Red Lentil Dal with Caramelized Onions

Red Lentil Dal with Toasted Garlic Millet

"This is really good!" exclaimed my husband. It isn't often that I seriously wow him with a new recipe. (He loves my cooking and he loves what we make together, but this became an instant favorite of his.)

This is a vegetarian dish to serve to omnivores who don't know how good cooking vegetarian can be: it's rich, intensely flavored and quite filling. The fact that it's also incredibly cheap (once you invest in the spices, hopefully at a store that offers bulk spices which are much, much cheaper and fresher) and nutritious are added bonuses.

I would recommend that you serve this over a whole grain or rice: brown rice, steamed millet, quinoa, barley or couscous. Not only will you get even more nutritious yumminess out of it, but the fluffy texture of these sides really goes well with the dal.

Plus, honestly, this recipe does not look like much when it's done. It's a sauce, which is why my picture above shows it mixed into toasted garlic millet (which I will post about soon). [Edited to add: I finally wrote about Millet here.]

Don't forget your veggies. Cooking Light recommended steamed broccoli. I recommend a cabbage-carrot-corn salad with a splash of a simple vinaigrette.

And finally? I seriously advise you to try this. It's that good.

Red Lentil Dal with Caramelized Onions [printable recipe]

Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 4

  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 dried hot red chile pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 3 cups vegetable broth (chicken will work in a pinch if not vegetarian)
  • 1 cup dried small red lentils
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes, undrained

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a cast-iron skillet or non-stick skillet over moderate to low heat. Add the onion slices and cook slowly until caramelized, soft and brown. (This will take about 30 minutes. Cook the onions alongside the lentils.)

Toast mustard seeds, coriander seeds, caraway seeds and the clove in a small skillet over medium heat for about 90 seconds. Shake the pan frequently so the seeds don't burn. Combine the seed mixture with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and the dried, destemmed chile pepper in a coffee or spice grinder. Pulse until ground1.

In a medium pot, heat a tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add garlic and saute for about a minute. Add the lentils and the spice mixture, stirring well to combine and toast, about a minute. Add the tomatoes and broth, stir well and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat and keep it at a simmer for 30 minutes, stirring periodically. Uncover and add the caramelized onions. Cook for another 10 minutes uncovered.


  1. I had to shake my grinder to get it to grind all the way. When you're done, you should have a nice powder. Make sure you clean out the grinder well afterwards or use a dedicated grinder for spices -- I don't know what your coffee will taste like if you don't!