Simple Lentil (Dahl) Curry Recipe
Updated: Mar 18
What I love most about cooking curries, isn't just about the delightful aromas and spices, but how simple it is to adjust it to suit your taste without ruining the entire dish. If you don't like a particular spice or you don't have it in your pantry then simply replace it with another. Or should you wish to adjust the heat of your curry you can add as much or as little spices as you like. With this recipe you can adjust or substitute any of the ingredients to suit your taste or what you have left over in the pantry. So don't go buying red lentils if you have yellow or black lentils in your pantry as that will do the job just fine.
You can really have fun with spices when cooking. I always have an array of whole spices ready in my pantry to cook with along with fresh herbs in the garden. I also hang fresh herbs from my garden in the kitchen so that I have my own dry herbs available all the time. Once they are dry simply store them in an airtight container or jar. Dry and fresh spices add a great depth of flavour to your curry. Dry spices are much more aromatic and concentrated in flavour than their fresh counterparts. So go easy on the dry spices if you haven't tried them before.
Majority of fresh herbs aren't as overpowering so you need a lot more of them to obtain the same result. Fresh herbs bring a certain freshness to a curry that dry spices don't. Which is why I love to cook with both. Also don't be afraid to try cooking with whole spices without grinding them to a fine powder. I love to use coriander and cumin seeds whole when cooking curry. However when it comes to coriander seeds you don't want to use too many if you are cooking with them whole. Why not try mixing up how you cook with spices as there is no right or wrong way to use them in cooking.
I like to add a variety of spices although that isn’t how it is made traditionally. But be careful not to overdo how much of each spice that you add as you don't want to overpower your curry. But a small amount of each spice adds a wonderful array of flavour. Alternatively try Clive Of India’s Dahl Spice Mix which has all the spices you need already mixed together. Or any premixed spice packet is fine which is how my mother in law and most Punjabi’s cook curry.
The longer you allow your curry to stew the more depth of flavour you achieve. Which can also mean that it can mellow out certain spices or flavours if you haven't added enough for the amount of time you intend to cook it. Most of us really don't have the time to allow a curry to stew for hours which is why traditionally pressure cookers are used in Indian cooking. Though if you don't have one don't worry, you can still achieve a great curry in an hour or less with this simple recipe on the stove top or alternatively it is actually a great slow cooker meal.
If cooking on the stove top then you do require a lot of stock as it will evaporate. However if you're using the slow cooker and you prefer a thicker dahl then you will need to reduce the stock content as it won't evaporate. I have cooked it via both methods and I prefer the slow cooker method personally. However you do need to add more spices as it tends to loose the flavour the longer it is cooked. Using the slow cooker is great for those with no time as you just throw all your prepared ingredients into the cooker and let it cook away.
This recipe has been tasted and given the approval by my husband although he says it’s not traditional and not exactly hot enough. But it’s pretty close. Last of all one piece of advice that I have always followed, be sure to taste your food as you are cooking.
Simple Lentil Curry
Prep Time: 20 mins | Cook Time: 30-60 mins | 4-8 servings
1x Onion Diced
2x Medium Tomatoes Diced Optional
1 Cup Dry Split Red Lentils or Petite Yellow Lentils
6 Dry Curry Leaves
1 Teaspoon Cumin Seeds
1 Tablespoon Turmeric
1/2 Teaspoon Garam Masala
3x Bay Leaves
5x Garlic Cloves
Small Amount of Grated Fresh Ginger
A Bunch of Fresh Coriander Optional
Fresh Chilli to taste
1 Teaspoon of Salt
4 to 6 Cups of Vegetable Stock or Water
1x Tin Coconut Cream
1 1/2 Cups Basmati Rice
Step 1 Prepare all your ingredients ready; dice your onion and tomatoes, grate or finely chop your garlic cloves and ginger, finely dice some of the fresh coriander stalks and keep half the leaves to be added towards the end. Measure all your spices into a bowl ready to be added to the hot oil.
Step 2 Heat a decent amount of oil in a deep pan, wok or saucepan to a medium heat as you don't want to burn your spices when you add them. Then add all your spices except the coriander leaves, ensuring that you don't burn your spices. If the heat becomes too hot just add water. Cook for a couple of minutes till they release their beautiful fragrance. Even if you use a slow cooker, make sure you temper your spices first and then throw in all your ingredients.
Step 3 Add the diced onion and tomatoes cooking till softened
Step 4 Now add the liquid vegetable stock or if you don't have any at hand simply use stock powder and water, or simply water. Lentils really suck up the liquid hence why I used 4 to 6 cups of stock when cooking this curry. You can add less if you prefer a thicker consistency however in Punjab it is traditionally cooked quite watery. Even after you have cooked this curry it does tend to dry up quickly so you don't have to worry about adding too much stock.
Step 5 Add the lentils and fresh coriander leaves then let simmer for approximately an hour, though if you don't have time simply remove it from the heat once the lentils have softened and soaked up the liquid. Be sure to stir it occasionally to prevent it from burning on the bottom.
Step 6 Once cooked add a good quality butter for taste and mix it through. I add a good dollap of butter as it gives it a subtle buttery flavour to the fragrant spices and adds a beautiful shine to the curry. Then mix through the rest of the roughly chopped fresh coriander leaves.
Step 7 Before serving remove the curry leaves and bay leaves or if you aren't able to, just be sure to look out for them when chowing down on your curry. I like to make a raita which is typically a mixture of grated cucumber, chopped mint and natural yoghurt. There are many ways to make raita so adjust it to suit your taste buds. Every curry isn't complete without pappadums. I cook mine in the microwave with no oil and they taste just as good, if not better, than the deep fried version. In addition should it be mango season then why not serve some fresh slices of mango on the side.
Traditionally Punjabi's serve their dahl with roti which is used to scoop up the curry like a spoon. Along with sliced cucumbers, tomatos, chilli and raw red onion. If you don't have roti alternatively you can use pita breads as they are very similar. Last of all basmati rice is a must and there are many ways in which you can cook and serve your rice. Coconut rice is just one way, you can also try cooking your rice with a handful of cumin seeds, or then again why not try saffron or if you don't have saffron to make saffron rice why not try tumeric. There are so many ways to liven up your rice so why not try something different. Below is how I cook coconut rice.
I start cooking the coconut rice once all the stock and lentils have been added so that they should both be ready at the same time. It really is quite simple to make coconut rice.
Step 1 Simply add one tin of coconut cream and then add a tin full of water using the empty coconut cream tin.
Step 2 Add 1 1/2 cups of basmati rice and cook slowly till the rice is cooked through. Be sure to stir the rice as it tends to stick to the bottom easily.
Step 3 Don't worry if your rice is cooked and it still appears that there is some liquid left. Just allow it to sit for a while to soak up all the residual liquid. It surprisingly doesn't make it sticky like you might think. Once all the liquid is soaked up you are left with super soft coconut rice. Though if it doesn't work out that way don't worry just give it a quick strain.
This is a great basic recipe that can be altered to suit your taste buds. So don't be afraid to adjust the spices, or try something a little different. Ultimately practice makes perfect so if it isn't great the first time, try again.
My poor husband has been eating dahl so much so that he is tired of eating it. Simply because I had to practice till I got the right consistency and amount of spices. Depending on the method of cooking will determine how much spice you need to add; it really does make a difference.