Lentil Dahl

Dahl is one of my favourite dishes, but I was always put off cooking one at home because of the endless number of spices it often requires. But having experimented a little, I’ve found it is actually very easy to make. I don’t claim to know very much about Indian cooking at all, so I’m almost certain it’s not authentic. But authenticity isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to cooking.

This has the added benefit of being vegan, and cheap to make (particularly if you already have the spices in). Just make sure you add plenty of salt to taste – it might go against your instinct, but salt (added carefully) will bring out the flavour of the spices.

This dish tastes even better the next day, so make it in advance if you have time, or make sure you save the leftovers for lunch the next day.


Takes approximately 45 minutes from start to finish. This recipe serves about 4 people as a side, or two people as a main.

NOTE: Using pre-ground spices is a good option if you don’t want to buy the seeds, and cuts down the preparation time by 5 minutes. However, seeds do provide a better taste overall.

You will need:

  • Vegetable oil
  • 3 cardamom pods (cut these open with a knife and take the seeds out)
  • 3 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 300g red lentils (these come dried in a bag)
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • Thumb-sized chunk ginger, peeled and grated (or 1tbsp ginger paste)
  • 1.5l water
  • Tin of tomatoes

You will also need a large pan (I tend to use a deep frying pan), a chopping board and knife, and a pestle and mortar (or a plate and a glass) if using non-ground spices.

(If you are using pre-ground spices, skip this step). Start by heating a medium-large frying pan over a medium heat, and adding the seeds from 3 cardamom pods, 3 tsp cumin seeds, and 2 tsp coriander seeds. You only need to do this for maximum 2 minutes – you’ll hear a popping noise and as soon as you hear this, take them off the heat. Grind the spices by putting them on a plate and crushing them with a mug or, if you have one, using a pestle and mortar. Set to one side.

Using the same pan, add a glug of vegetable oil over a medium heat, then add the chopped onion. Fry for 10 minutes – the onion should be nice and soft and starting to turn golden, which will add a little sweetness. Keeping the pan on the heat, add the sliced garlic and grated ginger, and fry for 5 minutes.

Then, add the ground spices, along with the 3tsp salt and 2tsp turmeric powder. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the lentils along with around 800ml water and half the tin of tomatoes (you can save the rest for an easy pasta sauce). Stir, and bring the pan up to the boil, then simmer for around 20 minutes. From there, all you really need to do is keep an eye on it and stir to make sure the lentils don’t stick to the pan. Keep the jug of water on the side and add more if the dahl is becoming too dry – it should be a little like a thick lentil soup.

This is great on it’s own, but works well with a piece of pan-fried salmon, or as a spread with other curries and rice.

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