Spicy Vegan Lentil Dahl

Spicy Indian Lentils
The Spruce
Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 35 mins
Total: 45 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
298 Calories
5g Fat
49g Carbs
18g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 298
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 5g 6%
Saturated Fat 1g 4%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 1316mg 57%
Total Carbohydrate 49g 18%
Dietary Fiber 7g 26%
Protein 18g
Calcium 116mg 9%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Dahl (also spelled dhal, daal, and dal) is essentially a thick South Asian-inspired lentil stew that is often prepared with ghee or clarified butter. This red lentil recipe for the popular Indian dish uses a little sesame oil for depth and flavor in place of the traditional ghee, which makes it vegan.

There ​is actually a wide range of dahls made from many different types of lentils and other vegetables called "pulses." Dried and split, they are cooked with various spices, meats, and vegetables. Options include red and yellow lentils, mung beans, lobiya (black-eyed peas), and chickpeas, among others. It's easy to modify a dahl to make it mild or spicy or to create a full dahl-based meal or a side dish.

This simple dahl soup is a favorite go-to recipe. It is easy to prepare with pantry staples and quick to make in one pot. Double or triple the recipe when you have a lot of mouths to feed. Any leftovers make a great lunch when served with flatbread and tea. 

1:20

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Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 cup onion (white; finely chopped)
  • 2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger (finely chopped)
  • 4 cups water (or vegetable broth)
  • 1 cup dried red lentils (rinsed and picked over)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Garnish: dairy-free soy yogurt

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. In a 3-quart stockpot or other medium-sized soup pot, heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion, garlic, and ginger. Cook, stirring often, until the chopped onion is translucent, about 6 minutes.

    Sauté veggies
    The Spruce
  3. Stirring constantly, add the water or broth, lentils, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and salt. Bring to a low boil, then turn down the heat to low, cover and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes, or until lentils are very tender.

    Add sauce
    The Spruce
  4. Stir in the tomato paste until well combined. Cook several minutes more, or until the soup is at the desired temperature and consistency, adding more water to the dahl if needed.

  5. Garnish with a dollop of dairy-free soy yogurt if desired. Serve hot and enjoy.

What Is Good to Serve With Dahl?

While dahl can certainly be eaten alone, it's sometimes served with a hearty grain. Basmati rice and quinoa are the usual accompaniments, and you can simply add a scoop to the bowl before adding the dahl. Flatbread like roti and naan are also popular. They're useful as well because they can help mop up the flavorful sauce. For a bright finish, top the dahl with chopped fresh cilantro.

Tips

  • Unlike other dried legumes, there's no need to soak lentils because they're small and come out perfectly tender with short cook times.
  • Combine all the spices in a small dish while preparing the ingredients. This makes it easy to toss all of them into the pot when needed.
  • If you're serving a lot of guests, you can have red pepper flakes available so that everyone can control the heat of their own bowl.

Variations

  • Indian cuisine is known to be on the spicy side, but it doesn't have to be. To dial down the kick, omit the cayenne pepper.
  • Add green chiles without the seeds instead. This will enhance the flavor of the overall dish without adding much spice.
  • For a slight taste and color variation, use a finely chopped red onion.
  • To thicken the sauce slightly, mix 1 tablespoon each of cornstarch and cold water into a smooth paste. Stir the slurry into the stew, bring it to a boil then down to a simmer until it's the desired thickness. This is not a good option if you want to freeze the dahl. The gelatin properties of the cornstarch will break down, and the dahl will be thin again once thawed.

How to Store and Freeze

Dahl will keep well in the refrigerator for up to two days in an airtight container. It can be frozen for up to six months. Let it cool down and consider putting it into the refrigerator before packaging for the freezer. Gradually reducing the temperature of bean dishes helps prevent spoilage and produces better results once thawed out. Reheat dahl gently in the microwave or on the stovetop.

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