Masoor Dal (Amma’s 5-minute Healthy Red Lentil Curry)

Last Updated on October 27, 2022 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD

Masoor Dal is healthy, quick, comfort food. Truly the easiest, most flavourful red lentil curry recipe in 5 minutes hands-on time.

Masoor Dal in a bowl with curry leaves and mustard seeds

My Indian mother-in-law was cooking for us constantly during the months she spent here after the births our babies.

She is a fabulous cook, though when you compliment anything she makes, she says, “Oh Jenn, this is so simple!”. And she’s right. All you have to do is simmer red lentils on the stovetop while in a second small pan you heat oil to sauté the flavourings. The easiest, most flavourful hands-on 5 minutes you can hope for.

The smell of fragrant curry leaves and nutty mustard seeds sizzling on my stovetop brings back warm fuzzy feelings of family, being cared for, and well fed. What was once exotic is now familiar comfort food to me, too.

Ingredients for Masoor Dal

Masoor dal is Hindi for red lentils. Lentil is called “dal” in India.

In an ingredient list, if a recipe calls for “masoor dal“, it is the same as red lentils in the dry pulse form.

Bear in mind, however, the word is also used to refer to the saucy, spiced dish made using red lentils. Like here, in Amma’s Masoor Dal (capitalized, because it’s a recipe name).

Whole Masoor Dal vs. Split Masoor Dal

When a recipe calls for masoor dal (or red lentils), it typically refers specifically to split red lentils.

Whole masoor dal are unhusked and the other coating is more brown in colour.

Once the husk is removed and the lentils are split, the characteristic vibrant red colour (well, orange really) is revealed.

Whole red lentils are not as common in basic North American grocery stores, and they also take much longer to cook. They also will not break down as much as the split variety, yielding a chewier, more textured dish. Whole, however, they offer the added nutrition benefit of the insoluble fibre in the husk.

lentils simmering in a pot

How to Make Masoor Dal

Essentially, there are 3 steps:

  1. Cook the lentils. Boil the red lentils/masoor dal on their own in water until soft.
  2. Make the tarka. Sometimes spelled tadka, this is a preparation of aromatics fried quickly in hot oil. In this case, the tarka includes mustard seeds, curry leaves, ginger, chiles, and tomatoes.
  3. Temper the masoor dal. Scrape the flavourful tarka (including the delicious spiced oil – it’s the only oil in the recipe) directly into the cooked lentils and stir it through. This step is called tempering.

I was skeptical at first about this method – I mean, I’m used to flavour building in layers.

But this is an incredible, tried-and-true Indian cooking technique.

The tarka that is stirred into the dish at the last minute provides a massive flavour punch that seasons the entire pot of masoor dal. It feels like a magic trick.

Once you’ve added the spiced oil and aromatics to the dish, simmer the masoor dal on the stove until you reach the desired consistency (a longer simmer results in a thicker texture).

Adding the other ingredients for Masoor Dal

Amma’s Ingredient List

  • Masoor Dal: I love split red lentils here for the soft, comforting texture.

  • Turmeric: called “yellow powder” by Amma, this dried, ground anti-inflammatory root is added directly to the cooking water where it blooms and turns the liquid a beautiful golden.

  • Cooking oil: I prefer avocado oil as a high-heat cooking oil with a heart-healthy nutrition profile that rivals olive oil (which you cannot use for this, because it has a low smoke point). You may alternatively use coconut oil (common in South India) or ghee (this clarified butter adds a toasty, golden buttery flavour).

  • Mustard seeds: I could write a love song for these little seeds. When added to hot oil, they sputter and pop and turn into these nutty, aromatic little toasty bits that flavour the whole pot of masoor dal. Feel free to substitute a teaspoon of cumin seeds. The flavour will be a little different, but still delicious (and this is a common variation).

  • Curry leaves:  these provide a nutty, toasty, and uniquely aromatic flavour here and are very hard to substitute (although Thai basil has a surprisingly similar flavour profile). It’s best if you can find fresh curry leaves but dried will do. I buy them at an Indian grocer but I’ve seen them at other Asian grocery stores and sometimes at the supermarket with the plastic clamshell boxes of herbs in produce. Their flavour is irreplaceable in this dish.

  • Fresh Ginger: in this recipe, ginger provides beautiful flavour and also a warming heat. If fresh ginger isn’t a staple for you, buy some and keep it in the freezer so you always have it when you need it! I don’t even peel it, just freeze it and grate it off from frozen as needed.

  • Green chilies: splitting the chilies lengthwise and leaving them whole infuses the masoor dal with all the flavour of chilis without all of the heat.

  • Tomato: this adds a vibrant flavour to the earthy dal. You can use fresh or canned here (save any leftover canned tomatoes for another purpose, you don’t need much!). Amma says this adds “puli” (my crude spelling of the malayalam word for sour). She uses tomato in place of lemon juice in many recipes to add the same brighness.

