If you love adding healthy veggies to your diet this amazingly delicious Red Lentil Dal is perfect, but oh in meat lovers also go crazy over it as it's bursting with fabulous flavor!
I handed Scott a bowl of this Butternut Red Lentil Dal for dinner a few weeks ago. I paired the golden-hued dal with basmati rice and topped it with creamy yogurt, gingered tomatoes and a scatter of fresh herbs. It looked really pretty but I wasn't sure he would enjoy it since there was no meat involved. He took one bite and said, "Wow! This is REALLY good!" I've served it numerous times since - always to rave reviews.
Dal wasn't even on my radar until about a year ago when a reader wrote and asked if I could come up with a recipe for it. I did a little research and played around with some ingredients but the results weren't that stellar and I went on to other things. But a few weeks ago, when I went to visit my sister who is try to incorporate more plant-based recipes into her diet, I revisited dal, and after a few renditions, I'm super happy with the results.
What is dal?
Dal, also spelled dahl, dhal or daal is another name for legumes, including dried beans, peas and lentils, ingredients used commonly crossed India. It's pronounced like this: /dɑl/
Dal is also the name for the thick stew or soup made from lentils. Bon Appétit explains it like this:, "Dal in Sanskrit means “to split.” Today, in India, dal can refer to certain dried lentils, beans, or peas in split or whole form or to the dish made from them."
If you check online, you'll discover that there are more variations of Dal than you can imagine and recipes vary from household to household. It's truly a beloved staple for food lovers around the world. My version, this Butternut Red Lentil Dal, incorporates lots of healthy veggies and classic Dal flavors without calling for ingredients that you can't find at local grocery (always my goal, whenever possible).
We eat with our eyes
One thing I noticed when researching dal is that it can be quite dull and uninteresting in appearance. I get it - smushed up lentils just don't look that pretty. But I believe that we "eat with our eyes" before the first taste gets to the tongue so a beautiful presentation was important to me. I discovered a few ways to accomplish this.
There are lots of different types of lentils, beans and peas that dal can be made from. According to Epicurious, common dals include green mung beans, black lentils, pink lentils, red lentils, chickpeas and hulled pigeon peas. I discovered that the prettiest-looking dals are made from red lentils which are also easy to find and cook quickly. A win, win, win!
I also decided to incorporate butternut squash in my Red Lentil Dal for extra color, nutrition and flavor. I love the golden hue, creaminess and fabulous flavor that the butternut squash adds.
A large yellow bell pepper also enhances the color and nutrition of this dal and adds of another layer of great flavor.
Lastly, I decided to add a garnish or topping that would elevate the presentation of this dal with bright, fresh flavor and lots of color. I saw an idea for Gingered Tomatoes on the Martha Steward site and ran with it in my own direction. I kept it pretty simple by sautéing garlic and ginger in a bit of oil then added halved cherry tomatoes and tossed them gently until they warmed.
A sprinkle of fresh herb leaves (I used mint and cilantro but basil is also delicious) is the final beautiful statement.
So if you're looking for something healthy, unique, filling and super delicious, pick up the supplies you're missing then make a pot of this fabulous Butternut Red Lentil Dal with Gingered Tomatoes. I think you'll flip with the first taste!
Café Tips for making this Butternut Red Lentil Dal
- This Butternut Red Lentil Dal calls for mustard seeds. If you want to be super authentic, look for black mustard seeds but they can be more difficult to find unless you have an Asian grocery nearby or prefer to order online. Yellow mustard seeds will also work and can be found in the spice section at most larger grocery stores. Yellow mustard seeds have a milder flavor than their black cousins.
- This recipe also calls for cumin seed. Cumin seed is the whole dried seed from the cumin plant. Using cumin seed is more flavorful than ground cumin but ground cumin could be substituted in this recipe in a pinch. You will need a little less, ¾ teaspoon rather than a full teaspoon as ground cumin is more concentrated.
- As mentioned above, lentils come in a variety of colors. Look for red lentils for this recipe. Red lentils are available at most larger grocers as well as online.
- You will need a spice mixture called garam masala for this dal recipe. Master Class describes garam masala as "a spice blend widely used in Indian cuisine, from curries and lentil dishes to soups. Whole spices of cinnamon, mace, peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and cardamon pods are toasted in a pan to release their aromatic flavors, then ground to a powder." Garam masala is available in the spice section of most larger grocery stores as well as online.
- This recipe calls for fire-roasted tomatoes. Fire-roasted tomatoes are canned tomatoes that are roasted over an open fire and charred a bit before canning. They add a wonderful depth of flavor to lots of different recipes. Fire-roasted tomatoes are available in most larger grocery stores in the same area as regular canned tomatoes. If you can't find fire-roasted tomatoes, feel free to use a can of regular diced tomatoes.
- I use an immersion blender to quickly blend this Butternut Red Lentil Dal before serving. Immersion blenders are wonderful little kitchen workhorses that will save you a lot of time. They blend ingredients right in the pot and the blender stick can go right into the dishwasher. I really like this immersion blender as it has a variety of other functions besides just blending.
- I like to keep this dal a little chunky so I pulse my blender on and off instead of running it continuously.
- I like to serve this Butternut Red Lentil Dal with basmati rice. To cook basmati rice, bring two cups of water to a boil in a medium-size pot. Add 1 cup of basmati rice and stir. Return the water to a boil then cover the pot and reduce the heat to very low. Allow the rice to cook on low for 20 minutes then turn off the heat (remove from the burner if you have an electric stovetop) and let the rice sit for another 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.
- In addition to the gingered tomatoes, this dal is also delicious topped with a drizzle of creamy yogurt.
