White Girl Dahl (Indian-Spiced Red Lentil, Tomato and Coconut Stew)

White Girl Dahl | www.kiwiandbean.com

For as long as I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been meaning to share this recipe.

I even found a draft—dated October 22, 2012—that begins: “Almost as soon as the clock strikes ‘autumn’ in my neck of the woods, I drag out my biggest soup pot and make a huge batch of Indian lentil stew, or ‘Dahl’.

Three autumns later, I am finally getting around to sharing it.

I’ve made this Dahl at least 153 times since I wrote that draft post and I’m not sure why I picked 154 to finally pull out my camera and jot down the ingredients. I worried about the dish’s photogenicity perhaps: there is nothing particularly stunning about a pile of mushy, albeit delicious, lentils. But more so, I think I dwelled a little too much on its authenticity.

Indian food (or should I say “Indian” food) brings out some sort of latent culinary insecurity for me. While I make Indian food on a regular basis, I’m self-conscious about sharing recipes from a culture that is not my own.

Now, I say that when clearly such insecurities have never stopped me from posting recipes for enchiladas or Moroccan chicken, or from appropriating Vietnamese sandwiches in the form of weeknight rice bowls.

And if you are a regular reader you will know that I did dip one toe into Indian flavours with this recipe for Slow Cooker Butter Chicken Sliders. (Though one commenter who self-identified as “CurryCook” was quick to point out that I erred in suggesting that butter chicken might be traditionally “slow-cooked in a tandoor”. Noted.)

But for the most part I have steered clear of Indian cuisine, out of a fear (legit or not) that I just couldn’t possibly get it right. That even if it tasted delicious and looked beautiful, as those Butter Chicken Sliders definitely do, I was doing some disservice to my readers by delivering them something so contrived. Something so…white?

White Girl Dahl | www.kiwiandbean.com

I raised these concerns with Kiwi, who is not only my chief taste tester, but also an Indian guy. (Yes, yes, I harbour these insecurities notwithstanding that I married into an Indian family.) His view: “if it tastes good, who cares?”

Which makes sense, I guess. And really: who decides what is “authentic” food anyway? Is there an international body of Indian chefs that will sanction me for publishing a recipe that calls for “curry powder,” as this Dahl recipe does? I guess I will find out.

What it might lack in authenticity, this recipe makes up for with all of the important things. It is:

  • Simple: it comes together quickly and is made with basic ingredients that you can find in most grocery stores.
  • Delicious: rich, layered and complex flavours.
  • Make-ahead and freezer friendly: the flavours actually get better when this sits for a couple of days.
  • Healthy: full of fibre and healthy fats.

This Dahl is also a particularly good intro to Indian food for family members that might not be so familiar with the flavours. Importantly, the heat part is completely optional. I usually leave it out altogether and let folks add dried chili flakes at the table.

But it’s satisfying and impressive for more experienced folks too. My own (Indian) inlaws gobbled this up and went straight back for seconds. I didn’t tell them about the curry powder.

White Girl Dahl | www.kiwiandbean.com

4.8 from 23 reviews
White Girl Dahl (Indian-Spiced Red Lentil, Tomato and Coconut Stew)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
I have made this recipe countless times, and honed it in the process. The latest version has a few tablespoons of butter in it, but don't let you scare that off (unless you are vegan, in which case you can absolutely run for the hills or for the coconut oil!). The butter is spread over some eight or so servings, and lends this dish a creamy and rich finish. Leftovers (and unless you are a family of eight, there will be lots of them, be warned) freeze beautifully packed into airtight containers, zipper bags or muffin cups.
Author:
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • A 2 inch piece of gingerroot, finely grated
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder (use a good quality one from a brand you trust)
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 400 mL (13.5 oz) can of full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 796 mL (28 oz) can of whole tomatoes (ideally unsalted)
  • 1½ cups dried red lentils
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Fresh cilantro, yogurt, chili flakes and cooked basmati rice or quinoa for serving
Instructions
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the pot in a heavy-bottomed pot (I use my Le Creuset Dutch Oven) set over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until they are soft and starting to brown (5-7 minutes at least). Add the garlic and grated ginger and continue to cook, stirring regularly so the garlic doesn't burn, until the mixture is brown and very fragrant.
  2. Stir in the curry powder and cayenne (if using) and let them cook for about 30 seconds. Be careful not to let the spices burn.
  3. Add the water, coconut milk, tomato paste, and the tomatoes and their juices, crushing each tomato between your fingers as you add it to the pot. Stir in the lentils.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer until the lentils are very soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed. This will take about 30-40 minutes, but the time will depend on the lentils you use.
  5. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter (and more if you want to make this dahl a little richer), lemon juice, garam masala and salt (I usually add at least 1 teaspoon of sea salt).
  6. Serve over rice or quinoa, garnished with yogurt, chili flakes and cilantro.
  7. Leftovers will last for several days in the fridge or can be frozen for a few months at least. The flavour in this dish gets better with age.

