Rich, nourishing and delicious – this Red Lentil Dal is love at first bite. And just like the best lovers, this is something you will want to come back to time and time again.
How we fell in love with this simple dish
Nowadays, red lentil dal is one of our most-cooked dishes. Paul could basically eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday of his life without ever getting bored of it.
Red lentil dal was the first meal Paul ever cooked for me, probably just about the only thing he could cook as an Austrian meat eater to impress an English vegetarian he’d just met. The meal sure did work it’s magic as only 6 months later we were married. We love this red lentil dal recipe so much we even cooked it for our very own wedding. (Our guests LOVED it, and even had it for breakfast the next day!)
This vegan red lentil dal is ideal for cooking for a crowd – very few things to prep – and we’ve cooked it to satisfy many hungry guests at weddings, family gatherings and community events. Wherever we cook it someone always ask for the recipe, so here it is at last! It’s The Red Lentil Dal of Love…
The magic of red lentils
Red lentils might seem like an unlikely ingredient to fall in love with, but here’s why they’re so awesome and we’re committed to them for life!
Red lentils are a much loved ingredient in Indian cuisine, where they are known as Masoor Dal. You can recognise this pulse by their orange/pink colour and small disc shape. They are a split lentil, which means the have had their brown hull removed and they’ve been split in half.
For such a humble ingredient, red lentils are very nutrient rich and healthy. Per 100g (1/2 cup uncooked), red lentils contain:
- Calories: 354
- Fat: 1g
- Protein: 27g
- Fibre: 31g
- Iron: 7.5mg
- Calcium: 62mg
- Vitamin C: 5mg
So just one serving of red lentils can provide over half of your average protein needs in a whole day! They are also high in Iron (Containing almost half of the recommended daily amount for women), which is why they’re so great for vegetarians and vegans.
But it’s not just their nutritional benefits that make red lentils so great:
- They don’t need to be soaked
- They cook quickly
- They are super tasty, with a slightly sweet and nutty, earthy flavour
- They are one of the cheapast sources of protein
So you can see why we can’t get enough of red lentils. If you haven’t yet got a big jar of them head on down to your nearest refill store or wherever and stock up!
How to make the most lovely red lentil dal
This red lentil dal recipe has been subject to modification since Paul first cooked it for me. He originally got it from an Indian cook book and developed his own version over the years, changing little things here and there. But as this recipe is sort of holy to him, he kept it very much the same, it its essence.
The bulk of what makes up this dal are red lentils and tomatoes, which are simmered together for the whole time of the cooking process. The rest is condiments and spices, which play more important parts in this composition of flavours. Turmeric, salt and some brown sugar make up the foundation of flavouring, but there are three ingredients that really make this dish what it is.
These essential spices are…
- Black Mustard Seeds
- Curry Leaves
What is asafoetida?
I hear you ask, ‘What the heck is Asafatawhatever’? Asafoetida, also known as hing, is a dried gum resin from the bark or roots of the asafoetida plant (Ferula assa-foetida). It is often ground up and mixed with other gums or rice flour into a yellowish powder for easy use. They sometimes mix it with wheat flour, so if you are cooking this for someone gluten free, check this! We only use a tiny amount of it in this recipe, but don’t be fooled…
Asafoetida is extremely potent, and its odour very strong and pungent, unpleasant to some people. It is not something that you want to spill over your kitchen counter, or accidentally use way more of than needed. But when used in small quantities it can really transform a dish – in the most positive way. It is commonly used in India to enhance savoury flavours in curries and lentil dishes. To followers of the ancient Indian religion of Jainism, which forbids the comsumption of root vegetables including onions and garlic, asafoetida comes especially welcome.
Curry leaves – frying whole spices
Curry leaves have started to find their way into supermarkets, but more likely you will find them in ethnic food stores, and in larger quantities. They may even have fresh curry leaves, of which you only need half the amount and can be stored in the freezer for a long time. We don’t use our freezer in the campervan for energy reasons, so we always stock a giant jar of dried curry leaves.
