This Instant Pot Split Red Lentil (Masoor) Dal curry is a quick, easy, and authentic Pakistani/North Indian-style dal recipe. It’s naturally gluten-free, vegetarian (or optional vegan), and cooks within minutes!
The Humble Lentil
There’s a proverb in urdu/hindi, “ghar ki murghi, dal barabar”, which loosely translates (i.e. i’m butchering) to “chicken is equivalent to lentils if it’s made in your own home.”
The essence of the saying is similar to the famous idiom, “the grass is greener on the other side.” (The inability to value what’s ours seems to be a universal affliction.)
There’s something else to it though. The proverb implies chicken’s superiority to lentils, as though lentils are boring or cheap.
But lentils have a dignity of their own.
In fact, they have it all. They’re cheap, yes, but they’re also readily available and abundant. They’re in the parameters of practically everyone’s version of healthy food – full of protein, fiber, and nutrients. And they’re the best kind of comfort food – deeply satisfying, yet uplifting and easy-to-digest.
Notes on Instant Pot Dal
- Typically when making red (masoor) lentils dal, there’s a ‘tarka’ or tempering of onions and spices which is poured into the cooked dal. To make this recipe in the Instant Pot, I’ve adapted my 2 pot Red Lentil Recipe to cook the lentils alongside the prepared a tomato-onion base. Both methods are fine and authentic, and yield similar results.
- The recipe calls for 1/2 cup lentils. This is good for 2 servings. I noticed that 1 cup would always yield extra so I made this a leftover-free version. You can always double the ingredients and keep the cooking time the same, but you’ll have to sauté for longer than directed in the recipe.
- Where to find red lentils: I’ve seen red split lentils at HEB, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, Whole Foods, and of course at South Asian grocery stores. (Speaking of, here’s a South Asian pantry checklist that includes every ingredient you need to make most South Asian dishes, including this one.)
I made this red lentil dal recipe as a part of my friend Alex’s new series on her Instagram stories called ‘Pass the Dish’. Alex’s blog, The Defined Dish, won the Saveur Reader’s Choice Award in the Most-Inspired Weeknight Dinner Recipes category (I was also lucky enough to be nominated in the category). For Pass the Dish, she brings on a diverse range of bloggers to share a healthy, wholesome dish that they grew up eating that they can pass on not only to their families, but everyone else too. If there’s one dish I feel will definitely get passed down from generation to generation, it’s dal.
Instant Pot Red Lentil Dal
- 1/2 cup masoor dal red lentils
- 2 tbsp neutral oil such as grapeseed or avocado
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 small or ½ large yellow onion thinly sliced
- 2-3 garlic cloves crushed
- 1 tsp crushed ginger
- ½ small Serrano pepper or thai chili pepper sliced (or whole if you prefer less heat)
- ½ medium tomato (about 1/4 cup chopped) very finely chopped or pureed
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/8 red chili powder or cayenne or to taste
- 1 1/2 cups filtered water
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt (less for finer salt) or to taste
- ½ tbsp ghee or butter
- 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
- 1/8 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice optional
- generous pinch garam masala optional
- Place lentils in a small bowl and fill with water. Use your hand to swirl the dal around until the water becomes murky. Tip the bowl to take out the excess water and repeat until the water runs clear. Remove any debris, strain the dal, and set aside.
- Select the high Sauté setting on the Instant Pot. Once hot, add the oil, cumin seeds, and onions.
- Sauté until the onions turn lightly golden, about 6-7 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and green chili pepper and continue to sauté for another minute until the raw smell disappears and the color of the onion deepens. Add the tomato and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.
- Press the Cancel button to turn off the Instant Pot. Add the spice powders (red chili, turmeric, cumin, coriander) and stir. Add in the rinsed dal and 1 ½ cups of water.
- Secure the lid and set the Pressure Release to Sealing. Select the Pressure Cook or Manual setting and set the cooking time for 6 minutes at high pressure.
- Let the venting naturally release for 5 minutes, then move the Pressure Release to Venting to release any remaining steam.
- Open the pot and turn to Sauté mode again. Add the salt and sauté for 3-4 minutes, stirring often to smooth out and thicken the dal. Press Cancel to turn off the Instant Pot.
- Add ghee, chopped cilantro, lemon juice, and garam masala, if using. Give it a stir.
- Serve dal hot with rice, roti, naan or other bread. I like to serve it with some chopped onions, carrots or cucumber on the side.