Fragrant Red Lentil Dhal

This is my third dhal recipe, but it is fundamentally different from the other two in that it wasn’t conceived as a side-dish, though it may act as such. What this means is that while the flavour of the other two was delicious, it was exceedingly simple; whereas the taste of this dhal will excite and ignite your palette, though not in a literal sense. Indeed, the combination of black onion seeds, which are surprisingly fragrant, and garam masala, a spice mix known for its dark perfume and body, make this an enticing prospect for even the more snobbish taste buds in existence.

Black onion seeds, or kalonji, are an ingredient only rarely used in mainstream cooking. I think the only area in which they have become prevalent in the west is in mango chutney and even then the leading brand doesn’t contain them. In my opinion, these little black seeds are one of the most flavoursome and pleasing spices out there and if you ever come across them, which you may not in Britain, they are more than worth £1 of your hard earned money. If you want to find a packet of these your best bet is to either order them online, or to pop down your local Asian supermarket if you have one. If you do invest, it’ll be all you can do to stop yourself from putting a teaspoon of them in just about every Indian dish you prepare.

The great thing about dhal is that they are great vehicles for flavour, particularly those that make use of the rather innocuous red lentil. As such, one can feel free to stamp one’s own brand of culinary authority over them. Unfortunately, such a statement rather undermines the need for a recipe, so to avoid being labelled a hypocrite it may be better to describe this as a suggestion of preparation – though it is an awfully delicious one. For instance, if you have been unable to find black onion seeds fear not, for you can feel free to replace it with whatever spices your being desires. This adaptability is what makes the red lentil dhal one of my favourite things to eat.

Fragrant Red Lentil Dhal

Serves 3-4


• 250g red lentils

• 1 onion

• 2 cloves of garlic

• A good slosh of oil

• 1 tsp garam masala

• 1 tsp black onion seeds

• 1 tsp chilli flakes

• Seasoning

• Chopped coriander to serve


1. As with any red lentil dhal you’ll need to rinse and then boil the lentils in enough water to cover them by about 1cm. In a separate frying pan begin to cook the onion in oil. After  add the spices and garlic and leave to cook until the onions have started to turn crisp and golden.

2. Once the lentils have softened start beating them with a wooden spoon until you end up with a mixture that roughly resembles an Indian porridge. As long as it isn’t too watery, tip it into the onion mixture and mix thoroughly. Serve with a little chopped coriander and some flatbread.

Cost: Red lentils must be one of the cheapest forms of protein – one 500g bag can often be enough for 8-10 portions and should set one back no more than 70p! Luckily, they convey flavour very well. As such, this dhal is a snip (Americanism) at a mere 60p.


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78 comments on “Fragrant Red Lentil Dhal

  1. cookinginsens
    September 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Looks good. I like dhal. My particular favorite is dhal makhani, made with black lentils.

    • frugalfeeding
      September 14, 2012 at 11:55 am

      Thanks, Rosemary! Yes, I love dhal makhani. Perhaps I’ll do a recipe 😀

  2. haveyoumetmarta
    September 13, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    I love dhal curry and this recipe sounds tasty and simple! I am going to try it soon! 🙂

    • frugalfeeding
      September 14, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Thanks – it was really lovely. I’m sure you’ll like it.

  3. thesinglegourmetandtraveller
    September 13, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Lovely recipe for dhal and wonderful photos.

  4. Little Sis
    September 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Looks delicious and your pic of the onions made me drool a little. 😉

    • frugalfeeding
      September 14, 2012 at 11:57 am

      Haha – awfully sorry. I hope you didn’t make a mess.

  5. Cathy
    September 13, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    Yum! I must try this… I love the flavour of black onion seeds. I saved some nigella seeds from my garden this year – very aromatic, but they are a different type to nigella sativa/black onion seeds. I’ll have to order some – the odds of finding them in Germany are slim!

    • frugalfeeding
      September 14, 2012 at 11:54 am

      You must! I think the odds are very slim – it took me a while to find a place that seels the more exotic spiced.

