Lentils are an incredible way of eating a high fiber and protein diet! Whole Masoor Dal, or brown lentils, is one of the easiest, most flavorful dump-and-go vegan lentil recipes that can be made stove top or in an Instant Pot. It pairs well with rice, naan, paratha, or by itself with vegetables.
Dals (lentils) are one of the most common proteins in several places in India. Just about everyday, my mom would have a new dal in front of us for lunch or dinner... ready in half an hour to an hour in a pressure cooker or stovetop depending on the type of lentil.
But I always looked forward to lunchtime every Saturday when mom would make this dish for us. We'd have it over rice with achaar or homemade dahi.
This Sabut Masoor Dal (whole brown lentils) is one of my favorites for several reasons:
- Doesn't need a lot of ingredients or spices to be flavorful
- Ready in about an hour, and is super hands off recipe that is borderline a dump-and-go in one pot
- Vegan and gluten-free
- Goes well with rice, quinoa, breads, boiled/steam vegetables, or even by itself as a lentil soup
- It's so homey. I don't think you'll ever find it at a restaurant
- Great for meal prepping or a comforting meal at home with family
Ingredients - Notes and Substitutions
- Lentils - Only use Whole Masoor Dal, or brown lentils for this recipe. Other lentils will not give the same result.
- Ginger garlic paste - Or as I call it, gigi paste! This is simply a 50/50 mix of ginger and garlic that's blended into a paste. You can easily make this at home in a mortar and pestle or blender with fresh ginger and garlic, or purchase it readymade.
- Onion - Use a yellow onion, not white or red onions.
- Spices - You'll need a total of five spaces for this recipe: cumin seeds, garam masala, chili powder, and asafoetida (hing). Hing is essentially a replacement for the taste of garlic and onion and you only need the tiniest pinch. Optionally, you can add a bay leaf.
- Tomatoes - Use fresh tomatoes or tomato paste, either will work. I recommend peeling the tomato if you're using fresh so you don't have tomato peels in the lentils.
I tend to look for this dal according to price, at about a dollar or two per pound at grocery stores. Please keep in mind that every type of lentil is different in terms of flavor profile, cook time, and method of cooking. This recipe will not turn out the same for other lentils.
How to make Whole Masoor Dal
Masoor dal tends to be on the thicker side and gets creamier as it cooks, no dairy involved! You can be a bit fancier and roast spices in a tadka and add it at the end, but this tends to be a dump-and-go recipe besides frying the onions. You can also use ghee at the end for added richness.
It's even easier in an Instant Pot, but this masoor dal recipe can be made without a manual or pressure cooker. I personally don't own either, so I make mine in a Dutch Oven which is great for regulating heat.
Pro Tip: Dal does not need a ton of spices to be flavorful. This is a common mistake with several recipes I see using lentils. If you're using even decent quality spices, you should never need more than ½ teaspoon of a single spice per one cup of lentils.
Stove Top Instructions
Soak the lentils for up to half an hour. It'll be twice the size after soaked. Some of the lentils will be split open or the peel will have come off - which is completely fine. Rinse and drain the dal and set it aside while getting the aromatics started.
Sauté the onions and cumin seeds in oil until the onions begin to brown. Add in all the spices, and then the tomato and continue to cook until it softens. Pour the dal into the pot with 3 to 4 cups of water. Give everything a really good stir.
Cover the pot with a lid and let it simmer for half an hour, stirring every now and then and checking the water level. The dal will not stick to the bottom unless there is absolutely no water left.
Pro Tip: Simmering the dal over some time is actually the best way to get creamy dal without adding any cream! Just don't simmer it for too long, otherwise the dal's structure will break down and you'll be making Khichdi.
However, if you'd like it to be creamier, you can add a ¼ cup of coconut milk and it'll be mild enough not to overtake the dal. This isn't really traditional, but a lot of people enjoy dal this way these days.
Once the dal has softened, take it off heat and stir in chopped cilantro.
Instant Pot Instructions
Soak the lentils for half an hour and rinse thoroughly. A pressure cooker can be ideal for cooking lentils because it retains heat and steam, making it quick to cook with less soak time. Sauté the onions and cumin seeds in oil until the onions begin to brown.
Then dump everything else into the Instant Pot with about 2 cups of water (or accordingly to how soupy you would like it) and turn it on for 30 minutes using the Bean mode. Remove the lid and allow the steam to dissipate. Add in a handful of chopped cilantro and serve.
Mix ins to Masoor Dal
One of my favorite things about masoor dal is that it's so flavorful by itself, but it is an amazing vessel to mix in other things depending on what you currently have in your kitchen! Here are some things we've done growing up with this dal:
- Add in vegetables: you can add in boiled diced potatoes, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts... just about anything into masoor dal to make it more hearty and even more nutritious
- Achaar: I loveee mixed pickle achaar, but you can also add nebu achaar, garlic achaar, cilantro-mint chutney, etc to add another layer of flavor
- Dahi: if you're eating dal chawal (lentils over rice), I almost always mix in a couple of tablespoons of dahi (Indian yogurt) to make it super creamy
- Funky mix ins: I'm not kidding when I say you can use masoor dal as a vessel for a lot of things... my family has LOVED mixing in chunky salsa into it! I'm not sure how this happened, but we love it.
Meal Prepping and Storing Dal
While dal is cheap and easy to make for a family of four or more, it is also ideal to meal prep for the week. Simply add cooked rice and the finished whole masoor dal to a container along with a lemon wedge and any additional vegetables you'd like. It'll keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.
This dal is high in protein and very fibrous. To add more protein, serve it with a side of dahi or plain Greek yogurt. It goes great with rice or frozen paratha/roti.
How to Serve Dal
There are so many ways to serve masoor dal! Besides all the mix ins, here are a few ideas to serve it:
- With just about any carb such as quinoa, rice, naan, roti, papadum
- Let it thicken all the way, blend it with vegetables. Form a patty and pan fry it for a burger.
- Make desi-inspired tacos with cilantro-mint chutney, avocado, diced tomatoes, etc.
More Recipes with Lentils to try
Whole Masoor Dal
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil
- 1 cup masoor dal, whole
- 1 small yellow onion
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoon ginger garlic paste
- 1 medium tomato, (or 2-3tbsp tomato paste)
- pinch asafoetida, optional
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala
- salt, to taste
- fresh coriander, mixed pickle achaar, lemon wedges, to garnish
- Soak the dried lentils in a bowl with twice the amount of water for a minimum of an hour. If the soak time is skipped, simply cook the lentils for longer until soft.
- In a pot on medium heat, sauté the onions and cumin seeds in oil until the onions begin to brown.
- Then, add in the rest of the spices, ginger garlic paste, and diced tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes soften.
- Once the tomatoes are cooked, pour in the dal with about 3 cups of water and stir everything together. Cover the pot with a lid and allow it to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring every now and then and checking the water levels to see if it needs more liquid.
- The dal is done once it is creamy and soft. The amount of water is based off of preference, it can be a bit soupy or close to dry. Take it off heat and add in a handful of chopped cilantro. Serve with rice or roti.