This Red Lentil Dal recipe makes the perfect plant-based Indian meal that is ready in 30 minutes! Rich, fragrant, and packed with protein for a meal you can feel good about.
There are a few different ways that people make dal, but my favorite way to is temper the spices and aromatics in oil.
The hot oil helps release all of the wonderful fragrance and flavor from the garlic, ginger, and spices (tempering!).
The tempered oil and aromatics are then added to the lentils at the last minute (along with some lemon juice) so the flavor stays bright and fresh.
Table of Contents
See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
Red Lentils: Red lentils have a sweet, nutty flavor and they cook up faster than other types of lentils, making them a great choice for quick meals. For another delicious lentil dish, try my Mujaddara recipe, where lentils and rice are seasoned with warm spices and fried onions for a tasty and satisfying dish.
Yellow Onion, Garlic, and Ginger: These ingredients form the aromatic base of the dal. Similar to my Indian Mulligatawny Soup recipe, these ingredients are sautéed until softened and their flavors meld together to provide a depth of flavor to the dish.
Turmeric, Cardamom, and Paprika: These spices lend the dal its signature Indian flavors. Turmeric also gives the dal a beautiful golden color, while cardamom adds a sweet, spicy flavor, and paprika contributes a sweet, smoky taste.
Add Vegetables: You can add additional vegetables to make the dish more hearty. Spinach, kale, or diced carrots would work well. Just add them toward the end of the lentils’ cooking time.
Protein Boost: For a non-vegetarian version, you can add cooked chicken, shrimp, or even tofu for a protein boost.
Spice Variations: If you want to experiment with the flavor, you can add or substitute other spices such as coriander, fenugreek, or garam masala.
Coconut Creaminess: To add creaminess to the dal, stir in a bit of coconut milk towards the end of the cooking process.
Spicy Lentil Dal
Increase the Green Chili Pepper: This recipe calls for one green chili pepper. You could either use more peppers, or choose a spicier variety. My favorite is a bird’s eye chili, that I also use in my South Indian Sweet Potato Curry.
Use Red Chili Powder: Adding a teaspoon (or more, based on your preference) of red chili powder or cayenne pepper can significantly increase the heat of the dish. Add it in with the rest of the spices when you’re frying the onions.
Spicy Tadka (Tempering): You can do a second tempering at the end of the cooking process with hot oil, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and dried red chilies. Once the seeds start to splutter, pour the mixture into the cooked dal.
How to Make Dal
Here is the process to make this Indian Red Lentil Dal. Assemble your ingredients, see the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
Step 1: Place the rinsed lentils in a large saucepan along with 3 cups of room temperature water. Turn the heat to medium and allow the lentils to cook for 20 minutes.
Step 2: Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet set over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and cinnamon stick; cook for 60 to 90 seconds, until fragrant.
Step 3: Add the onion, green chili pepper, garlic, and ginger to the pan with the cumin seeds and cinnamon stick; cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the onions are turning translucent.
Step 4: Add the turmeric, cardamom, paprika, salt, and tomato to the pan. Sauté until the tomato begins to fall apart, about 2 to 3 minutes. Then, discard the cinnamon stick.
Step 5: Once the lentils are cooked, drain off any excess water that is on top of the lentils, but do not drain off all the water. Stir the spiced onion mixture into the pot of lentils. Add the lemon juice and stir well. Taste and add salt as needed. If it is too dry, then add some water. If it is too wet, then cook on low until it thickens to your liking.
Step 6: Garnish with cilantro.
Stir Frequently: Lentils tend to stick to the bottom of the pan, so it’s important to stir the mixture frequently to prevent it from burning.
Don’t Skip Tempering: The tempering process is essential for bringing out the full flavor of the spices. Don’t skip this step as it greatly enhances the flavor of the dal.
Use Fresh Spices: Spices lose their flavor over time, so it’s best to use fresh spices whenever possible. If your spices have been sitting in your pantry for a while, consider replacing them for optimal flavor.
Serve with Fresh Garnishes: Fresh garnishes such as chopped cilantro, a squeeze of lemon, or thinly sliced ginger can enhance the flavor and presentation of your dish.
Frequently Asked Questions
Dal is a term used in South Asia to refer to dried, split pulses (lentils, peas, and beans). It’s also the name of various soups made from these pulses. Dal is a staple food across the region.
Tempering, or “tadka,” involves frying spices in oil to release their full flavors. It enhances the aroma and taste of the dish. In this recipe, the tempered oil and spices are mixed into the cooked lentils, giving the dal a flavor boost.
Absolutely. The green chili pepper adds heat, so if you’re not a fan of spicy foods, feel free to leave it out.
Storage and Reheating
You can store this recipe in an airtight container in your refrigerator for 3-4 days. If you are wanting to freeze this dish you can do so as well and it will last up to 3 months.
To reheat this dish on your stovetop you can place the dal in a pot and heat it on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until it’s heated through. You may need to add a splash of water or vegetable broth to thin it out if it has thickened in the fridge.
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Indian Red Lentil Dal Recipe
- 1 cup red lentils - rinsed
- 3 cups room temperature water
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 2-inch cinnamon stick
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- 1 green chili pepper - stemmed, seeded, and minced (serrano for spicy, jalapeno for more mild)
- 4 garlic cloves - minced
- 1 tablespoon finely minced ginger root
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 medium tomato - diced
- 1/2 lemon - juice of
- Chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
- Place the rinsed lentils in a large saucepan along with room temperature water. Turn the heat to medium and allow the lentils to cook for 20 minutes. You can cook them covered or uncovered, just make sure that you turn down the heat if needed to keep them at a gentle simmer.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet set over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and cinnamon stick; cook for 60 to 90 seconds, until fragrant.
- Add the onion, green chili pepper, garlic, and ginger; cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the onions are turning translucent.
- Add the turmeric, cardamom, paprika, salt, and tomato to the pan. Cook until the tomato begins to fall apart, about 2 to 3 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick.
- Once the lentils are cooked, drain off any excess water that is on top of the lentils, but do not drain off all the water. Stir the spiced onion mixture into the pot of lentils. Add the lemon juice and stir well. Taste and add salt as needed. If it is too dry, then add some water. If it is too wet, then cook on low until it thickens to your liking.
- Garnish with cilantro; serve with basmati rice and naan.
There are many ways to spell dal and so I’m fine if you use any of these varieties: red lentil dal recipe, red lentil dhal recipe, red lentil daal recipe, or red lentil dahl recipe.