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Ma's Tomato Cilantro Red Lentil Dal

For a fast, nutritious, protein-packed meal, this dish is a good choice for a busy weeknight.

Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Author Krishna Basu / chifriendlyeats



  • 1 cup red lentils rinsed and cleaned
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 jalepeno use the whole jalepeno split in half lengthwise if you like it spicier; deseed it if you want to lessen the spice level

Foron / Tarka (Whole Spice-Infused Oil)

  • 1 tsp oil (I recommend grapeseed or avocado oil, but you can use your favorite cooking oil)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder (optional or adjust to taste)


  • 1 handful cilantro (about 1/4 cup), chopped I use the stems too - they are full of flavor!


To prepare the lentils:

  1. To wash the lentils, I put them into a 5 quart pot and cover the lentils with water.  Then I swirl the lentils with my hand to wash them and discard the water through a fine strainer.  Return the washed lentils to the pot, pour in 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.

  2. Watch the lentils carefully because once they come to a rapid boil, it's easy for them to boil over and create a mess on your stovetop.  This is why I like to use a big pot to cook dal.  

  3. Once the lentils have come to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer lentils until they are soft (~ 15 min).  

  4. While the lentils are simmering, this is a good time to dice your tomato and start making the "foron," the spice-infused oil made through tempering.

To make the foron/tarka:

  1. Heat up a small pan (preferably one with a lid in case the spices start popping) with 1 tsp of cooking oil.  You don't want the temperature to get too hot - the maximum it should reach is medium, so you don't burn your spices.

  2. Pour 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds into palm of one hand and firmly massage them with the thumb of your other hand to release the oils.  

  3. Sprinkle the cumin into the heated oil - you should hear a little sizzle.  If your spices start smoking, then your oil is too hot - remove the pan from the heat to cool the temperature down and return to heat once the temperature has calmed.

  4. Also add in the cut jalepeno to the hot oil - this should sizzle too.  I love seeing the skin start to blister a little.  You will want to try to get all the surfaces of the jalepeno to touch the oil and release its fragrance.

  5. Once you can start to smell the cumin release its aroma, it's time to put in the diced tomato.  Here, the sizzle will be more intense, so keep a lid close by to shield from splattering in case it is needed.  Stir the tomatoes into the cumin and let them cook down for 1-2 minutes.  

  6. Once the tomatoes soften, turn the heat off, sprinkle in the tumeric, and stir to mix well. (Turning off the heat before the tumeric helps ensure that it doesn't burn and become bitter.)

Combining Ingredients

  1. Once the lentils are softened (it's OK to boil them longer than 15 minutes).  Use a wisk to break down the lentils.  This thickens the overall consistency.  

  2. Carefully pour the tomato-cumin-jalepeno foron into the lentils and stir to combine.  Let simmer for 1-2 more minutes to allow the flavors to come together.  Turn off heat and add the cilantro.  

  3. Before serving, stir the dal.  The lentils tend to sink when sitting idol.  If the dal thickens over time, mix in hot water to desired consistency.  Serve over rice, have as a stew/soup, or have with bread/naan/paratha.  Enjoy!