One staple ingredient that tends to have a place in my pantry is masoor dal, otherwise known as the red lentil.






Skill level

Average: 2.8 (97 votes)

It actually only becomes the red lentil after the green-brown skin is removed, revealing that bright salmon colour. When I'm craving a bit of spicy stodge, I can't go past this recipe for masoor dal. It’s perfect on its own with some flatbread or brown rice, or with a piece of grilled chicken that has been marinated in similar spices. This North Indian classic is spicy, healthy and heart-warming, and tastes even better the following day.


  • 500 g masoor dal (red lentils)
  • 1 litre (4 cups) water 
  • 3¼ tsp garam masala
  • 3 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt, plus extra to season
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra to drizzle
  • 1 tsp mustard oil
  • onions, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 1 tbspfinely grated ginger
  • 2 long red chillies, 1 chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bunch coriander, leaves chopped, plus extra leaves to garnish
  • black pepper, to season
  • ¼ tsp cumin seeds
  • warm flatbread or cooked rice, to serve

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Rinse the masoor dal under cold water thoroughly. Bring the water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add the dal, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add 2 tsp garam masala, 2 tsp turmeric and the salt. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until the lentils are cooked through. As it cooks, keep an eye on the water level, as you don't want the lentils to dry and burn. Add water if needed. When done, turn off the heat and set aside.

Heat both oils in a frying pan over low heat. Add the onions and cook for 15 minutes or until soft but not browned.

Add the garlic, ginger and chopped chilli. Fry for 1 minute, then add the ground cumin, 1 tsp garam masala and the remaining 1 tsp turmeric, and fry for 2 minutes (don't let it burn). Remove 2 tbsp of the onion mixture and set aside for the garnish.

Add the tomatoes and coriander to the onion mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the tomato softens. Scrape this into the cooked dal and simmer for a few minutes to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper.

Cut the remaining 1 chilli in half lengthways, drizzle with the extra vegetable oil and sprinkle over the cumin seeds and remaining ¼ tsp garam masala. Heat a small frying pan over medium-high heat, lay the chilli halves cut-side down in the pan and cook for 5 minutes or until slightly blackened. Turn over and cook the other side.

To serve, garnish the masoor dal with the reserved 2 tbsp of spiced fried onion and the blackened chilli halves, and throw on the extra leaves of coriander as well. Serve with the warm flatbread or rice.


Recipe from heneedsfood by John Bek, with photographs by John Bek.

This recipe is featured as part of our online column, Blog Appétit: heneedsfood. View more recipes from this column.

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