Masoor dal is the winter dish you’ve always needed in your life-flavorful yet balanced, rich yet not too thick. It’s comfort food and somehow…refreshing? Truth be told, I’ve been making variations of a simple masoor dal for many years, and in every season. I’m always amazed at how a little spice can go a long way in a dish like this, and I love the creaminess that comes from cooking lentils in plenty of water. Best of all, once you get the hang of this basic recipe, it’s hard to mess up.
Masoor dal is a typical dish from Northern India and can be served with rice, roti, or chapati. When I first went vegetarian, I figured if I could cook Indian dal recipes, I’d be living my best life. Let’s just say, it sounded better than black bean burgers and tempeh steaks. So, I learned to cook from following food blogs and refining my recipes alongside friends and roommates. This time, as usual, I took a peek at Dassana Amit’s recipe for a few of the proportions. Check out the other variations of the dish on her blog!
Want a tasty recipe? A foolproof method? An easy life?? Then follow these steps!
- Use cumin seeds, not ground cumin. Frying cumin before adding the onions gives the cumin a nutty flavor, and infuses the oil. This is different enough than the taste of ground cumin, which can be slightly bitter but pleasantly woody. Don’t go overboard on the cumin seeds, however. A teaspoon is plenty.
- Caramelize the onions before adding tomatoes. This is a great tip I picked up from restauranteur Neela Paniz in her book, The New Indian Slow Cooker. While I’ve had great dal made with non-caramelized onions, I find I prefer the sweetness of caramelized onions as a counterpoint to the other more bitter flavors, like turmeric. So let the onions cook until they’re golden to golden-brown.
- Add the ginger and garlic pastes a minute before you add the tomatoes. You could add the ginger and garlic with the tomatoes, but adding it too early might burn it.
- Cook the tomatoes until they start to smell like cooked instead of raw tomatoes. You’ll know it when you smell it (in a good way)!
- Don’t be afraid to add a lot of water. Add what at first might seems like too much water (about 5 cups of water for one cup of lentils). This will allow your lentils to cook and become soupy. It will also allow them to cook for longer. The longer they cook, the more tempered down the flavor, which is how I prefer it. To each their own, but solid, hardened lentils are just not for me.
- Top your lentils! The devil is in the details–or, more appropriately, in the fixings. I like to eat this masoor dal over rice and with cilantro, onions, a squeeze of lime/lemon juice, a spoonful of yogurt, and mango pickle, which you can find at your local Indian grocery store.
An everyday North Indian lentil dish.
For the Dal
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds*
- 4 tablespoons butter**
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 dried chilis***
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon garlic paste****
- 1 teaspoon ginger paste****
- 2 plum tomatoes, diced, grated, or pureed in the blender (your choice)
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon red chili powder
- 1 cup red lentils/masoor dal
- 5 cups water
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala
- ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
- chopped cilantro
- sliced onion
- lime wedges
- Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds and dry fry until their odor begins to smell roasted rather than lemony. Remove from heat and grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder.
- In the same pot, add the butter. When hot, add the cumin seeds and chili peppers. Fry until the cumin starts to smell toasted. Add the onions and cook until caramelized.
- Add the garlic and ginger pastes and cook for a minute, stirring well. Then, add the tomatoes, roasted coriander seed powder, turmeric, and chili powder and cook, stirring regularly, until the tomato no longer smells raw (or when the oil separates from the tomato).
- Add the lentils and water. When the water boils, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 40 minutes. 5 minutes before it finishes cooking, add the garam masala and the salt.
- Serve with rice or roti and any toppings you prefer.
If you don’t have coriander seeds or a spice grinder, then skip this step and add an additional ¼ teaspoon of garam masala at the end. DO NOT add a tablespoon of ground coriander. The flavor will be overpoweringly lemon-y.
Would I use this much butter again? Yes. Could you use less, like 2 tablespoons? Definitely. Could you use oil? Absolutely.
I used Thai bird chilis but the chilis you buy at the Indian grocery store are best.
You can buy premed garlic and ginger paste, but I prefer to use a zesting grater, which gets them close enough to a paste.
Keywords: vegan, vegetarian, Indian food, dal, masoor dal, red lentils, pink lentils, dinner, rice dishes, healthy food