Easy Red Lentil Dal (Tarka Dal | Indian Lentil Dish)

5 from 10 votes
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This easy red lentil dal (tarka dal) recipe is a quick and easy meal for busy weeknights using just a handful of ingredients, 3 steps, minimal hands-on prep, and ready in under 30 minutes! The results are a naturally plant-based, gluten-free, dairy-free, flavorful, hearty, and protein-packed tarka dal!

Red lentil dahl in a serving bowl

Lentils are an inexpensive, protein-dense, and highly nutritious addition to meat-free meals and can make for delicious and nutritious dishes with just a handful of ingredients, just like Lebanese lentil soup, lentil tabbouleh, lentil and mushroom “meatballs”, and this easy red lentil dal recipe with a tempering (tarka dal)! It’s healthy, tasty, and sure to impress the entire family!

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What is Red Lentil Dal?

Dal (also referred to as dhal, dahl, daal, and more; used interchangeably) is a way to refer to both the pulse itself and this Indian lentil dish made with them (an Indian lentil stew/soup dish made with lentils). This version is a red lentil dal recipe (aka masoor dal). It is creamy, satisfying, nourishing, and comforting, and all made with minimal effort, ingredients, and dirty dishes (yay!) thanks to quick-cooking red lentils.

While there are several methods for cooking red lentil dal, this version is the ultimate simplicity, chucking everything in the same pot and allowing it to simmer to perfection with no pre-sauteing required! Instead, this easy dal recipe gets its extra depth of flavor for a simple but delicious tempering (aka tarka/tadka) – made by simmering aromatics/spices in oil or ghee, then pouring it over the Indian lentil stew.

A serving of dahl and rice in a bowl

As usual, I’ve also included several ways to boost flavor, add in veggies, make the dhal/dal creamy – you name it! That way, you can help find your “perfect” version! And, if you’re looking for more interesting ways to use red lentils, you might enjoy these recipes for red lentil crackers, red lentil pasta, or even red lentil flour!

The Recipe Ingredients

This Indian dal soup/stew dish requires just a handful of low-budget ingredients and pantry staples including:

  • Red lentils: you’ll need to use split red lentils for this quick-cooking Indian lentil dish (no soaking required).
  • Water: use either water or vegetable stock, though I recommend using a low-sodium variety if you use the latter.
  • Tomatoes: I used freshly chopped and de-seeded tomatoes. However, you can also use canned chopped/crushed tomatoes.
  • Chili: I used a green chili. Feel free to use a red one instead and swap out the chili based on the level of spice you’d prefer.
  • Onion: use a yellow or white onion as a simple aromatic in this easy dal recipe.
  • Spices: I use a combination of turmeric powder, chili powder, and salt for an extremely easy dal recipe. Read below for extra options to ramp up the dhal flavor.
  • Tarka/tadka: (aka the “tempering”) required either ghee or neutral cooking oil (with a high smoke point like vegetable oil), garlic, ginger, and optionally a pinch of either chili powder or red pepper flakes.

I recommend using ghee for the best results and flavor! However, neutral cooking oil is fine if you want a vegan dal recipe.

Ingredients for red lentil dahl

Optional Add-ins and Variations

The lentil dahl recipe above is the simplest variation of this dish for a quick and simple mid-week dinner. However, there are many add-ins you can use to add extra flavor and nutrients, including:

Seasonings/Spices

  • Aromatics: I’ve used garlic and ginger in the tarka/tadka. However, you can add extra depth of flavor to the Indian dahl by adding some directly into the red lentils, too (either fresh garlic/ginger paste OR garlic/ginger powder in a pinch).
  • Other spices: for extra flavor, a pinch of ground coriander, cumin, or black pepper would work and/or a curry powder/garam masala (adjust the amount to taste).
  • Asafoetida: adding just a tiny pinch of this at the beginning of the cooking process will allow it to meld and mellow into an onion/garlicky flavor. Just note the flavor is strong, so a pinch is enough.
  • Sugar: adding a pinch of brown sugar, honey (vegan dandelion honey), or maple syrup will balance the acidity in the tomatoes and add layers to the flavor without making it “sweet.” Start with a half a tablespoon only and increase to taste.
  • Tarka spices: cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and crushed curry leaves are other popular additions to the tarka (tempering).

Other Mix-Ins

  • Coconut milk: for a creamy lentil dal recipe, you can add a small amount of full-fat canned coconut milk into the dal before serving and/or drizzle some over the top as a garnish. Regular dairy cream would also work.
  • Vegetables: adding veggies to this Indian lentil stew will add color and nutrients. Just make sure to use options that will cook within the simmering time. I recommend bell pepper, peas, cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, potato/ sweet potatoes, and mushrooms. Chop the hardest veggies into small pieces, and I recommend pre-sauteing the ‘wet’ veggies (mushrooms/zucchini) for the best texture.
  • Spinach: dal with spinach is tasty and super nutritious. Add a handful of two of this nutritional leafy green into the red lentil dal before serving. Stir it in, and the greens should naturally wilt when allowed to rest for a few minutes. Kale would also work, but I recommend adding it in the last 5 minutes of cooking time to become properly tender.
  • Lemon juice: adding lemon (or lime) juice into the red lentil dahl just before serving (or serving it with lemon/lime wedges) helps add depth and brighten the dish. Highly recommended!