 

62 Responses to White Girl Dahl (Indian-Spiced Red Lentil, Tomato and Coconut Stew)

  1. Angela October 10, 2017 at 4:56 pm #

    Delish! I added lots of salt to please my husband’s palate. Makes a lot!!! So happy to be eating this now! Would go great with shrimp, tofu or any protein. Need a naan recipe to help eat all this up! What beautiful work you do!! Inspiring!

  2. Rebecca September 19, 2017 at 3:46 pm #

    Just gotta add to all the positive comments here & say that this dish was both easy to make and delicious! It makes for great lunchboxes the next day! My husband loved it too, it will for sure become a recurring recipe for us. Thank you so much for sharing it! Never thought I would be able to make dahl until now 😀

  3. Mel August 31, 2017 at 11:48 am #

    Made this yesterday and it is unbelievable. Even better today! I followed the recipe to a T and used a hand blender at the end. Will make this over and over again. Thank you!

  4. Kelly August 13, 2017 at 1:25 pm #

    I made this today and it is so so good. I will definitely be making this on a regular basis! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Tara June 27, 2017 at 7:37 pm #

    Wow this is soooo good! I veganized simply by using earth balance vegan butter instead of regular butter. Thanks for the recipe!

  6. Sara June 8, 2017 at 4:52 am #

    I don’t often comment, but I wanted to let you know that I have made this recipe DOZENS of times and it comes out perfect every time. I love it. I crave it. I make a huge pot and freeze lunch sized portions. Thank you SO much for sharing.

  7. Liana May 8, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

    Fantastic! Made this recipe this weekend and it made enough for 3 meals for my husband and I. I followed the recipe pretty much as noted, other than leaving out the lemon and yogurt, and it is now a definite favorite! We served it with wheat berries and will definitely make it again soon! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Tegan February 14, 2017 at 12:01 am #

    My go-to indian recipe!! I have made this dahl too many times to count and each time its a crowd pleaser. Thanks for sharing this super simple, incredibly tasty recipe! p.s I found that it tastes even better the second day 😉

  9. Nancy February 1, 2017 at 11:27 pm #

    I LOVE Indian food so very much but I’ve been trying to go vegan so I gave up my chicken curry days. My old roommate would make lentil stew so I’ve had it before and I remember wanting to make it so badly but thought it must be very time consuming. Well, I did make it thanks to you and it is absolutely delicious. It only took an hour and it’s better than my old roommate’s recipe. Just sayin ;)! Anyway, I will definitely make again!!! THANK YOU!

  10. Anna Wright January 17, 2017 at 3:50 am #

    Love! Absolutely swooning over this White Girl Dahl dish. I made this a few times. Having excellent buds to taste Indian Dishes. The last time it came out wonderful. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  11. Jenifer Narragon January 5, 2017 at 8:07 pm #

    Super delish, thank you! First recipe I have followed in a long time, tonight I will be making it round two.

  12. Cecilia December 6, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I absolutely love Indian food but am usually too intimidated to try making my own. This recipe is now one of my go-to family dinners, and everybody loves it! The only change I’ve made is that after step 2, I move to the slow cooker. 8 hours on low, then I resume at step 5.

    • Sarah January 2, 2017 at 5:24 pm #

      So great to hear! Good idea to use the slow cooker!

  13. Emma November 22, 2016 at 5:04 pm #

    I have made this twice now, and I have a feeling it will become a staple in our house! Love how flavorful yet easy this is to make. Had to use a mix of red and green lentils, the green ones added a nice texture to the softer red ones. Thanks so much for sharing, so glad I stumbled upon your blog!

