This vegan red lentil dal with coconut milk and spinach is comfort food at its best! I have simplified the recipe to make this flavor-packed dal easy to prepare. It’s a one pot dish and instead of a large spice-variety you’ll only need a few spices, which you’ll probably have at home anyways.
Coconut red lentil dal is such a satisfying lunch or dinner. It’s wholesome, flavorful, filling, healthy, naturally vegan, gluten free, creamy, and simply comforting.
Enjoyed with a bowl of rice and fluffy naan it’s one of my favorite meals ever. This coconut red lentil dal keeps well, can easily be reheated, is perfect for meal prep, and also freezes well.
Red lentils for quick dals
One of the advantages of red lentils, either split or whole, is that they cook up so quickly. Unlike brown and green lentils, which can take their time to soften.
I use whole red, dried lentils in this recipe with a cook time that is typically around 20 minutes. You can also use split red lentils (they are split in half), which usually cook faster. Check package instructions for the exact cooking time.
What is dal?
Dal refers mostly to lentils, that have been cooked into a soup or stew-like consistency. Dal is a staple meal in India and kind of the national dish. Depending on the region, dals vary in color, texture, consistency, and taste.
Dal can be made thick and creamy or thin and soupy, and with any kind of lentil and a great variety of spices. It can be yellow, orange, green, or brown, made with water, broth, dairy or coconut milk. But no matter how it’s made, I’ve never tried a dal that was not tasty.
Why to pick over lentils
Bean or lentil packages often tell you to ‘pick over’ before use. To pick over lentils means to sort out any debris like rocks, dirt, or leaves. Typically, machines sift out all the debris but sometimes a plant part or a little stone goes through (read more in this article).
I never took the packaging advice to ‘pick over’ serious because the lentils looked fine to me - until I bit on a small stone when eating homemade dal. I thought I chipped a tooth and it was more than an unpleasant experience.
Ever since then, I pick over lentils and beans carefully. And guess what? Occasionally, I find a small stone or other debris. It doesn’t occur often, but I prefer to sort through lentils before indeed chipping a tooth.
How to pick over lentils
I find it easiest to pick over dry lentils before rinsing them. I do this by measuring out the lentils needed, then pouring them onto a white plate in portions. I remove anything that doesn’t look like a lentil.
Once sorted through a portion, I transfer it to a fine mesh strainer. After going through all the lentils, I rinse them thoroughly.
Recipe Red Lentil Dal
Measure out all the spices needed to have them at hand.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet or large saucepan and cook the onions over medium-high heat for 5 minutes until golden, adding more oil if the pan looks dry.
Add the garlic and ginger, and cook for another 1 minute. Then stir in the spices.
Stir in tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and salt.
Add coconut milk, 1.5 cups (360 ml) water, and lentils. Let simmer, covered, until the lentils are soft, about 20-25 minutes. Stir occasionally and check, especially towards the end of the cooking time, to ensure there is enough liquid left. Add some water as needed.
At the end of the cooking time, the dal should be creamy. Taste and add additional salt if needed.
Turn off the stove and stir in the spinach. Serve with rice and naan. Yum!
If you make this red lentil dal, be sure to leave a comment and/or give this recipe a rating! I hope that you’ll love it as much as I do!
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Red Lentil Dal with Coconut Milk (One Pot)
- 1.5 cups red lentils, see note (1.5 cups equals 300 g)
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons chili powder (spice-blend)
- ½ teaspoon cayenne (optional, for some heat)
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 -inch (5 cm) thumb fresh ginger, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste (4 tablespoons = 60 g)
- 1 (14 oz/400 g) can diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 (14 oz/400 ml) can coconut milk
- 1 cup baby spinach, rinsed
- Basmati rice and naan
- Pick over lentils to make sure there are no stones and debris (explained above), then rinse thoroughly.
- Stir together garam masala, coriander, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne if using, in a mug or small bowl.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet or large saucepan and cook the onions over medium-high heat for 5 minutes until golden, adding more oil if the pan looks dry. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook for another 1 minute.
- Stir in spices, then tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and salt. Add coconut milk, 1.5 cups (360 ml) water, and lentils. Stir.
- Bring to a boil, then let the lentils simmer, covered, until soft, about 20-25 minutes. Stir occasionally and check, especially towards the end of the cooking time, to ensure there is enough liquid left. Add some water as needed. At the end of the cooking time, the dal should be creamy. Taste and add additional salt if needed.
- Turn off stove and stir in spinach. Serve dal with rice and naan.