A mild and easy red lentil dal recipe that the whole family can enjoy. Suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
What is dal?
Dal is both the name for lentils and the name for a simple curry made from them. Dal is a spiced curry that is made from lentils. Many dal recipes have additions such as sweet potatoes or spinach but a simple dal recipe might just be lentils, onions, garlic, ginger and spices. Dal is the staple food of millions of people on the Indian subcontinent.
Any kind of lentils can be used to make dal and the results can be wonderfully different. Dal makhani for example, made with black lentils, is a rich and creamy dish from the Punjab. For a more everyday dal I like to use red lentils as they don't require any soaking and cook quickly.
Dahl, dhal, daal or dal?
It doesn't really matter how you spell dal. The lentil based dish comes from the Indian subcontinent which is home to many languages all of which have a different script.
As long as you've got a lentil based curry made with spices you have a dal.
Incidentally I opted with dal because that's what The Guardian do in their style guide.
Can you give dal to a baby?
Yes you absolutely can give dal to a baby. In fact it's one of my favourite lentil recipes for babies.
The only things you need to watch out for when serving dal to your baby or toddler are the chilli and the salt. If you leave these two ingredients out then dal is perfect baby food. Exposing babies to lots of different tastes and textures is really important and spices such as turmeric and cumin add a delicious flavour to this red lentil dal that babies will love.
You can spice the dal up for yourself by making a simple chilli temper.
How to serve dal to babies
You can serve this baby dal recipe on a loaded spoon or with strips of bread or rice cakes for dipping if you're doing baby led weaning. Alternatively you can spoon feed it and it can be puréed for a really young baby if you prefer.
When R was a baby he had curry quite regularly. One of his favourite first dishes was a puréed lentil and cheese dish from the Annabel Karmel book and for some reason he would only eat vegetables if they were in curry. Then of course he turned two and the fear of sauce began.
I had all but forgotten about the possibility of giving Indian food to my children when one day I was eating leftover dal and rice for lunch while baby R ate something else. When she saw what I was eating she wouldn't rest until I gave her some. She won't eat rice in any other context but for some reason the dal looked irresistible to her. She loved it.
I now serve dal and other curries to the children quite regularly and am always surprised how much of it gets eaten. It's also something that we all like so we can all sit down to eat together - which I think the children really enjoy.
Other recipes you might like
- Mixed vegetable curry
- Easy potato curry with cumin recipe
- Easy vegetable curry
- Aubergine and chickpea curry
- Parsnip korma.
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How to make this easy red lentil dal
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Easy red lentil dal
- 1 cup red lentils (200g)
- 2 teaspoons of turmeric
- 1 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 onion peeled and finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
- 1 inch piece ginger peeled and finely chopped
- Dried red chillis chopped to taste, or leave them out altogether if serving to small children or babies
- 400 g tinned chopped tomatoes or 4-5 fresh tomatoes chopped
- 1 tbsp garam masala
- 1 tbsp mild curry powder
- salt and pepper to taste, optional
- Place the lentils in a saucepan and cover with water. Add 1 teaspoon of turmeric. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until cooked. Add more water as necessary and stir regularly to avoid sticking. The red lentils usually take about 15-20 minutes but different types will take longer so adjust accordingly.
- Heat some oil in a large frying pan. Add the cumin seeds and fry for a minute or so until starting to turn brown.
- Add the onion, stir and cook gently for around 10 minutes until soft. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli then add the turmeric and stir well. Add the tomatoes. Cook for a further five minutes before adding the garam masala and curry powder.
- Add the lentils when cooked through and stir well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The longer you leave this the better so make in advance or even the day before if you have time.
- Serve with rice and/or bread. Enjoy!