This Indian Red Lentil Dahl (masoor dal) with spinach is so easy to make, ready in 30 minutes and very budget-friendly. Creamy and delicious this lentil curry is perfect for a tasty weeknight dinner. Just serve with rice and naan for an incredible Indian feast!
Not only is this lentil dahl easy to make but it's quick too, taking just 30 minutes to cook. It's very budget-friendly and great for making ahead or freezing.
This Indian classic is deliciously comforting and full of flavour. It's such a great vegan dinner and perfect for busy weeknights.
I've been making this dahl for years so this is a tried and tested recipe that always goes down a treat.
Just serve with your favourite naan and basmati rice for a very satisfying meal.
What is Red Lentil Dahl?
There are a couple of different names for dahl, here in the UK dahl seems to be the most common, it's also called dal, daal or dhal. Dal is the term used for dried or split pulses. It is also the term used for various soups and stews prepared using pulses.
Red lentil dahl is also known as Masoor Dal. Tarka is the term used for the spices and aromatics that are added to the dal. Also known as the baghaar or chownk, this is a mix of spices fried in oil or ghee until sizzling and aromatic, and then folded through the pulses just before serving.
This is a very versatile dish, with so many variations. Each recipe is dependent on personal tastes, this recipe is my version, one I've been making for years and one that has adapted over time to be my favourite.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Family-friendly curry - this is mild enough that you can serve it to everyone! But if you want to spice it up that's easily done!
- Budget-friendly recipe - just a few simple store-cupboard ingredients are needed to make this dish.
- Quick and easy to make - ready in 30 minutes this lentil curry is perfect for busy weeknights.
- Lentils - as this is a Masoor Dal, dried red lentils are what you will need. They will look orange in colour and are cheap to buy. I always have a large bag in my cupboard. I add turmeric to the lentils when they are cooking.
- Spinach - I use fresh baby spinach for this, you can use frozen if you prefer.
- Tomatoes - One can of chopped tomatoes adds bulk and flavour to this lentil dal. Go for a good quality brand if you can.
- Tarka (Shallots) I prefer shallots to onions for this dal, they are sweeter than onions and don't overpower the dal.
- Ginger and garlic - fresh root ginger is essential here, I peel it but some people like the skin on, it's up to you. I use 4 cloves of garlic, again this is down to personal taste, use more or less according to your taste.
- Spices - cumin seeds, mustard seeds, cardamom pods, garam masala, ground cloves and dried red chilli flakes are my choices. I've played around with a lot of spices and this is the combination that works best for us.
How to Make Red Lentil Dahl
1. Start by rinsing the lentils then add them to a large saucepan with the turmeric and salt. Cover with water, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
2. While the lentils are cooking prepare the Tarka. Cook the shallots with the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and cardamom until soft, about 10 minutes. Then add the garlic, ginger and remaining spices and cook until they release their flavour.
3. Add the tomatoes to the spices. Stir well and cook for a few minutes. Use a wooden spoon to break down the tomatoes.
4. The lentils should be nice and creamy now, add them to the tomatoes and stir well. Simmer for about 15 minutes, depending on how thick you like your dahl. Finally, add the spinach. Add one handful at a time and stir until the spinach wilts. Add the juice of half a lemon then finish the dal with seasoning to your taste and top with coriander leaves.
- Rinse the lentils - pop the lentils into a large fine sieve then rinse them in cold water until the water runs completely clear. This will remove any dust, debris or husks.
- Turmeric - Adding turmeric to the lentils when they are cooking adds flavour and colour to your lentils.
- Don't be tempted to cook your lentils in stock. Most stocks will be too strong for this dish and will overpower the flavours of the dal. All the lentils need is water, a little salt, and turmeric!
- Don't over-stir the cooking lentils, they will need a stir at the beginning and again at the end. That's it! They will be stirred plenty when you add them to the tomatoes.
- Don't burn the spices, they need to be slightly cooked to release the flavour, but only a minute will do, burnt spices will turn acrid and ruin your dahl. The same goes for the shallots, ginger, and garlic!
- Be careful, when you add the lentils to the tomatoes you will need to stir often. This sauce will be thick, bubbling and almost volcanic! Please be careful when stirring, and wear an apron, trust me on this one!
- Season to your taste buds - I like more salt in this than some of my family. Test it as you go along, you may want more salt. I have listed a teaspoon of salt, half goes in when the lentils are cooking, and the rest when cooking with the tomatoes. I tend to add about half a teaspoon more at the end of cooking.
- Lemon Juice, I think this really lifts the dahl, I also serve this with lemon wedges on the side. Lime juice works well with this too.
- Texture - I love my dahl to be on the thick side, so I cook it until it reduces down a good bit. If you prefer your curry thinner then reduce the cooking time.
How to Serve Dahl
Like any of my other Indian inspired dishes or curries we usually have this with basmati rice, and naan or roti, however, it can be eaten on its own too, like a soup.
This is a very versatile dish so you can play around with different additions according to what you have in your fridge or cupboards. Here are some of my favourite variations along with some popular reader variations.