  6. Chez Foti
    September 13, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Lovely recipe. LOVE dhals, my perfect comfort food. I’ve also started using black onion seeds (also called Nigella seeds) in quite a few curries and relishes lately, and always deliciously fragrant, Louisa

  7. Linda
    September 13, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Yum Yum !!

  8. accordingtocarey
    September 13, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    The picture of the onions is making my stomach growl. Must be lunch time.

    • frugalfeeding
      September 14, 2012 at 11:52 am

      Hehe – I was particularly pleased with that shot.

  9. lorrielorrieb
    September 13, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Gorgeous! I just ate something similar the other night…..could eat this most nights!

    • frugalfeeding
      September 14, 2012 at 11:52 am

      Oh yes, me too – it’s the ultimate comfort food.

  10. More Than Greens
    September 13, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    That looks delicious and your photos are gorgeous!

  11. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial
    September 13, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    Looks delicious! That cast iron skillet is certainly getting a good workout! 🙂

    • frugalfeeding
      September 14, 2012 at 11:51 am

      Thanks, Celia! It is, how can I ignore it? It is wonderful!

  12. Juls
    September 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    Are the kalonji seeds the same as nigella seeds? Man these spices all seem to have a squillion names!
    I’ve really got into dhals over the past year – I think you’re partly to blame/thank for that. They started as a simple way to shovel meatless dishes into my partner and swiftly became something very enjoyable and exciting and simple to make on their own accord. This one looks lovely – I haven’t added kalonji to a dhal before but it sounds divine! Glad to see your skillet being put to good use!

    • frugalfeeding
      September 14, 2012 at 11:51 am

      Nope, I beloeve they are different… though they look the same. I’m glad I’ve had a hand in that change! Thanks, Juls! I love my skillet.

    • frugalfeeding
      September 14, 2012 at 11:54 am

      It turns out they are actually the same… woops.

  13. Somer
    September 14, 2012 at 12:16 am

    Oh the shot of the onions beautifully caramelizing…. Is there anything better? I did not source any black onion seeds yesterday. I searched high and low, seems like they want to be a bit of an enigma around these parts (lying through my teeth, I didn’t end up leaving the new house).

    Ah well, I’m sure it will taste lovely without, just maybe not so quite over the top 😉

    • frugalfeeding
      September 14, 2012 at 11:50 am

      There is not :D. You are a lazy thing :D. Yes, it would definitely taste lovely without, Somer!

    • Jenn E.
      February 3, 2013 at 2:21 am

      Yes! The picture of the onions caramelizing is gorgeous!

  14. narf77
    September 14, 2012 at 7:25 am

    What a gorgeous bowl of dhal! I am going to make this A.S.A.P. There is still a fair bit of winter chill in the air here in Tasmania and this is right up there with some of my most desirable comfort foods. Cheers for this post 🙂

    • frugalfeeding
      September 14, 2012 at 11:50 am

      Thanks! Our winter chill is just setting in! Comfort food it most certainly is.

  15. grainnep
    September 14, 2012 at 8:13 am

    I love Dhal and my vegetarian sister is coming to visit so what great timing for your post!. looks delicious.

  16. musingmar
    September 14, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    I can almost smell the fragrance of this! I may make it later today; really, why wait?

  17. TheSpicySaffron
    September 14, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    YUM yum yum…..absolutely mouthwatering!! I love dhal in its thick form.

    • frugalfeeding
      September 16, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      Oh yes, I don’t understand watery dhal…

  18. Jennifer Solow
    September 14, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    You had me at “Fragrant.”


  19. Shira
    September 14, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    YUM!! I am making this one. Those onions just look incredible! I am thinking with a yummy flatbread and raita… 🙂 Dinner!

  20. Márcia Gonçalves
    September 15, 2012 at 12:43 am

    Humm… This looks like a good recipe, and I LOVE lentils! 🙂

    • frugalfeeding
      September 16, 2012 at 4:39 pm

      Thanks! Me too – one of my favourite ingredients.

  21. Stephanie
    September 15, 2012 at 6:50 am

    Ahh, I can almost smell the spices just by looking at your photos!

