Red Lentil Dal (Masoor Dal ~ Lentil Curry)
Lentil Dal is a delicious, flavor-packed vegan stew that's naturally gluten free, high in fiber and protein, low in fat and calories, and super quick and easy to prepare. It's a favorite weeknight meal in our home, and we happily eat it at least once or twice a month.
Besides being delicious, Lentil Dal is one of our favorite recipes because it's just so incredibly convenient. It relies largely on pantry staples and veggies I almost always have on hand like onions, garlic, and bell peppers. It also keeps well in the refrigerator for several days, reheats well and makes a delicious, quick lunch later in the week. So, consider making enough for leftovers.
What is Dal?
The word "Dal" has two definitions.
- It is the generic Hindi word for dried split peas or lentils
- It's also a thick stew made from lentils
As is the case with man Indian dishes, there are many variations in lentil dal recipes, with different versions relying on different ingredients, and family and cultural traditions.
But in every recipe for dal, there are two two components that are essential: soft and tender lentils, and cooked spices and other aromatics known a tadka. After that, a variety of ingredients might be added - potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables.
How to make Lentil Dal
There are basically three easy steps to making lentil dal:
- Cook the lentils
- Make a Tadka
- Stir the Tadka into the cooked lentils
Cooking red lentils is as easy as adding them to a saucepan with water and a bit of salt and letting them simmer for 20-30 minutes until soft, thick, and falling apart.
What is a tadka?
A tadka is nothing more than spices and other aromatics, like onions and garlic, cooked in oil to open up and intensify their flavors. Cooking spices and aromatics in oil at high heat rather than simmering them gently along with the lentils makes the flavors bolder and more intense. In other words, it makes them taste more like themselves.
In this recipe for lentil dal, onions, red bell peppers, jalapeño, garlic, tomato paste, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, and paprika are used to make a tadka while the red lentils simmer gently in water. The idea is to cook the spices and vegetables at relatively high heat, creating a rich concentration of flavor in just a few minutes.
Then, simply stir this delicious, flavor-packed mixture into the cooked lentils, let it simmer for a few minutes so that the flavors blend, and you're done.
What's the difference between red, green, and brown lentils?
Lentils come in a rainbow of colors, from red to green to brown, and every shade in between.
Brown lentils can range in color from light tan to nearly black, take about 20-30 minutes to cook, and contain a slightly nutty, earthy flavor.
Green lentils have a stronger flavor than brown lentils and taste a bit peppery. Green lentils also take longer to cook and tend to retain a firm texture even after cooking.
Because brown and green lentils are whole and contain an outer covering, they tend to hold their shape after cooking. This makes them a great choice for salads, garnishes, and side dishes.
Red lentils are split and do not include their outer covering. Red lentils generally take 20-30 minuets to cook and have a tendency to fall apart when cooked through. This quality of breaking apart makes them perfect for dal and other vegetable curries, because they naturally thicken the stew all by themselves, no other thickening agent required.
All varieties of lentils are nutritions, high in fiber and protein, and cook quickly. Lentils are also quite inexpensive, readily available, and have a long shelf-life. I almost always have a package or two on hand for quick weeknight dinners.
How do you serve Dal?
After allowing the lentils and tadka to cook together for a few minutes, remove the pot from the heat and stir in a bit of fresh lemon juice. Start with about 1 tablespoon, taste the dal, and add as much more as you like.
To serve Dal, ladle the rich stew over bowls of tender, cooked basmati rice or fragrant, spicy Indian Rice. Sprinkle a bit of chopped, fresh cilantro over the dal and serve with additional lemon slices on the side. A dollop of unscented, plain yogurt is also delicious.
I love serving dal with soft naan, warmed in the oven and slathered with butter. While you can find packaged naan in many supermarkets, homemade naan is an incredible treat.
- 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- 1 chopped red bell pepper (seeds and stem removed)
- 1 jalapeño, minced (stem and seeds removed)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 - 3 tbsp lemon juice (to taste), plus sliced lemon for serving
- About ½ cup chopped cilantro leaves
- 3 cups cooked Basmati Rice, for serving
- Place the rinsed lentils, 3 cups of water, and ½ tsp salt in a saucepan. Set over medium heat, bring to a simmer, and cook until the lentils are tender, 20-30 minutes.
- While the lentils cook, add the oil and diced onion to a skillet and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent.
- Add the chopped red pepper and diced jalapeño and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the tomato paste, minced garlic, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, paprika, and about ¾ tsp salt. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Once the lentils are cooked, stir in the spiced onion mixture. Cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes to let the flavors blend. Add more water if necessary to keep the dal the consistency of a thick stew.
- Add about 1 tbsp of lemon juice, taste, and add more if you like.
- Serve over cooked basmati rice. Top with chopped fresh cilantro and serve wtih additional lemon slices. Dal is also delicious topped with a dollop of plain, unsweetened yogurt.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 276Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 711mgCarbohydrates: 45gFiber: 7gSugar: 6gProtein: 9g