- Swap the spinach for kale, I sauté the kale in oil and garlic then stir it into the dahl when it's ready.
- Want more heat? Add some thin green (Indian) chillies for more heat. You can chop these up if you like and add them when you cook the shallots.
- Add coconut milk - if you'd like an even creamier dal then add in a can of full-fat coconut milk or some coconut cream!
- Chana dal - swap the red lentils for chickpeas (chana dal). Cook the chickpeas in a pressure cooker first or use canned chickpeas. Just make sure to remove the skins before you add them to the tomatoes.
- Add some cream - If you're not vegan then try adding some double (heavy cream) or yoghurt to make it even creamier. If vegan, try adding a dollop of vegan yoghurt when serving.
Dal is the term used for dried or split pulses. It is also the term used for various soups and stews prepared using pulses. Red lentil dahl is also known as Masoor Dal.
No, you don't need to soak or precook the lentils. Just give them a good rinse under a cold tap before cooking to remove any debris.
Yes, you can. This red lentil dahl is perfect for freezing. Freeze it before you add the spinach, lemon juice, and coriander.
Storage and Freezing Instructions
- Freezing - freeze the dhal before you add the spinach, lemon juice, and coriander. Leave it to cool completely, once cooled place in freezer bags. Squeeze out any air but leave room for expansion. Label the bag/container and place it in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Defrosting and reheating - Defrost the dahl overnight in the fridge. Reheat on the hob stirring constantly. Check the consistency, you may need to add more water. You can stir in the spinach, lemon juice and coriander when you are reheating it.
- Leftovers - if you don't plan on freezing any leftovers, keep them covered in the fridge for 2-3 days. Reheat on the hob until piping hot.
More Tasty Vegan Curries
We love a good curry and have one at least once a week, this Chickpea and Lentil Curry is one of our all time favourites, it's also vegan and budget-friendly. This Mushroom Curry is one of the most popular curry recipes on my blog, a great vegan curry perfect for your Friday night curry! One of our all time favourite curries is my Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry, this is great for the whole family!
Have you made this Red Lentil Dahl Recipe? Rate it and leave me a comment below to let me know what you think!
Red Lentil Dahl (Dal) with Spinach
- 300 g red lentils (1 +½ cups approx)
- 1 400g can of chopped/diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
- 3 medium shallots sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 x 3cm piece of ginger peeled then finely grated
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 10 green cardamom pods
- 1 ½ teaspoon garam masala
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon dried red chilli flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt divided
- 80 g baby spinach (2 +⅔ cups approx)
- Half a lemon - the juice of
- A handful of fresh coriander/cilantro
- Basmati rice
- Lemon wedges
- Thoroughly rinse the lentils until the water runs clear then add to a large saucepan with 1 litre of water, one teaspoon of turmeric and half a teaspoon of salt. Bring to the boil then reduce to a low simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Stir once the beginning then stir well at the end of cooking.
- While the lentils are cooking, heat a tablespoon of sunflower oil in a large sautè pan. Add the sliced shallots along with 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds and 10 cardamom pods. Cook gently until the shallots are soft.
- Next, add the garlic, ginger, 1 and a half teaspoons of garam masala, ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves, ½ a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of red chilli flakes. Stir well, and gook until the spices release their aroma, about one minute.Now add the chopped tomatoes, stir well and break down any large pieces with your wooden spoon. Cook over low heat until the lentils are ready.
- Once the lentils are cooked, they should have almost collapsed, give them a good stir. Add the lentils to the tomatoes and stir well. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring often so the lentils don't stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Once the dal is nice and thick stir in the lemon juice. Add the spinach one handful at a time until it is wilted. Top the dal with a handful of fresh coriander leaves.Serve immediately with basmati rice, naan and lemon wedges.
- Lentils - I use dried red lentils for this dal, if you can't get red lentils then yellow split peas are a good substitute.
- Spices - Be careful not to burn the spices, they really only need a minute to cook.
- Texture - We like our dal fairly thick, the longer you cook it the thicker it will get. If you prefer a thinner texture then reduce the cooking time.
- Tarka/Tadka - Traditionally this is poured into the lentils, I prefer to add the lentils to the tomatoes and tarka and give it a further simmer of 15 minutes.
- Be careful the dal will be piping hot when cooking and it will spit viciously, so please be careful!
- Leftover/Storing - Any leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. You can reheat the dal on the hob or in the microwave. You may need to add a little water to loosen it up a bit. You can also freeze this dal, it can be stored in the freezer for 3 months.
- Recipe Inspiration - This recipe has adapted over the years, it's something I have cooked for my family for a long time. It is a culmination of many recipe sources, but the one that improved my dal the most was this recipe by Felicity Cloake. I switched from using onions to shallots, I never went back to using onions.
- Nutritional Information - all nutritional information is approximate and is calculated using an online nutrition tool. It is based on four servings.
*First published Jan 2020, updated Sept 2022 with new images and housekeeping.