A Simple Dahl Recipe for Beginners

Indian food has got to be some of the best in the world, but many of us are pretty clueless about how to replicate it. I first visited India in 2012 on a volunteer programme, and had the incredible good fortune to make friends with the local volunteers I was partnered with. One of the indirect advantages of this was that they were all too happy to share with me their recipe tips (when they weren’t insisting I sit down and let them do all the cooking, that is!). What follows is a fool-proof recipe for dal (also spelt dahl, dhal or daal!): a lentil-based curry which requires minimal effort but tastes delicious. 


This recipe is pretty healthy, and it's totally veganbut also packed with that all-important protein that vegan food often lacks. It is also really delicious, of course, and very customisable - you can use it as a dish in itself, or serve it up alongside a carbohydrate of your choice (namely, rice or flat breads like chapatis or roti); add more vegetables if you feel like it; make it into a Pret-style lentil soup: the possibilities are endless! Using different types of lentils (red, yellow, green or black) will also give a completely different flavour and texture. 



Serves Prep time Cook time
4 10 mins 30 mins



  • 2 cups lentils – if you want to make more, estimate roughly ½ cup per person, though make more than you think you need! This recipe will work for any type of lentils (though some varieties may need more water), but my favourite are red.
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 green chilli, chopped – use fresh (for more authenticity!) or powdered if you prefer your food a bit less spicy
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds (optional)
  • 1 tsp dried coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • Salt to taste
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1-2 tsp lazy garlic)
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • generous sprinkle of amchoor (dried mango powder) if you can get it - available in Indian supermarkets
  • Small bunch fresh coriander, to serve
  • 1 lime, to serve


Optional: if you want to make more of a meal from your dahl, you can add more vegetables to the mix; add whatever is in season, or just pick things you like. I tend to use peppers, and aubergine, but most things will work OK – have a bit of an experiment! 



  1. Wash lentils thoroughly in a saucepan: they may require 3-4 rinses through. Once the water runs clear, add 4 cups water to your 2 cups lentils and bring to the boil (water should be added at a ratio of 2:1 with the lentils if making more than 2 cups).

  2. Add a pinch of salt and about ½ tsp turmeric to the water, then put the lid on the saucepan and allow to cook. Stir occasionally to prevent it sticking to the pan.

  3. While the lentils are cooking, finely chop the onions and tomatoes (and chop other vegetables, if using).

  4. Heat up some oil (I use coconut oil) in a frying pan on medium heat, and add a couple of cumin seeds to the oil. If they start to sizzle, the oil is hot enough to add the rest, along with the mustard seeds if using them. Stir them around the pan quickly to make sure they do not burn.

  5. Add the chopped vegetables to the pan, and fry them for a few minutes, making sure to keep them moving around the pan.

  6. Add the minced garlic and the cumin, garam masala, dried coriander and other ½ tsp turmeric, chopped or powdered chilli and stir to distribute evenly.

  7. Once the vegetables are done, set aside until the dal has fully cooked. The dal is ready when the lentils have disintegrated and the mixture is a kind of delicious yellowy mush. You shouldn’t be able to distinguish individual lentils from one another. The excess water should have evaporated or been absorbed by the lentils; if this has yet to occur, continue to cook with the lid off and the excess should evaporate. 

  8. Once the dal is done, add the mixture to the frying pan, along with a little more oil if needed, and fry it all up together: this will add to the flavour. 

  9. Now comes the fine-tuning part. The dal is now ready but you can make it more delicious by careful adjustment of the spices. For extra colour, add a bit more turmeric (not too much though, as turmeric provides quite a bitter taste). For more spice, add more chilli. Add more salt, dried coriander, garam masala and cumin to taste – it’s quite an individual thing. But always add more salt and spice if you want it to taste more authentic - food in India is always salty, spicy, oily and delicious!

  10. Once you are happy with the taste, serve it up with rice or chapatis (my personal favourite), and garnish with chopped coriander and a squeeze of lime juice. Prepare for your guests to be impressed!