LENTILS: Lemony Dal

Why lentils?

“The anticancer diet is principally composed of vegetables (and legumes) accompanied by olive (or canola or flaxseed) oil or organic butter, [by organic butter I think Dr. Servan-Schreiber means organic butter from grass-fed cows, which should have much less saturated fat than regular butter], garlic, herbs, and spices. Meat and eggs are optional. They don’t represent the main ingredients of the plate.” (Anti Cancer, page 119)

While cooking beans from scratch may seem complicated and time consuming, cooking lentils from scratch is easy and pretty quick. What’s more, when you cook a large pot of lentils, you can freeze some of it for use later.


This recipe is my version of Ismail Merchant’s, Nimbu Masoor Dal (Lemon Lentils), from his book, Passionate Meals, page 102. The Lemony Dal is smooth and lightly spiced with lemon and cinnamon and has just a little kick from the peppers. It goes well with just about anything you might serve!


¼ cup canola oil

2 medium onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

4 (2-inch) cinnamon sticks

  • I used Cassia cinnamon sticks when I first made this recipe since that’s all I had on hand. But the second time I made it I used the Celon cinnamon sticks I just bought at Penzey’s.
  • I’ve switched from cassia to Celon cinnamon because according what I just learned, Celon cinnamon contains practically no coumarin, but cassia cinnamon contains quite a lot l of this compound about which there are some health related concerns. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has a good FAQ about cinnamon. And, it should be noted that Germany has taken cassia cinnamon off the market in that country because of health related concerns.
  • In the US, packages of cinnamon sticks don’t always tell you whether they are cassia or Celon cinnamon. But you can tell the difference between cassia and Celon cinnamon sticks by looking at them. To see the difference, click here.
  • In the US, most of the ground cinnamon is cassia cinnamon but it doesn’t have to be labeled as cassia cinnamon. It can be labeled (and most often is labeled) as just “cinnamon.”  To be sure to get Celon cinnamon, you may have to shop at a good spice store where the particular varieties of cinnamon are clearly labeled.

2 pounds (4 cups) masoor dal (split red lentils), picked over for stray matter and then rinsed in cold water.

  • For information about masoor dal (and other lentils), including photos, see The Cook’s Thesaurus.
  • Masoor dal is available in international markets, Indian/Pakistani grocery stores, as well as natural foods stores.
  • I like the organic masoor dal (organic split red lentils) found in the bulk section of Whole Foods.
  • Note: Split red lentils turn lemon colored when cooked.

3 tablespoons peeled and chopped fresh ginger

4 cups filtered water

5 cups chicken broth

  • I used Better Than Bouillon Vegetarian No Chicken Base (a jar of paste for making “chicken” broth) available at Whole Foods.  The non-vegetarian version of this product is Better Than Bouillon Organic Chicken Base.
  • The culinary experts who did the taste testing for the new book, America’s Test Kitchen – Cooking for Two 2009, chose Swanson Certified Organic Free Range Chicken Broth as their number one pick. Apparently, it comes in 32-ounce brick-pack containers.

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne (red) pepper

  • This small quantity of red pepper adds just a little heat – so you know it’s there but it doesn’t bite you.

1 organic lemon

  • Since the lemon, including the peel, is included in this recipe, I highly recommend organic lemons.
  • Note: If you can’t buy just one organic lemon and you have to buy a bag of lemons, that’s OK. With the extra lemons you can:
    • Make Monamifood Zesty Citrus Flavor Cubes.
    • Put some aside for later. Rinse the extra whole lemons and freeze them. To defrost, put the frozen lemon into the microwave — on the defrost setting (50% power) — for about 1 ½ to 2 minutes.

1 Monamifood Smooth and Mild Garlic Flavor Cube

4 bay leaves

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

1 fresh Serrano pepper, including seeds, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste if desired

Fresh chopped cilantro


Heat the canola oil in a large, deep pot over medium-low heat. When hot, add the sliced onions and cook, stirring a few times, until they soften.

Add the cinnamon sticks, masoor dal (split red lentils), and ginger to the pan. Stir to mix.

Add the water, chicken broth (or “chicken” broth), and red pepper; bring to a boil and then reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Squeeze the juice from the lemon and discard the seeds. Add the lemon juice, shell of the lemon, Smooth and Mild Garlic Flavor Cube, and the bay leaves to the lentil mixture; stir to mix until the Garlic Flavor Cube has dissolved; simmer gently uncovered for 15 minutes more, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pot with a flat edged spoon or spatula. (Note: If the dal starts to stick to the bottom of the pot, just add a little more water and stir.)

After 15 minutes of simmering, remove the pot from the heat. Remove the bay leaves, lemon shells, and cinnamon sticks; discard these items.

While the dal is simmering, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the chopped onion and Serrano pepper. Cook, stirring until the onion starts to brown. Add this mixture, including the oil, to the lentils; stir to mix.

Taste and add salt and black pepper, if desired.

Note: If the dal appears a little soupy, let it simmer a little longer to evaporate some of the liquid. Or, just serve it a little soupy the first time, knowing that it will get a little firmer after it cools and gets reheated.

Sprinkle with chopped cilantro right before serving.

To freeze for use later

  • I find it very convenient to freeze this dal in the regular-size (not the mini size) silicon muffin pan. When frozen, the dal “muffins” can easily be popped out of the muffin pan and placed into a plastic bag (the kind for the freezer), so you can use them anytime.

A few ways to incorporate this dal in a delicious light meal

Note: These meals freeze well so they’re great for taking to work and heating up for lunch.

I hope you enjoy this dal as much as we do. And…if you find some new and interesting ways to serve it (under, over, or with something else), please let me know. Thanks!

Enjoy and be healthy!



One thought on “LENTILS: Lemony Dal

Hey, what have you got to say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s