Indian Lentil Soup (Masoor Dal)

Chicken noodle soup, Indian style.
I loves me a good dal (aka "dahl", aka "daal" aka "Indian lentil") soup. It's nourishing and healthy, low in fat, high in protein, heartwarming and the perfect antidote to a cold winter (though usually eaten in the hottest climates of India). Eating dal soup in Indian restaurants, it never occurred to me I could hope to make something similar at home. That's why I bought a pressure cooker, and got down to the business of making dal. I've made quite a few different recipes now, and have impressed a few folk who think mine is better than what they had at the restaurant. In some cases, it probably is. (Though I never make the same recipe twice).

All that depends on how much effort and quality ingredients goes into it, and how it's cooked. Sometimes my dal lacks flavor, while other times it's too hot. That would be because the curry mix I used is too hot (but if I used less, the soup would lack flavor). So you have to learn to get the balance right. I almost always use a pressure cooker to make dal, because it's so very convenient. And fast. With it, it's possible to get a dal done in 30 minutes to an hour, start to finish, and all in one pot. I almost don't know how to make it in a regular pot, but I know you can. You could even get better results if you use a conventional pot, and have a lot of patience. Because the longer and slower you simmer the dal soup, the better it gets. (But beware: once it thickens, it'll get to a point where it starts sputtering and splashing hot lentil sauce all over your kitchen and yourself, if the pot is uncovered. If it's covered, you can't stir it and the lentil mash will eventually stick to the bottom, leaving brown/black bits in your soup, when you stir and scrape it up).

Indian rock bands often
stipulated "no brown lentils"
in their contract.
Below is just a simple starter recipe, not requiring a lot of Indian spices. It's not particularly authentic, it's just to get the party started. It's one of a million ways to make dal. Dal (or "Dahl) can refer to either a soup, or something more the consistency of a pudding, and served on a plate. I usually prefer my dal a bit on the thin side, and will add water to achieve this texture. Water can also be used if you've made it too hot, or salty. This recipe uses red lentils, but if desired, other Indian lentils can be used, if that's what you have. (Mung lentil is thought the best).

Tools: A hand blender, blender or food processer is pretty much essential to making a dal soup that has the right texture (puréed). Otherwise it will be more like an Indian vegetable soup. You might need to get some Indian spices, if you don't keep these in your cupboard, if you plan on making various recipes. Good curry powder would be a start. If you can find anything at your Indian grocer that says "MDH" on the box, you're definitely off to a good start. There are other good mixes, and remember that what you choose will greatly influence the taste of your soup.

Mild Option: If you prefer less heat in your curry, omit the red pepper flakes and either use what you know is a very mild curry spice mix, or make your own. Here's one recipe... Mild Curry Mix: 2 T ground cumin, 2 T ground coriander, 2 t ground turmeric, 1/2 t mustard seed, 1/2 t ground ginger. Process the spices in a coffee grinder to a fine powder, store remaining in a spice jar. (Alternative: Substitute mustard powder for mustard seed, and mix with a fork).


2 1/3 (to 2 3/8) cup lentils (whole or split, red/yellow/green or mixed)
2 teaspoons salt
2 med. potatoes (or 3-4 small), sweet or regular, peeled and diced
2 T vegetable oil
1 medium (or 2-3 small) onion
1 bell pepper , chopped
2 carrots , minced
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, fresh, grated or minced
1 T (to 1 heaping T) curry powder
1 T garam masala spice mix
1/2 can tomato paste (optional)
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (optional: omit if you prefer less heat)
1 T lemon juice, or to taste


Wash the lentils very well, rinsing several times over with cold water until the water remains clear, when you stir the lentils in the rinse bowl. Place a large soup pot (or pressure cooker) on medium heat, add a couple of tablespoons of good oil (ie. olive oil). Add the chopped onions, stir and fry until soft. Then add the chopped garlic, ginger, and curry mix. Cook, stirring, a minute or two. Add the potatoes, cook, stirring a minute or two. Add the bell pepper, carrots, stir fry a minute or two. Add the tomato paste, garam masala mix, red pepper flakes (if using), salt and 8 cups of water.

Boil on high, reduce to medium-low, cover and cook til lentils are very soft, about 20m. (n.b. If using a pressure cooker, close the cover, boil on high, reduce to low when the cooker is up to pressure. Cook for 15 minutes. Make sure pressure is completely reduced before opening lid. As always, remember to follow the directions for your pressure cooker). Use a hand blender in the pot (off the heat), or add the soup in batches to a blender or food processor, and blend lentils to thicken up and puree the soup. Add the lemon juice before serving, garnish with fresh coriander if desired.

"When you think you've got a hold of it all
You haven't got a hold at all...."

"Get The Balance Right"
: Depeche Mode


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