I loved the simple ingredient list and how the flavouring is built around mostly fresh ingredients – no need to dig through your pantry for garam masala, red chili powder, or other spices.

Asafoetida is an optional add-in, but is authentic and very pronounced and pleasantly pungent in flavour (like onion).  I love it.  You can snatch some up on Amazon.  

You may add a small chopped onion to the hot oil in the beginning (before the seeds) and/or a couple of minced cloves of garlic along with the ginger, if you like (but not needed).

Adding the tomatoes for the Masoor Dal recipe

Is Masoor Dal Healthy?

Masoor dal is most definitely good for your health. It is such a wonderfully-nutritious vegetarian lentil curry. These are the key benefits:

  • Protein: plant-based, vegetarian/vegan protein I might add.
  • Iron: the vitamin C in the tomatoes helps you absorb even more of it.
  • Fibre: the kind of soluble fibre found in masoor dal is great for gut health and lowering cholesterol
  • Vitamins, minerals and potassium

Pair Masoor Dal with whole wheat chapati or brown rice for a super-satisfying, filling and nutritious meal.

South-Indian Red Lentils (Masoor Dal) being stirred in a pot

How to Serve with This

This is an easy and delicious, cozy and healthy lunch or dinner. You can garnish it with fresh cilantro (coriander leaves) if you like.

Basmati rice or chapati (a.k.a. roti) are great accompaniments. My Indian husband loves to eat it with spicy mango pickle.

Some crispy papadum are delicious with it, too.

Although this is a mild lentil curry, I serve it with plain yogurt for the kids to cut through any heat. They absolutely inhale it.

If you leave the texture loose, you can even eat from a bowl with a spoon like soup!

Instant Pot Masoor Dal

To make masoor dal in an instant pot / pressure cooker, use the same quantities of water and lentils and pressure cook on high for 5 minutes.

Use the quick release method to let the steam out.

Stir the tadka right into the pressure cooker and then leave it on saute or reduce function until it reaches the desired consistency.

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Masoor Dal red lentil curry recipe

Masoor Dal (Amma’s 5-minute Healthy Red Lentil Curry) | Foodess

Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Servings 6
Dinner
Indian

Ingredients
 
 

  • 1 ½ cups red lentils uncooked
  • 2 tsp kosher salt plus more to taste, see notes
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ¼ cup avocado oil see notes for substitutes
  • tsp asaofetida
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • ¼ cup loosely packed curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp ginger minced
  • 2-3 thai green chiles split lengthwise (3 can be quite hot)
  • ½ cup diced tomato fresh or canned

Instructions
 

  • Rinse lentils and bring to a boil over high heat with 5 cups of water and the salt. Reduce heat and simmer, mostly covered but with the lid cracked. Cook lentils, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes, until very soft. Add more water if at any point lentils stick to the bottom of the pot. Stir in turmeric.
  • Place oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When shimmering hot, sprinkle asafoetida (if using) over the oil, then add the mustard seeds and curry leaves.  
  • As soon as the first mustard seeds pop, reduce heat to low and stir in the ginger and chiles. Fry for about 15 seconds, then add the tomatoes.  
  • Pour the hot oil mixture into the cooked lentils (oil and all).  Taste and add more salt if needed (I add up to an extra 1/2 tsp depending on how much water evaporated – see notes).

Video

Notes

  • The amount of salt needed will vary, depending on how much water evaporated.  I used 2 1/2 tsp and it was perfect, but start with less and add more to taste.  
  • This amount of water yields quite soupy lentils.  You could actually eat it as a soup, if you like.  If you prefer it thicker and more curry-like, cook the lentils in 3 cups of water instead, adding more as needed while they cook.  If you do this, start with 1 tsp salt and work your way up.
  • I prefer avocado oil as what I believe to be the healthiest high-heat cooking oil (I’m a registered dietitian – I’ve done my research). You may alternatively use coconut oil (common in South India) or ghee (this clarified butter adds a toasty, golden buttery flavour).

Nutrition

Calories: 145kcalCarbohydrates: 11gProtein: 4gFat: 10gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 7gSodium: 778mgPotassium: 218mgFiber: 4gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 30IUVitamin C: 3mgCalcium: 17mgIron: 2mg
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Lynne Polischuik
Lynne Polischuik
10 years ago

Made this tonight and it really is the perfect salad. Love the late summer combo of apple, walnuts, raisins, tomato and fresh herbs. It’s light yet substantial, and the dressing is perfect. Several of your recipes have become ‘go to’ ones for me and I think this just became another one 🙂

Jennifer Pallian
10 years ago

Thanks, Lynne! 🙂 Great to hear!

