This vegan Red Lentil Dal is an easy and delicious spiced red lentil dish. It can be served alone as a soup, or as a side dish along with rice.
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Have you tried cooking lentils? Maybe you’ve seen them at the grocery store and thought, “Are those beans? Are those a type of rice? Are those tiny pebbles that someone put in a bag to trick me? Is this some kind of food fraud?”
Well, my friends, they’re a legume. And they’re quite tasty. They work wonderfully as a “meaty” component in soup, but can also stand on their own. And they come in a rainbow of colors, each of which has its own taste and cooking time. (Check out this guide for lentil cook times at IndiaPhile).
This recipe for Red Lentil Dal uses red lentils– a gorgeous lentil that falls apart when cooked, and is perfect for this easy Indian side dish!
What is Dal?
Dal is a term used in Indian cuisine for lentils. If you order dal at an Indian restaurant, you’ll usually get a bowl of spiced, cooked lentils. Different types of dal (or lentils) have different flavors, cook times, and textures.
Red Lentil Dal: Gathering Ingredients
Red lentils should be stocked at most grocery stores. If you can’t find them locally, you can also buy red lentils online.
This lentil dish is seasoned with a tandoori masala spice mix, which should also be fairly easy to find. (I buy mine at Whole Foods, but I’ve also seen it at my regular grocery store.) Again, if you can’t find it at a local store, try buying tandoori masala spice mix online.
Making Red Lentil Dal
To make this easy dal, you’ll sauté onions along with the spices. Then, you’ll add in some fire-roasted tomatoes, and finally the lentils and water. Simmer everything until the lentils are cooked through and soft. Serve this easy dish alone as a soup, as a side dish, or served over rice for a more filling meal.
Red Lentil Dal
Serves 4 as main dish, 8 as side dish
- 1 TB olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 TB tandoori masala spice mix (See Recipe Notes)
- 2 tsp red chili pepper flakes
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
- 1 15oz can fire roasted tomatoes OR 1-2 tomatoes diced
- 1 cup red lentils (rinse and check for pebbles)
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
- 2 tsp salt (to taste)
- To Serve: basmati or jasmine rice (optional)
Heat oil in a large pan or wok over medium-high heat.
When the oil is hot and begins to ripple, add onions, tandoori spice mix, red chili flakes, and cayenne. Sauté 3-4 minutes, until the spices are fragrant and the onions are translucent.
Add garlic, sauté 1-2 minutes.
Add tomatoes, and simmer another 4-5 minutes. Add lentils and water. Bring to a boil, then cover pan and reduce heat to medium-low.
Simmer until most (but not all) of the water has absorbed and the lentils soften, about 20 minutes. Add turmeric. Salt to taste.
If you're serving lentils over rice, make the rice while the lentils are cooking.
Serve dal warm, alone or with rice.
To Substitute Homemade Tandoori Spice Mix: Blend 2 TB cumin, 2 TB garlic powder, 2 TB paprika, 4 tsp ginger, 1 TB coriander, 2 tsp cardamom, and use 2 TB of mixture in place of pre-made spice mix
- Change the spice: Substitute garam masala (a different Indian spice blend) or berbere (an African spice blend) for tandoori masala
- Make it less spicy: Omit the cayenne and/or red pepper flakes
- Make this dal heartier: Add 4-5 diced Yukon Gold potatoes to the pan when you add the lentils
- Turn this dal into soup: Add 4-5 diced Yukon Gold potatoes to the pan when you add the lentils. Add 4 cups of water instead of 3 cups. Add 2 or 3 large handfuls of fresh spinach to the dal about 5 minutes before the lentils are done cooking.
- (NOT VEGAN) Add eggs: Crack 2 - 4 eggs into the lentils about 4-5 minutes before they're done cooking. Keep the pan covered.