  14. Grace October 30, 2016 at 6:31 pm #

    I made this the other night and it turned out wonderful! I used Chana dahl (yellow lentils) instead of red and served it with quinoa. So delicious and the leftovers are great too. I will definitely make again. Thanks!

    • Sarah November 21, 2016 at 12:07 pm #

      Glad to hear it! Thanks for the feedback!

  15. Erika September 13, 2016 at 5:33 am #

    Heh, I know you posted this forever ago, but I just made it last night and ate and it today. It was so so so good! I didn’t even bother with the yogurt and cilantro. I have a ton of red lentils, but so far hadn’t found a recipe that I liked, so I’m really glad I found this! Don’t worry about answering this, since this is an old post, but why do you add the garam masala at the end rather than with the curry powder?
    Anyways, thanks for the recipe! I’m super picky, and will definitely make this again!

    • Sarah October 4, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

      So glad you like it, Erika!! As for why to add the garam masala at the end, I think it is often done this way to preserve the aroma of the spices and add a lift to the dish at the very end of cooking. I think if you cooked it at the beginning with the curry powder the flavours would be more muted.

  16. Cate August 19, 2016 at 5:04 pm #

    Hello, firstly AMAZING Dahl! I love this recipe and have made it a few times. This time I switched out the butter for about half the amount of coconut oil and the coconut milk for unsweetened almond milk and ended up tasting basically the same! Just a quick question though on if you or anyone knows roughly how many calories a portion would be? Say 100g or something? Thank you x

    • Sarah September 6, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

      Those sounds like great substitutions Cate! Thanks for sharing! I’m not a calorie counter, so I can’t help you there :-). BUT, I believe there are apps/websites that you can stick the recipe into and it will spit out the nutritional info.

  17. Smitha July 10, 2016 at 5:01 pm #

    I don’t know what you mean by curry powder, is that garam masala or red chilli powder?

    • Sarah July 14, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

      It’s a mixture of spices that you can buy in most North American (and likely UK, too — not sure about other countries) grocery stores. Garam masala may work too. Depends on what’s in it, I guess.

  18. Michelle McNamara June 7, 2016 at 1:05 pm #

    Can you give me the recipe that serves one person instead of 6-8? 🙂 Asking as a hungry college student.

  19. maizelle June 4, 2016 at 3:05 pm #

    Excellent!

  20. Mbeki June 2, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    Meh,

    overrated recipe

  21. Nancy Allard May 15, 2016 at 9:12 pm #

    So good I almost cried. Thank you thank you thank you et merci beaucoup!!!!

  22. Nathalie May 11, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

    I just made this absolutely delicious dahl! Thank you so much Sarah! I immediately wanted to start preparing it again to fill up my freezer! And this is 2 minutes after I’ve finished cooking it. If you say it gets even better with time this should get 6 stars and not even 5!

  23. Noor March 17, 2016 at 9:44 am #

    Prepared it and loved it !!!
    Thank you!

    • Sarah March 17, 2016 at 4:38 pm #

      Glad to hear it!

  24. Melissa March 1, 2016 at 8:42 pm #

    I read through at least five recipes, trying to find one that most closely matched the vision I wanted for my dhal. This was it! Not too spicy but SO fragrant and perfect. I left out the cayenne and added turmeric. I am in LOVE – I’ve already copied the recipe into my little recipe book. Thank you!

    • Sarah March 2, 2016 at 8:03 am #

      Hooray! Glad you enjoyed it so much, Melissa!

  25. Natasha February 26, 2016 at 4:15 am #

    This is hands down the best Dahl I have ever made. I omitted the cayenne pepper but otherwise followed the recipe exactly (using tomatoes I canned myself) and it was so delicious. I think the secret is the butter.

    • Sarah February 26, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

      Hooray! So glad to hear it Natasha! It is delicious, isn’t it? I’m sure the butter helps :-).

  26. Johanna February 23, 2016 at 12:58 pm #

    Hi!
    I’m pretty excited to try this recipe tonight. I just put out all the ingredients. But the amount of lentils looks so small? I mean there’s like 3 litres of liquid all together but just these 1.5 cups of lentils? Is that correct?

    • Sarah February 23, 2016 at 1:26 pm #

      Yes that’s correct! The lentils absorb quite a bit of liquid, and the end result is also a bit creamy/saucy. Enjoy!