Lynne Polischuik
Lynne Polischuik
10 years ago

Made this tonight and it really is the perfect salad. Love the late summer combo of apple, walnuts, raisins, tomato and fresh herbs. It’s light yet substantial, and the dressing is perfect. Several of your recipes have become ‘go to’ ones for me and I think this just became another one 🙂

Jennifer Pallian
10 years ago

Thanks, Lynne! 🙂 Great to hear!

disqus_3gbQRYPVC3
disqus_3gbQRYPVC3
4 years ago

Thanks for the recipe! I tried to recreate it today, but discovered that your recipe doesn’t mention when the turmeric is added in the process! Does it go into the daal at the end, or is it added to the spices in the tadka stage?

Lynne Polischuik
Lynne Polischuik
4 years ago

Made this tonight and it really is the perfect salad. Love the late summer combo of apple, walnuts, raisins, tomato and fresh herbs. It’s light yet substantial, and the dressing is perfect. Several of your recipes have become ‘go to’ ones for me and I think this just became another one 🙂

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago

Thanks, Lynne! 🙂 Great to hear!

Lynne Polischuik
Lynne Polischuik
4 years ago

Made this tonight and it really is the perfect salad. Love the late summer combo of apple, walnuts, raisins, tomato and fresh herbs. It’s light yet substantial, and the dressing is perfect. Several of your recipes have become ‘go to’ ones for me and I think this just became another one 🙂

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago

Thanks, Lynne! 🙂 Great to hear!

disqus_3gbQRYPVC3
disqus_3gbQRYPVC3
4 years ago

Thanks for the recipe! I tried to recreate it today, but discovered that your recipe doesn’t mention when the turmeric is added in the process! Does it go into the daal at the end, or is it added to the spices in the tadka stage?

Dhousch
Dhousch
1 year ago

5 stars
Look at ##1. You will find the answer.

Lynne Polischuik
Lynne Polischuik
4 years ago

Made this tonight and it really is the perfect salad. Love the late summer combo of apple, walnuts, raisins, tomato and fresh herbs. It’s light yet substantial, and the dressing is perfect. Several of your recipes have become ‘go to’ ones for me and I think this just became another one 🙂

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago

Thanks, Lynne! 🙂 Great to hear!

Lynne Polischuik
Lynne Polischuik
4 years ago

Made this tonight and it really is the perfect salad. Love the late summer combo of apple, walnuts, raisins, tomato and fresh herbs. It’s light yet substantial, and the dressing is perfect. Several of your recipes have become ‘go to’ ones for me and I think this just became another one 🙂

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago

Thanks, Lynne! 🙂 Great to hear!

Lynne Polischuik
Lynne Polischuik
10 years ago

Made this tonight and it really is the perfect salad. Love the late summer combo of apple, walnuts, raisins, tomato and fresh herbs. It’s light yet substantial, and the dressing is perfect. Several of your recipes have become ‘go to’ ones for me and I think this just became another one 🙂

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago

Thanks, Lynne! 🙂 Great to hear!

disqus_3gbQRYPVC3
disqus_3gbQRYPVC3
4 years ago

Thanks for the recipe! I tried to recreate it today, but discovered that your recipe doesn’t mention when the turmeric is added in the process! Does it go into the daal at the end, or is it added to the spices in the tadka stage?

Lynne Polischuik
Lynne Polischuik
4 years ago

Made this tonight and it really is the perfect salad. Love the late summer combo of apple, walnuts, raisins, tomato and fresh herbs. It’s light yet substantial, and the dressing is perfect. Several of your recipes have become ‘go to’ ones for me and I think this just became another one 🙂

Jennifer Pallian
4 years ago

Thanks, Lynne! 🙂 Great to hear!

Anna Raskolnikoff
Anna Raskolnikoff
4 years ago

We eat mainly Bengali dals. This one is a much needed and refreshing change. It’s delicious! Thank you!

Adeana
Adeana
3 years ago

5 stars
My new go-to recipe for breakfast! Delicious! My only addition is cilantro, cumin, and lime juice.

Shelly
Shelly
3 years ago

Please stop spamming the comments, Re: Lynne Polischuik and the automatic responses to her posts. Please answer an earlier question, at which point do you add the Tumeric? Thank you

Renee
Renee
2 years ago

5 stars
This is excellent.

john
john
2 years ago

Do you think that I could make the broth the day before my brunch event? Then reheat the broth the next day and add the seafood?

Wei
Wei
1 year ago

Made this the other night. Soooo delicious and easy to make. Clear and concise instructions. Thanks for sharing.

Lou
Lou
1 year ago

5 stars
Wow!! I loved this recipe! So utterly delicious. My partner said it tasted like the real thing. Lol! All thanks to this recipe.

Joey
Joey
1 month ago

5 stars
Hands down my favourite dal recipe, been making it for 3 years now, (ever since I found some asafoetida.) It’s soo yummy I could eat it as is, but homemade naan is my favourite accompaniment to the dish. I always double the recipe & freeze half of it for later, and I usually use a milder hot pepper or just one jalapeno without seeds because I prefer less heat. I’ve tried it with fresh and dried curry leaves and both work well. Thanks to you and your Amma for sharing this recipe !

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