Tarka Dhal (Lentils with Shallots)

I love lentils–that’s no secret. However, after buying some funky colored red lentils at an Indian grocery store in Delaware, I forgetfully proceeded not to make them. For three and a half years. But my husband’s persistent reminders to me to use what we already have in our pantry coupled with a sighting of  this recipe on Tasty Kitchen moved me to finally correct my error. I cooked them up. And they are so good!

Red lentils are very different than the French green lentils or regular brown lentils I usually work with–after an hour of cooking, they kind of dissolve into a mush, with the consistency of porridge and a flavor not unlike that of mashed potatoes. With the addition of spices and shallots, this dish gets loaded up with flavor, and it is a serious winner. I love everything about this dish–the spices; the polenta-like consistency and texture; the fresh tomatoes; the bright colors. Thankfully I still have plenty of red lentils left, because a second batch is already coming due.


(Serves 3-4)

1 cup red lentils
3 ½ cups water
1 TBS vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 shallots
4 green onions
2 cloves garlic
1 hot chili pepper (any kind)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
2 Roma tomatoes
1 tsp salt
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves

First: gaze upon the beautiful color of these lentils.

Ask them: why have you been sitting in the pantry for 3.5 years, my darlings?

Combine the lentils and water in a pot, and bring ’em to a boil over medium high heat. Skim off the froth with a spoon . . .

. . . turn the heat down to medium, and cook uncovered for 10 minutes. After those 10 minutes, the bright funky orange will be on its way out, and a mild yellow will be on its way in.

Cover the pot . . .

. . . turn down the heat to low, and continue cooking the lentils for 40 minutes, stirring every 7-8 minutes so that they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. The lentils will slowly gain the consistency of a puree.

And now to prepare the flavorful part of this dish!

Mince the shallots, green onions, chili pepper, and garlic.

Dice up the tomato . . .

. . . and measure out the spices. Chop up the cilantro, too. Put all the ingredients into little bowls, ready to go by the stove. Once you start cooking this part, it all happens so fast that you won’t have time to dice or measure anything.

Ten minutes before the lentils are done cooking, they look something like this:

Getting thicker by the minte, and almost done! Which means it’s time to cook up the final components. Heat the oil, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds in a pan over medium heat.

You’ll notice I lacked cumin seeds–but I compensated by adding extra cumin powder later. When the mustard seeds start popping, add the shallots, garlic, green onions, and hot pepper to the skillet.

Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the ground cumin and turmeric, and stir to combine.

Add the tomatoes . . .

. . . and cook for about 40 seconds (no more than 1 minute), so that the tomato heats through.

Add the veggie/spice mixture to the lentils, and stir to combine.

Now it’s time to add salt to taste. I probably used about 1 tsp, but everyone’s taste buds are unique, so grab a spoon and taste until you get it right!

Ta daa! Now stir in the cilantro off the heat, and we’re done.

Serve over rice!

It’s such a delicious dish–and healthy to boot!

I love it when delicious and healthy converge. Can I hear a ‘heck yeah’ from my vegan friends out there?

Plus, I think the dish is beautiful. I was afraid of a mushy pile that would resist the lens–but my camera loved the beautiful yellow of the lentils and turmeric, and the hints of red tomato and green cilantro and onions. I couldn’t stop photographing it . . . until a certain young man grabbed the bowl out from underneath my lens and transported it to the table.

C’mon! Let’s eat!

Poor guy. He never banked on having a photo-obsessed blogger for a wife.

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20 thoughts on “Tarka Dhal (Lentils with Shallots)

  1. Heidi

    It looks amazing!
    How ’bout you come and make some for meeeee??? chopchp?
    I’m sure the little guy would love it too. Just let us know when to pick you up from the airport… we’ll even get the ingredients for you, and have them nice and ready to go!
    Now that’s a deal!

    1. Jenna Post author

      Oh Heidi, you KNOW how much I’d love to zoom up North and spend more time with you and the little guy! Plus, it’s mushy enough for a lil’ James.

  2. Tracy

    Oooh, this looks lovely! I’ll have to grab a bag of red lentils the next time I’m at the store so I can make this! Love all of your Indian recipes!

  3. Veronica Miller

    I’ve noticed you have an ecclectic mix of spice containers and I suddenly really want to see your spice shelf(ves)! I love that you repurpose old jars and bottles for spices–very thrifty! This tarka dhal looks SO good. I don’t love lentils but the one time I cooked red ones, I loved them lots. I think they are milder and not so lentil-y in flavor.

  4. Food Jaunts

    I feel your pain. I’ll admit that I have a bag of red lentils sitting in my pantry that have been there for probably about a year *cringe*. I may just have to get them out and make this recipe though, it looks delicious

  5. Kelly

    Do you know how excited I am that you did a post on red lentils???? I tried to substitute them the other night in your other lentil dish (that I call the nine-ingredient wunderdish, but I can’t remember it’s official name) and they were nothin’ short of a HOT MESS! I finally had to throw the contents of the pot away and start over with green lentils (lentils are a staple in my kitchen). I still have the remnants of red lentil froth in my burner! Ha! I CANNOT WAIT to try this! Yay!!!!

    1. Jenna Post author

      Oh, I’m sorry about the lentil disaster! Yes, red ones (I didn’t know this before I made ’em) are SO different than green or brown ones. I hope you love this recipe!


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