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.

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.

Links:

Palak daal - from Heidi of 101 Cookbooks

60 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. Dorothy at Shockinglydelicious

    Here is my FAVORITE Dal recipe! A little tweak on one that Steamy Kitchen posted…
    http://www.shockinglydelicious.com/indian-dal-nirvana-homely-lentil-becomes-a-supermodel/

    I swear, I can eat this day after day for lunch, wrapped in a tortilla.

  6. The Steaming Pot

    Thanks for the recipe, it’s a regular in my home too.

    Another favorite Indian lentil recipe of mine is palak toor dal – yellow dal cooked with spinach (palak). Quick recipe here.

  7. Simone

    I love a good dahl but have only ever eaten it in India! Time to change that!

  8. Maria

    Hi… I too am from India… from the south of India. I think you can also try adding other vegetables into it, as we do… to make a really healthy dish… YOu can add things like eggplant… Carrots… Raddish… just anything. You can cut them into whatever shapes you like. Try to cook the vegetables along with Dhal… and if you use a pressure cooker to make the dish, its really quick… :)

  9. Katrina

    Yum! I’ve been wanting a recipe for dal for a while now. Yum!

  10. Rebekah

    I tried to make a soup last winter that called for red lentils and I couldn’t find them at my local grocery store. All they had were lentils that were a brownish green color and the package just said “Lentils”. So I wasn’t sure if they were red lentils, or….? The color of your soup as well as the soup I was making last year, appears to me in the picture to be yellow! So are red lentils, yellow in color? I am a bit confused!! :) Thanks!

    Lentils come in all different colors. The brownish green lentils are definitely not red lentils; they will take a lot longer to cook. ~Elise

  11. Melanie

    There is no way that the prep time for this recipe is 10 minutes.

    Why not? All you have to do is cut up half an onion and mince and smash some garlic. Should take you less time, actually. ~Elise

  12. Zee

    Does this lose its texture or change its mushiness when refrigerated for a day or two? How long would this keep in the fridge? Thanks.

    The texture doesn’t change. It will keep in the fridge as long as you would expect leftovers to keep in the fridge, a few days. ~Elise

  13. Brittany

    I just made a pot of dal to keep in the fridge for snacking. :) Mine is just from an Indian cookbook–whole cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom in hot oil, then ginger, garlic, onions, green chile, and garam masala. Add the lentils and cook for a minute, then add water/broth to cover and cook till they’re done. I finish them with lemon juice, lots of chopped cilantro, and a pat of butter. I will have to keep an eye out for Bengali spice mix at our international grocery store!

  14. Judith

    Don’t the spices usually get ground up before they go into the dal? I imagine fenugreek seeds would be quite hard.

    My favorite dal may be adapted from a Punjabi recipe. It is flavored with grated ginger, garlic, onion, turmeric, cumin and garam masala. While the lentils are cooking in water, fry the above ingredients in your oil of choice. Add to the lentils and when the lentils are done it’s done. I eat it with rice, naan or parathas. (The flavor of the dal will vary because garam masala mixtures are all different. I make my own garam masala.)

  15. Rocky Mountain Woman

    I have never made Dal even though I love it and order it whenever I see it on a menu!

    I’ll try this one, I have a feeling it may become my “favorite dal recipe”.

  16. Hello

    To anyone who has never cooked lentils: please first inspect them to remove any stones. There are occasionally stones the same size as the lentils! Not appetizing, but can even be a danger.

    Pour the dry lentils onto a plate in a single layer bit by bit, and look them over carefully before rinsing. This takes time, but it’s worth it.

  17. Rachel

    Thank you for posting this! I spent last summer in Kolkata, India and this was my favorite food by far! I’ve been looking for a recipe for a while now. Do you have a good recipe for naan?

    Not yet. Soon I hope. :-) ~Elise

  18. Hia

    Hi Elise and Kerissa,

    I am a Bengali from India living in NYC – and am so excited to see dal featured on your blog:) Indeed it is one of my favourite things to eat, my mom however, makes red lentils without the panch phoron, we just season it with the onions, (not even the garlic – although, my mother in law likes the garlic in it – and that tastes great too!) tumeric and green chilies – broken into halves so the flavour of it permeates the dal. I am excited to try this version of the recipe – thanks !!:)

  19. sanjay mehra

    You can make dal more simply. Just put the lentils in water. Add salt, tumeric, coriander powder, a pinch of garam masala, garlic, ginger paste, a pinch of asafoetida powder ( if you can’t find it ignore it )and crushed green chillies. Add all this to the water with lentils and pressure cook till 3 whistles. Let it rest for a while without opening the pressure cooker. If you are boiling it in a pan, just cook till the lentils split and mix with the water. Check taste. If you wish, heat up some clarified butter or any oil which you like. When oil is hot add cumin seeds and let them brown for less than a minute. Pour the oil and cumin seeds on the boiled dal and mix.
    Serve as soup, with rice or roti or naan.

