This comforting red lentil dahl recipe is a hearty Indian-spiced stew. It’s naturally vegan and gluten free, easy to make in one pot, and ready in just 30 minutes!
Hearty bean chili and warming chicken soup are two of my favorite comfort foods, especially when it’s cold out. But there’s something special about this dahl recipe. Whether it’s the deep layers of Indian spices, melt-in-your-mouth red lentils, or the rich and creamy stew, I can’t get enough!
Table of Contents
What is dahl?
Dahl (or dal, dhal, and daal) is a term for dried or split pulses (lentils, peas, and beans). It also refers to a stewed Indian dish made with these pulses. What makes the pulses in the dahl category unique is that they do not need to be soaked or cooked before being used in the flavorful stew.
The best dahl recipe
In this version, red lentils are simmered in an aromatic and spiced stew. Like an eggplant curry, the result is a creamy and naturally vegan stew loaded with warm Indian-inspired flavors and plant-based protein!
- It’s an easy one pot meal. Despite the number of ingredients, this dahl recipe is practically foolproof and comes together in one pot on the stove.
- Its full of rich Indian flavors. The long list of spices and aromatics makes this recipe so special. Do yourself a favor, stick to the ingredients list, and shop at your local Indian market!
- It is Budget-friendly and filling. Turn to red lentil dal when you want a meal that’s going to keep you full for hours without breaking the bank. The star of the show, red lentils, are an inexpensive pulse that packs 12 grams of protein into just a ½ cup!
You’ll find a wide variety of Indian spices in this recipe, just like in my chana masala and paneer tikka masala. Most of these ingredients can be found at well-stocked grocery stores but I highly recommend making a trip to your local Indian market for the very best quality! This is what you need:
- Coconut oil. Or you can use olive oil or avocado oil.
- Onion. Any kind of onion will be fine here, but I like using white or sweet onions.
- Garlic. Freshly minced garlic will infuse maximum savoriness into the stew.
- Ginger. Fresh ginger is best. If all you have is ground ginger, only use 1 teaspoon.
- Garam masala. A blend of warm Indian spices.
- Turmeric. This is a staple in Indian cuisine. It adds a slight punchy flavor, as well as warmth and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Coriander. Use ground coriander in the dal and fresh coriander (cilantro) as a garnish.
- Cumin. For warmth.
- Red chili pepper flakes. Just a pinch gives the stew a subtle heat.
- Red lentils. I don’t recommend using any other kind of lentil here (except yellow split lentils). Red lentils are especially perfect for all kinds of soups and stews because, as they simmer, they become very soft and almost melt into the dish. Green or brown lentils hold their shape almost too well and take longer to cook.
- Tomatoes. A can of chopped tomatoes is easy and convenient but you’re more than welcome to dice the tomatoes yourself.
- Coconut milk. This is the creamy element in the dal. Canned full fat coconut milk is best, but cashew cream or the dairy free milk of your choice will work well, too.
If you don’t need this recipe to be vegan, you can use heavy cream instead of coconut milk.
- Vegetable stock. To help thin out the dal.
- Salt and pepper. For flavor.
- Lemon juice. Freshly squeezed lemon juice is stirred into the dal at the end. It brings a bright pop of flavor while the acidity rounds out the rest of the savory and warm ingredients.
- Baby spinach. Feel free to swap these for any leafy greens you like.
- Rice. For serving. Cooked basmati or jasmine rice is best.
- Fresh parsley or coriander. For garnish.
How to make red lentil dahl
Vegan red lentil dahl is easy to make in one pot and four simple steps. Here’s how it’s done:
Step 1 – Saute the aromatics
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion when it’s hot and cook until they soften. Then add the ginger and garlic.
Step 2 – Add the rest
Stir the spices into the pan with the aromatics. Let them cook for about 1 minute to bring out their hidden flavors, then add the lentils, tomatoes, coconut milk, stock, salt, and pepper.
Step 3 – Let it simmer
Bring it up to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Let it simmer until the liquid has slightly reduced.
Step 4 – Season, then serve
Stir in the lemon juice and spinach. Cook until the spinach wilts, then scoop into bowls with cooked rice and fresh parsley or coriander on top. Serve with fresh naan bread and enjoy!
- Bloom the spices for 1 minute in the pan. According to Bon Appetit, this is the best way to unlock their hidden flavors, resulting in a much more flavorful stew.
- Lentil dal has a mild level of heat and shouldn’t be too spicy. However, if you love spicy foods, you can add a diced chili pepper to the pan with the onion, garlic, and ginger, or add extra chili flakes (we often do this with our lamb korma!).
- If the stew is too thick, try thinning it out with a splash or two of vegetable broth.
- Similar to our lamb vindaloo or chicken tikka masala, this dahl recipe can be cooked in a slower cooker or instant pot.
Ladle the dal into bowls with cooked basmati rice and garnish with fresh cilantro or parsley. Scoop up every bite with homemade naan bread and enjoy!
To store. Keep the cooled leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
To freeze. Dahl freezes very well for about three months! Let the leftovers thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating.
To reheat. Either reheat the lentil dahl in a pot on the stove or zap it in the microwave until it’s warmed through.
Frequently asked questions
Not only is this recipe naturally vegan and gluten free, but many of the Indian spices come with compounds that have a long list of health benefits while the red lentils are loaded with fiber and protein. It’s an all-around good-for-you meal that keeps you feeling full and nourished.
You can, but brown and green lentils take longer to cook and won’t melt into the stew like red or yellow lentils.
While red lentils are best for this recipe, you can make them with canned chickpeas, beans, or green peas instead.
More Indian-inspired recipes to try
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 small onion sliced
- 4 cloves garlic smashed
- 1 tablespoon ginger peeled and grated
- 1 teaspoon garam marsala
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 7 ounces red lentils rinsed and drained
- 14 ounces canned tomatoes diced
- 13 ounces canned coconut milk full fat
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 large lemon juiced
- 1 cup baby spinach loosely packed
- Heat the oil in the large pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and saute until translucent.
- Add spices and cook, stirring for a minute. Add lentils, tomatoes, coconut milk, and vegetable broth, and stir well. Season with salt and pepper and let the mixture boil.
- Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer, occasionally stirring for 20 minutes until the liquid is reduced.
- Pour in the lemon juice and spinach and cook until it wilts.
- Remove the dahl from the heat and serve with rice and naan.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website.