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Indian Dahl

I had the pleasure of chowing down on a lot of good Indian food throughout my childhood. My mom’s not Indian, but she can certainly cook as if she were. Every so often, when the mood strikes, she’ll decide to make a whole vegetarian, Indian feast. After cooking all day, she’ll always comment on how it’s not quite the display you’d get at an Indian buffet. But believe me, it’s always a feast, and includes more delicious Indian food than I’ve ever seen in a buffet.

My dad is always sure to comment on this too at every Indian feast we’ve ever had. “Your mom’s cooking is so much better than anything you can get out at an Indian restaurant,” he says. And in many respects, he’s right. My mom makes some incredible Indian food.

She also keeps her recipes fairly light, eliminating much of the heavy cream and ghee (clarified butter) that fills many traditional Indian dishes. So even after sitting down to a table full of food, I’m not left with a total food hangover. That’s always a plus.

Over the next week, I’ll be sharing several Indian-styled recipes inspired by my mom. While I won’t be including every recipe my mom may make, by the end, you should have more than enough to create your own feast. Hope you enjoy Indian cuisine as much as I do!

The first recipe I’m sharing is for dhal, a traditional lentil-based stew, common in India, particularly in the Southern region. It’s a light, protein-packed dish full of aromatic flavor. The ingredient list below is lengthy, but notice many of the ingredients are optional. For optimal flavor, use all of the listed ingredients, but if you’re missing a few, no worries! The dish will hold intense flavor regardless.


Serves 6

-1 cup red lentils
-3 cups water
-1/2 – 1 tsp. salt
-1 Tbsp. olive oil
-1 tsp. brown mustard seeds
-1 tsp. cumin seed (or 1/4 tsp. ground cumin)
-1 clove garlic
-1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
-1/4 cup onions, minced
-1/4 cup carrots, minced
1/3 cup tomatoes, chopped
-1/2 red bell pepper, minced (optional)
-1/3 cup eggplant, minced (optional)
-1/4 cup red potatoes, diced
-3/4 tsp. turmeric
-1/2 tsp. coriander
-1/8 tsp. cayenne, or to taste
-1/2 tsp. garam masala (optional)
1/4 cup dried, unsweetened coconut (optional)
-Juice of a lime (optional)
-2 – 4 Tbsp. cilantro, minced
Place lentils, water and salt in pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Saute brown mustard seeds and cumin in the oil, and when the seeds begin to pop, add all remaining vegetables except ginger and tomatoes, if using, and saute until veggies are almost soft.  Stir in ginger and tomatoes.  Add remaining dry spices and stir.
Uncover lentils and stir in veggie mixture.  Add coconut, if desired.  Cover and simmer 5 to 10 more minutes.  Add more water if you’d like a thinner dahl.  Just before serving, add lime juice, if using, and the cilantro.