Thought for the day:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
What we're listening to for inspiration:
If you enjoy this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It’s so helpful to other readers to hear your results, adaptations and ideas for variations.
If you love adding healthy veggies to your diet this amazingly delicious Butternut Red Lentil Dal with Gingered Tomatoes is perfect, but meat lovers also go crazy over it as it's bursting with fabulous flavor!
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons mustard seeds black or yellow
- 1 teaspoon cumin seed
- 4 medium cloves garlic finely minced
- 1 ½ tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 large sweet yellow onion coarsely chopped
- 1 large yellow bell pepper coarsely chopped
- 1½ cups diced butternut squash (I used pre-cut purchased butternut squash to make things easy)
- 14.5 ounces fire-roasted diced tomatoes 1 can
- 3-4 cups low sodium vegetable broth you could also use low sodium chicken broth
- 13.5 ounces light coconut milk I I've used both light and full fat coconut milk with delicious results
- 1 ½ cups dried red lentils
- 1 large bay leaf (or 2 medium)
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- fresh cilantro mint, basil leaves, for serving
- lime wedges for serving
- 1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 1 medium clove garlic finely minced
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 ½ cups cherry or grape tomatoes
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds and cook until the mustard seeds start to sizzle a bit (I call it dancing).
Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the diced onion, bell pepper, butternut squash, garam masala and ground coriander and sauté for 3-4 minutes until the onion begins to soften.
Add the fire-roasted tomatoes, 3 cups of the broth, coconut milk, red lentils, turmeric, kosher salt and bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce to a steady simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or until the butternut squash is nice and tender and the lentils are broken down. If the mixture seems to be getting too thick before things are finished cooking, add a bit more broth.
Remove the bay leaf then use an immersion blender or a regular blender, to pulse the dal until veggies are chunky-smooth. If you'd like this dal a little thinner, you can add a bit more broth at this point then stir well to combine.
Serve with rice and Gingered Tomatoes (see below). Garnish with fresh herb leaves and lime wedges. A drizzle of creamy yogurt is also delicious.
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and lay them out on top of several thicknesses of paper toweling to drain off any excess liquid.
Heat 1½ tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a medium-size, non-stick sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the grated ginger, garlic and mustard seeds. Sauté for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant.
Add the halved cherry tomatoes and sprinkle with the salt. Stir gently until the tomatoes are warmed.
Hello Chris! I think I am the one who oringinally asked you about Dal over a year ago! I am now convinced that I asked the right person, because you came up with a wonderful dish that I will make over and over! What I've always admired in Indian cuisine is the use of spices, and your version delivers. The depth of flavour and balance of acid with the 'Gingered Tomatoes" is perfection. I made your Dal and I love your version of Dal & after tasting your Dal,,,,,,,,I'm delighted! This is now "My Dal!"
Chris Scheuer says
I am so happy to hear that, Erin! Thank you for leaving a review!
Jan Hebert says
This sounds delicious, Chris! I can't wait to try it. I have given your website information to so many friends, love your recipes! Jan in MA
Chris Scheuer says
Thank you, Jan! 💕
Tracy W. says
Wow! This was one of the best dinners we have ever eaten. I agree there are many varieties of Daal. My husband travels internationally and brings back ideas that we like to attempt. He said this was the best variation he has had. Thank you for creating such a healthy, delicious recipe. We are deciding if it is too soon to make again only one day later 🙂
Chris Scheuer says
That's awesome, Tracy! Thank you for letting us know!
shailini sisodia says
Hello, just stumbled on your website - so, just some friendly advice! Your recipes look very good ( I am a international culinary instructor in the Boston area) However - this post on Daal has many typos/errors ( some editing needed to clean up the sloppy writing) Daal is a beloved staple in our cuisine (I'm Nepali) We never use olive oil or basil ( you mentioned both) Completely different flavor profile ( just as parsley would not work) Cilantro, all the way. You said you wanted a pretty topping for the daal, and found something from M. Stewart. Just so you know, we ALWAYS have a pretty topping for daal - it's called Tadka or Bagaar - the ingredients may differ slightly, but it is basically oil/ghee perfumed with spice/seeds and or onions, tomatoes, garlic etc. As I tell my students, this technique works for many cuisines, not just south asian.
Chris Scheuer says
Thanks for sharing your review, Shaillini. I appreciate your kind words.
As a chef, this recipe was meant to be my unique interpretation. I don't claim that it's completely authentic. I strive to create recipes that use everyday ingredients as our readers, who live all over the world, have difficulty finding the ingredients for many international recipes.
Also, upon research, I discovered that there are so many variations of dal, even in India (and some adaptations that include basil!: https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=dal+with+basil&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8 ). This recipe is simply another rendition and a way for our readers to enjoy a super delicious plant-based, Indian-inspired meal.
Two ingredient questions ...
The dal ingredients list includes 2 tsp kosher salt but no mention in instructions. Am assuming that's added along with everything else in step #3?
The ginger tomatoes ingredients list says 1 T. olive oil, but directions say heat 1-1/2 tsp. Not a huge diff but could you clarify?
Thanks! Have been loving so many of your recipes!
Chris Scheuer says
Haha! You can tell I was in a hurry. Thanks for asking about this. I have corrected it all in the recipe so if you refresh your page, it should be right. I need all those extra eyes out there!
Teresa Pollock says
The instructions reference carrots but I don’t see them in the ingredients. How many? I often add a cinnamon stick to the rice as it cooks. Remove before serving. Add a a nice touch
Chris Scheuer says
Ah, thanks Terri, no carrots. I originally used them but like the color and flavor better without them. I corrected that in the recipe, thanks!!