    • frugalfeeding
      September 16, 2012 at 4:39 pm

      Hehe, thanks – it was awfully aromatic!

  22. Men's Concept
    September 15, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    I am starving!

  23. soffiagudrun
    September 15, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    I´ve never tried black onion seeds, interesting. Not sure if I find them here in Iceland…will totally check it out.

    • frugalfeeding
      September 16, 2012 at 4:38 pm

      You can order them from the internet if you can’t find them anywhere at all.

    • Fra kjøkkenbenken
      September 19, 2012 at 9:33 am

      Soffiagudrun, I live in Norway, and I order them from www. I’m sure they’ll deliver to Iceland as well. 🙂

  24. morristownmemos by Ronnie Hammer
    September 15, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Do you make your own Garam Masala?
    I found black onion seeds in an Indian restaurant, where a kind waiter took pity and brought me a paper cup full.
    There are on line sources of spices…like Penzey’s or the Spice House.

    • frugalfeeding
      September 16, 2012 at 4:38 pm

      Sometime, but on this occasion I didn’t. Ordering on the internet inevitably increases the price you pay in the case of food, so I don’t. I prefer to seek out amazing shops 😀

  25. Chica Andaluza
    September 16, 2012 at 10:36 am

    You can never have to omany dhal recipes and this is a winner – love that shot of the onions!

    • frugalfeeding
      September 16, 2012 at 4:29 pm

      I totally agree! Thanks! I intend to make more dhal recipes soon 😀

  26. Sasha
    September 16, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    I have never heard of dhal before – can I substitute with other legumes?

    • frugalfeeding
      September 16, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      You could, but it wouldn’t really be a dhal if you did – generally they are made with lentils or split peas.

      • Sasha
        September 16, 2012 at 4:33 pm

        Okay thanks!

  27. Jenny
    September 17, 2012 at 1:29 am

    Yum, I absolutely love dhal! Lentils are so cheap and satisfying.

  28. erika
    September 17, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Making this right now! Onions and spices prepped, just waiting for the stubborn lentils to soften. Can’t wait for the first bite!

    • frugalfeeding
      September 20, 2012 at 10:31 pm

      Awesome! I really hope you liked it, Erika!

  29. Natalie Ward
    September 18, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    That is my favourite comfort food that is! Looks really delicious, your list of spices is a lot shorter than mine, I can’t do minimal but I might have to give it a try if you say so. I also love onion seeds in everything and I love that they are called Nigella too 😉 which reminds me, Nigellisima starts on Monday (yay!). Are you a lover or a hater?

    • frugalfeeding
      September 20, 2012 at 10:29 pm

      Awesome, Natalie! Oh the flavours in this are FAR from minimal. Sometimes simplicity works very well… I do like a bit of Nigella, but I’m not a massive fan of food on tv, or even recipe books…

  30. macromagician
    October 2, 2012 at 10:41 am

    I actually really set out to find nigella seeds when in Vienna this weekend, after reading your post, and I found them 😀 Now to try them out! I´m curious!

  31. girl about town dayton
    October 6, 2012 at 4:00 am

    This looks amazing, thanks so much for sharing this recipe! I’m always looking for more lentil recipes.

    • frugalfeeding
      October 14, 2012 at 10:04 pm

      Thanks, it was delicious – perhaps I’ll do some more!

  32. N
    October 14, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    I’ve been following your blog a while but just got around to reading posts on my reader. Your blog is awesome! I can’t wait to try these recipes. Thanks for sharing 🙂 Great photos too!

    • frugalfeeding
      October 14, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      Thanks! I’m so glad you think so! No problem 😀 I hope to see more comments 🙂

  33. Srini
    October 20, 2012 at 8:04 am

    Since you’ve added onion seeds, I’d suggest the Bengali version next time : slit 2 green chillies with the onions to saute, and add a coarsely powdered mix of roasted fenugreek-mustard-onion seeds-jeera-anise seeds (Called panch phodon or 5 spice) and before switching off the stove, add some powdered brown sugar or golden syrup.

    • frugalfeeding
      October 28, 2012 at 11:15 pm

      Sounds great! I’ll have to give it a go 😀

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