As a twenty-something living away from home for the first time, my stock standard Red Lentil Dahl Recipe was the perfect, affordable staple. It was filling, it was good for me and, when the cupboard was looking lean, I could make a truckload of the stuff to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most importantly, making Red Lentil Dahl on a shoestring left me more money each week for Friday nights with friends. 20 years later I still enjoy a good dahl. But these days I stay in more often on Friday nights, so my current Red Lentil Dahl Recipe is less ‘shoestring’ and more ‘pimped’. And it definitely tastes better too.
What makes a good Red Lentil Dahl Recipe?
For me, a good red lentil dahl recipe definitely needs to be three things. It needs to be creamy, it needs to have a nice little kick of heat and it needs to include some lovely warming spices to give it delicious depth.
Three’s noting worse than a watery dahl. As a twenty-something on a shoestring, I combined tinned tomatoes and water as the cooking liquid for my red lentil dahl recipe. While the starch from the lentils thickened the dahl, the recipe was sometimes flat and a bit tomato soup flavoured. These days, to ensure I achieve a creamy dahl everytime, I have replaced some of the water in the recipe with a can of coconut cream. Yes, it has added a few extra calories to the recipe, but the coconut cream gives the dahl a gentle richness that’s hearty and satisfying and, most of all, creamy.
Dahl with Heat
On a shoestring I added ground chilli powder to my red lentil dahl recipe to achieve a delicious dahl with heat. These days I add fresh, green chilli to my dahl. This is more traditional and faithful to Indian cuisine. In India, green chilli is used in curries, eaten deep-fried, added to spice pastes and served as a garnish. Green chillis have a sharp but fresh heat and they add a lovely contrast to the deeper dahl background flavours based on the sautéed onion, garlic and butter.
As a twenty-something I don’t think I cared if I was eating a warming dahl. But I’m a bit more discerning these days. So after some dahl recipe research I learned that Garam Masala is often added at the end of Indian curries as a seasoning. Garam Masala is a spice blend that includes flavours like clove, cinnamon, mace and cumin. The word ‘garam’ translates as heat and in Ayurvedic practice, ‘garam’ is understood to mean ‘heating the body’. So the addition of garam masala to the end of this recipe creates a warming dahl without using extra chilli.
I hope you enjoy my Red Lentil Dahl Recipe. While it’s more pimped than shoestring, the recipe will still make a truck load so you can keep eating it for days served with warm naan bread and steamed rice. It’s actually really great for breakfast spooned over a piece of naan bread with a fried egg on top!
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 brown onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- thumb size piece of ginger, finely grated
- 1 green chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 3 cups water
- 400ml coconut milk (1 can)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 800g diced tinned tomatos (2 cans)
- 1 1/2 cups dried red lentils
- juice of half a lemon
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- salt to taste
- Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy-based large saucepan over low-medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 4 - 5 minutes until soft.
- Add the garlic, grated ginger and chilli and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes until aromatic.
- Stir in the curry powder and cook for 1 minute until toasted. Then add the water, coconut milk, tomato paste, tinned tomatoes and lentils.
- Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to cook for a further 20 minutes.
- Stir in the remaining butter, lemon juice and garam masala. Add salt to taste.
- Garnish the dahl with chopped coriander and serve with warmed naan bread and rice.
- Keep a check on the saucepan as the dahl simmers and stir from time to time to ensure the dahl doesn't catch on the bottom.