My Mom's Daal - Indian Red Lentil Stew

Daal photography © ShulieMadnick
My mom's daal recipe was one of the first recipes I published on Foodwanderings over ten years ago. Since then, I made it at least once a week. I revisited the recipe writing recently when I published the daal recipe in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz, a progressive newspaper in Israel. Other articles and recipes I published in the past were translated into Hebrew, but this was my first time publishing in Hebrew. It feels like coming a full circle. I also photographed the daal a couple of months ago on the concrete floor of a West Elm store nearby. You can see the stark difference between the point and shoot ten years ago to the Nikon I use today. I also spelled it dahl way back when. Some spell it simply, dal.

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My Mom's Daal 


1 cup red lentils (or 1/2 cup red and 1/2 cup yellow lentils)
1 medium onion, diced
5 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 medium tomato, diced
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 - 1 jalapeño or Thai chili, halved lengthwise and sliced into thin moon-shaped discs
10 curry leaves, optional
4 cups water, plus if you wish for a more soupy consistency

See authors notes below for optional variations.


Add the 2 tablespoons oil into a medium pot on medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and chilis, mix and sauté for several minutes until the onion is soft and translucent but not caramelized while mixing occasionally. Add the tomato and cook for a couple minutes longer while mixing occasionally. Add lentils, 4 cups of water, turmeric and salt to taste, mix and bring to a boil on high heat. Immediately after the stew reaches a boiling point, mix and turn down the heat to low/medium, low bubble, mix again and cover with a lid.

Add 2 tablespoons oil into a skillet on medium/high heat. When the oil is heated, add the mustard seeds. They will sizzle immediately and start to jump and explode in the air. Quickly add the cumin seeds and shake the skillet gently for a couple of seconds. Add the mustard and cumin seeds into the daal.

Add the remaining cup of water if you wish for a more soup-y consistency (but don't call daal a soup!), mix.

Cook the daal covered, with a lid on, on a low bubble for 30 - 40 minutes or until the lentils are very soft and fall apart completely. Throughout the cooking process, stir occasionally and adjust the heat if necessary so that the lentils won't scorch at the bottom of the pot. Mash the lentils and the garlic with a potato masher.

Serve over basmati rice. The recipe can be doubled!

Author's Notes on Variations:

Add the remaining tablespoon oil to the skillet, heat up on medium/high and add the curry leaves if desires. They will crisp immediately. Take-off, the heat, add to the daal and stir.

At times, I also add 1/2 teaspoon black mustard and 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds to my daal. Let the mustard seeds start popping in 2-4 teaspoons of hot vegetable oil in a frying skillet, then add the cumin seeds; the cumin seeds will sizzle. After several seconds add the black mustard and cumin seeds to the daal. Be careful when the mustard seeds start to pop; they splatter. 

You can add some grated fresh ginger when you sautés the onions and finely chopped cilantro as a garnish before serving. 

I steer away from garam masala called for in some recipes. 

The daal will thicken refrigerated overnight. If you like a super smooth, creamy consistency, once cooled slightly, emulsify the daal in a blender, and/or add a splash of coconut milk or cream. 

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