This Indian red lentil dahl recipe is easy to make in less than 40 minutes with a handful of pantry staples.

A bowl of red lentil dahl topped with fresh cilantro.

About the Recipe

This lentil dahl recipe is inspired by the popular Indian dish and features red lentils, aromatic spices and coconut milk.

Lentil dahl is a thick stew that can be served on its own or with rice. It’s even better with naan bread for dipping and soaking up the coconut curry sauce.

Despite its simple ingredients, it’s a wonderfully flavorful recipe that’s perfect for a weeknight dinner or meal prep.

For a similar easy recipe, this Coconut Sweet Potato Red Lentil Curry is really nice. For more Indian recipes, this Creamy Vegan Vegetable Korma, Curried Tofu and Potato Cauliflower Curry are all delicious.

Ingredient Notes

All the ingredients for a coconut red lentil dal recipe.
  • Oil: The recipe calls for coconut oil but any cooking oil like olive oil or avocado oil is a suitable substitute. For an oil-free recipe, omit the oil and use 1-2 tbsp water or broth.
  • Onion: White or yellow onion is suitable.
  • Garlic & Ginger: Use fresh garlic and ginger.
  • Lentils: Use dry whole red lentils.
  • Coconut Milk: You can use full-fat or light coconut milk. Use full-fat for a quick and creamy curry or light coconut milk to reduce the fat and calorie content.
  • Liquid: Vegetable broth is recommended but water works too. Broth will add more flavor to the final dish.

This list is not complete. Please see the recipe card at the end of the post for the complete ingredient list with measurements and detailed instructions.

Variations & Additions

This recipe is very forgiving and flexible. I usually add carrot, celery and spinach but pretty much any extra veggies work or you can even add rice, chickpeas or quinoa.

  • Add Greens: You can stir in a couple handfuls of fresh spinach, collarg greens or finely chopped kale at the end for added nutrition.
  • Additional Protein: Try serving with baked tofu or tempeh.
  • More Veggies: If you want to add additional veggies, I’d recommend adding celery, diced carrots, cauliflower or bell peppers at the same time as the onions. You can also add veggies like diced butternut squash, zucchini or sweet potatoes.
  • Soup: To make this closer to a soup, add an additional 2 cups of vegetable broth, or try this Vegan Mulligatawny Soup Recipe or Curried Lentil Soup.
  • Chickpeas: For more bulk, fiber and nutrition, stir in 1 can of chickpeas near the end of cooking.
  • Heat: The dahl is not overly spicy but you can cmit or reduce the red pepper flakes if you’re sensitive to spice, or feel free to add a little more if you really want some kick! One diced jalapeno or cayenne pepper work as an alternative to red chili flakes.
  • To make this recipe oil-free: Omit the coconut oil and saute the onion, garlic and ginger in water or broth.
  • Lemon or Lime: Some enjoy dahl with some fresh lime or lemon juice. You can stir a squeeze of lemon or lime juice in at the end or serve with lemon or lime wedges.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Sauteed onion and garlic in a skillet.

Step 1. Cook the onions, garlic and ginger in the coconut oil for 6-7 minutes over medium heat in a large pot, Dutch oven or large saucepan, stirring often.

Coconut milk being stirred with lentils and onions in a skillet with a spoon.

Step 2. Add the spices, coconut milk, dried lentils and broth or water. Give it a good stir to combine the ingredients and scrape any bits from the bottom of the pan.

A creamy red lentil dahl in a skillet with a spoon.

Step 3. Simmer over low to medium heat for 20-30 minutes until it’s thick and creamy and the lentils are tender.

A large skillet of red lentil dahl, topped with fresh cilantro.

Step 4. Serve right away topped with fresh cilantro, on its own or over rice or quinoa. Lentil dahl pairs nicely with fresh pita, naan or roti.

Recipe FAQs

Is red lentil dahl good for you?

Yes! Healthy red lentils are rich in fibre, plant-based protein, iron and other micronutrients. To make this recipe lower in fat and calories, use light coconut milk.

What can I use instead of coconut milk in dahl?

You can use any non-dairy milk such as unsweetened almond milk or cashew milk. You can also make a quick cashew cream like in this vegan butter tofu recipe.

Do you need to soak red lentils?

Red lentils have a quick cooking time so they do not need to be soaked. You can give them a quick rinse in cold water before adding to the recipe to remove any debris, if you like.

Can I make red lentil dahl in advance?

Yes. Red lentil dahl is suitable for making in advance and will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Reheat dahl in a pot on the stovetop or in individual servings in the microwave.

Can you freeze red lentil dahl?

Yes. Let it cool then store in a freezer safe container for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge then reheat stovetop or in the microwave as needed.

What types of lentils can I use for red lentil dahl?

Red lentil dahl of course, is best with red lentils. You can substitute brown or green lentils though the dahl with have a different texture and be darker in colour.

Red lentils become soft and mushy when cooked, perfect for making dahl, a stew dish with a thick, creamy texture. Green and brown lentils remain firm when cooked to the dahl wouldn’t be as creamy. You’ll also need a slightly longer cooking time and may need to adjust the amount of liquid used.

A bowl of red lentil dahl topped with fresh cilantro.

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A bowl of red lentil dahl topped with fresh cilantro.

Coconut Red Lentil Dahl

  • Author: Deryn Macey
  • Prep Time: 5 mins
  • Cook Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 6
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Indian
  • Diet: Vegan
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Description

A red lentil dahl cooked in coconut milk with a fragrant combination of spices. You’ll make this delicious staple dish time and time again. Luckily, it makes a big batch!


Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil or olive oil
  • 2 medium white or yellow onion, diced (approx. 4 cups)
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 tbsp mild yellow curry powder
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups (375 g) dry red lentils
  • 1 14 oz can full-fat coconut milk*
  • 3 cups water or vegetable stock*
  • fresh cilantro, for serving
  • cooked jasmine, basmati or brown rice, optional for serving 

Instructions

  1. Cook Aromatics: Cook the onions, ginger and garlic in the coconut oil for 5-10 minutes over medium heat in a large saucepan or pot, stirring frequently until soft.
  2. Add Remaining Ingredients: Add all of the spices, salt and pepper, coconut milk, red lentils and water or vegetable stock.
  3. Simmer Dahl: Bring to a light simmer over low to medium heat and cook for 25-30 minutes, uncovered, until lentils are tender and the dahl has thickened.
  4. Serve: Remove from heat and serve topped with fresh cilantro over basmati rice, brown rice, quinoa, or on its own.

Notes

Broth or Water: You can use both with good results but the broth adds more flavour to the final dish.

Coconut Milk: Both light and full-fat coconut milk work well. Full-fat will result in an extra creamy dahl, light coconut milk is great for a lower-fat option that’s still delicious.

Storage: Let cool then store in a sealable container in the fridge for up to 5 days or freezer for up to 3 months. Reheat as needed stovetop or in the microwave.

Spiciness: Omit or reduce the amount of red pepper flakes if you’re sensitive to spice. 


Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1/6th of recipe
  • Calories: 330
  • Fat: 7 g
  • Carbohydrates: 49 g
  • Protein: 19 g

Keywords: coconut red lentil dahl, best red lentil dahl

This recipe was originally published on August 23, 2013.