Spicy Vegan Lentil Dahl Recipe

Pan of spiced dahl with jar of mango chutney
Brett Stevens/Cultura/Riser/Getty Images
  • 45 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins,
  • Cook: 35 mins
  • Yield: Serves 4
Ratings (72)

Dahl, which is also often spelled dhal, daal, and dal, is essentially a thick South-Asian-inspired red lentil stew that is often prepared with ghee or clarified butter. This recipe uses a little sesame oil for depth and flavor in place of the ghee to make it vegan.

There are actually a wide range of dahls made from many different types of lentils and other vegetables called "pulses." Dried and split, they are cooked with various different spices, meats, and vegetables. Options include red and yellow lentils, mung beans, lobiya (black-eyed peas), and chickpeas among others. It's easy to modify a dahl to make it mild or spicey or to create a full dah-based meal or a side dish.

This simple dahl soup is one of my favorite go-to recipes as it is easy to prepare with pantry staples, and quick to make in one pot. It can also be doubled or tripled when you have a lot of mouths to feed for a large family gathering or a birthday party. It is also a great to-go leftovers lunch that can be served with naan and tea. 

Serves 4

What You'll Need

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil or, alternatively, olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped white onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger (finely chopped)
  • 4 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoon tomato paste

How to Make It

1. In a 3-quart stockpot or other medium-sized soup pot, heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion, garlic, and ginger. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent, about 6 minutes.

2. Stirring constantly, add the water or broth, lentils, spices, and salt. Bring to a low boil, then turn down the heat to low, cover and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes, or until lentils are very tender.

3. Stir in the tomato paste until well combined. Cook several minutes more, or until the soup is desired temperature and consistency, adding more water to the dahl if needed. Serve hot with flatbread and garnish with a dollop of dairy-free soy yogurt if desired.

Cooking Tips and Ingredient Substitutions

Indian cuisine is known to be on the spicy side, but it doesn't have to be. To dial down the kick, omit the cayenne pepper. Add green chilies without the seeds instead as this will enhance the flavor of the overall dish, without adding much spice. If you're serving a lot of guests, you can have red pepper flakes available so that others can control the heat.

While dahl can certainly be eaten alone, it's sometimes served with a hearty grain. Basmati rice and quinoa are the usual. Dahl can also be served with roti, an Indian bread, or naan as mentioned above.