This easy Red Lentil Dal recipe makes the perfect plant-based meal that is ready in just about 35 minutes! It’s richly flavourful thanks to an aromatic mixture of spices (coriander, cumin, garam masala, paprika and turmeric) and enriched with coconut and tomatoes. This immensely satisfying dish is a protein-packed meal you can feel good about. Served with roasted carrots and parsnips, adds an extra flavour and nutrients.
What is dal?
Dal, also known as dahl or daal, is derived from the Sanskrit word that means “to split”and is in reference to dried and often split legumes (lentils, peas, or beans) which are cooked with aromatic spices. Not only is dal a staple in Indian cuisine, but it is also the cornerstone to any Ayurvedic diet or cleanse, since it is light, yet satisfying and easy to digest.
Dal: a staple Indian recipe
There are countless variations of dal all across India. Some of the most common ones, which you can find all around the country, are masoor, moong and chana dal.
Also called red lentil dal is mild in flavour and turns into a gentle golden colour once cooked. Since this lentil is quick cooking you can use either spilt or whole red lentils.
The pale yellow split dal made from mung beans is one of the quickest-cooking dals and is the easiest to digest.
Skinned and split chickpeas are used for this dal and like cooked chickpeas, chana dal has an deliciously earthy, nutty taste.
How healthy is lentil dal?
Dal is an excellent source of plant-based protein that is both sustaining and satisfying making it a great choice for anyone following a vegetarian or vegan diet. This humble dish is also very economical and provides an extensive range of fibre, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins.
Red Lentil Dal is made with simple ingredients
This red lentil dal recipe only requires a few ingredients, including:
Olive oil: I like to use my go-to extra-virgin olive oil, which is suitable for both frying and making dressings. If unsure, choose a heat resistant olive oil over an extra-virgin olive oil. Alternatively, you can also use coconut oil or ghee.
Lentils: For this recipe, choose red lentils, which cook quickly and do not need to be soaked. Some dal recipes ask for split red lentils, I don’t find this necessary, as it only cuts the cooking time down by about 5-10 minutes. Choose whichever is easily accessible.
Aromatics and Spices: You need onions, garlic, coriander, cumin, garam masala, paprika, turmeric, and salt. These are all key to making a delicious and aromatic dal recipe. Some recipes also include grated ginger and a pinch of red chili flakes (or cayenne) for an extra kick.
Tomatoes: Chopped tomatoes and tomato paste add extra umami flavour and layer of savouriness.
Vegetable broth: I recommend using a homemade or high quality organic broth or bouillon cube. Depending on the brand you may need to adjust the salt accordingly.
Coconut milk: Full-fat canned coconut milk gives this red lentil dish a delicious flavour and element of creaminess.
How to prepare red lentil masoor dal
In the recipe card you will find instructions on how to make both the red lentil dal and the roasted vegetables to serve with it. But first, let’s take a look at the process and you’ll see just how how easy it is to make this vegan red lentil dahl!
First, in a saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Sauté the onion until softened, then stir in the garlic, followed by the spices and tomato paste. Sauté, stirring, for 30-60 seconds to bring out the flavours. TIP: measuring out the spices into a small bowl as part of the prep work makes it easy to add them all at once to the pot.
Add the rinsed lentils, stir to coat with the spices and onion and then add the vegetable broth. Bring to a simmer, cover, reduce heat, and cook for 15-20 minutes until almost all the liquid has been absorbed by the lentils.
Now we are ready to add the canned tomatoes, coconut milk and salt. Stir to combine and then partially cover with a lid and let lightly simmer for another 10-15 minutes until thickened and lentils are tender. Voila! In just three steps, it’s that easy!
Finally, just before serving, taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt, if needed. And feel free to add some freshly ground pepper, and a squeeze of lime juice (or lemon juice) to taste. And lastly, for the final touch, garnish your Indian red lentil dal with fresh herbs for a pop of colour. Or as I do, with some roasted carrots and parsnips, as well.
Optional ingredients for more variation
Adding vegetables to your dahl recipe is a great way to add variety and more nutrients. Here are a few ideas:
Spinach or Tuscan Kale: Simply add a few handfuls to the daal in the last few minutes of cooking and stir until just wilted.
Other Vegetables: You can add different vegetables to this red lentil dhal. Try adding some diced carrots or cubed sweet potato and cook it along with the lentils. Cauliflower florets could be added for the last 15 minutes of the cooking time. Or try topping this dish roasted vegetables, or stirring them in before serving.
How to serve dal
Dahl can be served on it’s own as a side dish or light lunch, or even a main meal when served with quinoa, rice or flatbread such as naan, chapattis or roti. You can top it with roasted vegetables or a dollop of plain greek yogurt. Or even serve it as a side dish with chicken or lamb. Save the leftovers for meal prep. It makes a great mid-week lunch!
Looking for other flavorful curry recipes?
Try one of these favourites:
- Indian Butter Cauliflower Curry
- Spicy Indian Eggplant Curry
- Moong Dal with Sweet Potato & Coconut
- Curried Rice with Roasted Carrots
Red Lentil Dal (Easy Indian Curry Recipe)
For the roasted vegetables:
- 250 g parsnips, peeled and chopped into angled pieces, large pieces in half (1 large parsnip)
- 250 g carrots, peeled and chopped into angled pieces (2 large carrots)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
For the dal:
- 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon paprika (sweet)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cups red lentils, rinsed (400 g)
- 4 cups vegetable broth (1 litre)
- 400 g can chopped tomatoes
- 1 x 400 ml can full-fat coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- Fresh cilantro leaves, to garnish
- lime wedges, to serve (optional)
Preheat oven to 430°F / 220°C (200°C fan-assisted) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the carrots and parsnips on the prepared baking sheet and drizzle with 1,5 tablespoons olive oil. Toss until evenly coated and season well with salt. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until tender and golden brown at the edges, turn once halfway through.
Meanwhile, in a large pot or Dutch oven, heat 2,5 tablespoons olive oil on medium to medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for until they soften and start to become translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and spices (coriander, cumin, garam masala, paprika, turmeric) and tomato paste, stirring until aromatic (1 minute).
Add lentils pot and stir until combined. Then add in the vegetable broth, stir, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, stirring once or twice, until the lentils have absorbed most of the liquid (15-20 minutes).
Stir in the canned tomatoes, coconut milk, and salt. Simmer on low, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until thickened and lentils tender (10-15 minutes). Taste and season with more salt, if needed. If the dal starts becoming too thick, add a little extra broth or water.
Serve into bowls and top with some of the roasted carrots and parsnip. Finish with fresh coriander leaves and a squeeze of lime juice, if desired. Enjoy!
- I recommend combining all the spices in a small dish while preparing the ingredients as this make it easy to toss all of them into the pot when needed.
- This recipe is ideal for food prep as leftovers taste just as good, if not better and it stores well in an airtight container, in the refrigerator, for 3-5 days. You can also freeze it for future meals!
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