A Love Affair with Red Lentils

February 21, 2010


Variety is a big part of my diet.  In the three years I worked as a personal chef, I only repeated recipes a handful of times, and those were requests.  I figure I love food and love to eat and I want to make as many different things as I can in my lifetime.  Of course, I have my go-to meals but I really do try and have variety in our food lives.

And then there are the things that I could eat every single day and be totally happy.  Good french fries with ketchup.  Noodle soups like this one, noodle dishes like this one (yes, I have a thing for Asian noodles) could fulfill me until the end of my days.  And any kind of red lentil dish is on that list too.

If you have never cooked with red lentils, you are in for a treat.  They are among the fastest cooking of beans and they change utterly and completely from raw to cooked.  Raw they are bright orange (in spite of their name) and look like flat pebbles.  Cooked they become a mellow yellow and they lose their shape.  Depending on how much liquid is in your dish, they can loosely resemble other lentils, or they can disappear completely.  They, like other lentils, are high in protein and fiber, yet low in calories and fat.  They require no pre-soaking time.

On Thursday, I crossed the Sound and did a cooking lesson for a group of extraordinary women.  We have been talking about doing a class for months and I gave serious thought to what I wanted to cook.  In the end, I decided to make a full meal and it took me about one second to decide to feature a red lentil dhal.

Because I love red lentils and I love this family of spices, I have made various incarnations of this dish many times over the years.  Of all the ones I have made, this is my favorite.  It is very highly spiced – not hot, just spicy.  One of the beauties of this dish is its adaptability.  You could add all manner of vegetables (carrots, potatoes, zucchini, spinach come to mind).  Or you could add more liquid, allow it to simmer away and turn it into a soup.


Red Lentils Previously on Dana Treat: Curried Red Lentil Stew with Vegetables
One Year Ago: Double Baked Chocolate Cake

Red Lentil Dhal
Inspired by The Modern Vegetarian
Serves 4-6

This list of ingredients is long but much of it is spices.  The stew actually comes together quite quickly.

Vegetable oil or grapeseed oil
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. black or yellow mustard seeds
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 ½ inches of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno chile, seeded, finely chopped
1 ½ tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. tumeric
Pinch of chile powder
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups red lentils
2 cinnamon sticks (or 1, if large)|
2 cups water
1 15-oz. can “lite” coconut milk
Sea salt
Juice of 1 lemon
A bunch of mint, chopped
A bunch of cilantro, chopped

Heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of a large pan and add the mustard and cumin seeds.  Be careful as they will begin to pop.  Immediately add the onion, adjust the heat to medium, and cook until softened – about five minutes.  Add the ginger, garlic, chile, curry powder, cumin, tumeric, and chile powder and fry for 3 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and fry for 1 minute.

Add the lentils and stir to coat with the oil and spices.  Add the cinnamon stick, water, and coconut milk.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the dhal is at a simmer.  Cover partially and cook, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom, until the lentils have partially lost their shape and are soft – about 15 minutes.  Stir in more liquid as necessary for the consistency you want.

Remove from the heat, season with sea salt and add the lemon juice to taste.  At this point, you can allow the dhal to cool and then cover and refrigerate it overnight.  When reheating on the stove, you will need to add more liquid as it will thicken as it sits.

About 10 minutes before serving, add the herbs.  You will want them to cook down a bit but not so much that they lose their color.  Serve warm over basmati rice and with a raita if desired.


  1. we loved your Curried Red Lentil Stew so i can’t wait to try this one! would it work to use cinnamon powder instead of a cinnamon stick? if so, how much would you need? also, i don’t believe i have mustard seeds. is that a must or is there a substitution?

    Comment by Meredith — February 21, 2010 @ 6:16 pm

  2. yum! can’t wait to try this. the tomato puree is just like pureed tomatoes? not tomato paste?

    this is the kind of recipe i need on a cold rainy day like this.

    Comment by Tracy — February 22, 2010 @ 1:46 am

  3. My hubby and I ate red lentils for 2 years while in the Peace Corps, in the form of timtomo, a spiced lentil stew eaten with spongy injera. To this day, red lentils are my husband’s favorite comfort food. (I love them, too, though in a cage fight with rice and buttered noodles it would be close match.)

    The fact that you used light coconut milk in this particular lentil preparation makes me heart this recipe even more.

    Comment by Cheryl @ 5 Second Rule — February 22, 2010 @ 2:40 am

  4. Wow, this lentil dish looks fantastic!! I like that you like trying different types of food. Variety is always great. :)

    Comment by Sook @ My Fabulous Recipes — February 22, 2010 @ 3:23 am

  5. Thank you very much for the lentils lesson! I now can say I know something about red lentils. They look and sound delicious. The taste is right up my alley! P.S. Great blog!

    Comment by GrilledShane — February 22, 2010 @ 3:23 am

  6. Wonderful dish. I am a huge fan of lentils. I can’t wait to try this one.

    Comment by Maria — February 22, 2010 @ 3:44 am

  7. yum…..I am going to give this a try tomorrow!

