dal nirvana

$3.39 recipe / $0.57

Things are a little tight this month so I made a resolution to use up all (or a lot) of the food that I have in my pantry and freezer. Sure, I should always be doing this anyway but exciting recipes always seem to entice me into trying (and buying) new things.

Anyway, I have two huge bags of lentils (a.k.a. “dal”) sitting in my pantry that have been waiting for their day in the spot light. I saw this recipe for Dal Nirvana over on Steamy Kitchen and it looked so scrumptious that I had to try it. The best part is that the ingredient list is mostly items that I already have. Indian recipes are tricky because they usually include ingredients that I don’t have nor have I ever heard of! This recipe, on the other hand is different. It’s simple, it’s delicious, it’s super filling and I’d happily eat it every day.

I served the Dal with some simple, steamed jasmine rice and homemade naan (Indian flat bread). The recipe for the naan will be up in a couple of days… it turned out AMAZING!

Dal Nirvana

Dal Nirvana

5.0 from 4 reviews

dal nirvana
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Total Cost: $3.39
Cost Per Serving: $0.57
Serves: 6
  • 1 cup dry brown lentils $0.31
  • 1 can (15 oz.) crushed or diced tomatoes $1.49
  • 2 cloves garlic $0.12
  • 1 inch fresh ginger $0.07
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper $0.03
  • ½ tsp cumin $0.03
  • 2 Tbsp butter $0.17
  • to taste salt and pepper $0.05
  • ½ cup evaporated milk or cream $0.75
  • ¼ bunch fresh cilantro $0.37
  1. Place the lentils in a pot and cover with a couple inches of water. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil until tender (about ten minutes). Drain the lentils in a colander.
  2. While the lentils are boiling, mince the garlic and peel and grate the ginger (use a small cheese grater). Return the drained lentils to the pot (medium heat) and add the butter, ginger, garlic, cayenne, salt and pepper.
  3. Add the can of tomatoes and one cup of water. Stir it all together, bring it to a simmer then reduce the heat to low. Put a lid on the pot and let it simmer for half an hour. The mixture should be soft and thick after a half hour. If it is not, continue to simmer, adding more water if it dries out. You want the end product to be thick, not watery.
  4. Stir in the evaporated milk or cream and garnish with fresh, chopped cilantro. Serve over rice or with naan bread for dipping!


Dal Nirvana

Step By Step Photos

brown lentilsI have this huge bag of brown lentils so that is what I used. Black lentils were used in the Steamy Kitchen recipe so feel free to experiment.

add waterPlace the lentils in a pot and cover with two inches of water.

boil lentilsBring the pot to a boil over high heat. Boil until the lentils are soft (about ten minutes).

ginger and garlicWhile the lentils boil, mince the garlic, peel and grate the ginger.

drain lentilsDrain the lentils then return them to the pot (reduce heat to medium).

add butter and spicesAdd the butter, garlic, ginger, cayenne, salt and pepper. Stir it on up.

add tomatoesAdd the can of crushed or diced tomatoes, one cup of water and stir it all together.

simmerSimmer the mixture with a lid on until it is cooked down to a soft, thick mixture.

add creamAdd the evaporated milk or cream…

finishedStir it up, sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve it up!

Dal NirvanaNOTE: I’m sure you could make this recipe for less money than I did. I happened to be near a Whole Foods yesterday so I stopped there to pick up the few ingredients that I didn’t have (cilantro, ginger, cream and diced tomatoes). I may have paid a little more than usual but this recipe is so simple and inexpensive that it was still well worth it.

The Steamy Kitchen version says it serves four but I portioned out my lunches and got six servings out of the pot. Of course, I was serving the Dal with rice and naan which bulked up the meal as a whole.


  1. This is awesome! I have green and red lentils in my pantry. The green lentils I use in soup, I never know what to do with the red lentils. Could I use those in this recipe too?

