My Go-To Masoor Dal Recipe (Red Lentil Curry)
Dal, or stewed lentils, is so ingrained in Pakistani and Indian culture that you’d be hard-pressed to find a pantry in the Indian Subcontinent without some variety of it. This recipe for masoor dal, or red split lentil curry, is my go-to dal. It’s wholesome, satisfying, and simple to make. This recipe includes stovetop, Instant Pot, and pressure cooker instructions.
My go-to Masoor Dal Recipe
When grocery is running low and dinner isn’t planned, masoor dal is to be made. Unlike many other dals, masoor dal requires no pre-soaking and cooks in minutes when using a pressure cooker or instant pot (more on that below).
Several years ago when I lived in Midland, TX, I would drive 30 minutes home from work, make this dal, and drive 20 minutes back to night class.
To this day, I hastily prepare some version of this recipe whenever I come back from trips and my digestion system needs a break.
Speaking of digestion, because we’ve grown up with dal, it’s easy to take for granted how nutritious it is. Just 1/4 cup of red lentils are packed with:
- 12 grams of protein
- 14 g fiber
- 3 mg of iron (that’s more than spinach!)
- folate, potassium, and magnesium among other nutrients.
Tips for cooking dal
This is a very simple recipe, but there are some universal tips for cooking masoor dal.
- I prefer cooking this dal in an Instant Pot. Because red lentils cook so quickly, this recipe is perfect for cooking the dal and it’s tarka (tempering) concurrently. I usually get the red lentils started in the Instant Pot and immediately start preparing the tarka.
- If you’re cooking it over the stovetop (instead of a pressure cooker), remove the foam that rises to the top. Otherwise, the dal might become bitter.
- Masoor dal is naturally soupy in texture, so it’s forgiving in terms of over-cooking. That’s why it works so well in many different forms of cooking.
- Be generous with the salt. If your dal tastes bland, it likely needs a sprinkle of salt.
- Dal tends to thicken as soon as it’s cooled, so be mindful of that when cooking down to your preferred consistency.
How to cook this Masoor Dal – 3 ways
There are several ways to cook Masoor Dal. This recipe cooks requires cooking the dal and Tarka (tempering) separately and then combining them. You can cook the red lentils 3 ways: stovetop, pressure cooker, and instant pot.
- Stovetop Method: In a large pot, add dal and 3 1/4 cups of water. Bring this to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover, leaving the lid slightly open. Cook the dal for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Use a slotted spoon to remove the white scum that rises to the top of the pan.
- Instant Pot Method: Add lentils along with 1 1/4 cup of water and cook on low pressure for 7 minutes. Manually release the pressure. If you’re interested in making this curry in one pot in an Instant Pot, check out my Instant Pot Red Lentil Dal recipe.
- Pressure Cooker Method: Add the dal along with 2 cups water and pressure cook on high heat for 3 minutes.
If you like this dal, you’ll also love my:
My Go-To Masoor Dal Recipe (Red Lentil Curry)
- 1 cup masoor dal or red lentils
- 3 1/4 cups water, or 2 cups for pressure cooking
- 1/4 cup canola, grapeseed or other neutral oil
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 4-5 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/2 inch piece ginger, crushed
- 2 small tomatoes, chopped
- 1 green chili, chopped or sliced (chopped for more heat, sliced for less)
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/4-1/2 tsp red chili powder or cayenne, or more to taste
- 1 1/8 tsp salt, or more to taste
- 1 tsp kasuri methi or dry fenugreek leaves, optional
- 1 tbsp ghee, not suitable for vegans
- 1-2 tbsp chopped cilantro
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp garam masala, optional
- Place lentils in a medium-sized 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 and strain the excess water.
- In a large pot, add dal and 3 1/4 cups of water. Bring this to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover, leaving the lid slightly open. Cook the dal for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Use a slotted spoon to remove the white scum that rises to the top of the pan.
Pressure Cooker Method
- Pressure cook the masoor dal with 2 cups water for 2-3 minutes or until well cooked and slightly mushy.
Instant Pot Method
- Add lentils along with 1 1/2 cups of water and cook on low pressure for 7 minutes. Manually release the pressure.
For the tadka (or tempering)
- In another large pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the cumin seeds and sauté for about 15 seconds. Add the onions and sauté until slightly golden, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and continue to sauté until the raw smell disappears (about 30 seconds). Add the tomatoes, green chili, and dry spice powders (red chili, turmeric, cumin, coriander) except the garam masala. Cook until soft and you see the oil leaving the sides, about 3 minutes.
- Stir the cooked dal into the tadka and add 2 cups of water. Stir well and raise the heat to bring to a simmer.
- Lower the heat and add the salt. Simmer this dal, stirring occasionally, for at least 5 minutes or until you achieve the desired consistency.
- Add in the ghee. Rub the fenugreek leaves, if using, between your hands to crush them a little and add this to the dal.
- Turn off the heat. Add lemon juice, chopped cilantro, and garam masala, if using. Give it a stir.
- Serve dal hot with rice, roti, naan or anything else your heart desires. I like to serve it with some sliced onions, carrots or cucumber on the side.