    • Johanna February 23, 2016 at 2:30 pm #

      Oh my! I just tasted the first spoon out of the pot. Delicious!
      But I ditched the extra water. I don’t know if we have different lentils over here but it turned out great anyway!

    • Sarah February 23, 2016 at 10:00 pm #

      Awesome! Glad to hear it worked out and you enjoyed it :-).

  27. Amogh February 17, 2016 at 9:43 pm #

    Tried this yesterday with a few mods of my own. The family absolutely loved it.

    Thanks for sharing!!

    • Sarah February 18, 2016 at 2:45 pm #

      Great! So glad you enjoyed it!

  28. Danielle December 20, 2015 at 5:03 pm #

    Delish and easy recipe. My family absolutely loved it!

    • Sarah December 23, 2015 at 9:47 am #

      So great to hear!!!

  29. Laura December 14, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

    Holy lentils, batman! This is SO STINKIN’ GOOD. The lemon really makes it.

    The only change I made was to use 1 teaspoon of garam masala instead of 2.

    I don’t anticipate this lasting very long. nonnomnomnomnomnom

    • Sarah December 23, 2015 at 9:50 am #

      Surprising what a bit of lemon juice adds, right? So glad you loved it :-).

  30. Pam November 3, 2015 at 6:25 pm #

    Just made it! Yum, Yum. Sent some to my neighbour ,she’s the expert, she was all over the smell. I am putting this in my recipe box. Thanks so much for sharing:)

    • Sarah November 4, 2015 at 8:12 am #

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it, Pam!

  31. Julie G September 27, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

    Absolutely as tasty and delicious as described.

  32. Eva September 27, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    I made this last night (dairy free) and it was so delicious! Kids enjoyed it too!

  33. Velvet September 21, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

    I don’t see where the tomato paste is added?

    • Sarah September 22, 2015 at 6:56 am #

      Yes you are right I missed that in the directions. Sorry! I’ve fixed it now (you add it with the water, coconut milk and tomatoes).

  34. Julie | Small Green Kitchen September 19, 2015 at 5:10 pm #

    This lentil dish is gorgeous, Sarah! Now I’m craving a big old bowl of indian spiced lentils!

  35. Sondi September 18, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

    Ha! Love the title of this post. Have you ever made this in your slow cooker? It seems like it would be a good dump-it-and-forget it option after sauteeing the onions and garlic.

    • Sarah September 19, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

      Hey Sondi! I haven’t tried it in the slow cooker, but I imagine it would require less liquid if you did it that way? I often struggle with turning stove-top recipes into slow cooker ones. I often end up wasting a couple of batches before I get it right. But if you try it let me know how it works out!

  36. Karen September 18, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

    Looks amazing – your photography is stunning!

    • Sarah September 19, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

      Thanks Karen!

  37. Nari September 18, 2015 at 3:15 am #

    I made this for dinner tonight and it was super easy and delish, perfect recipe to cook with a toddler underfoot and baby requiring attention. I added peanut butter instead of butter at the end and some spinach.

  38. Thalia @ butter and brioche September 17, 2015 at 11:49 pm #

    Looks so hearty, flavoursome and delicious! I love dahl but never have made it from scratch before.. so I love this easy recipe.

  39. Kiwi September 16, 2015 at 6:16 pm #

    If it wasn’t for meal rationing in our house I would continuously eat this until I had to be taken away on a stretcher. The other day the baby did actually almost get to that point while eating the Dahl. By the time he got up, his belly was so stretched he could barely stand. Being also entirely covered in lentils by this point, his body was orange, so he could have been mistaken for a pumpkin.

    • Sarah September 17, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

      That’s a very vivid description, lol. Thank you Kiwi :-).

    • Afshan October 22, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

      Kiwi?? As in THE Kiwi? As a Desi woman, I stand by my objection to curry powder but as a lover of all things that come out of your kitchen, I will be trying this recipe over the weekend. Curry powder and all.

    • Sarah October 25, 2015 at 11:12 am #

      I’m scared now…very scared. If you don’t like it, send it to Kiwi! Heh heh.

  40. Mel @ The Refreshanista September 16, 2015 at 12:48 pm #

    This looks totally delicious! And I think your photos are beautiful- great job!

    • Sarah September 17, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

      Thanks Mel!!

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