red lentil dal, or how to impress all your Indian friends


When I taught psychology, Indian international students comprised one of the largest groups of my students. They were endlessly entertained by the fact that I could greet them in Hindi. Still when at the end of the year, we held a potluck, and I announced that I was making dal, they were skeptical.

On the day of the potluck, I was gloating inside, as I brought in the big pot of this dal. The students’ facial expressions when they caught a whiff of this magical lentil stew were… priceless.

This is also a recipe that I used, when Italian and I started dating, as proof that I can sort of cook. He was sufficiently impressed.


1 cup lentils, picked over, rinsed and drained – red works well, but you can use brown, or mix them up


Here, I am making a double batch.

3 cups water
1 large tomato, cut into 8 wedges

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

IMG_3482 Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 10.45.10 AM
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp salt

1/4 cup minced cilantro leaves (optional)

1. Place lentils and tomato (if using fresh tomato) and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.


2. Reduce heat to a summer, cover, and cook until lentils are tender and have lost their shape, about 25-40 minutes, depending on specific type of lentil. Start checking at about 15 minutes, and add water if needed.

3. Pick out any tomato skins, using a fork, and whisk dal to emulsify it. Keep warm over low heat.

4. Now make the tadka. Tadka is the flavour base of almost all Indian dishes. It is the process of frying onions, and garlic along with many aromatic spices, and this is, by far, my favorite part of the whole recipe. Why? Because when you throw few last spices into the skillet, your kitchen starts to smell like amazing Indian food. It’s VOODOO.

– Heat oil in a large skillet or pot over high heat.
– When oil begins to smoke, add cumin seeds.

– After seeds have stopped sputtering, add the garlic and onion and saute over medium heat until most of the onion has turned brown – about five minutes.

– Add the coriander, turmeric, and cayenne, stir, and pour the lentil/tomato mixture to the skillet/pot.


Add cilantro (optional) and salt, and simmer for another five minutes.

Serve with basmati rice and spicy mango pickle (you can buy it at large grocery stores).



Posted April 17, 2016



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