red lentils / masoor dal
specs: vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free
a dal you can make without a recipe. simple, savory, spicy, and satisfying; this dal won't have you running to a specialty market for ingredients. you can do this. make it yours.
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (or ghee or coconut oil)
  • 1½ teaspoons cumin seeds (whole)
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds (whole)
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 3 large cloves garlic (minced or crushed in mortar and pestle)
  • 1½ inch knob fresh ginger (peeled, then minced or crushed in mortar and pestle)
  • 1½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon paprika (or smoked paprika)
  • ground red pepper (or crushed red pepper flakes) to taste, optional
  • 2 cups dry red lentils
  • 4-6 cups water
  • 1 14-ounce can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
  1. Wash and rinse the red lentils. Once clean, let them soak in a large bowl with plenty of fresh water. You can start soaking while you cut and measure the rest of your ingredients, and that should allow enough time for the soak to do its thing. If you’re planning this meal ahead you can allow the lentils a good two hours to soak, and they’ll be even happier.
  2. Place a large pot over medium-high heat. Toss in the whole cumin seeds and mustard seeds and let toast until beautifully fragrant.
  3. Add the olive oil, then the onions. Saute about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until they begin to turn translucent. Add garlic and ginger paste, stir, and let cook for another minute until the biting, raw smell cooks away. Add the ground spices (cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, and red pepper, if using) to the pot and stir to coat.
  4. Drain and rinse the lentils and add them to the pot along with 6 cups of water. Stir, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let the dal simmer, partially or completely covered, for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding water if the mix looks thirsty.
  5. Once the lentils are soft and broken down from the long simmer, add the canned tomatoes and salt (adding the acidic tomatoes before the lentils are completely cooked can prevent them from softening). Let simmer another 10-15 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and finish the dal by adding a glug of lemon juice, a few grinds black pepper or more salt as needed.
  7. Serve with fresh cilantro, a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, rice, naan, or anything else you'd like. Enjoy.
I like smashing the garlic and ginger into a paste with a mortar and pestle; I think it’s the juiciest way to incorporate their flavors into the meal. Scrape the skin off of the ginger with a spoon before you mince/pound it.

Add a ½ teaspoon fenugreek seed and a big pinch of ground cardamom for a darker, more complex flavor. In small amounts, fenugreek brings a subtle, dark sweetness that isn't like any other spice I know.

Lime juice (in place of the lemon) is good, too, especially with coconut oil in place of olive oil.

Fresh cilantro is especially good here, chopped and stirred in along with the tomatoes or sprinkled right onto each serving.

If you can find them, fresh serrano peppers are great in place of (or in addition to) the red pepper powder/flakes!
Recipe by The Briny at