Red Lentil Dal

SoupIndianVegetarianLentil

This easy Indian dal is ready in under an hour, and makes a satisfying vegetarian lunch or dinner. Serve with rice or naan. This soup also keeps well and can be frozen for up to three months.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

Dal: A Staple Indian Recipe

This red lentil dal recipe comes by way of my friend Kerissa Barron, who spent several months living and traveling through India. 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

What to Serve with Dal

You can serve dal as a simple meal with a side of ricenaan, or papadams. You can also serve dal as a side dish for chicken or lamb.

How to Store and Freeze Dal

Dal will keep refrigerated for about five days and can be gently reheated on the stovetop or in the microwave. You can also freeze dal for up to three months (try this method).

Try These Other Indian Recipes

Updated December 30, 2019 : We spiffed up this post to make it sparkle. No significant changes to the original recipe.

Red Lentil Dal Recipe

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

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.

No fresh tomatoes? You can substitute with 1 cup of canned crushed tomatoes.

Ingredients

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

Method

1 Cook the lentils: 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 Blanch and chop the tomatoes: 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 Sauté the onions with seasonings: 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.

4 Add cooked lentils: To the onions and spices, add the cooked lentils along with the lentil cooking water. Add salt. Cook for 10 minutes.

5 Finish the soup: 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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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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82 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Deanna

    Delish! I modified it for the Instant Pot (IMO the Instant Pot achieves perfect lentil texture across the board), and it was great. Nice spice profile — just enough turmeric to taste it (breathe it, really) but not overdo it. (Saute the onion in the IP, add garlic for one scant minute, add spices and bloom them, add lentils, water, and one can diced tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes with 10 natural release. )

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. Mengqiwoooo

    Note to self: add a couple more table spoons of water to get a less thick texture in the end.
    Stir fry the tomatoes before putting lentils in.
    DIY 5 spices: cumin powder, turmeric powder, chili powder, bay leave, cinnamon stick

    xxxxxyyyyy

  3. Ryan

    Its my first time even eating Dal let alone making one. It came out just like the picture. I wish we could attach a photo to these reviews. I doubled the recipe for so we could have leftovers. I think the salt really enhances the Dal. Start small then continue adding until you get the desired taste. I couldn’t find a Bengali 5 spice from the international store so I made it from scratch. Never used fenugreek but its tastes similar to peanut butter. Don’t leave it out. Thanks Elise.

    xxxxxyyyyy

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  4. Michael

    Can you use green lentils if it’s all you have? How would cooking time and water ratio change?I

    Show Replies (1)
  5. Cheryl

    I like this – and I don’t usually like lentils! My husband loves it so I try to make if often for him. I usually serve it over Jasmine rice as a side dish or meal starter. Thanks for another great recipe.

    Based on comments from an Indian friend this is the substitution I settled on for panch phoron: 1/2 tsp nigella seeds (Penzeys Charnushka) + 1/2 tsp cumin seeds + 1/2 tsp fennel seeds + 1/2 tsp black or brown mustard seeds + 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds

    xxxxxyyyyy

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