Aromatic Vegan Dal

Aromatic Vegan Dal

I have been eating dal (or dhal) since childhood. During my early flatting days it was staple for a cheap, nourishing meal, but you know what? It was never very tasty! We considered it one of those ‘good for you’ dishes that you didn’t eat for pleasure, and I’ve more recently discovered that this was the wrong attitude. Dal can be absolutely amazing, and I insist you try this one.


‘Dal’ is a word originating from the Indian subcontinent and seems to be common to many languages of the area. It refers to various types of split pulse and dishes or curries made from lentils and other pulses, whether split or not. 

If you’ve frequented Indian restaurants you’ve probably seen seen a few dal types on the menu, for example dal gohst (dal with meat), dal makhani (buttery dal) or tarka dal (lentils cooked with onions, garlic, tomatoes and spices). This dish is quite close to a tarka dal, except for the kidney beans and that it’s got some non traditional ingredients like olive and coconut oil.

Now, let me plonk the recipe here, and after that I’ll give you a few indispensible tips for making a great dal that I’ve picked up on the interwebs.

Aromatic Vegan Dal

A tasty and satisfying dal made with brown lentils
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time2 hours
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: lentils, Vegan
Servings: 4 people
Author: Sara Lake


  • 4 cups soft cooked or canned lentils
  • 1 cup soft cooked or canned red kidney beans
  • 2 cups tomato puree / passata
  • 2 medium onions or one large
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp oil I used olive oil
  • 1 tbsp crushed garlic
  • 1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder adjust to preference
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom powder
  • 1/2 tsp powdered or crushed fenugreek seeds


Making the Masala

  • In a large, heavy bottomed pot heat the oil and coconut oil and saute the onions on a moderate to high heat until golden and starting to become transparent.
  • Add the ginger and garlic and saute for about a minute.
  • Add the tomato puree and all spices. Continue to saute, stirring frequently until the masala begins to thicken.
  • Add the lentils, beans and two cups of water and stir to combine. Continue on a moderately high head up until it starts to bubble then turn the temperature down to the lowest setting where you see the occasional bubble.
  • Continue to cook on a low setting for at least an hour. Cooking on a low heat allows the flavours to develop and prevents burning. Stir now and then, and add half a cup of water if the dal is looking like it might be getting a bit thick. I usually add another cup of water over a 1.5 hour cook time.
  • Your final result should be smooth and creamy. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
  • Serve with a swirl of coconut yogurt and a sprinkle of fresh coriander. Basmati rice or garlic naan make a lovely addition to round out the meal.


Your lentils need to be mooshy and very soft. Don't try and make this dal with undercooked lentils as it just won't work at all.
It is possible to replace the oils with butter and ghee, and use regular yogurt if you do not require a vegan meal.
It is worth expending a little on the more expensive spices if you can. In New Zealand I use the Spice Trader brand, but often little Indian grocery stores have spices that perform better than anything you can get in the supermarket.

While trying to improve my dal game, I read my way through many blogs, trying recipes and learning by trial and error. I must credit two blogs in particular for being especially good and those are Vegan Richa and Swathi’s Recipes, so definitely pay those a visit if you have an interest in Indian cooking.

easy tips that helped a lot!

– This recipe uses brown lentils and they must be very soft and well cooked. This was a major difference from dals of the past. I used to just throw the lentils in raw and cook them in the masala, however, this was a bad decision. What I do now that I’m older and wiser is cook them in the pressure cooker for 25 minutes then mush them a little bit with a fork before draining. When properly cooked they won’t drain very well, and that’s perfect

– Sloooow cook on a low heat. Again, rushing this will just result in an underwhelming dal, most of which has burned to the bottom of the pot. Cooked properly, it should not stick at all. 

– Cook the masala separately as this concentrates the flavours. Don’t be lazy and just throw everything into a pot at the same time. I’m not saying I used to do that, but I may have. 

– Several blogs mentioned adding a little fenugreek leaf powder near the end of cooking to bring out the flavour. I can’t find that here in NZ (any ideas where to get it?), so I experimented with adding some fenugreek seeds that I crushed a little in the mortar and pestle as part of the spice mix. This seemed to work, and the flavour is very nice.

 There you go! Enjoy your dal making adventures. This keeps well in the fridge for about 5 days, and can also be frozen for later use. An ideal meal prep item that only makes one pot to clean! Woohoo

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