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Empress Dal (India)


This recipe comes from the excellent Indian Home Cooking, co-written by Suvir Saran, who is a friend of a friend, and who has been personally kind and generous to me for years now.  Buy his book(s).


Indian cuisine is fantastic if you are a vegetarian, and one of the hallmarks of typical Indian cooking is dal, or lentils, stewed up and served over rice or with quick-fired bread.


This recipe is great for weeknight dinners.  It’s easy, flavorful, a little spicy, and totally good for you.  My 10-year-old son loves it.  I don’t have mango powder, but I find that the lemon works really well to bring that bit of acidity to balance the turmeric and cumin.



  • 3 tablespoons canola oil

  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds

  • 3 whole dried red chilies

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric

  • 1 small garlic cloves, minced or 1⁄8 teaspoon asafetida powder

  • 1 cup dried lentils, picked over, washed and drained - I used green lentils, but brown is traditional

  • 1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)

  • 1 tablespoon amchur (dried mango powder) or juice of 1 lemon

  • 4 cups water

  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)



  1. Combine the oil, cumin, red chiles and turmeric in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes.

  2. Add the garlic or asafetida, lentils, cayenne, and mango powder, if using (if using lemon juice instead, stir in at the end), and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

  3. Add the water and salt, bring to a boil and skim well. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Add more water during cooking if necessary. Taste for salt and add more if you need to.

  4. Ladle about ½ cup of the lentils into a small bowl and mash them with a spoon. Return the mashed lentils to the pot and give the dal a stir. Then continue cooking at a simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes to thicken.

  5. If you like a thicker dal, use a whisk to break up the lentils into a puree. If you like a thinner dal, add more water. Stir in the lemon juice, if using. Serve hot.


Try this out with rice - I like to use basmati and to do a pilaf (toasting the rice in cumin-studded oil before rehydrating).  I think you’ll enjoy it!


Recipe from: Indian Home Cooking, Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness


(I forgot to take a picture - I will next time)

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