A Simple Homey, Coconut-y Red Lentil Dal

By • December 15, 2013 • 52 Comments



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.
Jump to Comments (52)

Comments (52) Questions (3)

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4 days 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!

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25 days 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!

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30 days 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.

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about 1 month 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.

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about 1 month 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.

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3 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

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4 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.

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4 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 : )

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4 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.

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4 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!!!!

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4 months 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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4 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.

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4 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.

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4 months ago emcsull

Do you think I could use white lentils as well ?

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about 1 month ago emcsull

no, huh ?

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4 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!

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5 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!

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5 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.

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5 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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5 months ago Kate

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

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6 months ago Amy Stewart

This recipe is delicious! Thank you for sharing.

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6 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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7 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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7 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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7 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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7 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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7 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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7 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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7 months ago Nicholas Day

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

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7 months ago Allie

This was delicious! Next time though, I don't think I'll cook the lentils as long. A little over 15 min did the trick for me.

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7 months ago Karen

This is a really wonderful, balanced dal recipe. I added an additional cup of water, as my personal preference is for a souplier dal -- but other than that, I followed it pretty closely. I love the addition at the end of frying the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, onions & leaves (I used cilantro since i didn't have curry leaves on hand -- I just added a bit later, when the onions were almost done) and adding to the dal at the end. I've made quite a few lentil dal recipes before, but this step really added a dimension I hadn't previously experienced. Delicious!

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7 months ago Steph

If you can't find curry leaves, bay leaf might add a nice note to this.

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7 months ago Shalini

Do you think we could use (less) dried curry leaves in the tarka?

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7 months ago Sena

We had this for dinner tonight. Absolutely spectacular! I love lentils and Indian food, and I'm happy that I happened to have plenty of masoor dal on hand. My hubby loved it, too, and is now not disappointed that he didn't have meat at dinner. I didn't have curry leaves, but it's still delicious. I appreciate that this was an easy recipe to make. This recipe is a keeper!

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7 months ago Gary

You can also dry curry leaves and they do keep rather well.

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7 months ago VanessaJo

This was absolutely delicious. I adapted it a bit, mainly in the tarka step:
Our store was out of curry leaves, so I used cilantro, added to the tarka once I took it off heat.
I used green onion instead of yellow onion in the tarka; I also swapped 2 garlic cloves for the cumin seed.
I used coconut manna as the fat.
Saving this one to make again, thank you!

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7 months ago Avra

I have an allergy to tomatoes but this sounds lovely - any ideas for a replacement or can i just leave out and add a little liquid from something else? I know it seems like a key part of the recipe but love the spices and coconut milk here!

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7 months ago CWP

I think you would want to add something else for flavor. Carrot puree with lemon juice for the acidity? Red peppers?

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7 months ago Gary

We add peeled carrots with the masoor dal, onion and turmeric. When the carrots are done, we make a simple tarka using garlic and cumin seeds. After the dal has sat for the flavors to blend, we add some fresh spinach and tomatoes to warm thru just before serving. Never used curry leaves in dal but will very soon.

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7 months ago SBKSB

Curry leaves freeze well, so if you find a supply, just drop the extras in a double plastic bag and put them where you can retrieve them in your freezer. Also, if you're really an addict, you can find curry leaf trees to grow, inside, online.

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7 months ago carswell

Serendipity. A friend just picked up some fresh curry leaves yesterday and gifted me with a share. Red lentil dal here I come.

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7 months ago Mary L-O

I made this tonight- rave reviews from the parents AND from both kids (and one is verrrry picky). Thank you for this excellent addition to the rotation

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7 months ago Nicholas Day

Excellent.

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7 months ago Martha

This recipe came out really well! I'm lucky enough to live near several Indian markets, and the staff at the one I went to were very nice about helping me find curry leaves. I didn't know what curry leaves look like, but they have an aroma I instantly recognized from dining at Indian restaurants. Thanks for the recipe!

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7 months ago Nicholas Day

This is great to hear.

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7 months ago Nila

Curry leaves don't taste a lot like curry powder. Plus, it would just overlap with the turmeric, cumin and coriander. I think something more herbaceous -- even something like cilantro -- would be a good replacement.

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7 months ago Globomama

i was wondering the same thing. can you use curry powder instead of impossible-to-find curry leaves? also, i made this recipe the other night and added lemon. next time, i will cut the salt in 1/2.

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7 months ago ZombieCupcake

Making this!

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7 months ago maraflanagan

Should i use curry powder or anything in the place of curry leaves if I can't find them?

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7 months ago Nicholas Day

I should have mentioned this above -- despite the name, curry leaves have zero relation to curry powder. (I know, I know. I don't know why either.) So don't substitute curry powder! As Nila says above, cilantro might play nicely with this recipe. (Thanks, Nila!) I'd just stir the cilantro into the lentils along with the coconut milk; I wouldn't fry it. That said, the recipe's still lovely if you just leave out the curry leaves and don't add anything in their place. (And if you have an Asian grocery, and certainly if you have an Indian grocery, do call and ask if they have curry leaves! You never know.)

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7 months ago Nila

This was my absolute favorite dish as a kid!

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7 months ago Shalini

This looks gorgeous!