, there are hundreds of different variations on masoor dal, which people have adapted over the years to suit their own tastes. It’s perhaps one of the best things about dal that it can be so easily adapted to your mood.
British veggie chef Anna Jones likes to make a super light lemon and turmeric dal, which she swears by for cleansing the body. Meanwhile, for a more substantial and comforting meal, we love to simmer the red lentils in coconut milk.
Feel free to adapt our recipe to whatever you need today.
Erbology Indian Spiced Crackers
The traditional accompaniment to dal is rice or flatbreads, a combination we continue to adore. However, if you fancy something lighter – for example, if you’re eating our red lentil dal for lunch – then we highly recommend our seed-packed Indian Spiced Crackers.
They have a crisp, crumbly texture which works so well with the soft, warming dal. Further, their flavor echoes the spices used in the recipe itself.
Our crackers are flavored with garam masala, which is a traditional Indian spice blend of coriander, cumin, nutmeg and cardamom.
They also complement the nutritious nature of dal by bringing their own benefits to the table. For example, they are made with sprouted buckwheat which is good for gut health and low GI.
Our crackers are also a source of iron and B vitamins, and are made using a raw process which ensures that all those precious nutrients reach you intact.
How to enjoy
Much like the recipe itself, dal is a dish which manages to fit in wherever it appears. Whether it’s taking centre stage on a royal banquet table, being served from street food stalls to hungry snackers, or providing a nourishing meal on a rainy evening, it’s suitable for all occasions.
We love it served as a main meal, with our crackers or some rice or naan. However, you can also eat it as a snack, as is often the case in India.
However, it also makes fantastic sharing food. Make our dal alongside a couple of other gently spiced curries and serve at the table, surrounded by friends. Enjoy the comforting texture and flavor and how it combines with the other dishes. Cool it with yoghurt, or spice it up with chilli oil. Play with flavor.
After all, if there ever were any dish perfectly suited to care, nourishment and enjoyment, it’s dal.
This is the quintessential Indian dish. It is spelled in different ways - dal, daal, dhal or even dahl - based on its phonetic pronunciation.
One of the most popular dishes of the Indian subcontinent, it is routinely found in humble homes to the rich dining halls. And for a good reason!
It is quite inexpensive, easy to make with readily available ingredients and with a global mass appeal. So, with this dish and recipe you are picking a sure winner for your next menu.
If you want to make this dal recipe without coconut milk for allergy or other dietary reasons, you can try leaving out the coconut milk entirely. After you remove the lentils from the heat, stir in ½ to 1 cup of unsweetened vegan yogurt instead.
Another possibility is to use another type of plant milk (soy, almond, etc) and add a few drops of coconut extract.
Red lentils are one of the fastest cooking legumes, making them an essential part of your weeknight pantry. Simmer the lentils with Indian spices for a thick, satisfying stew. Serve the dish over steamed basmati rice.
1-1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon coconut oil or canola oil
1 small yellow onion, sliced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 dried chiles, broken in half
Juice of 1/2 lime, plus lime wedges for serving
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
Rinse the lentils and then put them in a medium pot. Add the water and bring to a boil. Skim away any foam that forms on the surface. Lower the heat to a simmer and stir in the salt, turmeric, and coriander. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils start to fall apart, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion to the pan and cook until softened and starting to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the ginger, chiles, and cumin seed and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the onion mixture to the lentils and simmer gently for about 10 minutes to combine the flavors. Stir occasionally to keep the dal from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Add the juice of 1/2 lime and the cilantro to the dal. Taste and add additional salt if needed. Serve with additional lime wedges.
This red lentil dahl recipe contains only simple ingredients which are as follows:
- Dry red lentils
- Bell pepper
- Garlic cloves
- Fresh ginger
- Vegetable broth or water
- Canned coconut milk
- Ground cumin
- Curry powder
- Sweetener of choice
- Ground turmeric
- Sea salt and black pepper
- Red pepper flakes
Find the exact measurements below in the recipe card below.
If you're not soaking the rice, cook it with 2 1/4 cups water.
The amount of water used to cook the lentils can be altered to reach the desired consistency. If using less water than directed, be sure to check on lentils frequently to make sure they are not drying out.
Substitute butter for the olive oil if desired.
To prepare for a baby, mix dal with rice and let cool. Mash or puree together. Whether you puree will depend on the size of the vegetables in dish. I usually puree the baby food when I use broccoli, but not peas.
Don’t over-cook it. This is the most important tip because not only do red lentils cook fast, they also go from perfectly cooked to over-cooked mush very fast. So if you leave it just a few minutes longer then you should, it will be more like a lentil mash than a lentil dal.
The lentils take around 10-15 minutes to cook from the moment the pot reaches a simmer. So it’s really super fast.
