Make Ahead

Bengali Orange Lentils with Cilantro and Tomatoes

February 22, 2017
5 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

These lentils are everyday fare in most Bengali homes. This recipe, adapted from the Bengali Five Spice Chronicles, is my mother's winter variation. The split husked masoor dal used in this recipe, ranges in color between pink to red, orange being the most common color.
The key to this recipe and any other Indian recipe is the process we call tempering or tarka. Seasoned oil is used to infuse flavor into the lentils. This can be done to perk up any dish such as leftover plain rice.

Tomato is not a native on Indian tables, but it surfaces, with all its red acidic freshness, in Indian winter markets. That is when it gets meshed into this recipe on my mother's table.

There are many layers of flavoring in the tempering: I often use only cumin, but my mother adds in some chopped fried onion. There are rules to the process of tempering or what we call shombora in Bengali. Not all tempering work with all lentils.

In my home, this calls my name most days, when the weather is cool or chilly. It is also wonderful just by itself as a soup. If you want to mute the spiciness, add the green chiles about 15 minutes into the cooking process. —Rinku Bhattacharya /Spice Chronicles

What You'll Need
  • 3/4 cup split orange lentils
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 2 medium-sized Roma tomatoes, chopped (or 1 cup of drained chopped tomatoes from a can)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 4 green Serrano chiles, tops removed, cut in half lengthwise
  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed
  • 1 small onion, diced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons ghee or clarified butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
  • 1 or 2 dried red chiles
  • Torn cilantro, for garnish
  1. In a large pot, bring 3 cups of water to a boil.
  2. Add in the orange lentils, turmeric, salt, tomatoes, ginger, and green chiles. Cover the lentils, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. For a less spicy dish, add the green chiles about 15 minutes into the cooking process.
  3. Turn of the heat and mix well. You should have a smooth, bright yellow batch of lentils, with just a hint of integrity.
  4. Heat the oil in a separate pot, add in the onions and cook for about 6 to 7 minutes, until wilted soft and flecked golden.
  5. Add the clarified butter and the cumin seeds and the dried red chilies to the same pan (with the oil) and cook for about a minute, until the cumin seeds darken. Pour the seasoned oil and onion mixture over the lentils. Add some of the lentils into the tempering pan to sop up any remaining bit of flavored oil, then stir back into the larger pot. This is the process of creating the seasoning and tempering the lentils. Garnish with torn cilantro.
  6. Serve with steaming hot rice or freshly made flatbreads.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Ophelia Sarakinis
    Ophelia Sarakinis
  • Jannell McConnell
    Jannell McConnell
  • Rinku Bhattacharya /Spice Chronicles
    Rinku Bhattacharya /Spice Chronicles
  • MeMy

9 Reviews

MeMy March 13, 2021
It was pretty good; my neice age 8 and nephew 10 enjoyed it. It was watery so I poured from the large pot to the small pot and let it sit for a few minutes to thicken. Worked out fine once mixed in with rice. Next time less water.
Ophelia S. July 6, 2019
3 stars.
It tastes very good, but there is WAY too much water. It becomes a soup. It also doesn't serve that many people, maybe 3 people. I also did not put as much cumin, it overpowers.
Paula A. April 19, 2018
I'm on a special diet and I can eat lentils, but not onions. Would asafoetida be a suitable substitute for the onions?
Rinku B. October 21, 2018
Yes, would give a different flavor. You can add the asafetida with 1/2 teaspoon sugar to mirror the sweetness.
Jannell M. May 12, 2017
What would a non-winter version (i.e., a spring version, maybe!) do differently?
bas26 April 27, 2017
3 cups of water seems like a lot for 3/4 cups of lentils. I have a recipe for red lentil soup (I use Goya split red lentils) that calls for 1 cup of lentils and up to 6 cups of water for SOUP. Does your finished recipe come out soupy or is it a stew?
Souhaite December 4, 2017
I love this recipe and make it a lot, but somehow never remember that there's too much water. I always end up cooking this down a lot longer than called for - I recommend using about 1/3 less water.
gandalf April 25, 2017
(1) In the ingredients you list "orange lentils" but in the directions you mention red lentils -- I presume that you use red lentils throughout?

(2) At what point do the red chiles come into play?

(3) Can you use already cooked lentils, instead of cooking the dry lentils? If so, how would you change the orange sauce that contains the turmeric, tomatoes, ginger, and green chiles?

Rinku B. April 27, 2017
I have modified the description, we are talking about split husked masoor lentils, which is closer to orange than red. Chilies get added into tempering with the cumin and I have updated recipe. No to using cooked lentils, the flavors will not be the same.