Indian Dal: Fragrant Red Lentil Soup for $0.25/serving

photo by Paola Thomas

There are many ways to make delicious and ultra nourishing Indian dal (split-lentil) soups. I’m including 3 simple, classic variations that use ingredients commonly on hand in the pantry and fridge of anyone making a foray into Indian cooking. Feel free to experiment and substitute some of the vegetables. These soups also keep well in the freezer, so I usually make a large batch and freeze the leftovers. Each soup yields 4-5 large servings, requires 30 min prep and cook time, supplies about 25% daily value of protein, and costs <$0.30 per serving, including the cost of accompanying rice or bread!

Dal Soup with veggies

1 cup split red lentils (masoor dal)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
1 cup frozen peas, 2 chopped carrots or carrot pulp, ½ cup chopped green bell pepper (or other veggies for a combined total of ½ to 2 cups vegetables)
Tempering (fry spices and aromatics for 30 seconds): 2 to 3 Tbsp butter or oil, 2 tsp cumin, pinch of asafetida or 2 crushed garlic cloves (optional), 1 tsp chili
Garnish with 2 Tbsp lemon juice (optional) and 2 Tbsp cilantro

Wash lentils; bring to a boil with 6 cups water and turmeric. Turn heat down to simmer; after 10 minutes add salt, vegetables, simmer another 10 minutes. While the lentils and veggies are cooking, prepare the tempering. Turn off heat and put in tempering, lemon juice, and cilantro.

Dal Soup with Ginger and Tomato          

1 cup split red (masoor) or yellow (moong) lentils (best purchased in the bulk section or at an Indian grocer)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 chopped tomatoes or 15 oz. can pureed or diced
Optional: 1/2 cup veggies: frozen peas or carrot or green bell pepper, garden greens, or anything else you want to experiment with
2 tsp finely chopped/grated ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced (optional)
Tempering (Indian seasonings that are fried for 1 minute to release their flavor): 2 Tbsp butter or oil, 2 tsp cumin, garlic or asafetida, 1 tsp red chili flakes or powder
Garnish with 2 Tbsp cilantro and 1-2 Tbsp lemon/lime juice (optional)

Wash lentils; bring to a boil with 6 cups water and turmeric. Simmer 10 minutes until dal turns soft; add salt, vegetables, simmer another 5 minutes and prepare the tempering in a small skillet (be careful as the chili powder burns very easily; add it at the very end). Put in tempering into the lentils, turn off heat to prevent the spices from overcooking, and add lemon juice (if using), and cilantro.

Dal Soup with Caramelized onion

1 cup split red (masoor) or yellow (moong) lentils
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
3 or 4 Tbsp oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp red chili
Garnish with 2 Tbsp cilantro


Wash lentils; bring to a boil with 6 cups water and turmeric, and continue simmering for 20 minutes until the lentils form a fibrous mass. While the lentils are simmering, slice the onions and sauté them in a frying pan in 3 Tbsp oil until translucent, brown and sweet. Caramelizing onions takes about 6-10 minutes on medium-high heat, stirring frequently; the results are deliciously sweet onions that really complement the lentils and help blend all the flavors together. Add cumin seeds to the onion and fry another minute, then add coriander powder and chili, stir several times and pour into the lentils.  Turn off heat and add cilantro (and lemon juice if you like).

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