My Mama’s Red Lentils

Mama Jafri the formidable lady who brought me and my four other siblings into this world is a helluva cook. I don’t know how she does it – really I don’t, but that’s largely because she somehow manages to give me only half the ingredients in a recipe. Apparently if I want the full list then I should say something like “Mama, what should I put in it if I want it to be delicious?” She seems to think the standard assumption is that I am aiming for mediocrity.

Anyway, I digress, back to Mama J and her amazing cooking. She is not one for rules, more of the creative sort and to this day I have no idea when or where she got this particular recipe for daal (lentils) from, but it has become a family favourite and it is what I make on the days when I am feeling homesick. On some of those days it tastes exactly like moms.

This daal is characterized by an over the top tanginess which is a result of the double whammy of tomato paste and lemon. The garlic in it also adds a wonderful rich note. The best part is that it actually keeps very well, if anything it gets tastier.

Red Lentils (Masoor Daal)
Serves 4

1 cup Masoor Daal
1 ½ tsp Salt
1 tsp Red Chilli Powder
½ tsp Turmeric Powder
2 cloves garlic crushed
½ cup diced Onion
2-3 tablespoons Tomato Paste
½ cup Cilantro
3-4 green chillies
Juice of one lemon

For Tempering/the Baghaar:-
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3-4 dried whole red chillies
1 tsp Cumin seeds
3-4 Garlic cloves sliced
½ tsp onion seeds/ nigella/ kalonji (optional)
Can also add: 1 sprig of curry leaves


Okay so this is daal, pretty simple, no stress. Especially now that we all know what the ingredients are (sheesh Mom!).  So run your daal through a couple of changes of water to get rid of that white bubbly stuff. There’s a technical term for it – will figure it out one day. Then soak it for half an hour – makes the cooking a snap. Wash it through for a few more times and then we are a go.


Put in three cups of water and bring the lentils to a boil along with the onions, salt, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, and crushed garlic. Please note that we are holding off on the tomato paste. Reduce the heat, cover the pot with a lid and check on it in 20 minutes. When the daal is tender and cooked through then add the tomato paste, start with 2 if you want a milder tomato taste. Puree the daal with your blender of choice or if you chop the onions finely then you can skip this step entirely. Now taste. Need more salt? Add it. Could do with more chilli powder? Now is the time. Once you make the necessary adjustments turn the heat down to the lowest setting and add in your chopped cilantro.


The green chillies should also go in now, but put those in according to your spice tolerance. Want to make it kid friendly? Skip them entirely. If you are a pansy like me then put a few in whole; it will not make it that spicy, but will give it a lovely aroma. Feeling more adventurous? Slice 2 or 3 lengthwise and drop them in. Spice and you are besties? Finally slice 4.

Also don’t worry if it doesn’t taste too exciting just yet, the final bit of abracadabra has yet to happen and it changes everything.


So here goes: heat your oil in a frying pan, when it gets nice and hot then drop in the whole red chillies, cumin seeds, garlic slices, onion seeds, and curry leaves (if using). It will spatter so be careful, this is not the time to lean forward and poke at things. You may or may not end up minor burns. That may or may not have happened to me before. Once the garlic is golden brown pour the lovely mix in the pan over the lentils and shut the lid. Try not to freak out when you are pouring the baghaar in and stuff starts splattering all over, it means things are going well. Really. Turn the stove off, it is time to eat.


Daal is usually eating with plain boiled rice, you can eat it with roti or naan, and if you are like me and obsessed with yogurt/raita then you may have it over rice, but with a generous amount of yogurt/raita over top.


14 thoughts on “My Mama’s Red Lentils

  1. Dhal is total comfort food for me too. And love a good tangy dish, so would love to give your version a go. Best part is, having never tried Mama Jafri’s, I have nothing to compare it to!

  2. So yum! I usually find Daal very boring and dont care much for leftovers but this one was definitely different! I loved the tanginess from the tomato paste!

  3. Pingback: This Is Not My Mama’s Cooking | I Make Good Food

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