Indian Lentils

The following recipe is one I came up with one afternoon while experiencing a craving for Indian food. This dish consists primarily of lentils and a wonderful mixture of spices. I have watched my mother make these lentils many times but the one thing that has always baffled me is the fact that she never uses a recipe. I longed to be able to manipulate Indian flavors and spices in a way that I could simply "throw" a dish together like she could.Thanks to a little experimenting and a few mistakes, I was able to come up with this recipe.

First things first, don't be overwhelmed by the process! The wonderful thing about Indian cooking is although there may be many steps and ingredients, the actual process is not that difficult and the end result is always worth it.

This lentil dish is essentially an Americanized version of dal. The lentils used in authentic dal can be a bit more tricky to come by and I actually like the texture of brown lentils better. However, if you want to try your hand at some authentic dal recipes, check out Indian Food Forever.

Indian Lentils


1/2 lb brown lentils, cooked according to package directions

(** if you have not cooked lentils before, you will need an additional 3-4 cups of water more than what the package calls for to get the right consistency for this recipe. You'll know the lentils are done when you can easily mush a lentil with your finger).

2 medium onions, finely diced

2 medium tomatoes, seeds removed

2 tbsp vegetable oil (don't use olive oil!)

1 heaping tbsp ginger, grated

5 large garlic cloves, grated

1 small green chili, seeds removed and finely chopped

2 cups water

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp butter


1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp curry powder


1.Heat oil in a large frying pan on medium heat and add the onions. Turn the heat down to medium low and cook the onions for 20 minutes or until translucent.

***These must be watched carefully! The bitter taste of even a few burnt onion pieces will ruin your dish.

2. Add the grated ginger, garlic and chili to the onions and stir over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until you can really smell the garlic. Remove from heat.

3. Heat a small fry pan over high heat. Add all the spices to the pan when you can no longer hold your hand over the pan for more than a few seconds. While the pan is on the heat, shake it to move the spices around for 5 seconds. The second you see smoke coming from the pan, the spices are ready. Immediately empty spices over the onion mixture.

*** This process of heating the spices quickly releases the flavors of the seeds and spices but the spices will burn if you leave them on the heat or in the pan past the 5 second mark.

4. Put the onion mixture back on medium heat and stir the spices into the onions. Add the cooked lentils, the two tomatoes, salt and water. Stir to combine and turn heat to low. Simmer for at least 30 minutes. If you need to add more water to the pan, do so 1/4 cup at a time. Just before serving, stir in the butter until it is melted throughout.

***This lentil dish is wonderful over rice with a dollop of plain yogurt on top. The flavors in the lentils will intensify over time and consequently this dish is always better one to two days after it has been cooked. The Indian lentils also freeze very well.

If you enjoyed this recipe, check out my recipe for simple Indian Curry.


Comments 1 comment

Anshuman-Sahni profile image

Anshuman-Sahni 7 years ago from India

Hi, it was strange of hearing an Indian recipe from you. I am sure it would taste great.

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