How to Make Red Lentil Dal (Tarka Dal)?

This red lentil dal recipe is the ultimate “simple” version, not even requiring any pre-sauteing steps! All that’s required to prepare this easy dal recipe is just 3 simple steps, including:

Step 1: Prepare the Lentils and Other Ingredients

First, finely chop the tomatoes, onion, and green chili.

At the same time, sort and rinse the lentils (there can be debris in with the lentils, so just make sure to pick that out and any shriveled lentils).

Then add them to a large saucepan with the water (or vegetable stock).

Step 2: Simmer the Indian Lentil Stew

Add the chopped tomatoes, onion, chili, salt, turmeric powder, and chili to the lentil and stir well.

Then cover the saucepan with a lid, and cook over medium-low for 20-25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

If you find the dhal becomes too thick, add an extra splash of water/veg broth as needed.

Steps for cooking red lentil dahl

Step 3: Prepare the Tadka/tarka for the Dal

In a small skillet/pan, heat the oil or ghee over medium to medium-high heat until shimmery.

Then add the minced garlic and ginger and fry (they should sizzle) until the garlic has browned (1-2 minutes).

You could also add a pinch of red chili powder or red pepper flakes right at the end for extra flavor/color. Read the “Optional Add-ins” section for other tarka dal spices – any additions will help make for an even more flavorful dish!

Finally, serve the red lentil stew and pour the tadka over the lentils. I like to serve it this way, so it looks pretty. However, I recommend mixing the tempering into the lentils before eating!

Steps for tempering of spices

You could also optionally garnish the tadka/tarka daal with a swirl of plain yogurt, crispy onions, and/or some parsley or cilantro. Plus, lemon/lime juice!

How to Serve Dal?

There are several popular ways to serve this Indian red lentil stew dish. Some of my favorites include:

  • Naan: my favorite way to serve soupy/saucy Indian dishes is with fresh, warm, homemade naan bread.
  • Other bread: if you don’t have naan, then Greek pita may work, a few pieces of a crusty loaf, or other Indian “breads” like paratha/parantha, chapati, or roti.
  • Protein: to add more protein to this dish, you can serve it alongside your marinated protein of choice; chicken, tofu, tempeh, etc.
  • Spinach: dal with spinach is one of my favorite things. If I haven’t added it directly into the dal, I love serving the lentils alongside sauteed spinach.
  • Grains: alternatively, you could serve it with some rice (white, brown, wild rice, basmati rice, etc.) or quinoa.

You can also enjoy this tarka daal alongside several Indian appetizers or side dishes as part of an Indian feast!

A pot with dahl topped with cilantro

How Make Ahead and Store?

Make ahead: this red lentil dal tastes even better on day two, so I highly recommend making enough for leftovers! This dish is also great for cooking in big batches for meal prep (fridge or freezer!)

Store: allow the Indian red lentil dahl to cool, then transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Freeze: you can freeze the leftover dhal in airtight containers or Ziplock bags (I recommend portioning it for easier thawing) and store it in the freezer for up to 3 months. Then that it in the fridge before reheating (I recommend doing so overnight).

Reheat: you can use the stovetop or microwave to reheat the dish. You may need a splash of water or vegetable broth to bring the dal back to the creamy, saucy consistency.

FAQs

Can I substitute the lentils?

While similar recipes are using other lentils/pulses, this recipe was designed with red lentils in mind (thanks to their quick cooking time and no need for soaking). If you were to substitute the lentils, you’d need to make several other changes to the recipe (soaking, increasing cooking time, adjusting water-lentil ratio, etc.), so I don’t recommend doing so.

Is red lentil dal healthy?

Very! Not only is this dish packed with plant-based protein, but it’s also packed with fiber and several vitamins/minerals (including iron and folate). When combined with other healthful ingredients like ginger, garlic, chilies, and turmeric, this is a highly beneficial meal!

A serving of dahl over rice

Recipe Tips and Notes

  • For extra flavor: though it adds an extra step, it will also increase the depth of flavor in this Indian lentil stew. Simply sauté the onion for 1-2 minutes over medium heat. Then add the tomatoes and sauté again for a couple of minutes. Then add the spices and cook for a further minute. Only then add the lentils and water/stock.
  • To adjust the spiciness: use a fresh chili at your desired heat level and make sure to only add any extra spicy elements (like chili powder/red pepper flakes) ‘to taste.’
  • For a creamier consistency: you can gently mash (or use an immersion blender) to adjust the overall consistency of the dish as much or as little as preferred.
  • For a vegan dal recipe: use oil instead of ghee; otherwise, this recipe is naturally vegan.
  • For more of a dahl soup: add extra water/broth to give the red lentil dahl a soupy consistency.