Use canned full fat unsweetened coconut milk. This is crucial to a wonderfully rich dal with a perfect blend of flavors. It won’t work well at all to use a sweetened drinking coconut milk from a carton as the flavor blend will be all wrong and it will also not be rich enough.
Coconut sugar is for flavor balance only, it does not make the recipe sweet. You can substitute it for brown sugar if you prefer.
We used dried red lentils which works wonderfully in this dal. They cook really fast and also have a lovely yellow/orange color when cooked. You can use dried red lentils or dried split red lentils.
Serve it with rice (we used basmati rice), some crispy poppadoms on the side and some fresh chopped cilantro. A swirl of coconut milk or coconut cream is an optional topping as well.
Everyday Red Lentil Dal Recipe
This simple dal is easy to make and incredibly delicious, and satisfies my perpetual simple-weeknight-vegetarian protein quest. The recipe is from my new favorite cookbook, "5 spices, 50 dishes" by Ruta Kahate, and originally called for yellow split peas (and hence had different cooking directions), but the version below reflects how I adapted it for red lentils, which were what I had on hand.
Schedule your weekly meals and get auto-generated shopping lists.
- 1 C. red lentils, picked over, rinsed, and drained
- 3 C. water
- 1 large tomato, cut into 8 wedges (or 8 oz. diced canned tomato)
- 1/4 C. canola oil
- 1/2 t. cumin seeds
- 1 medium onion (yellow or red), finely chopped
- 5 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 t. ground coriander
- 3/4 t. ground turmeric
- 1/2 t. cayenne
- 1 T. butter or Earth Balance (vegan non-hydrogenated margarine)
- 3/4 t. salt
- 1/4 C. minced cilantro leaves (optional - I hate cilantro, but I included this for cilantro fans. You can also substitute parsley)
- 1 C. red lentils, picked over, rinsed, and drained shopping list
- 3 C. watershopping list
- 1 large tomato, cut into 8 wedges (or 8 oz. diced canned tomato) shopping list
- 1/4 C. canola oilshopping list
- 1/2 t. cumin seedsshopping list
- 1 medium onion (yellow or red), finely chopped shopping list
- 5 large clovesgarlic, thinly sliced shopping list
- 1 t. ground coriandershopping list
- 3/4 t. ground turmericshopping list
- 1/2 t. cayenneshopping list
- 1 T. butter or Earth Balance (vegan non-hydrogenated margarine) shopping list
- 3/4 t. saltshopping list
- 1/4 C. minced cilantro leaves (optional - I hate cilantro, but I included this for cilantro fans. You can also substitute parsley) shopping list
How to make it
- Place lentils, tomato (if using fresh tomato) and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until lentils are tender and have lost their shape, about 40 minutes (begin checking that there is still water in the pot at 30 minutes and add small batches of water as needed).
- Pick out any tomato skins and whisk dal to emulsify it. Keep warm over low heat.
- Make the tadka (Indian spice preparation) as follows:
- Heat oil in a medium skillet over high heat.
- When oil begins to smoke, add cumin seeds.
- After seeds have stopped sputtering, add the garlic and onion and saute over medium heat until most of the onion has turned dark brown, 5-10 minutes.
- Add the coriander, turmeric, and cayenne, stir, and pour the onion/spice mixture over the dal.
- Add the butter/margarine, tomato (if using canned), (cilantro/parsley), and salt to the dal and simmer for another 5 minutes.
- Serve hot.
People Who Like This Dish 35
- jeeNowhere, Us
- frogchookAdelaide, AU
- GreenbaduNowhere, Us
- KebmdhNowhere, Us
- alauranoelleNowhere, Us
- nycinpdxNowhere, Us
- iggyCincinnati, OH
- organicaNowhere, Us
- stormy_ide_girlVirginia Beach, VA
- sclarkson07Nowhere, Us
- Plus 25 othersFrom around the world!
I love this dhal. its now my standard recipie
This dish was amazing! So delicious and flavorful that I will be making larges batches in the future for lots of leftovers!!
Just made this tonight - absolutely great. I did include the cilantro and 1T lemon juice. Thank you!
How to Make This Dal Recipe
Here's how to make this recipe. It's pretty simple, but it does take a little bit of time to simmer to cook and reduce the lentils.
- Heat a large pot over medium-high heat and add the coconut oil. Once it&rsquos hot, add the onions and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until they start to become translucent.
- Add the garlic and ginger and let cook for 30 seconds, stirring continuously.
- Add the fenugreek seeds, turmeric, cumin seeds, and red pepper flakes to the pot and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute to allow the spices to bloom.
- Add the coconut milk, vegetable stocks, tomatoes, and lentils to the pot and stir to combine. Increase the heat and bring to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and serve with rice or naan. Sprinkle optional cilantro on top.