Masoor Dal (Indian Red Lentils)

Masoor dal is a spiced Indian lentil dish that’s equal parts flavorful and cozy; serve with rice or naan bread for dipping.

Masoor dal

“In India, when a girl is born, there’s no celebration. It’s that moment of darkness in a family. And when you’re unlucky enough to have another girl, it is not like a life, but almost like a death.” Asma Khan

Stop what you’re doing right now, and hit play on the Asma Khan episode in Season 6 of the Netflix documentary Chef’s Table! Asma shares about the stigma of being born a second daughter in India. Her story is remarkable because she’s since become a champion of women: through food. She’s the force behind the all-women staffed London restaurant Darjeeling Express, and also runs a non-profit called Second Daughters Fund that celebrates the birth of second daughters in India.

Oh AND she has a cookbook called Asma’s Indian Kitchen and was kind enough to share this delectable authentic masoor dal recipe with us today! Alex and I were thrilled to make and photograph it—and it was a huge hit with 2 year old Larson too! (This might be some of my favorite of Alex’s photos, ever.) Keep reading for more about Asma and her story.

Related: 12 Top Turmeric Recipes

Asma's Indian Kitchen

About the book: Asma’s Indian Kitchen

It’s hard to explain in a few paragraphs just how inspiring Asma is: which makes watching her Chef’s Table episode that much more imperative! As an Indian immigrant to London, she started hosting a super club in her home after she reconnected with Indian food (like this masoor dal). It became so popular that she launched the Darjeeling Express, a restaurant run with her friends, all women immigrants from Southeast Asia with no professional culinary background. What struck me from the episode, among many things, was Asma’s desire for the restaurant to be reflective of her home: and to feed the heart and soul of her guests:

“There are no divisions in my kitchen or my restaurant. We always say, ‘The guest is an incarnation of God.’ I want people to feel that they are valued. I’m cooking food from my home, from meals I’ve had in my family. My aim is for you to leave feeling like someone had embraced you. That’s how food should be. I get happiness from seeing people’s eyes when they eat the food I’ve cooked. That feeling, when you can light up someone’s soul with something you’ve prepared, that is a privilege and an honor.”

Asma’s warmth literally radiates across the screen. And if that’s not enough: her experience being born a second daughter inspired her to start a non-profit called The Second Daughters fund. Sons are still preferred over daughters in traditional India, and second daughters are even less so. These girls carry the hurt and disadvantage for the rest of their upbringings. From the money raised, Second Daughters shares celebration packages for the birth of second daughter, and provides support her through her education. (You can donate here if interested!)

Indian red lentils

What is masoor dal? Why make it?

Now, on to this masoor dal! What does dal mean? Masoor dal translates as “red lentils” in Hindi. So a dal doesn’t refer to a specific dish, but to actual legumes! There are many types of dal, sometimes spelled daal or dahl. You may have heard of chana dal (chickpeas) or urad dal black lentils). Or you may have dried dal makhani, literally “buttery lentils.”

This authentic masoor dal recipe is a basic dal and it comes out cozy and nuanced, with just the right amount of gentle flavoring. While you’ll see several dried red chilis are used in the recipe, it comes out mild, not spicy. As a family we loved sopping it up with naan: our 2-year-old Larson was quite the fan and even asked for seconds. It’s seriously satisfying and a great way to enjoy an affordable plant-based and vegan lentil recipe. You can adapt this masoor dal to your own taste by adding extra ingredients to the lentils, such as handfuls of chopped spinach or chunks of fresh tomato.

Masoor dal

How to make masoor dal

This Indian red lentils recipe is seriously easy to make: it does take about 45 minutes to make, but it’s almost totally hands off. There’s a step for soaking the red lentils for 30 minutes, but if you’d like you can skip that step (Asma’s words, not mine!). One interesting step in this recipe is tempering the masoor dal with spiced oil. The tempering is a very important final stage in making dal, since so much flavor is contained in the spiced oil that is poured over the cooked lentils.

Here’s how to make masoor dal:

  1. Soak the lentils for 30 minutes (if you have time!).
  2. Saute minced onion and garlic for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the red lentils, turmeric, salt and water. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Once the lentils are done, temper the dal: heat dried red chilis, cumin seeds, garlic slivers and curry leaves in oil for a few seconds, then pour it over the dal.

And that’s it: how to make Indian red lentils! Where to buy curry leaves and dried red chilis? They can be hard to find if you don’t have a preferred grocery for them; we found ours online! Here are links to both:

Thank you so much to Asma for sharing this incredible recipe and your story. And thank you to our friend Duncan for introducing us to Asma!

Related: How to Cook Lentils

Indian red lentils

Looking for lentil recipes?

Outside of this masoor dal recipe, here are a few of our other favorite lentil recipes:

Masoor dal Indian red lentils

This masoor dal recipe is…

Vegetarian, gluten free (when served with rice), vegan, plant-based, and dairy-free.

Print
Masoor dal

Masoor Dal (Indian Red Lentils)


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (19 votes, average: 4.37 out of 5)

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 3 to 4 1x

Description

Masoor dal is a spiced Indian lentil dish that’s equal parts flavorful and cozy; serve with rice or naan bread for dipping.


Scale

Ingredients

For the masoor dal

  • 2 1/2 cups (1 pound) red lentils
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or oil
  • 3 to 4 dried red chilis
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

For the tempering

To serve (optional)

  • Flatbread (naan or chipati) or cooked basmati rice
  • Fresh cilantro, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Wash the lentils in cold running water, then place in a bowl and soak for 30 minutes in fresh col water. (If you do not have time to soak the lentils, just wash them before adding to the pan — red lentils cook quickly and so do not need long soaking.)
  2. Finely chop the onion. Mince the garlic.
  3. In a heavy-based pan that has a lid, heat the ghee or oil over medium-high heat. Add the dried red chilis to the pan, followed by the chopped onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, until they just start to color (about 5 minutes).
  4. Add the soaked lentils to the pan, then the salt and ground turmeric. Add 5 cups warm water to the lentils and bring to a boil. When the surface of the water is bubbling, cover the pan, lower the heat, and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to ensure the dal is not sticking to the base of the pan. Once the dal is cooked, place it in a bowl and keep warm while you prepare the tempering.
  5. For the tempering, heat the ghee or oil in a small frying pan over high heat. Working very quickly so the tempering does not burn, add the dried red chilis, cumin seeds, garlic slivers and finally, the curry leaves. Cook for a few seconds, then pour the tempering oil and spices over the warm dal in the pan. Next, take a spoonful of the dal and place it in the frying pan to absorb any remaining oil – take care while doing this since the oil may spatter – then tip the spoonful of dal from the frying pan back into the main dal pan.
  6. Serve immediately, ladling the dal into separate serving bowls. Serve with basmati rice or flatbread for dipping.

Notes

Reprinted with permission from Asma’s Indian Kitchen

  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Indian

Keywords: Masoor dal, How to make masoor dal, Red lentils

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

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