  20. Ameirah

    Lentils are my favorite and this is different than the lentil soup I make. I hope I can find those spices though.

  21. Jackie

    This looks like an interesting recipe. I use red lentils in a soup recipe I acquired and loved while in Turkey. It is called Ezo Gelin or Turkish Wedding Soup. The spice mixture is a bit different from this one (especially because it uses mint) but the texture looks the same. And I love it with an authentic Turkish simit.

  22. Tyffanie

    Sounds amazing….I can’t wait to try it! Do you have any recommendations on where to get the spices? P.S. Love all of your recipes–whenever I need a never-fail recipe, I come to your website! Thanks for all the hard work!

    Thanks! Penzeys is always a good source for mail order or online spices. ~Elise

  23. Christine

    Can you interchange yellow peas with the lentils or would that be a faux pas?

    You mean dried, split yellow peas? Hey, that might work! I’m guessing the peas would taste great prepared in the same way. ~Elise

  24. dev

    I’m so excited to see this recipe here – I grew up with this exact dal! We had this every single night. My mom would sometimes skip the onions and tomatoes if she was really pressed for time but it was still comforting. It is my dad’s all time favorite food and he will sometimes slurp it out of a bowl at the end of a meal. We normally eat it towards the beginning of the meal with a squeeze of lemon or lime, a chili, and some vegetables. We never bothered with the cilantro.

  25. Rebekah

    I made this tonight and it was delicious! I didn’t have the spices you called for, so I made some improvisations: used coriander and curry powder in addition to the bay leaf, tumeric and cumin. It still tastes amazing and very, very comforting. Perfect recipe for a cold night.

  26. b.wak

    With a dash of coconut milk and I’m in heaven!

  27. laura @ glutton for nourishment

    this looks so delicious, i am going to have to make it this week for sure. i love dal, and red lentils make it extra pretty!

  28. almostveg

    I am from West Bengal and we make a very simple red lentil with just nigella seeds, turmeric and one dry red chili. It is great with rice and a vegetable medley which I have on my blog: http://omnivore-almostveg.blogspot.com/2011/07/vegetable-medley.html
    and another version is with cumin seeds, sliced red onions, and turmeric.

  29. kyleen

    I love all the step by step photos; they’re really helpful. This soup sounds delicious!

  30. S.

    Never made this before but I love Indian flavors. I bet it’s really good. I also like your story behind this. :-) Thanks for the recipe.

  31. Rob

    Made this tonight and it was a hit with all family members. Served it along with curry pork roast and basimati rice

  32. Sanjeeta kk

    This dal is my comfort food for any day, Elise. In India every household will make the same atleast for one meal. The dal here looks creamy and tempting.

  33. Midgiev

    I made this dal last night and followed your recipe exactly. I was able to find the panch phoron at a local indian store. This recipe was amazing! Served it with rice and garlic naan. The servings were on the large side, so thankfully we have leftovers for today, which makes my husband extremely happy. Thanks for your great website and delicious recipes.

  34. indosungod

    Almost every Indian household has a pressure cooker which makes a quick job of cooking the lentils.

  35. Kevin Carlson

    Made this Dal last night along with Basmati rice and Naan. Absolutely wonderful!

  36. beth

    will have to try this out – sounds close to one of my favorite recipes, made with red lentils and dried apricots. that one cooks longer, because of the apricots. this looks tasty, and quick! :)

  37. Jacqui MacNeill

    I love Indian cooking. Lentil Dahl is delicious and oh-so-healthy. Your recipe sounds absolutely fantastic. I can’t wait to try it! Thanks for sharing.

  38. Rigo

    I’ve never had dal, but this recipe looked yummy. I followed it to the T, except I ground the spices before I figured out they were suppose to be left whole. My question is, was it suppose to be grainy in texture. It was almost like eating sand. Was it the grinding of the spices?

