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Creamy Indian dal made with coconut milk and red or green lentils. Make this easy red lentil, or masoor, dal on the stovetop or instant pot pressure cooker for a simple vegan meal. Served with rice or flatbread, red lentil dal is a hearty, comforting, simple complete protein meal.ย 

A bowl of red lentil masoor dal with brown rice garnished with cilantro and microgreens.

As I mentioned when I posted my favorite Chana Masala recipe a few months ago, Yummy Hubby and I love love love Indian food. I recently heard that around 30% of people in India are vegetarian, so it makes sense that there are a variety of vegetarian and vegan options on the menu at our local Indian restaurant. Other than chana masala, dal is one of my favorite Indian dishes. If you’re a regular here, you may have noticed that I use lentils quite a bit, from Lemony Lentil Soup, to Instant Pot Lentil Soup, to Lentil “Meatloaf.”

Over spring break the kids and I visited Yummy Hubby for lunch at work. I made a big salad from the salad bar, but he got brown rice and vegetable dal. Unlike most dal dishes I’ve seen, it was made with green lentils rather than red, and had potatoes added in. I had a bite and it was so good that I had been craving dal ever since.

What is Dal?

A bowl of dried split red lentils.

I did a bit of research into Indian dal before starting this post so I could share more information about dal with you. The word “dal” can mean both the ingredient and cooking method. As an ingredient, dal refers to legumes, specifically lentils. As a dish, dal refers to a curry-like spiced stew of these lentils, though a dal could also be made of split peas. Most often I see dal made with red split lentils, so that’s what I’m sharing here. I also tested this recipe with green lentils and will share those instructions as well. Red lentils, or masoor dal, cook very differently than green. Red lentils break down and become very soft. If you prefer more texture and bite, green lentils may be the way to go.

A bowl of red lentils soaking in water

The first step in cooking our red lentil dal is to sort and rinse our lentils. Some people soak their lentils before cooking though I never do. It’s said that soaked legumes are easier to digest.

The ingredients for red lentil dal include rinsed red lentils, garlic, chopped onion, ginger, and spices.

Red lentil dal requires just a few simple ingredients. Onions, garlic, ginger, and curry powder are what give this dish flavor. To make things really easy I keep a tube of ginger paste at home. I have mixed feelings about this however, as it does use unnecessary plastic. Though convenient, I will choose fresh ginger in the future. Dal is usually spiced with cumin, coriander, turmeric, and ginger.ย  To simplify this recipe I used curry powder with a little extra turmeric. Garam masala is sometimes also used, but I preferred this without. Do you like spicy dal? This one is mild, but you could add a teaspoon of red chile powder or 1 Thai red chili or jalapeno.

A red pot filled with red lentil dal that's beginning to simmer on the stove.

Water and a can of coconut milk get added to the aromatics and in go the lentils. Coconut milk does not seem to be traditionally used in dal. I wondered if broth would be used to cook dal, and found that water is really all that is traditionally used. After trying homemade dal both with and without the coconut milk, I decided that I really enjoyed the creaminess the coconut milk imparts.

How to Make Red Lenil Dal in the Instant Pot

Cooked red lentil masoor dal in an Instant Pot pressure cooker.

Are you an Instant Pot fan? Me too! I’ve tried this recipe on the stove and in the Instant Pot and it works well both ways. The same ingredients and amounts are used, but when using the Instant Pot you can set it and forget it. Red lentils cook so quickly that this is the first time I’ve set my Instant Pot for only one minute. Quick release the pressure and the Instant Pot dal is done! At two minutes, I found this dish too mushy. If you’re wondering how to adapt your own recipes to the Instant Pot, I find the Instant Pot cooking time charts very helpful.

How to Serve Dal

Two bowls of red lentil masoor dal with brown rice, watermelon radish, and cilantro.

Dal is usually enjoyed with rice or bread. Some like dal very wet like a soup, and others prefer it thicker. It’s really up to you! This simple recipe is easy to adapt. If you’re a veggie lover like I am, try wilting in some fresh baby spinach at the end, or add some roasted potatoes. I need some freshness here, so I add fresh cilantro and microgreens.

Vegan Red Lentil Masoor Dal recipe made with coconut milk.

If you’re wondering what these little purple flowers are, they’re borage! I grow it every spring.

Simple Red Lentil Dal

A simple Indian inspired comfort food meal.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive or avocado oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 1/2 cups red lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 (15 oz.) can coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • fresh cilantro, for garnish
  • cooked rice, for serving

Directions:

Heat oil in a large pot over medium low heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and saute another minute. Add the curry powder and turmeric and stir in briefly. Stir in the lentils, coconut milk, and water. Partially cover and simmer over low heat until lentils are tender, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Add more water to create a thinner soup-like dal, or simmer uncovered to thicken. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with rice or flatbread.

Notes:

Instant Pot Instructions: Follow the stovetop directions, but instead of simmering on the stove, lock the Instant Pot lid on and set the valve to sealing. Cook on manual mode for 1 minute. Carefully quick release the pressure while protecting your hand from the steam. Remove the lid away from you.

Using Green Lentils: Follow the recipe but simmer for 40 minutes.

Make it Spicy: If you like heat, add 1 diced Thai red chili or jalapeno in with the onion, or add ground red chile pepper.

Nutrition information is approximate and calculated by another site. If your health depends on nutrition data, please calculate again using your favorite calculator.

Nutrition Information

Yield: Serves 4 , Serving Size: 1/4 recipe

  • Amount Per Serving:
  • Calories: 120
Easy red lentil dal recipe made with coconut milk. This red lentil or masoor dal is made on the stovetop or Instant Pot for an easy vegan dinner.