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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.


79 replies on “Fragrant Red Lentil Dhal”

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!

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

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!

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 😉

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 🙂

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

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?

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!

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.

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