    Perhaps. The spices should be used whole, not ground. ~Elise

  39. This American Bite

    I planned to make this over the weekend, but I could not find red lentils in any of the stores I visited. I gave up and made do with a potato and black-eye bean curry instead.

  40. Panu

    I am from Bengal, and the Paanch phoron you are talking about consists of five things – Fenugreek or methi seeds, Nigella seeds, or kalojire, Fennel Seeds or Mouri, Randhuni (which is a weird little spice similar to ajwain but isn’t and its actually called Carum roxburghianum in science and Wild Celery in English)and cumin seeds, or jeera.

    Spoken by a true Bengali. So it stands. And if you are feeling lazy, just cook the dal with a bit of turmeric and salt, then heat very little mustard oil or canola oil and then put in a large pinch of any one of the following – a couple of cloves of minced garlic, a large pinch of nigella seeds, a large pinch of fennel seeds, a large pinch of panch phoron, a finely sliced onion. Stir fry for a minute or less before pouring in the cooked lentil and you can always add a green or red chilli to the tempering process (where you fry the spice of your choice in oil). Tomatoes are totally optional, but tastes good. So does cilantro leaves on the ones you flavor with garlic.

  41. scojo

    red lentils don’t need to be cooked in a pressure cooker – but yellow split peas should, they take longer. I have seen two varieties of red lentils, regular size and tiny – they both cook very quickly without a pressure cooker.

    I would add my 2 cents here, and it must be the simplest of all & therefore kid-friendly (or my-kid friendly)

    rinse red lentils, then add water and chunks of peeled ginger, and a little turmeric. bring to boil, simmer partially covered for like 10 min. when it’s done, beat rapidly to get a puree going, then dole out some and add salt and butter. That’s for the kids who like plain food (my kids). teach the kids to not eat the chunks of ginger, obv. Then with the batch that is left, make the adult version by frying cumin and black mustard seed & garlic in veg oil or ghee and add it to the dal, finish with cilantro and lemon if you have it – ok if you don’t. or add sriracha, oh yes. In my opinion, it is very difficult to ruin red lentil dal! yay!

    i’m making it for dinner. thanks for reminding me how awesome rend lentils are!

  42. daveg

    elise, i just want to thank you for the way you write your recipes. i definitely don’t work as quickly as you do, but every recipe is a lesson in how an effective cook utilizes their time well, working on one part while another part is finishing.

    you bring flavor to everything you write, and i enjoy reading even the recipes i know i won’t try myself.

    Thank you! I’m delighted the recipes are working for you. ~Elise

  43. SKD

    I am from India too.And I make dal pretty much everyday.If any one is loooking for lentil you will get different kinds of lentils in any Indian store.
    Elise I really liked your version of dal .I have never used panch pohron.I will give it a try today evening.

  44. Susan

    I am a 100% Yankee American from Connecticut, USA. I grind my own spices and had used panch phoran I made this dal and it is delicious and easy. I prepare a lot of East Indian dishes; one thing I have discovered is East Indian women had to stay home in order to cook since the recipes are so involved. Tonight is vegetarian night so the dal works with basmati rice, a side of spinach with garlic, Maggi Sauce flavoring and some white pepper. One day I may graduate to breads! So, to Elise and Simply Recipes, a big Thank You and a nod to the Indian food guide at about.com, Petrina Verma Sarkar who comes up with really good recipes, too!

    Hi Susan, you are very welcome! ~Elise

  45. zian

    luks yummy and healthy!!!

  46. lafou

    Can I make this with Urad Dal? I bought a bag to make dosas & have some left over. It sounds like a lot of people commenting are experienced at Indian cooking.

  47. anisha

    i just made “my usual” daal today, which i learned from my indian mother. what i love about this recipe is that the spices are added last and pack a real punch. so i boil the lentils (usually an equal mix of the yellow/orange variety, i.e. “moong” and “masoor”, about 1 cup each) with 1 TSP turmeric, some sliced onion and a 1-inch knob of ginger. once cooked and tender, season with salt and set aside. in a small frying pan or wok, i melt 1 TBSP each of butter and oil, and sauté a dried red chilli, some curry leaves (available from indian stores fresh; they freeze well in a plastic container), one finely sliced red onion and finely chopped garlic (1 clove). gently sauté for about 3-4 minutes. then i add 1 TSP cumin, half TSP cumin powder, 1 TSP mustard seeds, half TSP asafoetida (“heeng”) powder. briefly mix up and fry until the mustard seeds pop, taking care not to burn the spices. now pour this sizzling spice mix into the still hot daal and blend. before serving, add some chopped fresh coriander and a finely chopped spring onion – it adds colour and crunch. if there’s no cilantro in the house or you don’t like it, even italian parsley will do. complete comfort food!

