Masoor Dal is a fragrant and flavorful Indian spiced lentil curry made with red lentils, dried red chilis, onion, garlic, and cumin seeds. Enjoy a bowl of this naturally vegan and gluten-free spicy masoor dal recipe as a simple side or healthy main dish.
Indian Masoor Dal Recipe
One of the best parts about marrying into an Indian family is the continuous supply and assortment of spectacular tasting food. The menu at my in-laws is always changing, but one thing I can always count on is a big pot of dal simmering away on the stove.
This delicious dal recipe is my very favorite of all the classic Indian dishes. It’s delicious year-round, the leftovers are awesome, and it’s easy to modify to fit your own personal taste and preference.
What is Dal?
Dal is the Hindi word for pulse. Also spelled daal or dhal, it is considered both an ingredient and a dish.
As an ingredient, dal refers to dried, split lentils, peas, and beans (all referred to as pulses) that do not require soaking before cooking. As a dish, it is used to describe the countless stews made from simmering these pulses until broken down and thickened. Depending on the recipe, these stews range from light and brothy to rich, thick, and heavily seasoned.
Along with rice, dal is among the most important staple food across the Indian subcontinent – and for good reason! It’s inexpensive, highly nutritious, readily accessible, and available in dozens of different varieties ranging in color and shape.
Popular types of dal:
- Masoor dal
- Moong dal
- Toor dal
- Urad dal
- Chana dal
- Chickpeas (chana or chole)
- Black chickpeas (kala chana or kadala)
Today we’re using masoor dal to make this Indian red lentil dal recipe.
Ingredients in Red Lentil Dal
- Masoor dal
- Olive oil or Ghee
- Whole dried red chilies
- Ground turmeric
- Fresh tomatoes
- Cumin seeds
Super short ingredient list, right?
Of course, you can always add more stuff. Stuff like veggies and spices or seasoning blends. Some of the more popular additions include garam masala (a necessary spice mix for chicken tikka masala), chili powder, fresh ginger, fenugreek, mustard seeds, or curry leaves.
Personally, I think this recipe is perfect as written, but sometimes I’ll play around with things and add different types of lentils, spices, and maybe some carrots and potatoes. If this is your first time making masoor dal, your best bet is keeping it simple (in this case, “simple” does not mean boring) and adding on the next time you make dal.
Do I need to soak masoor dal? No, masoor dal does not need to be soaked prior to cooking. Simply rinse with cold running water and add to the pot.
Can I make this recipe in my Instant Pot pressure cooker? Yes, dal is a great recipe to make in the Instant Pot. However, given how quickly masoor dal cooks, I’ve found this stovetop method to be just as easy.
What is Tadka?
Tadka, also known as tarka, is a heat-based technique in which fat extracts or alters the aroma, taste, or texture, of different spices, herbs, or aromatics. This technique of applying heat to dry spices, also known as tampering, helps to remove, or extract, the taste and fragrance from the spices creating an overall stronger, better flavor.
There are three main elements in making a tadka: heat, fat, and spices.
As you may imagine, there is a whole science behind this technique. For this recipe, however, here’s what you need to know-
- Heat: Here we’re adding the fat source and spices to a hot skillet set over medium-high to high heat.
- Fat: Ghee is your best bet (and most authentic), but avocado oil, coconut oil, or vegetable oil will also work.
- Spices: Keeping it simple, remember? Here we’re adding dried red chilies, cumin seeds (not to be confused with ground cumin), and at the very end, garlic.
How to Make Masoor Dal Tadka
1. Add your masoor lentils to a fine-mesh strainer and rinse thoroughly with cold water to remove any dust and dirt. Drain thoroughly and set aside.
2. Heat some oil or ghee in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the dried red chilies and chopped onion and saute until the onions are softened and translucent. Then stir in the minced garlic, salt, ground turmeric, and red lentils. Mix it all together.
3. Finally, add the diced tomatoes (I added Roma tomatoes, but any large tomatoes will work) and add 6 cups of water or vegetable broth. Note– unless you prefer your dal to be thick, expect to add additional water or broth later on as it cooks.
4. Bring to a low boil. When bubbling, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Approximately 5-10 minutes before serving, preparing the tadka (tampering). Set a medium skillet over high heat. Add the oil, dried red chilies, and cumin seeds. Allow the dried chilis and cumin seeds to cook for approximately 3-5 minutes, or until fragrant and browned – stir as needed to prevent burning, then in the last minute, stir in the garlic.
6. Carefully pour the tempering oil and spices into the pot with the cooked lentils and mix well to combine. Allow everything to simmer for 1-2 minutes.
7. Serve immediately or cool, and keep stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Tips and Tricks
- Plan to salt your dal to suit your own personal taste and preference. For example, sometimes I find that my mother-in-law either over salts her dal, or forgets to add salt at all. This tells me is that salt content in dal recipes is highly subjective – however, plan to be generous here. Dal is pretty bland on its own.
- Dal will thicken as it cools. Don’t be afraid to add extra water or broth when reheating.
- This reminds me: Masoor dal, like all dal recipes, only get better with age. I can guarantee that this recipe will taste better reheated for lunch or dinner the next day as compared to the day it was made.
- Add a little heavy cream or coconut milk!
More Lentil Recipes,
If you try making this Red Lentil Dal Recipe (Indian Masoor Dal), please leave me a comment and let me know! I always love to hear your thoughts.
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Red Lentil Dal Recipe (Indian Masoor Dal)
- 3 cups masoor dal (red lentils)
- 2 tbsp oil ((or ghee))
- 4-8 whole dried red chilies
- 1 small onion (diced)
- 4 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
- 1.5 tsp ground turmeric
- 3 tomatoes (I used Roma tomatoes) (chopped)
- 6 cups water
For the Tadka or "Tempering"
- 2 tbsp oil (or ghee)
- 4 whole dried red chilies
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- Thoroughly rinse the lentils in cold running water. Drain thoroughly. If you haven't done so already, dice the onion and mince the garlic. Set aside.
- Heat the oil (or ghee) in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the dried red chilies and cook for 1 minute before adding the diced onion. Mix well to combine. Cook, stirring frequently until the onions start to soften (approximately 5 minutes or so). Stir in the garlic and continue to cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.
- Add the salt, turmeric powder, and red lentils to the pot. Mix to combine, add the chopped tomatoes and fill with 6 cups of water. Bring to a low boil. When bubbling, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Approximately 5 minutes before you're ready to serve, prepare the "tadka" (aka tempering). Set a medium skillet over high heat. Add the oil, dried red chilies, and cumin seeds. Allow the dried chilis and cumin seeds to cook for approximately 3-5 minutes, or until fragrant and browned - stir as needed to prevent burning. In the last minute, stir in the garlic.
- Carefully pour the tempering oil and spices into the pot with the dal. Mix well to combine.
- Serve with a sprinkle of fresh chopped cilantro, cooked basmati rice, naan, roti, or paratha.
- The tadka is the primary source of flavor and seasoning - you do not want to skip this part! However, if you're sensitive to spicy foods, you may want to omit the dried red chilies or cut the total amount in half.
- Feel free to mix and match the types of lentils you use to make dal. Whole Masoor, (aka Sabut Masoor) has more fiber and can be used in place of hulled masoor dal.
- Total cook time may vary by brand and freshness of your lentils. In general, fresh lentils take less time to cook, whereas older lentils take longer.
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.)