This easy Red Lentil Dal recipe is a homemade twist on the Indian classic. Completely vegan and naturally gluten-free, you can make Slow Cooker Lentil Dal or Instant Pot Dal to make weeknight cooking a breeze. Packed with warming spices and plant-based protein, it's a simple vegetarian recipe that's sure to go into regular rotation.
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When it comes to tasty, nourishing, plant-based recipes that you should keep in your back pocket, a good lentil dal has got to be top of the list.
What is dal?
Excellent question. And it can be confusing since dal (or dhal – both are correct) refers to both an ingredient and a dish.
Dal the ingredient refers to a type of split pea or lentil. Split mung beans are referred to as mung dal, split chickpeas are called chana dal, and split black lentils are called urid dal.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the types of dal, just a few examples!
Dal the dish refers to a spiced soup or stew made from simmering dal (the ingredient) until it’s broken down. Today we’re going to make Red Lentil Dal (or Red Lentil Dhal, if you prefer) using a mix of split red lentils (masoor dal) and split black lentils (urid dal).
What’s in red lentil dal?
Can’t make a lentil dal without lentils, can we?! Here’s what you’ll need.
- Split red lentils –-> the star of the show
- Urid dal –-> This is split black lentils. You can also use another type of split lentils or peas, which we'll discuss below.
- Vegetable broth –-> Or water is fine too.
- Canned diced tomatoes --> Old faithful.
- Onion –-> just your regular ol’ yellow guy
- Garlic –-> Mmmm, flavour.
- Ginger –-> Bringing the zing!
- Turmeric --> Use the rest of the bag to make Turmeric Latte Mix!
- Green cardamom pods --> Just two or three will do.
- Bay leaf --> Another faithful standby.
- Cumin seeds
- Brown mustard seeds
- Fenugreek seeds
- Coriander seeds
- Fennel seeds
- Salt and pepper
This might look like a lot of ingredients, but it’s mostly in the spice department so worry not. There’s actually very little chopping involved in this recipe.
Do I need any special equipment for this recipe?
When I first posted this recipe back in 2015 I made it using my slow cooker, and that is still a totally great way to make it. However, I have since started testing all of my slow cooker recipes using my beloved Instant Pot, and if you’ve got one it’s a good way to go.
The benefit of making Slow Cooker Dal is that you can set it and forget it. Throw in the ingredients into your slow cooker before work, and when you get home, dinner is done. Can’t argue with that being awesome!
On the other hand, if you get home from work and want a healthy and tasty dinner on the table in around 30 minutes, you should definitely call your pressure cooker into action.
Note: Since the Instant Pot has a slow cooker function, I bought a glass slow cooker lid for the Instant Pot so I can use one machine for both things and re-homed my Crock Pot. I mention this only because you’ll see photos of the Instant Pot when I’m referring to a slow cooker, which can be confusing.
Phew! Glad we got that out of the way.
How do you make red lentil dal?
I’m going to talk you through making this recipe two ways in the recipe card below: Slow Cooker Red Lentil Dal, and also Instant Pot Dal, which is currently my favourite way to make it.
Both techniques start with the same preparation; toasting the spices.
Step 1: Combine the cumin seeds, brown mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds in a small, dry frying pan. You can also add the cardamom pods and bay leaf to the pan if you wish.
Place over medium heat and, stirring often, toast the seeds for a few minutes, until you can begin to smell their fragrance. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Step 2: Place the lentils in a mesh strainer and rinse well, until the water runs clear. You can do this while the seeds are toasting.
Step 3: Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and sauté until translucent – about 2-3 minutes.
Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for another minute, then add the turmeric, toasted seeds, and salt and pepper.
Note! If you’re using the Instant Pot either as a pressure cooker or a slow cooker, you can do this step right in the IP using the sauté function.
To make Slow Cooker Red Lentil Dal:
Scrape the onions and spices and everything else out of the pan and into your slow cooker. Add the rinsed lentils, canned tomatoes, and vegetable broth.
Set your slow cooker on HIGH for 4-5 hours, or LOW for 8-10 hours.
