Dal with Red Lentils

Dal and rice is  comfort food, Indian style. There are  many variations of the master recipe.  You start with the hulled lentils cooked till they are mush with a little turmeric and asafetida, temper them or not with various spices add a souring  agent or not, lastly add a garnish or not and then serve piping hot, usually but not always with rice.  Dal can be pretty basic or elaborate.  This recipe is my take on this Indian classic.  It uses ingredients that you will find in your regular grocery store, however spices at your Indian grocer will be much cheaper and fresher, so if you plan on making a lot of dal,  a trip to your friendly neighborhood Indian/Pakistani grocer may be in order.  This dal uses red lentils, I usually buy the Goya brand, since it is easily available.  Red lentils cook relatively quickly without a pressure cooker.


For the lentil mush

3/4 cup red lentils

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon asafetida (optional)

1  small Serrano pepper or Thai birds eye chili or red dried chili

3 cups water

Salt to taste, I put about 2 teaspoons kosher salt

For Tempering the oil (Phodni or Tarka)

1 table spoon oil with a high smoking point such as canola or peanut oil

1 red or green hot chili

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

curry leaves (optional)

Souring agent

Juice of l lime or lemon


Fresh chopped cilantro

Step 1: Making the Mush

In a sauce pan put the lentils and all the other ingredients for the mush including water and bring to a boil, skim off any froth, these are insoluble proteins. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about half an hour to 40 minutes or until the dal is completely cooked and mushy, discard the whole chili.

Step 2: Tempering the Oil

Heat the oil in small skillet with a heavy bottom, when the oil is translucent add the mustard, cumin, chili and curry leaves if you have them.  When the mustard begins sputtering, turn off the heat and add the hot oil with all the spices to the lentil mush.

Step 3:   Finish with the acidic element and a garnish

If you want you can add a little water to thin the stew or heat it some more to thicken it.   Add the lime juice and the garnish with fresh cilantro.  Check the seasoning,  you can add a tea spoon of sugar if it is too sour.  Serve hot with rice, add a pat of butter, ghee or even extra virgin olive oil.   Also, a great side dish to serve with an Indian dinner.


1.  Add sliced onion and/or garlic when tempering the oil.

Note :  The whole chili and curry leaves are not meant to be eaten.

Coming up next, sambar, a south Indian variation of dal, slightly more involved than this recipe.

Posted on November 18, 2013, in Food and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Sambar’s one of those dishes where people who’ve done it a long time can seemingly whip it out in a jiffy, where as novices, like myself, seem to take a lot, lot longer.

    Look forward to your recipe.

  2. I bet this would be good topped with yogurt.

  3. We are big into all kinds of beans, including split peas and lentils, so they are part of the routine, esp in winter. Don’t have mustard seeds, but have used other things, garam, curry powder, a little bit of crushed coriander seeds, saffron, etc. Butter, too!

    I also sometimes use rice wine vinegar instead of lime or lemon, to save limes for Gin and Tonics, for example, or lemon for a fish dish…

    Mrs J says “Not too mushy, please…” so what are you gonna do? Sour cream or yogurt, how to decide!

  1. Pingback: Balloon Juice | Friday Recipe Exchange: What’s Cookin’ This Week

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