My Go-To Masoor Dal Recipe (Red Lentil Dal)
Over the years, I’ve tried making Masoor Dal (red split lentils) in a myriad of ways, but this recipe remains my go-to. It’s simple, and can take many adaptations yet still be delicious. Naturally vegetarian & optionally vegan, this recipe includes stovetop and Instant Pot instructions for cooking the dal. Tested to perfection!
“I just made this recipe tonight and it was amazing! My first time making dal will be my go-to recipe in the future!”Ben
3 Key Tips to Cooking Masoor Dal
- If you’ve ever wondered how to cook a pot of dal – cook dal like you would pasta, except you’re not draining the water. Just keep simmering, adding water if it evaporates, until the dal is cooked. How do you know it’s cooked? Well, just like how pasta goes from raw to al-dente to mushy, so does dal, but with dal, there’s more give.
- Brown the onions. With any dal, the key is to go further than translucent onions and toward golden brown. You can always deglaze with a splash of water to help them brown evenly.
- Be generous with the salt. If your dal tastes bland, it likely needs a sprinkle of salt.
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 quickly, especially when using an Instant Pot (more on that below).
Originally inspired by Veg Recipes of India’s Masoor Dal, this dal has become a favorite over the years. In fact, when I lived in Midland, TX where there weren’t many decent takeout options, 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.
What is Masoor Dal?
Masoor dal (or daal, dahl, etc.) is the Hindi/Urdu name for red split lentils (sometimes called pink lentils), which is the seed of the plant Lens culinaris. The tiny brown seeds of the whole masoor dal are hulled and split to yield this more common red lentil.
Masoor Dal Ingredients
Basic South Asian pantry staples are all you need to make this recipe. Here are a few notes on them:
- Masoor Dal (Red Split Lentils) – One of the most common variety of lentils and readily available at most American grocery stores.
- Spices – This dal recipe calls for simple spices such as coriander, cumin, red chili powder (or cayenne!), and turmeric. Garam masala is optional.
- Garlic and ginger – Fresh is always ideal. You can also substitute around 1/2 tbsp of paste for each.
- Kasuri Methi (dried fenugreek leaves) – A completely optional ingredient in this case (but essential for recipes like Mixed Vegetable Curry and IP Butter Chicken), this is the only ingredient that’s not as readily available. If you want to use it, you’ll likely need to find in Indian & Pakistani grocery stores.
How to Make Masoor Dal – 3 Easy Steps
Masoor Dal almost always goes like this:
Step 1 – Cook the Dal
- Rinse the lentils well, then drain, put in a deep saucepan, and add specified amount of water. I like to keep the lid ajar since the steam builds up and tends to cause the dal to boil over.
- If you’re cooking it over the stovetop, remove the foam that rises to the top (if you’d like!).
- Optional step: Slightly mash the lentils along the sides of the pot with your wooden spoon. This isn’t necessary here because cooking the dal low and slow naturally breaks down the dal to the perfect consistency.
Because red lentils cook so quickly, this recipe is perfect for cooking the dal and its tarka (tempering) concurrently. I usually start the tarka when the dal is almost done cooking.
Step 2 – Make the Tarka
- Meanwhile, make the tarka, also called baghar or chonk. Essentially, it’s an infusion of spices and/or aromatics in hot oil or ghee. This is the essential step that adds texture and taste, elevating bland lentils to dal status.
- In many Masoor dal recipes such as Maryam’s Pakistani-style dal, the tarka is as simple as a small onion. This one goes all out with tomatoes, spices, and a garnishing of lemon & cilantro.
Step 3 – Combine & Garnish
- I’ve added the lentils to the tarka but you can also add the tarka to the lentils.
- Dal tends to thicken as soon as it’s cooled, so keep that in mind when cooking down to your preferred consistency.
- Simmer gently, but not too long as it’ll lose the brightness of the garnishing ingredients.
How to store and reheat Masoor Dal
Store in the fridge for 3-4 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw and then (ideally) reheat over the stove. Depending on how thick the dal gets, you may need to add more water when reheating.
How to serve Masoor Dal
- Fresh, crunchy vegetables chopped up with a bit of salt, pepper, and lemon juice (or kachumber salad if we want to get technical).
- Yogurt or raita.
- Achaar (mixed pickle).
- More lemon or lime!
Complementary Dishes to Serve Alongside
- Complementary meat dishes: Beef Curry, Keema Matar, or Chicken Jalfrezi.
- Complementary vegetarian mains: Mixed Vegetable Curry, Okra Curry, or Aloo Baingan.
More Dal Recipes:
- Maash Ki Dal
- Instant Pot Red Lentils
- Instant Pot Pakistani Chana Dal
- Instant Pot Whole Masoor Dal (Brown Lentil Curry)
Tried this recipe? If you have a minute, please consider leaving a comment & star rating below and telling me how it was! If you’re on Instagram, please tag me so I can see your creations. I truly love hearing from you! Thank you!
My Go-To Masoor Dal Recipe (Red Lentil Dal)
- 1 cup (~190 g) masoor dal (red split lentils)
- 3 1/4 cups water (for stovetop), 1 1/2 cups for Instant Pot
- 1/4 cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 small to medium (~150-200 g) yellow onion, finely chopped
- 4-5 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/2 inch piece ginger, crushed
- 2 small (~170 g) tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1 small green chili (such as Thai or Serrano), chopped or sliced lengthwise (chopped for more heat, sliced for less)
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1/4-1/2 tsp red chili powder or cayenne, or more to taste
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 1/8 tsp sea salt or table salt
- 1 tbsp ghee or butter, omit for vegan dal
- 1 tsp kasuri methi or dry fenugreek leaves, optional
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1-2 tbsp chopped cilantro
- 1/4 tsp garam masala, optional
- Place lentils in a small-medium 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 medium pot, add dal along with 3 1/4 cups (~769 ml) of water. Bring this to a boil over medium-high/high heat. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low-medium so that it simmers. Use a slotted spoon to remove any white scum that rises to the top of the pan. Cover with the lid ajar. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes (See Note 1), until the dal has no bite to it and can easily be mashed. Top with 1/4 cup water if you feel the dal is getting too thick. Turn off the heat.
Instant Pot Method
- Add lentils along with 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) of water. Select Pressure Cook – Low setting and set the timer to 7 minutes (See Note 1). Manually release the pressure.
For the Tarka (or Tempering)
- In a separate 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 7 minutes (See Note 2). Add the garlic and ginger and continue to sauté until the raw smell disappears (~30 seconds). Add the tomatoes, green chili pepper, and spice powders (cumin, coriander, red chili, turmeric) and salt. Cook until soft and you see the oil leaving the sides, about 3 minutes.
- Stir the cooked dal into the tarka. Add 1 cup water (more or less), depending on how thick the dal got while cooking and how runny you like the consistency. Mix to combine.
- Bring the dal to a simmer. Allow the dal to reduce and the flavors to meld for about 5 minutes, or until you achieve the desired consistency. Taste and adjust salt, if needed.
- Add in the ghee or butter. If using fenugreek leaves, crush them between your hands and sprinkle into 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 a mix of chopped onions, carrots, and cucumber on the side.