The last corner in this magic spice triangle are brown mustard seeds. The spices are fried in fat to unfold all their flavour, before they are combined with the rest of the dish. Traditionally in India, whole spices are often fried in ghee (clarified butter). Vegan ‘ghee’ is basically palm oil (which some say is very, very evil), so we prefer coconut oil, which also tastes nice, though you won’t taste the coconut in the end at all.
As the final touch you should not forget to add some lime juice and briefly boil the whole thing up one last time. When I do forget this step, I am always missing something… Somehow the tang of the lime rounds off the dish and brings all the flavours together nicely. You can also use a lemon if you don’t have a lime at hand.
Customise this red lentil dal recipe
When we make this recipe, it is hardly ever twice the same. We like some variation, based on the occasion, how we feel or the amount of effort we want to put in. Our common customisations:
- Adding extra spices such as curry powder or garam masala at the beginning. We recently started to add some cayenne pepper and paprika powder to make up for the omitted chili pepper from the original Indian recipe.
- Frying some grated ginger or garlic in the oil alongside the other whole spices.
- Stir in leafy greens like spinach towards the end of cooking. It adds some colour and texture, and it’s good for you! Even if you don’t like their taste, you won’t notice them much in the midst of all the amazing flavours of the dal.
Serve this vegan red lentil dal with…
Organic white or brown rice
A wedge of lime
A curry on the side (like our Infamous Apple Curry)
Homemade vegan naan bread (Garlic and Coconut Naan are our fave!)
Our red lentil dal makes fantastic leftovers too. We often make twice as much so we can try to have some left for the next day! Cold it makes a delicious spread to go on bread. It’s also really easy to freeze and have as a back up dinner.
With love and lentils!
Sophie and Paul
Red Lentil Dal of Love
- 1.5 cups red lentils
- 2 cups water
- 1 can chopped tomatoes or 4 large, ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp turmeric
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 tbsp black mustard seeds
- 20 dried curry leaves
- 1 pinch asafoetida gluten free if necessary
- 1 lime juiced
optional spices (see recipe notes)
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1 tbsp fresh coriander
- Rinse and drain the red lentils three times. The rinsing water should clear up a bit after the third time. I like to do this step in the cooking pan, for simplicity. Optionally, soak lentils for 15 minutes before rinsing.
- Bring lentils and water to a boil, add chopped tomatoes and turmeric, and any optional extra spices (see ingredients).
- Simmer on low-medium heat for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep from catching.
- Stir in brown sugar and salt, continue to simmer during the next steps.
Fry whole spices
- In a small pan melt the coconut oil in your on medium-high heat.
- Add curry leaves and mustard seeds to the coconut oil. Fry them until the mustard seeds start to pop. Don't burn the spices by cooking them for too long or too hot!
- Add the pinch of asafoetida to the frying spices, gently sway the pan to disperse it. Swiftly pour the whole contents of the small pan into the simmering lentils and stir to combine. It is normal that there is a loud sizzle as the hot fat is added to the lentils.
- Continue to simmer the dal for another 10 minutes.
- Stir in the juice of one lime. Briefly, bring to boil one last time for a minute and remove from heat.
- The Red Lentil Dal of Love is most tasty when you let it cool down a bit to eating temperature before serving. Trust me on this!
- Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve with rice, naan bread or papa dums.
- Enjoy the love!
Frying spicesIn Indian cooking, whole spices are often fried in fat (traditionally in ghee), before they are combined with the rest of the dish. This brings out the most flavour. You want to use the smallest pan you have available for this, so the spices can swim in the fat. There are specialised, tiny spice pans that actually are more like a spoon. We just use our smallest sauce pan or a tiny frying pan for this.
Pressure cookerYou can easily make this Red Lentil Dal in a pressure cooker, which saves tons of time and energy, while preserving more nutrients.
Simply fry the whole spices at the beginning, then add all the ingredients together. Bring to simmer whilst stirring, close the lid and cook under high pressure for 5 minutes. Let pressure release naturally.
Or just chuck ALL the ingredients in from the beginning. Still tastes absolutely awesome!
We hope you loved our vegan red lentil dal recipe as much as we do! Make it for your next date if you want to impress! The rest is up to you…