Recipe: Creamy Dal Soup (Red Lentil)

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From the Vitality Food Feature ‘Indian Cuisine Heats Up the Kitchens of the North‘.

Dal made from lentils and pulses is a number one staple dish in the cuisine of India (as well as Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh). The varieties of dried beans and peas used in dal make it a high source of protein; thus it can take the place of meat to ensure a balanced diet for vegetarians or for those wishing to cut down on their meat intake.

In grandma’s house when I was a kid, yellow and green split peas were most often served as “soups”, chunky or pureed on their own or added to other soups and stews for what grandma called “a boost of healthy fill.” Today, I have come to enjoy pulses most when cooked as “spicy dals” and have found countless recipes for delivering them to the table with a worldly flair, for it is often said that “no two dals are ever the same.”

To serve them authentically, dals are typically eaten with rice or Indian breads such as chapati. They are almost always topped with something special to tickle the taste buds, which is known as “tempering” the dal. My favourite way of tempering the dal is to top it with roasted spices. To roast spices: heat a little vegetable oil in a small cast iron skillet and fry a tablespoon or two of mixed mustard and coriander seeds until they toast and pop. Then scatter these over the top of the dal upon serving.

Another delectable topping is thinly sliced onions fried until golden. I find the toasted seeds and fried onions also make delicious toppings in the soup tureen.Here’s a warming dal soup that’s very easy to make, and a welcome addition to any winter menu when you’re short on time. (Serves 6.)


  • 3 Tbsp butter or ghee
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 minced jalapeño pepper
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • A pinch of freshly grated ginger
  • 1 Tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups rinsed red lentils (*or other lentils of choice)
  • 6 cups vegetable stock

1) Heat butter (or ghee) in a soup pot.

2) Sauté chopped onion until soft.

3) Add jalapeño pepper, garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, turmeric powder, and black pepper.

4) Cook on low heat until spices are absorbed.

5) Add lentils and vegetable stock.

6) Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes until desired thickness is reached. (*Other kinds of lentils such as green, black, or French, can take up to an hour to cook, so keep in mind that cooking time varies with type of lentil.)

7) Top with toasted coriander seeds or fried onions, if desired.

8) Makes a big tureen full of soup and all you need for a full meal is chapati on the side.

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