To make Instant Pot Dal:
Add the canned tomatoes to the spice mixture and stir to combine. Add the rinsed lentils and vegetable broth, and stir to make sure there are no lentils sticking to the bottom.
Seal the lid and set the Instant Pot to Pressure Cook on High for 10 minutes. When the pressure cooking cycle is done you can either use a quick release or let it release naturally.
That’s it! You’re dal is done!
Can I use a different kind of lentil?
Sure thing. I like to use a mix of lentils in this recipe because I think it keeps the texture interesting, but if you can’t find urid dal you can use split mung beans, split chickpeas, or split yellow peas in their place.
You can also totally use 100% split red lentils and just call it a day.
Can I spice it up?
You bet you can! I like to keep my lentil dal pretty mild so I can serve it to my kids (the big one is super sensitive to spice), but by all means throw in some cayenne pepper or a pinch of chili flakes to spice things up.
Can dal be made in advance?
Yup. Dal is one of those recipes that only improves with time, so by all means include a big batch in your weekly meal prep or batch cooking. You can even double the recipe if your slow cooker or Instant Pot is big enough.
How long will dal last
You can keep a batch of dal for 3-5 days in the fridge no problem-o. If I know I’m making a big batch, I like to portion some out and freeze it.
I very often freeze soups and stews in empty cottage cheese containers (my husband has a three-tub-a-week cottage cheese habit so we’ve always got some around) but these reusable silicon freezer bags are also great for freezing soups and stews.
Are lentils healthy?
Let’s talk about lentils! These lovely little legumes are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering dietary fiber. The soluble fiber in lentils helps to keep blood sugar stable, while providing a steady source of energy.
But the energy benefits don’t stop there, lentils are a rich source of iron, as well as being a good source of plant-based protein, which is good news for us veg heads. They’re also a great source of heart-healthy folate and magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, zinc, potassium, and B6.
Other recipes you might enjoy:
Red Lentil Dal
- Slow Cooker
- ¾ cup red lentils
- ¾ cup urid dal or yellow split peas, split mung beans, or just use all red lentils
- 3 cups vegetable broth or water
- 14 oz diced tomatoes 400g can
- 1 medium yellow onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 3 green cardamom pods crushed / split open
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin, mustard, fennel, coriander and fenugreek seeds to the pan. Shake or stir the seeds frequently. When they smell fragrant, remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
- Place red lentils and urid dal into a fine mesh strainer, and rinse well until the water runs clear.
- Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and sauté until translucent – about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for another minute, then add the turmeric, toasted seeds,
and salt and pepper.
- Note! If you’re using the Instant Pot either as a pressure cooker or a slow cooker, you can do this step right in the IP using the sauté function.
To Make Slow Cooker Lentil Dal
- Scrape the onions and spices and everything else out of the pan and into your slow cooker. Add the rinsed lentils, canned tomatoes, and vegetable broth.
- Stir well to combine all ingredients.
- Place lid on slow cooker and let cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 8-10 hours.
- Remove lid after cooking time and stir. If the lentils are not fully cooked, replace the lid and cook for another 30-60 minutes, if needed.
To make Instant Pot Dal
- Add the canned tomatoes to the spice mixture and stir to combine. Add the rinsed
lentils and vegetable broth, and stir to make sure there are no lentils sticking to the bottom.
- Seal the lid and set the Instant Pot to Pressure Cook on High for 10 minutes. When the
pressure cooking cycle is done you can either use a quick release or let it release naturally.
- Serve the dal over hot brown rice or quinoa, or serve with a bit of bread to sop it up. I like to add red pepper flakes, a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, and some fresh cilantro leaves.
- Nutrition values are an estimate only.
- I like to keep my lentil dal pretty mild so I can serve it to my kids, but by all means throw in some cayenne pepper or a pinch of chili flakes to spice things up.
- Dal is one of those recipes that only improves with time, so by all means include a big batch in your weekly meal prep or batch cooking. You can even double the recipe if your slow cooker or Instant Pot is big enough.
- You can keep a batch of dal for 3-5 days in the fridge, or freeze for up to three months.
This recipe was originally published December 8, 2015. It was retested, rephotographed, and updated on February 18, 2020.