simple dal – to make everyday

Simple dal. Really simple dal. Really tasty dal. Fresh. Bright. Satisfying. This one has everything going for it.

Dead easy. Delicious. Cheap. That’s an amazing combo. Doesn’t happen often. So when I find it I stick with it.

Get to know this one. Seriously. It’s a house favourite around here.

Simple dal is about simple ingredients

There really isn’t a lot to this recipe. Which is exactly why it works. A few great ingredients can be better than a lot of mediocre ingredients.

Each ingredient contributes. No ingredient gets lost in the mix. Sometimes less is more.

Not too spicy. Not in your face. It’s like Indian mild. Harmonious. That’s not a word I use often when describing Indian flavours. But in this case it fits.

Tomatoes. Good tomatoes please. A little spice. Some green chili. Onion. Garlic. Salt. And a handful of cilantro. That’s simple dal. Diabolically simple dal.

simple dal, curry, chapatti and rice table scene

Stretch your food buck

Lentils are cheap. Lentils are good for you. And lentils can be delicious. You may not realize that yet. But it’s true.

I am not vegetarian. I don’t have vegetarian tendencies. I’m not anti-plant though. I’m just pro-omnivore. I love vegetarian food. Right next to non-vegetarian food.

I’m not trying to convert anyone. I don’t have an agenda. I’m just saying that on any given Thursday this simple dal and a chapati is enough to make me happy.

And on a Saturday I like this one next to a jalfrezi. Or a madras. Or both. With butter chicken. Or lamb dhansak. This one is the little black dress of lentils.

I already have way too many dal recipes on glebekitchen. And I’m putting up another one.

Not because it’s a great way to stretch your budget. Or because it’s heathy. Or good for the planet.

I’m putting it up because it’s delicious. And because my wife said “I can’t believe you’ve never posted this one.”

Tomato masala on a spoon

Indian or Indian-ish?

I don’t know that this is actually a thing in India. Nobody has ever served it to me. It’s a little different.

Indian cooking is about contrasts. Butting things up against each other. It’s like a jazz band.

Everything is moving in slightly different directions. But somehow it all hangs together.

This simple dal isn’t like that. It doesn’t just hang together. It is together. All the flavours moving in the same direction. Like a classical string quartet. Harmonious.

Which puts it somewhere between the Indian you expect and the Indian you should get to know. That’s what I call Indian-ish.

But it isn’t really that either. Simple dal is its own thing I guess.

Garlic isn’t always in your face

You walk into a kitchen. Someone is cooking garlic in oil. It slams into you. An assault on the senses.

That is totally wrong for this dish. SImple dal is not about being in your face. Harmonious remember? Luckily there’s more than one way to cook garlic.

Think of the mellow flavour that is roasted garlic. Mild. Creamy. Gentle. That’s what this is about.

Except there’s no roasting involved. You just toss in some whole garlic cloves with the dal and let it happen while the dal cooks.

A mellow garlic infusion. That is the magic here. The one little trick that makes this work. The backbone of this recipe.

spoonful of simple dal

Jalapeños are the right green chili for simple dal

I know what you’re thinking. “Jalapeños? How is that right? How is that even a little bit Indian?”

And I understand that. Finger hot or jwala chilies should be perfect for this dish. They are the green chili for everything Indian.

But they are not right for this dish. The wall of the chili is too thin. They bite a little too hard. The flavour profile isn’t quite right.

Jalapeños are not a very Indian choice. But they bring a brightness. And the thicker wall delivers that flavour perfectly.

It might seem like a subtle point. But it makes a big difference. Trust me on this one. Finger hots are a big step in the wrong direction.

The tomatoes are the thing

This dish leans heavily on fresh tomatoes. Good tomatoes make for really good simple dal. Great tomatoes and you have a mind-blower.

Average tomatoes and you will have a solid dish. Not quite magical. But pretty darn good.

Lousy dead of winter tomatoes? I think you can figure that out. Just don’t bother. You won’t understand this dish at all.

I don’t make simple dal after November. Or before May. I pull this one out when the tomatoes let me. Sad. But true.

Simple dal always leaves me wanting more

The English have an expression. They say some things are “more-ish”. Something that is “more-ish” is something that makes you eat more of it.

I’ve never actually used that expression in a sentence. Never said it out loud. Until right now. Simple dal is absolutely “more-ish”.

It’s a bit of an odd one. The recipe might not jump out at you. Wouldn’t jump out at me either. Except I know. And now you do too.

