Cook-Along Friday #1 – Red Lentil Dhall

Work-life balance.  It’s the Holy Grail of parents.  Enough time with the kids to appreciate them, enough time at the office to appreciate coming home, enough time to yourself to remember that you’re actually a human being who does stuff other than work and look after kids.

I’m lucky enough to have Fridays to look after the youngest of my kids.  In the morning we’ve got Toddler Group at the village hall (and believe me, Michael McIntyre’s right when he talks about being the only man there!  Though, to be fair, there’s usually two or three of us blokes now).  In the afternoon, while the youngsters sleep, I cook.  Mostly I cook curry.

Long story short.  I used to be scared of curry recipes.  The long list of spices confused me and, like most people confronted by something like that, I avoided them.  The opportunity arose to do a night class in Indian Cookery and I jumped at it.  That was a couple of years ago.  It taught me many, many useful things.  Chief amongst those things are (1) the skill of looking at one of these complicated recipes and knowing what the recipe will taste like and (2) being able to modify the heat of a curry without changing the taste dramatically.  Y’see, I’m cooking for a family of 7 here.  What one of us eats, we all eat.  So I’ve got to be able to cut the heat of a curry dramatically (and then top it back up again at table with a damn fine chilli sauce).

Without further ado, I present the first recipe I cooked when I took that night class.  It’s one that I’ve used as a benchmark to judge curry recipe books since.

Red Lentil Dhall


  • 1 mug of red lentils
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1tsp red chilli powder (substitute with paprika if you’re cooking for the youngsters as well or you don’t want the burn)
  • 1tsp turmeric
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • Chopped green chillies, to taste (I omit these entirely for the low-heat version but put 5 or 6 in for the full-heat)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 black cardamon pods
  • 1 ladle of ghee
  • 4 sliced cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbs cumin seeds
  • Big bunch of coriander


  1. Wash and soak the lentils in cold water.  This takes about half an hour, so have a cup of tea and read a book.  I’m reading Writing Therapy by Tim Atkinson at the moment.  It’s very good indeed.
  2. In a large pan bring 3 mugs of water to the boil (same mug size you measured the lentils with).  Add salt, chilli powder, turmeric, chopped tomatoes, drained lentils, cinnamon stick, black cardamon and the chillies if you’re using them.  Stir it, leave it to simmer without the lid for half an hour, stirring every 10 minutes.  If it starts to stick, add a little water to loosen it up.
  3. When the lentils have cooked, they’ll be fairly mushy and the mixture will be nice and thick.  Gloopy is how my kids describe it.
  4. When you’re into the last 10 minutes, get a small pan and heat up the ghee.  Use a medium-low heat for this.  Add the cumin seeds and garlic, fry gently for a couple of minutes..  While it’s frying, chop the coriander.
  5. Add the ghee/garlic/cumin mixture to the lentils, mix thoroughly and stir in the copped coriander.
  6. Serve with chapatis or naan bread. Pakoras work well, so do poppadoms.

Enjoy!  I know my family do.

I use this particular recipe as a benchmark for curry recipe books.

I’d be interested in your variations on this recipe – comment and let me know.

10 responses to “Cook-Along Friday #1 – Red Lentil Dhall”

  1. I’m all over this like a tramp on chips, like wasps on jam, like a cheap suit. I love dhal. Getting that creamy consistency is the key. Thanks for post an oldie but goodie, John. Next week’s theme is right up your street: Spices.

  2. Love lentils and it’s been years since I made dhal I don’t know why but with another recipe I picked up via the recipe shed will have to have curry evening I think!!! 🙂

    • We have a curry night pretty much every Friday. Branched out into Thai curries a couple of weeks ago. My wife has now challenged me to a round-the-world cooking run – off to New Orleans tonight with Jambalaya, then some Jamaican jerk pork next week…

      Let me know what you think of this dhal – it’s a firm favourite of my kids.

  3. Hey John, I don’t think there is a finer recipe for dhal than yours, above: it’s the cinnamon, black cardomom and chillies that make it so special. But do give the lemon variation a try: it’s a fantastic accompaniment.

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