Whole masoor dal are my favorite lentils to cook with. These small brown lentils have so much delicious, nutty flavor that you need very little work to ensure everyone will be asking for more and licking their plates at dinner.
Plus, they cook faster and quicker than most lentils, saving precious minutes in the kitchen.
This whole masoor dal I have for you today is one of my favorite weeknight recipes.
It might be confusing to those not used to Indian food to understand why the lentil and the dish have the same name. And here's why: dal (also spelled "dahl" or "dhal"), in India, translates to "lentil" in Hindi, (other Indian languages use different words). But it's also the term used to identify, again, in Hindi, any soupy lentil dish that is served with rice or roti.
There are a number of dals made across the country, and each goes by a different name. But most dals have some common denominators: they start out or end with a "tadka" or tempering of spices, and most dals need to be precooked before being added to the pot.
Some dals have garlic, ginger, onions and/or vegetables added, others do not. Some are spicy, others are barely spiced and yet incredibly delicious.
For this whole masoor dal recipe, I cook the dal quickly in the pressure cooker (you can also do this on the stovetop or in the Instant Pot, no soaking required), roast a few spices, blend them, and I'm almost done.
This is a hearty dal, one that will satisfy any tastebuds, even those used to eating meat. I hope you will try it, and if you do, be sure to come back and let me know all about it!
What is whole masoor dal?
Whole masoor dal (called sabut masoor in India) goes by the name of "brown lentils" here in the United States. You can find these lentils at Indian stores and online.
Like most dals, masoor dal is packed with fiber and protein but it has a nutty flavor that's quite distinct and very delicious.
Whole masoor needs very little gilding in most dishes, but it's especially delicious when you combine it with toasted, blended spices.
Do I need to soak lentils
Unlike beans, lentils don't have to be soaked before you cook them. But that said, soaking doesn't hurt and only helps, by cutting down on cooking time. So do it if you have the time--three to four hours is great--but if you don't, do not sweat it.
How to cook the lentils
The lentils take longer to cook than other ingredients in a dal, so they are usually precooked for the best flavor to the finished dish. For some recipes you'd add a few flavorings to the lentils while they cook, like bay leaves or turmeric or ginger and garlic, but they are not needed in most cases unless a recipe specifically calls for them.
Cooking lentils in a pressure cooker: Most Indian cooks pressure-cook lentils and it is a super efficient way of getting the dals really creamy and soft, the way you want them to be. To prep your dal for cooking, wash the dal in a few changes of water, then place it in the pressure cooker (or the stacked container inside a pressure cooker), covered by at least two inches of water.
In a pressure cooker that "whistles," you'll need to cook most dals for three whistles. In those that just reach pressure and release steam at a steady rate, give about six minutes after the cooker reaches pressure, or follow manufacturer instructions. Some manufacturers here in the west do warn against cooking lentils in pressure cookers, so make sure you have a model that allows you to cook lentils.
When you pressure-cook lentils, it is best to let the steam release naturally before you open the cooker.
Cooking lentils in the Instant Pot: An Instant Pot makes pressure cooking the lentils a breeze. Cover the unsoaked lentils by an inch of water and set to high pressure for 10 minutes. Wait for the pressure to release naturally, but if you're in a rush you can force-release 10 minutes after cooking's ended.
Cooking lentils on the stovetop: Cooking lentils on the stovetop is quite simple too. Place the washed lentils in a saucepan, cover with two inches of water, and bring it all to a boil. Cover the pot and let the lentils simmer for about 20-30 minutes or until tender. Some lentils might take longer, some might take less time, so always check for doneness every few minutes. Always ensure there is at least an inch of water covering the lentils and add more if needed.
Tips and steps for making whole masoor dal
- Precook the lentils following one of the methods above.
- Begin prepping the masala by sauteing with a bit of oil half the onions in the recipe, a few cloves of garlic, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, coriander seeds and a dry red chili pepper (skip or use more depending on your love for heat). Time management tip: You can start on the masala while waiting for the lentils in the pressure cooker or Instant Pot to release pressure.
- Once the masala ingredients are lightly golden and fragrant, remove them to a dish or bowl and let them cool. Add them to the blender bowl along with two tomatoes and blend into a smooth paste.
- In the same pot, heat the remaining oil, add onions, cilantro and salt, and saute them until the onions become golden-brown. Add the ginger-garlic paste and saute for a few more seconds, then add the blended masala and the cooked lentils along with the turmeric, the optional paprika and a tiny bit of sugar (you can skip this--it's added mainly to add some color and balance out the flavors, but is not absolutely necessary). Mix well. You can also add paprika at this stage, to add color not heat, but it's optional.
- Let the lentils cook, stirring a few times. Add water if the dal looks too thick. This masoor dal should be thicker than most dals, and you should be able to discern the whole masoor in it, although the lentils will be creamy.
- After about 10-15 minutes of cooking you should be able to discern small pools of darker liquid floating at the top--these are specks of oil that tell you that cooking is mostly done. At this stage stir in the garam masala and check if you need more salt.
- Turn off the stove and garnish the dal with cilantro before serving. Squeeze on some lime juice as you serve.
What to serve with the masoor dal
- This masoor dal goes really well with plain white or brown rice. But if you want to make it more fun, serve it with Jeera Rice or Carrot Rice.
- You can also serve the dal with a fluffly garlic vegan naan.
- Serve a sabzi or cooked Indian vegetable side with the dal and rice. Jeera Aloo or Aloo Gobi would be great with this.
More Indian dal recipes
Whole Masoor Dal
- Pressure cooker or Instant Pot (optional)
- Saucepan with lid
- 1 cup whole masoor dal (brown lentils)
- 2 tsp coconut oil (divided)
- 1 large onion (finely chopped, divided)
- 4 cloves garlic (peeled and left whole)
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- 2 tsp poppy seeds
- 1 dry red chili pepper (optional, you can skip if sensitive to heat and if the garam masala you use has red chili peppers added to it)
- 2 medium tomatoes (chopped)
- 2 tbsp cilantro (plus more for garnish)
- 2 tsp ginger garlic paste
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp paprika (optional, for color)
- ½ tsp sugar
- 2 tsp garam masala
- Salt to taste
- Wedges of lemon (for serving)
- Cook the whole masoor on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot until tender.
- Heat 1 tsp oil in a large saucepan. Add half the onions and the cloves of garlic and saute until they turn golden-brown. Add the coriander seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds and the dry red chili pepper, if using. Saute until these ingredients are lightly colored and very fragrant. Then remove them to a bowl and set aside to cool.
- Once the ingredients have cooled, add them to a blender along with the tomatoes. Blend into a very smooth paste. Add a bit of water if needed to keep the blades moving, although it should not be necessary.
- Heat the remaining oil in the same saucepan and add the remaining onions. Add a pinch of salt and saute the onions until they are golden-brown. Stir in the ginger garlic paste and saute for a minute.
- Add the blended masala and the cooked masoor to the pot along with a cup of the lentil cooking stock, if any, turmeric, paprika, if using, and the sugar. Mix well and let the lentils cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until you see pools of darker liquid float to the top, which tells you everything is cooked as it should be. You can add more liquid to the pot at any time for a runnier dal.
- Sprinkle on the garam masala, stir well, and add more salt as needed. Turn off the heat and garnish with cilantro. Serve with wedges of lemon to squeeze on the dal and rice.