A Simple Homey, Coconut-y Red Lentil Dal

By • December 15, 2013 • 45 Comments


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Author Notes: Adapted from Anupy Singla's The Indian Slow Cooker. I've adapted the recipe for the stove, since red lentils cook so quickly. But if you want to use a slow cooker, Singla recommends cooking the lentils on low for 5 1/2 hours and then for another 30 minutes after adding the coconut milk. Also: 1) I've dialed down the spice; free free to add a couple of finely chopped serrano chiles at the beginning. 2) If you don't have curry leaves, don't worry -- it still tastes wonderful. And it freezes beautifully.Nicholas

Makes 11 cups

  • 3 cups red lentils (masoor dal)
  • 1 medium yellow or red onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup tomatoes, canned or fresh, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 medium red or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 15 to 20 fresh or frozen curry leaves (optional but worth seeking out)
  • 1 14-oz can coconut milk
  1. In a large saucepan, combine the lentils, coarsely chopped onion, tomatoes, cayenne, ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, and salt. Add 7 cups of water and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils begin to break down.
  2. In a frying pan, warm the vegetable oil over medium to high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and the mustard seeds. Cover the pan and wait briefly until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Then add the finely chopped onion and the curry leaves and cook, stirring to prevent the leaves from burning, until lightly browned.
  3. Add the curry leaf mixture to the lentils along with the coconut milk. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, until the flavors have melded.

Comments (45) Questions (3)

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15 days ago Kristy

This recipe worked well for us. I served it with roti and a cucumber salad. I too was only able to find dried curry leaves so I omitted them. It makes a large pot of dal, for little money and effort. A perfect weeknight meal. My eight and six year old were fans.

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17 days ago bmallorca

We made a variation on this recipe in a group-cook this weekend that was a bit wild and rollicking. Since we already had one lentil dish, we subbed canned garbanzos. Somehow the chilies didn't make it home from the market, so it wasn't spicy at all (hot chutney helped a little but differently). But the reason I am commenting is because, having read too many recipes too close together, we ended up subbing the juice of one big (expensive!) lime for the curry leaves. Really meant to do a bay leaf as mentioned in earlier comments, but ... something else happened! The dish was DELICIOUS, and two friends had a great experience for their first time cooking Indian. I need to make it again, next time with chilies and either bay or curry leaves. Unless I make it to the Indian store in the interim. THANKS for a great recipe! Sorry I changed it quite so much : )

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18 days ago Swiss Meringue

I made this for dinner tonight - it was very nice! I subbed light coconut milk, and only used 1 tbsp of oil to saute the onions and spices. I didn't have curry leaves so I added about 1.5 tsp madras curry powder and that worked well.

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24 days ago priscilla maung

Delicious!!! I halved the lentils (used yellow lentils) but didn't halved the rest of the ingredients. LOTS of flavor!!! Used 5 bay leaves instead of curry leaves. 3/4 can of coconut milk. 1 minced up thai chilli. spicy and flavorful!!!!

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27 days ago kathy

to Judy above: When you cook red lentils, they turn yellow (also the turmeric will contribute to the yellow coloring.

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28 days ago Kelly J. R.

This recipe has become a regular in our rotation. So easy to make and delicious. I don't have access to curry leaves but it's still good without them. The soup goes great with a side of fresh pineapple.

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28 days ago Gary

We add peeled carrots to the pot while cooking the masoor dal, onion and turmeric. When done, we fry cumin seeds and garlic (a lot of each) until the garlic begins to brown. Add to the dal, stir quickly and cover. Let sit for at least half hour. Just before serving, reheat and then we add fresh chopped tomato and spinach to wilt.

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28 days ago emcsull

Do you think I could use white lentils as well ?

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28 days ago NC

This was very nice but it didn't have enough flavor for my family, including my daughter. I did use ghee instead of oil, which helped, and I also added both black and yellow mustard seeds and nigella to the temper plus lots of curry leaves and a couple of hot peppers but I was underwhelmed. I finished with some lemon juice which helped. Friends liked it but I couldn't get too excited. sorry - really wanted to love it!

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about 1 month ago judy

the picture seem to me to be yellow dal, not red. But i'm sure it will come out just as good. I only have dried curry leaves. Have had for a while, but haven't used. Will give it a try with this recipe. First time on this web site. Nice!

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about 1 month ago Erin Argue

Judy - I wouldn't use dried curry leaves. Only fresh. They really are quite different. If you don't have them Cilantro is a nice touch.

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2 months ago Camila CC

Delish! I added some chopped tomatoes and green onions at the end as a garnish and it brighten the dish. Thanks!

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2 months ago Kate

My 10-month old loved this, as did I. Thanks!

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3 months ago Amy Stewart

This recipe is delicious! Thank you for sharing.

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3 months ago Rkelly3042

Love this dal! Had to use some less exotic ingredients I had on hand( cilantro for example) but this recipe will now be one of my regulars. Thank you!

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3 months ago Amandadp

Loved this! I halved the recipe but still added the full can of coconut milk as it seemed to be getting dry and I like coconut. It turned out great!

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3 months ago Erin Argue

I made this tonight. I used coconut oil instead of olive oil. I added 2 seeded chopped jalapenos with the first of the chopped onions. I didn't have ground coriander so I added coriander seeds with the cumin and mustard seeds. I was only able to find dried curry leaves but Torrey (below) saved me from disaster and I omitted them and added chopped cilantro at the end of the cooking time. I also used light coconut milk. It was really delicious. I doubled the recipe and now I have lentils for daaaaaays!

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3 months ago Torrey Peacock

Nice recipe. Would be even better using ghee for the temper, instead of vegetable oil. And yes, curry leaves are awesome, and they have to be fresh. If you have an Indian grocery, they will have them. Or grow your own. :-)

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4 months ago christina

I couldn't find coriander, mustard seeds and cumin seeds in my local Hasidic market and it was too cold out in NYC today to travel too far so I used what I had on hand: curry powder. The TJs curry powder I used had all the ingredients in one little bottle. I substituted this curry powder each time it called for a spice and used cilantro instead of curry leaves and threw in some cauliflower. It turned out wonderfully but I imagine it being even better if I followed the recipe more exactly. I will try dicing some potatoes in next time too. Thanks for the great recipe!

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4 months ago gustus

I made this tonight...a perfect winter warm-up and so easy! I had never heard of curry leaves but was surprised to find them easily at an international market here; a good handful cost all of 80 cents, and thanks to your tips below now there's enough in a bag in my freezer to last me a looooong time. (Thanks also for clarifying that it has nothing to do with curry powder.)

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4 months ago EmilyC

This recipe called my name so loudly when you posted it that I dragged my kids to the Indian grocer to buy curry leaves. It was well worth it, even if my kids didn't devour it like I'd hoped for. They tried it, though, and ate several bites, which was victory enough for me. A little lime juice at the end brightens it nicely.

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4 months ago Nicholas

Yup. As always with children: your mileage may vary. (But being dragged to the Indian grocer is an important part of any childhood.)