This hearty vegetarian stew of protein-packed lentils and aromatic spices provides warmth during the colder months. Traditionally made of split beans—the word dal in Sanskrit is used in the form of the verb “to split”—this stew’s most standout feature is its complex and satisfying flavor. Lentils provide important nutrients to a vegetarian diet, including B vitamins, fiber, and magnesium for heart health. But you don’t have to be vegetarian to absolutely love this dish.
Once you’ve become familiar with cooking up a pot of dal, there are limitless variations. Dal is a staple in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal (to name just a few), and within each region one will find unique preparations. Mung beans, for example, are popular in Bangladesh. Chana dal, split chickpeas, are popular in Indian cuisine, and served with rice or bread. If you enjoy being creative in the kitchen, and eating healthfully and mindfully, this is the beginning of your new friendship with dal.
Warming Winter Lentil Dal
2 tablespoons coconut oil or ghee
6 black cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds
1 medium white onion, medium dice
Pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 large carrots, chopped into 1–inch rounds
2 medium sweet potatoes, medium dice
1 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
1 quart red lentils, soaked in water for 30 minutes, then rinsed
2 bay leaves
Sea salt, to taste
- Heat oil or ghee in a medium-sized pot. Add the black cardamom pods, and allow them to bloom (see Beginner’s Tips) approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cumin seeds to the pot, and stir. You will quickly notice the amazing aroma of these blooming spices.
- After 5 minutes of blooming the first spices, add the ground coriander seed, onion, and a large pinch of sea salt. Lower the heat and stir until onions begin to appear translucent.
- Add garlic, carrots, sweet potatoes, and turmeric. Allow them to warm in the pot, stirring so as not to burn any ingredients. (If things appear to be heating very quickly, it is okay to add a bit of water to the pot, to coat the bottom and avoid sticking).
- Incorporate the soaked and rinsed lentils into the pot. Add bay leaves and water until the lentils are covered with 2 inches of liquid. Give your lovely stew a nice stir, and raise the heat back up to medium high.
- Bring the stew to a boil, then lower to a simmer, stirring often. Skim off any foam from the top—beans tend to create this as they cook. You will notice that the black cardamom pods and bay leaves will start appearing at the top of the pot. Try not to skim them off too soon. Even if you stir the pot, they will float back up . . . and this does make things easier when it’s time to remove them from the dal!
- Lentils will break down and lose their round shape. Feel free to taste as the dal cooks. You will know the dal is ready when it thickens into a stew-like consistency. Add sea salt to taste.
- Optional—you can use an immersion blender to mash everything together into a nice flavorful, thick dal. Or leave as is, with chunks of carrots and sweet potatoes. Both ways are equally delicious.
- Make It Roasty: Instead of adding the carrots and sweet potatoes to the pot, toss them with sea salt and olive oil, and roast them in the oven (about 15 to 20 minutes at 350˚F) on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Add to the dal when it is close to being finished. More vegetables that roast up nicely for this dal include turnips, parsnips, celery root, cauliflower, butternut squash, and other winter squash variations. Have fun with it!
- Wilted Greens: Add fresh greens of your choosing, such as baby spinach or chopped Swiss chard. Fold them into the dal for extra nutrition.
- Other Beans: Try making a dal with other beans, such as split peas or mung beans. Soak dried beans overnight, and rinse until the water runs clear before adding to the pot. Note that cooking times will vary with different beans.
Aromatic spices must be “bloomed” in oil or ghee (Indian clarified butter), in order to achieve maximum flavor. The spices are awakened, in a sense, and they infuse flavor into the cooking oil. This will always be your first step, before adding anything else to the pot.
Turmeric root, native to South India, can be credited with visually brightening your dish with its golden hue. Used in four-thousand-year-old Ayurvedic medicine, this root is valued as a healing anti-inflammatory and powerful antioxidant. Add turmeric to your pantry to enrich soups, grain salads, potato dishes, and stews. When you splash some lemon into your morning tea, include a pinch of turmeric!
For more health information check out the Yoffie Life Food Encyclopedia page on red lentils.
If you have dinner guests, serve dal over warm basmati rice. Then watch everyone smile as they enjoy your dish. I love to make a big pot of dal! It freezes well, so save extra for a rainy day in airtight containers or well-sealed plastic bags in the freezer.