Red Lentil Dal

One of the things I love about red lentils is that they cook up so quickly. Unlike their sturdier brown and green lentil cousins, when cooked, red lentils quickly fall apart into a smooth mush-like consistency. So, if you get a late morning hankering for some lentils, you can easily whip up a batch in time for lunch.

This red lentil dal recipe comes by way of my friend Kerissa Barron, who spent several months living and traveling through India. Earlier in the summer Kerissa and I pored over her handwritten recipe notes from her host family for some of the recipes she liked the most. This was one of her favorites; she ate it almost every day.

According to Kerissa,

Every region of India has its own version of the Indian staple dal, which is essentially lentil soup. This particular version comes out of the state of West Bengal and features Bengali five spice, called panch phoran, a fragrant blend of fennel seed, fenugreek, black sesame seed, cumin seed and mustard seed. In West Bengal and throughout India, dal is eaten at nearly every meal, serving as a sauce, a soup and a way to mash and stick food together (traditionally they eat with their hands in this region).

I’ve made Kerissa’s recipe a couple of times and love the flavors and how easy it is to make. Do you have a favorite Indian dal recipe? Please let us know about it in the comments.

Red Lentil Dal Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4.
Yum

Ingredients

  • 1 cup red lentils (orange lentils will work as well)
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 plum tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons grapeseed, vegetable, canola or other high-heat oil
  • 1/2 cup white or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped and made into a paste*
  • 2 teaspoons of Bengali five spice mix (panch phoron) or 1/2 tsp black (or white) sesame seeds, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, and (if available) 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
  • 1 lime, juiced (equal to about 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice)
  • 8 sprigs cilantro, de-stemmed and chopped
  • Cooked basmati rice, optional

*To create a garlic paste, finely chop the garlic, then sprinkle with a little kosher salt (to act as an abrasive) and crush with the side of a large chopping knife over the mixture until garlic breaks down and becomes paste-like.

Method

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1 Place 1 cup of red lentils in a metal sieve. Rinse well with cold water. Pour cleaned lentils into a medium sauce pan. Add 3 cups of water. Bring lentils and water to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until the lentils are soft.

2 While the lentils are cooking in step 1, bring a separate small pot of water to a boil. Score the peel of the tomatoes with a sharp knife in the shape of an "X". Place the tomatoes in the boiling water and blanch for one minute. Remove the tomatoes to a bowl to cool. Once cool, peel the tomatoes and cut out and discard the tough stem end. Chop the tomatoes, or mash them, and set aside.

3 After the lentils in step 1 have cooked at least 5 minutes, start preparing the onions and spices. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onions. Cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic paste and cook for 1 minute more, stirring continuously, making sure that the garlic does not burn. Add the Bengali five spice. Cook and stir for another 2-3 minutes. Add bay leaf and turmeric. Stir.

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4 To the onions and spices, add the cooked lentils along with the lentil cooking water. Add salt. Cook for 10 minutes. Add lime juice and tomatoes. Cook for 3-5 more minutes. Adjust salt if necessary. Stir in chopped cilantro and remove from heat. Garnish with more chopped cilantro.

Serve with basmati rice or naan bread.

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Links:

Palak daal - from Heidi of 101 Cookbooks

Showing 4 of 62 Comments

  • CM

    That’s the dal I grew up with! Except I’d make it a little simpler and make just a few minor changes: slice the onions in long, thin slices (I don’t like the texture of diced onions); slice the garlic instead of making a paste; cook the spices in the oil until they pop before adding the onions and garlic; and throw the tomatoes into the same pan with the oil, onions, and garlic and cook for a minute, without bothering to peel them.

  • Radhika

    That’s a very comforting dal.

    I’m from India and I use Panch Phoron while making dals and vegetable stir fries. Panch Phoron is a blend of everything on your list except sesame seeds (as far as I know). Instead, it contains kalonji or nigella seeds (some even call it onion seeds because it has a very onion-y flavor, though it is not the seed of the onion plant). Kalonji looks very like black sesame seeds and that could be the reason for the confusion. To me, panch phoron is incomplete without the distinctive flavor of kalonji. You might like it yourself.

  • Rodrigo

    Just a semiobnoxious question: isn’t it nigella seed instead of black sesame?

    Yes, but many people here may not be able to easily get it. The spice combination I recommend is if they cannot find a Bengali spice mix. ~Elise

  • mantha

    I love these lentils. This is a lovely recipe to add to my choices of what to do with red lentils — I also love them cooked up just the same way (tomatoes, onion, garlic) but with herbes de Provence that includes the lavender, and fresh green onion tops and thinly sliced celery as a garnish. As a soup, or cooked down a little more over rice.

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