A Simple Homey, Coconut-y Red Lentil Dal

By • December 15, 2013 • 56 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 Day

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.
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Comments (56) Questions (3)


about 1 month ago Transcendancing

This was delicious, I did things slightly differently by sautéing the onions and spices in ghee, then adding the lentil and water and once they'd started softening added the tomatoes and salt and two whole dried chilli. I ground up the curry leaves (mine were dried) with the spices, and added only 270mL coconut milk. Served with rice, topped with yoghurt and fresh coriander, delicious! Will definitely make this again!


about 1 month ago Lauren

This was just wonderful- flavorful, healthy, balanced, easy. And with the addition of rice, it made enough to serve 8! I have so many red lentil stews in my recipe cache- I think I'm going to toss all but this one.


2 months ago rosemary

OH my. I'd been wanting to try this recipe so last night was the night I was at my daughter's and needed to please a 2 year old. My son in law had it for lunch and dinner, my daughter groaned with pleasure and baby wanted to eat it right out of the pot and cried when her parents denied her request.


3 months ago Shan2218

Made this last night and it was great! We like spice so upped the spices a bit and added a touch of garlic. Will definitely be making it again!


5 months ago chefgoldilocks

This is a good base recipe for dahl; tasty, quick and easily adapted to taste. In our house, we love our spicese, so I upped the amount of those already included in the recipe, and on top of that added in some fenugreek, cardamom pods and whole cinnamon. Served with cauliflower rice, some fresh cilantro and yogurt, this was a delicious meal!


6 months ago jbw10003

Absolutely incredible! My partner is Indian - I am not - and I served this to him and his Indian friends for dinner recently. They were blown away! I now keep this in individual containers in the freezer at all times. Thanks!


6 months ago Nigella

Of course this (and every) dal can be adapted in innumerable ways that are all just as good or better. Dried curry leaves, curry powder, cilantro, more or less cumin, nigella seeds, bay leaves, fenugreek, garam masala powder, chili, barely a pinch of asafoetida, any oil you like, light coconut milk, omit coconut milk and/or use more water and a few tbsp of cream or non-dairy milk instead, garlic, lemon or lime juice, green onion, grated ginger. These are common ingredients in yellow and red dal recipes, and they all work beautifully. Split red (masoor dal), yellow (tadka dal), or pigeon (arhar dal) peas work equally well.


6 months ago Kat

This is absolutely divine. I didn't mind eating it night after night, and even froze half of it so that I could eat again for lunch the next week. It's savory, lightly creamy, and healthy. SO good.


7 months ago Scribbles

This is an quick, easy and very tasty dish! Like most foods of this ilk they taste sublime the next day after the flavors have really melded. The curry leaves are very easy to find online and really add to the flavor - dried ones are great and once they are sauté with the spices (I, too, used ghee instead of oil) they smell great. Another tiny thing I did differently was sauté the spices before adding the lentils, tomatoes and water - most Indian recipes suggest warming the spices to bring out the oils and flavors. And, I served the dal over a bulgur pulao - it was all wonderful.


7 months ago Aravind Chandran

Looks delicious..you can also add some green chillies and cilantro leaves for better taste..
for more indian dal recipes www.dal.org.in


9 months 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.


9 months 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 : )


9 months 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.


9 months 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!!!!


9 months ago kathy

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


9 months 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.


9 months 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.


9 months ago emcsull

Do you think I could use white lentils as well ?


6 months ago emcsull

no, huh ?


9 months 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!


10 months 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!


10 months 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.