More Simple Indian Recipes

If you try this easy red lentil dal recipe, I’d love to hear your thoughts/questions below. Also, I’d appreciate a recipe card rating below, and tag me in your recipe recreations on Instagram @Alphafoodie!

Easy Red Lentil Dal (Tarka Dal | Indian Lentil Dish)

5 from 10 votes
By: Samira
This easy red lentil dal (tarka dal) recipe is a quick and easy meal for busy weeknights using just a handful of ingredients, 3 steps, minimal hands-on prep, and ready in under 30 minutes! The results are a naturally plant-based, gluten-free, dairy-free, flavorful, hearty, and protein-packed tarka dal!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 8

Ingredients 
 

  • 1.5 cups red lentils split red lentils
  • 4 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 11 oz tomatoes 2 medium-sized
  • 0.45 oz green chili 3
  • 6 oz onion 2 medium-sized
  • 1/2 Tbsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder or red pepper flakes
  • 1 oz cilantro or parsley; optional for topping

For the tempering (tarka/tadka)

  • 1/2 cup olive oil or Ghee
  • 0.35 oz garlic
  • 1.4 oz ginger

Check the blog post for optional add-ins and extra tarka ingredients!

Instructions 

Step 1: Prepare the Ingredients

  • Finely chop the tomatoes, onion, and green chili.
  • Sort and rinse the lentils. There can be debris in with the lentils, so just make sure to pick that out and any shriveled lentils.
    Then add them to a large saucepan with the water (or vegetable stock).

Step 2: Simmer the Lentil Stew

  • Add the chopped tomatoes, onion, chili, salt, turmeric powder, and chili to the lentils and stir well.
  • Cover the saucepan with a lid, and cook over medium-low for 20-25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
    If you find the dhal becomes too thick, add an extra splash of water/veg broth as needed.

Step 3: Prepare the Tadka/tarka and Serve

  • In a small skillet/pan, heat up the oil or ghee over medium to medium-high heat until shimmery.
  • Add the minced garlic and ginger and fry (they should sizzle) until the garlic has browned (1-2 minutes).
    You could also add a pinch of red chili powder or red pepper flakes right at the end for extra flavor/color. Read the "optional add-ins" section for other tarka dal spices – any additions will help make for an even more flavorful dish!
  • Finally, serve the red lentil stew and pour the tadka over the lentils. I like to serve it this way, so it looks pretty, but I recommend mixing the tempering into the lentils before eating!
    You could also optionally garnish the tadka/ tarka daal with a swirl of plain yogurt, crispy onions, and/or some parsley or cilantro. Plus, lemon/lime juice!

Notes

  • For extra flavor: though this method will add an extra step to the recipe, it will also increase the depth of flavor in this dish. Simply sauté the onion for 1-2 minutes over medium heat, add the tomatoes and sauté again for a couple of minutes. Then add the spices and cook for a further minute. Only then add the lentils and water/stock.
  • To adjust the spiciness: use a fresh chili at your desired heat level and make sure to only add any extra spicy elements (like chili powder/red pepper flakes) “to taste.”
  • For a creamier consistency: you can gently mash (or use an immersion blender) to adjust the overall consistency of the dish as much or as little as preferred.
  • For a vegan dal recipe: use oil instead of ghee; otherwise, this recipe is naturally vegan.
  • For more of a dahl soup: add extra water/broth to give the red lentil dahl a soupy consistency.
 
Check the blog post for more add-ins, serving suggestions, and answers to top FAQs!
Course: Appetizer, Main, Side
Cuisine: Asian, Indian
Freezer friendly: 3 Months
Shelf life: 3-5 Days

Nutrition

Calories: 262kcal, Carbohydrates: 25g, Protein: 10g, Fat: 14g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 10g, Sodium: 457mg, Potassium: 493mg, Fiber: 11g, Sugar: 3g, Vitamin A: 615IU, Vitamin C: 10mg, Calcium: 38mg, Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

5 from 10 votes (8 ratings without comment)

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4 Comments

  1. Deborah says:

    5 stars
    This recipe is so good!! Easy too! I was looking for recipe ideas to make for my daughter who is vegetarian. Stumbled across this one and so glad I did! She loved it! I will definitely be making this again and again! Thank you!

    1. Support @ Alphafoodie says:

      Thank you for your comment, Deborah. Glad you both enjoyed it!

  2. Colette says:

    5 stars
    The best Tarka Dahl recipe I’ve found! So earthy and delicious… didn’t have fresh chilli but substituted for chilli powder. Also added Garam Masalla, and ground cumin at the soupy stage as suggested. Plenty for the freezer, handy being heavily pregnant! Thank you 🙂

    1. Support @ Alphafoodie says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Colette. Glad you enjoyed this recipe 🙂