I really shouldn’t post this one. Because I’m guessing it will become your favourite. And all my other dal recipes will be lonely.

tomato masala on the surface of a bowl of dal from above
Tomato masala swirled into simple dal
Print Pin
4.91 from 11 votes

Really simple dal

An easy dish that just bursting with summer flavour
Course side
Cuisine Indian
Keyword dal, simple dal
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings 4
Author romain | glebekitchen


The dal

  • 1 cup masoor dal – those little red lentils you see everywhere
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric

The final flavour burst (the tarka or tempering)

  • 1 cup onions finely diced
  • 3 tbsp neutral oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seed
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seed
  • 1 jalepeno seeded and finely diced
  • 1 large tomato you want summer tomatoes for this
  • 3 tbsp cilantro minced
  • 1 tsp kosher salt – you want to use about half this much table salt


Make the dal

  • Combine the lentils, water, whole garlic cloves and turmeric.
  • Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cover. The order matters. Bringing the pot to a boil when covered gets incredibly messy. Trust me. I've done it. More than once.
  • Cook until the lentils have disintegrated. Stir them along the way to prevent them from sticking. You want lentil mush. Like a sauce almost. If you can see a whole lentil you need to cook them some more. This should take about 45 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and set aside.

Make the final flavour burst (the tarka or tempering)

  • Do this while your lentils cook if you're pressed for time.
  • Heat a not too big skillet over medium low heat. Add the oil. When the oil starts to shimmer add the onions. Sweat the onions, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. This takes around 5 minutes or so.
  • Toss in the diced jalapeño and cook for another minute.
  • Add the cumin seed and mustard seed. This is the tricky part. You want the oil to form little bubbles around the seeds. See them all move just a little. Like a whole spice rave in the pan. Let the spices party for about 30 seconds.
  • Toss in the tomato and the cilantro and continue cooking until the tomato is just warmed through.
  • Fold the mixture into the dal. Add the salt. Taste. You are going to need more. Creep up on the salt profile that works for you.
  • Serve as a side dish with tandoori chicken or the curry of your choice. Or serve it as a main with an Indian flatbread. I'm in heaven with this dal and a paratha or chapati.

28 thoughts on “simple dal – to make everyday”

  1. Hi. This simple dal recipe should have it’s on certificate on a wall of wisdom somewhere. I too, have a zillion cookbooks. I’m a personal chef. I’ve been cooking and tweaking and cooking and trying for more than 25 years. This is the best dal I’ve had, and I’ve been to India. Thank you for sharing. The Dhansak Curry, too, I am forever grateful for.

  2. Hi,
    Do you think this would be equally nice with moong dal (split mung beans)? I’m always trying to eat more of those, but they do have a bit of their own flavor profile..

    • If you can get the moong dal to near or full smush consistency is will work. But it will still taste like moong dal.

    • I just made dal using 3/4 cup/175g moong dal and 3tbsp/25g red split lentils (soaked overnight to ensure lentils cooked, and possibly makes them creamier without pressure cooker) and really enjoyed it – more than 100% yellow moong dal recipes. I used a shop bought spice mix (labelled dal masala), fresh tomatoes and fresh curry leaves. But I like yellow moong dal, if you don’t like it, don’t eat it? for example I hate orange peel/citrus peel and can taste it everywhere so Christmas food/traditional Easter food is a no-go 🙂

  3. Made this last night and we had it just with wholemeal chapatis, delicious and probably the simplest and healthiest meal meal we have eaten in a while.

  4. 4 stars
    Something to try next August when I get good tomatoes. Season’s finished. I always like your recipes. ” a whole spice rave party” LOL You always crack me up too!

    • You can get away with good hot house tomatoes (shoulder season) for this one but summer tomatoes are definitely what makes this one shine.

  5. I look forward to trying this! My husband absolutely detests the aroma and taste of fried garlic so I’m excited to try this mellow garlic method. I often make a simple dal with these flavors, but I love the idea of preserving the freshness of great tomatoes. I’ll have to make it before the farmer’s market no longer has tomatoes :). Thanks Romain!

    • Hurry up. My farmer’s market is likely about done for the season. I have 3 tomatoes left and then I’m waiting until next June…

    • Comment for John – I freeze dahl (we call it lentil soup here) for a few months (probably 2-3 months. I can see it working after 4 months, not 6 months). I defrost and reheat in the microwave for all in one method, but a saucepan works for reheating only. Cheers. On a separate note, I spat out my tea that you’ve never used moreish (also seen moorish spelling used) before. Not every day an English person teaches a North American English lol. Especially such a well known word… go figure 🙂

    • Moreish is not a word here (Canada). In fact, the first time I saw it written I had to stare at it for quite a while to figure out what it meant (which is why I used the hyphen – to make it more obvious).

4.91 from 11 votes (7 ratings without comment)

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