A Simple Homey, Coconut-y Red Lentil Dal

June 20, 2021
5 Stars
Photo by James Ransom
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

  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • 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 fresh or frozen curry leaves (optional but worth seeking out, up to 20 to taste)
  • 1 14-oz can coconut milk
In This Recipe
  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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I'm the author of a book on the science and history of infancy, Baby Meets World. My website is; I tweet over at @nicksday. And if you need any good playdoh recipes, just ask.

86 Reviews

SarahBee January 7, 2022
Delicious, even without curry leaves. Don’t have those in these parts!😊
Belinda August 26, 2021
delicious easy and cheap!!!
coleknnr August 15, 2020
One of the best soups I've ever had! Wow
JaR April 29, 2020
Finally I made a dahl from scratch that tastes as it should, it was delicious! And easy to make too. The quantity was quite large though, could feed about 30 people so next time I will cut the recipe in half. I highly recommend this recipe.
DessertByCandy February 8, 2020
Revisit this old favourite today and added massive amount of chopped ginger and plenty of okra. Very delicious addition especially since the thick texture of the stew hide the sliminess of okra very well.
suzi October 28, 2019
I made this last week after returning from Israel and craving Indian food!! I kept it super simple and skipped step two altogether. (left our the oil and tempered spices) added a big pinch of curry powder and some extra ground cumin. Making it again, same way for a couple of good friends. Thank you for sharing this so that I can share as well!!
LizG17 October 26, 2019
Best dal recipe!! I was looking for a recipe for dal, found this one, and never looked back. Simple to make and so delicious (especially with some homemade naan). I've made it multiple times and guests love it!
Melinda October 7, 2019
One of my favorite soup recipes! I always make a double recipe because my neighbors love it, too!
galsmu March 12, 2019
I loved and this recipe in 2014 and I still love it. I always have the ingredients in my pantry so I can make it anytime. My only tweak is to amp up the heat - typically with crushed red pepper (another staple in our house).
Noor S. January 30, 2018
This looks like how I make Sri Lankan dhal curry! It's the best! :)
bekahlayne October 31, 2017
This is one of the best recipes I've come across off this's super flavorful! I wouldn't skip the curry leaves, they add so much flavor to the dish! I add a few lime leaves as well.
Peckish M. February 23, 2017
Might I add that this is a Sri Lankan dish and not necessarily an Indian one? The dhal curry as we call it, is a Sri Lankan staple served in almost every household, wayside eating joint and etc for breakfast, lunch and dinner. True that Sri Lankan cuisine has Indian influences but if you look closely, you will see that
a) Using coconut milk in savory dishes is not very popular in India, except for maybe Kerala. On the other hand, coconut milk is used regularly in Sri Lankan cuisine. In fact, it is hard to find a recipe that does not use it!
b) The use of curry leaf is also a very Sri Lankan thing to do. While we Sri Lankans use the curry leaf for almost every curry in sight, Indians use it sparsely, and rely instead on other spices instead.
It really is a pity that Sri Lankan cuisine is often mistaken with Indian cuisine. We have in possession many rare gems of culinary excellence which remains to be unveiled to the world :)
In any case it is a delicious dish. And thank you for sharing it :)
Cheri February 28, 2021
I realize that this is from 2017 but I would really like to know what you would serve with this to make a Sri Lankan meal. Flat bread? Sides?
DoubleNegative October 20, 2016
Thanks Nicholas- I've made this twice now [both times without the curry leaves as they are scarce in my parts (East Los Angeles, I know, I could find 'em if I was willing to drive across town for lentils, I'm not)]. Both times I have halved the recipe and it does not seem to suffer at all. I serve it over coconut rice, fresh cilantro for garnish and add a few good dollops of "Melinda's Naga Jolokia" pepper sauce at the end as I like my food spicier than my friends do. So satisfying...brilliant even. Thanks!
patrick November 3, 2016
theres an indian grocer in san gabriel that has fresh leaves usually - otherwise ive bought dried off amazon. i ended up growing my own and have several baby plants. maybe i could give you one?
Sidney September 29, 2016
This was the best soup I've ever had! Be sure to search for the curry leaves, what they add is inexplicably delicious!
Alex T. June 7, 2016
I made this soup today , and it is real good..very yummy.
Ursula January 21, 2016
Awesome soup. Froze perfectly and was a delish soup dinner tonite.
Alaina C. January 6, 2016
My first time making Indian food-- absolutely wonderful! My only modifications were: I used 2 cups of lentils, ¾ cup of tomatoes, 2 tsp of curry powder and powdered forms of the spices at the end with the onions. Fantastic.
Jessie-Rae December 28, 2015
I halved the lentils and the water but then doubled the spices as we wanted a very flavorful dal. I did end up adding the full can of coconut milk to make sure the lentils would reheat well and not soak up too much of the liquid in our leftovers. So tasty.
ghainskom December 4, 2015
This is quite easy and with those cumin seeds, really tasty, for bigger and younger gourmets alike. But be warned, it does make 11 cups, which is a lot!
DoubleNegative October 20, 2015
Delish! Like a handful of other reviewers I halved the lentils and subsequently the coconut milk, because it's just me (which is still plenty of lentils for the freezer and lunches for the week) and kept most of the other ingredients as written. I added a lot more cayenne and some chile de arbol and it still wasn't too spicy (for me). Roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds and chopped lots of fresh parsley, cilantro and scallions for garnish. Served over coconut rice, just to keep with the theme. All in all a very good, if a little abundant basic recipe. I'm looking forward to my leftovers for lunch!