Spicy Red Lentil Dhal

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Spicy Red Lentil Dhal


This is best eaten hot or ‘warmish’. Serve with Indian breads, steamed rice and other spicy vegetable dishes, and with plenty of yoghurt, to make a balanced vegetarian meal.

Serves: 4-6


3 Tbsp oil or ghee
2 onions, peeled and sliced
250g (1¼ cups) red lentils
1½ tsp coriander seeds
1½ tsp cumin seeds
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
½ tsp chilli powder
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground turmeric
750ml (3 cups) hot water
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp lemon juice


1 Heat the olive oil or ghee in a large saucepan over a low to medium heat. Add the onions and fry until golden.

2 Wash the lentils thoroughly in a sieve under running cold water until the water runs clear.

3 Grind the coriander and cumin seeds or crush with a mortar and pestle. When the onions are ready, add the garlic, chilli powder, ginger, turmeric, and the ground coriander and cumin. Fry for 1 minute, then add the drained lentils. Turn them with a spoon so they are coated with the spicy mixture, then add the water.

4 Bring to the boil, turn the heat to low and cover with a lid. Cook gently for 40-50 minutes, or until the mixture is porridge-like. Stir often during the last minutes of cooking to prevent the dhal catching on the bottom of the pan. Stir in the salt and lemon juice then let the dhal cool before serving.

Recipe Notes

Pulses are the edible seeds of leguminous plants, which include peas, beans and lentils. Lentils are round and flattish in shape and vary in size and colour, and they can be sold whole or skinned and split. They have been cultivated since prehistoric times. Dhal (or dal) is the generic Indian name used for dried lentils, peas and beans, and also the name of any dish which features them as a major ingredient.

Dhal, the dish, can be made thin and soupy, plain ploppy or scoop-upable! But it is always delicious when well made. This dhal, made from inexpensive and readily available red lentils, has plenty of punch and it can be finished off in various ways. Try it with a big swirl of plain yoghurt on top and a handful of chopped coriander (cilantro). Chopped fresh red chillies can also be added to give a biting heat.

Alternatively, heat a little oil or ghee and lightly fry a few strips of lemon peel, a dozen peppercorns, a few smashed cardamom seeds, and a pinch each of fennel and coriander seeds for a few minutes until fragrant. You can add a little crushed dried chilli if you want. Pour this over the warm dhal and serve.

For the picture I fried curry leaves and coriander seeds

Dhal can be made up to 48 hours ahead; keep it covered and refrigerated. This is particularly helpful when making an Indian feast.

Don’t hold back when the dhal is passed around; lentils are an excellent source of protein, making them hugely important in the vegetarian Indian diet – and they also contain iron, calcium, potassium and B group vitamins. Remember that the protein from plants is incomplete (unlike meat which has complete protein), but around 30% more of the protein plants contain is made available to the body if the lentils are eaten with cereal (such as Indian breads). Low fat yoghurt provides calcium and protein, and if you choose a yoghurt containing acidophilus culture, you’ll keep your gut healthy, too. The dhal also contains onions and garlic, so give yourself a real boost and make enough for leftovers!

Spicy Red Lentil Dhal
Spicy Red Lentil Dhal

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