Red Lentil Dhal

September 7, 2014

Red Lentil DhalWhen we first visited India, Dhal already became our absolute favorite dish. Or Naan. No Dhal! Both!! David an I are still arguing about that. Until we eat Thai Food, then Thai is our favorite again…


In India, Dhal is very versatile: It can be on the soupy side or rather creamy. It can be very spicy or mild. It can be made with all sorts of lentils, yellow, brown or red ones. But do you know what they all have in common? I just love them all. I really do.


So here comes a recipe for a very rich and creamy Red Lentil Dhal, made with coconut milk. I ate a very similar one in Kerala, in South India and it was just gorgeous. I really recommend using fresh curry leaves and brown mustard seeds, but if you don’t have them on hand, you can skip them. You can vary the recipe below by folding in a handful of spinach at the end, if you like. Serve it with rice and Indian flatbread like Naan (recipe here).


Red Lentil Dhal

Serving Size: 3-4 servings (freezes well)

Red Lentil Dhal


  • 5 ½ oz (150 g) whole red lentils, washed and sorted
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (200 ml) coconut milk
  • 2/3 cups (160 ml) of hot water
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 2 fresh tomatoes, diced (or ½ cup diced)
  • 5 fresh curry leaves (skip if you don’t have)
  • ½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds (skip if you don’t have)
  • Ghee or vegetable oil for frying
  • For the Masala paste
  • A piece fresh ginger (1½” thumb )
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
  • 3/4 teaspoon chili powder (the common spice-mix, substitute with smoked paprika)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon neutral-tasting vegetable oil


    Preparing the masala paste
  1. In a small food processor blend ginger until broken into small pieces. If you don’t have a blender, mince ginger finely, then add salt and grind it together with mortar and pestle - or simply finely grate it.
  2. Mix ginger, salt, cumin, coriander, garam masala, chili powder and cayenne pepper either in the food processor, in the mortar, or in a small bowl. Add the oil and tomato paste and blend until well incorporated. If you mix it in a mortar or bowl, just stir in tomato paste and oil with a spoon. Set paste aside.
  3. For the lentils
  4. Heat oil in a skillet or pot over medium heat (you will need a lid later). Add mustard seeds (if using) and cover with a lid until the seeds start popping.
  5. Add onion (and curry leaves if using) and cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute, then add the masala paste and cook another minute.
  6. Add in diced tomatoes, cook and stir for 1 minute, then stir in coconut milk and hot water. Bring to a boil and add lentils.
  7. Cook lentils over medium-low heat for 20-25 minutes or until tender, using a lid for the fist 15 minutes. (Note: Split lentils cook faster.) Stir occasionally so the lentils don’t burn. If lentils are getting dry, add a little water. When finished, the Dhal should have a rich and creamy consistency.
  8. Serve with rice and naan (see recipe for Easy No-Yeast Naan) or other Indian flatbread.


If you can not find whole red lentils, use split ones. The cooking time may vary slightly.

Did you follow this recipe? You could share your result here. All you need to do is take a picture with your smartphone and send it to [email protected]

Dhal User pictureUser Betti sent us this picture: "Tasted wonderful, and helped me use up all the surplus from my vegetable bed". 

Dhal from userLisa B.: "My result prboably doesn't look pretty, but it has already made it's way to the list of my most favorate dishes". 

Dhal from userVanessa tried the recipe: "This recipe was great! I doubled it up and it was fantastic."

best red lentil Dal made by userJames: "Hi, I tried both the lentil and naan recipes. They turned out perfect. I look forward to trying and sharing more of your recipes. The ingredients were easily available and I will try with different ingredients in place of lentils when I get the chance. I added deep fried potatoes and avocado on the side ;).
Best,  James "

Red Lentil Dhal was last modified: August 14th, 2020 by Ursula

4 thoughts on “Red Lentil Dhal

  1. Jonathan Dradford

    I haven’t tried doing this one but from the recipe it looks its not that hard. I should try this out. Thanks.


  2. Jonathan Dradford

    Will certainly do Ursula. Been joggling with my schedules of late. I will update you how things work as soon as I am able to perfect it.


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