How to Cook Simple, Satisfying Dal

I love Indian food and cook dal once a week or so. This delicious, satisfying and aromatic dish contains dry split peas or lentils, onions, tomatoes and spices. Even my picky daughter eats it.

Like kitchen sink soup, frittata and vegetable fritters, you can improvise with dal, adding a bit of this and a smidgen of that, depending on what ingredients you have on hand. Cooking this way, you’ll reduce food waste, make fewer trips to the store, save money and overall run a more efficient kitchen.

dal ingredients
You need only a handful of ingredients for dal: lentils, a few vegetables and some spices

The loosey-goosey list of ingredients

For the basic recipe you will need:

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil for sautéing
  • 1 cup lentils (I used red)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 4 cloves (or so) minced garlic
  • 2 to 3 medium-size tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds (use ground if you don’t have seeds)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp dry mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • Juice of 1 lime or, in a pinch, 1 lemon (I have lots of lemons from the yard but forgot to include one in the pic above)
  • 1 tsp salt or more to taste
  • 1/4 cup (or so) cilantro (I didn’t have any today but that’s just fine)

You can also add:

  • Minced serrano or jalapeño pepper (my younger daughter prefers it without).
  • A cup or two of chopped vegetables, such as cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, zucchini and so on. I often don’t add any additional vegetables other than the onion and tomatoes but I have some zucchini I need to use up and so added one today. I have made this with sweet potato and so much wanted to like it but did not one bit.
  • Fresh ginger (I added this but again, forgot to include it in the pic).
  • Other spices such as garam masala or amchoor powder.
  • Black sesame seeds. The largest jar in the pic contains a lifetime supply of black sesame seeds. My daughter bought them a few years ago for (I think) a fermented porridge dish she really liked at the time. I always add a teaspoon or so of these.

Vegan and vegetarian dishes like dal are easy to make without producing packaging waste if you have access to good bulk bins. We have wonderful bulk stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I can buy pretty much anything, including spices and coconut oil.


If lentils cause you intestinal discomfort, the night or morning before you cook them, soak them in water and toss in a few pieces of kombu. I have such a hippie kitchen now that when my daughter looked up how to prevent gas caused by eating legumes and said we needed kombu, I reached into the cupboard and handed her jar of it, which I had filled at the bulk bins.

1. Rinse lentils and add to a medium-size saucepan along with the water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or until tender. They will look soupy once cooked.

cooked lentils

2. Heat coconut oil in a large saucepan. Add onions, garlic and if desired, ginger. Saute over medium heat for five to ten minutes until the onions are translucent.

3. Add spices and cook for a minute.

Various spices for dal

4. Add tomatoes and vegetables and cook for about five more minutes.

add vegetables

5. Add cooked lentils and their water. Heat through.

6. Turn off heat and add lime or lemon juice and salt to taste. Stir in cilantro.

add lemon juice

7. Serve the dal with yogurt (or not if you’re vegan) and rice, naan or roti, or for more of United Nations kind of meal, sourdough tortillas. Once or twice a week, I make tortillas with my discarded sourdough starter, following this recipe.

Sourdough tortillas

36 Replies to “How to Cook Simple, Satisfying Dal”

  1. Yummy yummy I’ve got love in my tummy….. Wanted to add that lately I’ve been putting in something fermented at the end, even some sauerkraut brine or pickled lemon… at least on the side…. Dal is also a great food for little kids– mine never got picky around it. And so cheap.

    1. Oooh, what a great idea Annie. Thanks for the info. I have been fermenting whole vegetables so have lots of brine I need to use up. Sauerkraut or kimchi or pretty much anything fermented would taste delicious on the side too. Yum!

  2. Loving the lifetime supply of black sesame seeds!

    1. Thank you 🙂 I’ll have to start sprinkling them in other dishes.

  3. Oooh, will be trying this for sure, and the tortillas. Big hugs for sharing! and just for being you…
    PS Got a scoby!

    1. Aww thanks Aggie 🙂 So glad you found a scoby!

  4. I’ve never had Indian food. This does look good and is so versatile. Thanks!

    1. Oh, Indian food is so good Cynthia. I could eat it every day.

  5. Ohh this is my go to comfort meal with rice 🙂

    1. It is very comforting. And easy!

  6. I love dal! My family’s favorite is Masoor Dal with Carrots but we make other variations as well. Recently, with an abundance of fresh local spinach, I’ve been cleaning spinach while the dal is cooking and lining each bowl with shredded spinach; when we put the dal on top, it steams the spinach just enough, and then you can eat them together for even more vegetably goodness!

    1. Thanks for the link to that! I have never added shredded carrots. What a great idea. That will help make it soupy. I am going to grate my zucchini next time. The possibilities are endless! I love the spinach idea too. How do you shred spinach though?

      1. You could take a handful of spinach, hold tightly and slice thinly with a serrated knife. Or stack several leaves and rip them. (The more spinach you are shredding, the more worthwhile it is to use a knife.)

      2. Thank you! I will try that. Sounds yummy and healthy!

  7. Oooooooo! Can’t wait to try this!

    1. It’s tasty and versatile Karen. And easy. I love easy.

  8. dal is the best! I so love you spreading the zero waste= delicious inspiration!!!

    1. Thanks Khaiti. Delicious is my angle 😉

  9. yes my all time fav and what I love is that it can include whatever is on hand and even if the pantry is bare (ish) it is also terrific without much going on in it…

    1. I love that also Sandra–that you need very little to make a delicious dish. And it’s so healthy too.

  10. Looks great. I needed a lentil recipe! Thanks

    1. Great! I think you’ll like it Cory 🙂

  11. Traditional daal is actually far simpler to make. One only needs to tamper spices (as minimum as cumin & mustard will also do), saute onion and chilli if someone likes it spicy. A couple of garlic chopped garlic enhances the flavour greatly if sauted along. And add boiled lentil cooked with turmeric and salt. I am an Indian btw.

    1. Thank you for that tip. I will try it. I love easy and I LOVE Indian food. I could eat it every day 🙂

  12. Tried the daal yesterday. Delicious. My husband is still raving about it. I used frozen tomatoes because I don’t use fresh in the winter. Didn’t have cilantro, used a cube of frozen parsley instead. The recipe makes a lot. This sure is a keeper and I will be making it again.

    1. Hi Maureen. I’m so glad you both liked it 🙂 I don’t know what I would do without daal. Even my younger picky eater will always eat it.

  13. Thanks for the recipe although I think I may have it wrong as the spices were too much and mine looked a lot darker than yours. Is it really 1 tablespoon of each spice or 1 teaspoon? I looked at some other recipes and I am thinking it must have been teaspoons?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Erin. I do add a lot of spice. I’m sorry it was too much. I made this the other night but left out the coriander (I had a guest who dislikes it). I don’t know if that’s a common dislike or not. Maybe you could leave that out next time and add less spice, like the 1 teaspoon you suggested (if you’re willing to try this again). ~ Anne Marie

  14. […] salads. They also make a nutritious snack after sprouting. Check out these recipes for  dal, pumpkin dal, chana masala, not-too-spicy black beans, refried […]

  15. […] salads. They also make a nutritious snack after sprouting. Check out these recipes for  dal, pumpkin dal, chana masala, not-too-spicy black beans, refried […]

  16. Just made this and was so impressed at the result! I love dal from local restaurants, but have never had much luck recreating it at home. This was a total winner. I used moong dal (little yellow lentils), added 2 cups of chopped cauliflower and most of a jalapeno. The moong dal needed longer to cook (I think I should have soaked it), but it was worth the extra wait. Definitely going to become a staple around here. Thanks!

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