    Comment by kelly — February 22, 2010 @ 4:16 am

  8. This looks great! Can’t wait to try it

    Comment by Eva — February 22, 2010 @ 7:26 pm

  9. Oh yum!! I’m going to make this tonight! I made your chili last week and it was a BIG hit! Even with our 15-month old baby boy!

    Comment by Kelly — February 22, 2010 @ 7:54 pm

  10. Hey! I made red lentil soup yesterday, but that’s not why I’m commenting. Found your other site and used your ravioli recipe instructions-they were excellent. Thanks for clear instructions…

    Comment by Stella — February 23, 2010 @ 12:25 am

  11. variety is the spice of life and i love all the spices involved with your dish. we are HUGE lentil fans here, but i have yet to try the red. they are now on my list. the only issue with a dish like dahl is that i usually can’t stop myself from a second (or third) helping!!

    Comment by my spatula — February 23, 2010 @ 2:15 am

  12. This sounds really good. I recently made the switch to eating vegetarian and am trying to figure it all out. My first attempt at red lentils didn’t go so well, but I will try this. Nice to reconnect again (you found me on Facebook)!

    Comment by Kirsten — February 23, 2010 @ 4:09 pm

  13. I eat so many lentils and I love how quick the red ones cook. The other night I also made a dal but with yellow split peas. Your photo looks beautiful and it’s hard to make lentils look good!

    Comment by kickpleat — February 23, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

  14. Red lentils are such a good comfort food. They cook so quickly and go so well with lots of spices. This looks fantastic with the raita!

    Comment by lisaiscooking — February 24, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

  15. I have been on such a lentil kick recently! I will def be trying this!

    Comment by fresh365 — February 24, 2010 @ 5:10 pm

  16. I could eat lentils everyday too- that and chickpeas go into many, many of my meals! This recipe looks wonderful! I can’t wait to try it out.

    Comment by Emily Rose — February 24, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

  17. I’m with you – I always want to try out new recipes and don’t often make the same things again. This lentil dish looks delicious! I love how red lentils fall apart when cooked. And I love all the spices, though I’m a bit wary of cinnamon in savoury dishes.

    Comment by Ashley — February 28, 2010 @ 5:02 pm

  18. Hi Dana – I tried this recipe the other night – it is fantastic! My husband and I loved it. It keeps really well, and the leftovers are even better. Thanks so much!

    Comment by Martha — March 1, 2010 @ 3:01 pm

  19. This is the second time I’ve made this recipe and it’s just wonderful! This time I used half French green lentils and half red lentils, plus added finely chopped carrots with the onions and cubed potatoes and spinach with the liquids. Yum! Thanks so much for your WONDERFUL blog!

    Comment by Kelly — March 2, 2010 @ 3:06 am

  20. made this tonight. I was short on time and had almost everything on hand. Used full fat coconut milk since it’s all I had. It was divine. My love affair with red lentils has begun. Many thanks!

    Comment by Katherine Deumling — March 2, 2010 @ 4:09 am

  21. Dana- I made this last night and it is definitely one of the best lentil recipes I’ve made. I thought it was really divine. Thanks!!

    Comment by elizabeth @ sophisticated pie — January 5, 2011 @ 12:44 am

  22. this was great! i think it could use just a tad more coconut milk i like it creamy and a touch of spice. But it was great and now i know what modifications to make to my liking. thank you!

    Comment by kat — January 10, 2011 @ 4:14 am

  23. […] dal recipe, found here (love her), involves the addition of a cinnamon stick, coconut milk, cilantro and fresh mint, along […]

    Pingback by Truffle Honey » Red Lentil Dal — December 28, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

  24. I made this tonight and it was wonderful! I didn’t have cumin seeds so I just added extra ground cumin. Otherwise, I made it exactly as indicated and it came out great. I served it with brown rice and a quick raita made with Greek yogurt, more parsley and mint, and chopped green onion. I will definitely be making this again. Quick & healthy & delicious!

    Comment by Kris — February 6, 2013 @ 8:00 am

  25. […] Peas (pictured) – Leela Cyd Ross for The Kitchn 2. Saag Panner – 101 Cookbooks 3. Red Lentil Dhal – Dana Treat 4. Chana Masala – Smitten Kitchen 5. Chicken Tikka Masala – Food and […]

    Pingback by Craving Indian Food? 5 Starter Recipes | — March 11, 2013 @ 2:22 am

  26. […] going to refer you to Dana (http://danatreat.com/2010/02/a-love-affair-with-red-lentils/) for this recipe (thanks, Dana!). […]

    Pingback by Red Lentil Dhal | The Amiable Cooks | Vegan | Vegetarian | Dhal | Indian Dhal | How To Make Dhal | Meatless Indian | Meatless Monday | Best Meatless Recipe | Indian Food | How To Cook Lentils | Healthy Dinner Recipe — November 8, 2016 @ 3:25 pm

Leave a comment