Traditionally Tibetans in Tibet don’t cook dal, but it is a very common dish of Tibetans who live outside our country, especially those who live in India and Nepal.
It is a healthy meal that is fast and easy to cook and loved by our vegetarian friends. I learned how to cook dal when I was living in India and very often cook it at home.
There are all kinds of lentils we can use but I like to use red lentils, called masoor dal, because they cook fast. There are some black and green lentils that taste great, but that take much longer to cook.
The lentil soup is often called masala dal or dal masala — masala is a term used in Indian and Nepali cooking to describe a mixture of spices.
Dal Bhat Recipe
For 2 people
Preparation time: ~ 40 minutes
- 1 cup red lentils (masoor dal) (recommended, as other types of dal can take much longer to cook)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 small red onion, chopped small
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
- ½ teaspoon turmeric*
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds (jeera)*
- ½ teaspoon coriander powder*
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- ½ tablespoon butter or ghee (optional, but it gives a nice flavor)
- 2 tablespoons cilantro and/or green onion, chopped, for garnish
- Water, to make soup
- basmati rice (or any kind you wish)
- Indian chutney or pickle (achar) of your choice. We love Patak’s lime pickle. We buy this at Vik’s in Berkeley, California. You can also find Patak’s at pretty much any Indian grocery, and some Safeway, Whole Foods and other large grocery stores in the US.
- Optional: add pepper of your choice, or red pepper flakes. We don’t add any pepper, as we don’t favor super hot food, and the dish is very flavorful without heat, especially if served with an Indian pickle relish.
* If you prefer, you can use Shan Dal Curry Mix, or garam masala instead of the turmeric, cumin and coriander. We have used the Shan’s and it tastes great. Any type of garam masala would also do just fine, and you can make your own if you prefer or don’t have access to it.
- Wash the lentils and rinse a couple of times. Be careful to remove any stones if you don’t want to break your teeth ;-) If you have time, soak the lentils in water as long as you can, up to overnight, before you cook. They get very soft and can cook faster. Normally, I don’t have much time, so I wash the lentils and cook it right way.
- Begin preparing the rice any way you like so it will be ready when you’re done cooking the dal. We use a rice cooker.
- Chop your onion, and mince the garlic and ginger. You can combine if you wish and set aside.
- Chop the tomato and set aside.
- Wash your cilantro and or green onion. Chop for garnish and set aside.
- Heat oil on high for a minute or two.
- Add ginger, garlic and onion, and stir fry on high until the onion is a little brown on the edges, 1-2 minutes.
- Stir in cumin seeds, salt , turmeric, mustard seed and coriander powder. Turn the heat down to medium (6 out of 10 on our stove), and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often.
- Note: The stove’s temperature will remain at medium (6/10) for the rest of the cooking process, and you will stir occasionally.
- Add tomatoes and butter. Stir, cover with lid and cook for 4 minutes.
- After 4 minutes, stir in the lentils, cover and cook for 5 minutes.
- After cooking for 5 minutes, add one cup of water, cover with lid and cook for 5 more minutes.
- When the 5 minutes are up, stir in 2 more cups of water, as the water will begin to decrease as you cook.
- Continue cooking on medium for 10 minutes.
- Now your dal is ready :-) Turn off the stove and sprinkle the chopped cilantro and/or green onion on top.
- Serve with rice. Many Tibetans like to serve the dal in a small soup bowl, beside a plate of rice. Some people like to ladle the dal over the rice and mix it up to eat. Indians and Nepalis often eat dal baht with their hands, as do some Tibetans, but many of us also use a spoon.
- Add some Indian chutney or pickle (achar) or hot sauce. We can’t more highly recommend the Patak’s Lime Pickle or relish, which is just heavenly and is perfectly complementary with this dal bhat. You can get it medium or hot. Medium is more spicy in a flavorful way than a hot way :-) The hot has some bite!
Whenever I cook this recipe for my family and friends, they seem to love it. Please try it out and let us know what you think in the comments below.
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By Lobsang Wangdu