  48. Dipti Joshi

    Your recipe is really cool. I tested it out, and was also inspired to come up with another one.

    You can read about it here…
    http://dipsdiner.com/dd/?p=229

    Please share your thoughts as well.

  49. susanna

    For making ginger garlic paste ,I use a fine holed scraper ,vegetable scrapper or a rectangle grater ..It is very easy and can be used for chocolate chips too

  50. nesli

    Here is the less spicy Turkish version of this soup:
    sote diced onions with oil, add 2 cups of red lentils, 1 quart of water or chicken stock. cook until lentils are mushy. in a small pan melt 1tbs butter with paprika and dried mint. pour over your soup, season with salt and pepper then enjoy your delicious soup….

  51. Saptarshi

    I am from Calcutta and a light masoor (red-letil) dal spells comfort food for me. A simpler version that is very popular is this:

    Pressure cook the lentils (one whistle) with a bay leaf and set aside. Now heat mustard oil and add paach phoron, a little turmeric, a green chilli and a dried red chilli (whole). Now pour the boiled dal into this pan (there will be a splash!).

    Season and sprinkle coriander leaves and take it off the flame.

    Best had with some fried potato wedges or any kind of fried vegetable.

  52. zee

    Do the alternative spices (sesame seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustards seed, fenugreek seeds) need to be pulverized, such as with a mortar and pestle?

    No. ~Elise

  53. Johanna

    I made this last week and it was delicious. I’ve always wanted to make a good dal to rival my favorite Indian restaurant, and this definitely lived up to my expectations. One peculiar thing, however, is hat even though I used vibrantly hued red lentils like the recipe suggests, but my dal turned out brown. What happened? Could I have simmered it too long?

    Thanks!

    Don’t know. Maybe there was something in the spice mix that made it turn brown. ~Elise

  54. Shakuntala Basu

    I am a Bengali from Kolkata West Bengal. I just wanted to add a little something to this recipe, when we have guests the same dal is prepared with a dollop of ghee, clarified butter instead of oil. In fact when ghee is used to temper the spices and onion much less quantity is required than oil. Skip the coriander leaves and serve with roasted red potatoes on long grain basmati rice. Also skip the garlic, garlic supresses the smell of ghee.

  55. C

    I never make daal anymore because my mother-in-law is from Pakistan/Central India and she makes it all the time. I tried this recipe and the flavor is very different from hers– better, in my opinion. It’s more savory (probably from the bay leaf and maybe the fennel) and has that nice tang from the lime juice. It will be interesting to see what she thinks.

  56. carma

    Thank you, what a keeper, this recipe rocks!

    My 4 year old son LOVES it!

  57. jsaunt

    I made this daal this week and my boyfriend said “This is better than what we get at the Indian restaurant!” It was very tasty and I thank you for it. It’s going to make me look through your blog for other recipes! Thanks so much. Yummy!

  58. judee @ gluten free A-Z

    I make a simple red lentil soup with potatoes carrots, and cumin. I’m glad to have another way to make it.This recipe looks amazing.

  59. This might make me like lentils

    Man that looks AMAZING. I am generally not a beans / lentil person but I think this may finally convince me to try a dal recipe.

  60. Laura Kaufman

    Hi Elise! Been enjoying following you since your great lecture at Tahoe. :)

    Where do you think I could find Bengali five spice mix (panch phoron) in the East Bay area? Any mail order options?

    Meanwhile, I am teaching creative healthy cooking at my son’s former daycare, which is a blast. Wondered if you have any great recipes for good experiences elementary-age kids can really get their hands into. We’ve done everything from sushi to homemade crackers and dips and lots of noodle things.

    Cheers,
    Laura K.

    Hi Laura, I picked up some panch phoron at Whole Foods. Perhaps they would have it there or at Berkeley Bowl? As for kids, check out our kid friendly recipes. I recommend the apple chicken quesadillas, the cheese tacos, the kid-friendly wraps, and the apple peanut butter sandwich for making with kids. ~Elise

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