    • Desrio says:

      Red lentils cook very quickly and will make you r dahl soup-like rather than stew-like. Personally, I would stick with the brown or green varieties for this recipe. If you want to use up your red lentils just type ‘Madhur Jaffrey dahl’ into your search engine. She has a great recipe for a red lentil dahl with ginger and lemon. I’m sure you would find it somewhere.

  2. Anonymous says:

    to taste salt and pepper $0.05

    that’s some expensive salt.

  3. I always do salt, pepper and most spices as five cents because the quantities are too small to calculate and I’d have to weigh what I use to calculate it accurately. I don’t feel like weighing a quarter teaspoon of this and that so I just round up to five cents. I haven’t encountered anything else that I couldn’t quickly calculate the portion cost from what’s listed on the label.

  4. Keep the Indian recipes coming – I’m excited to try this out, not to mention homemade naan!

  5. Oh, this looks wonderful! I accidentally ended up with a couple of bags of lentils, and I’ve never cooked Indian food before so I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with them. This looks fairly simple, tasty, and (obviously) cheap. I’m looking forward to seeing your naan recipe.

  6. This looks divine. I love dal and you have pointed out one of it’s great benefit, it’s cheap! Did you make the naan yourself? Think how cheap that would be! (I have a recipe for ‘easy naan’ if you’re interested. http://www.womanvfood.com/2010/02/ridiculously-easy-naan.html

  7. Melly, I would try the red lentils! I’ve only used red in soup but I can’t imagine them being bad. I think they tend to be softer than other varieties which means the end result will be a bit more paste like… but I bet it will still taste divine!

    Jennifer, thanks for the recipe!! I actually already made some naan with a different recipe (will be posted tomorrow) but it’s always good to have a variety of recipes to work with!

  8. This is too funny. I had marked and printed the exact same recipe for dal! I can’t wait to try it out.

  9. I am currently simmering a pot of this on my stove. No cream or cilantro yet, but so far it is delicious! Very simple recipe and easy to follow. My mother always made lentils and spaghetti for us growing up (one of my favorite childhood dinners) but this is the first time I personally have cooked lentils or Indian food! Thanks Beth!

  10. I’m so glad I found your blog, I’m going to be transforming back into a “starving student” again soon and I was looking for frugal cooking sites! I thought it would be really hard to transition since I’m used to having a heftier food budget, but your ideas are quite inspiring! Wonderful! I’m going to try this recipe for sure.

  11. Thanks for this recipe beth.
    Being an Indian this is one of the food I like to cook if I have short time to cook. You could make it many ways. In India there is a tradition of frying the spices (and then onion garlic ginger etc) on oil for a minute or so and the then adding the dal. It enhances the flavor.

    You could also use cumin (approx 1/2-1 teaspoon for each 100gms of dry dal) also in the beginning (and skip the garlic if you want) to get even more authentic Indian flavor.

    If you like your recipes, you might like other variations too.

  12. I invited two friends over for dinner last night and we ate every bit of it. The whole pot is gone! Saikat, i like the idea of variations, and I also like to fry my spices before adding whatever I’m cooking. Thanks for the great tips!

  13. Any ideas for dairy-free substitutes for the cream? I’d try soy creamer, but I’m not sure if it’d be too sweet, or whatever.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I made this Saturday after seeing it on Steamy Kitchen and it was pretty good and pretty easy. I did add some Curry as the recipe does not call for it and it added that much needed Indian-inspired pizzaz. My hubby agreed. It was good and nutritious. We made it with the same naan recipe you used as well. Yummo!!!! Too funny!

  15. Anonymous says:

    This is a silly question but I’m a novice cook. The ‘cream’ used in the recipe. Is that heavy cream or whipping cream?

  16. That’s not a silly question! I was planning on including a tid bit about that but forgot… I used half and half because I had some for my coffee anyway. You can use any kind of cream, the heavier you use, the creamier the dish will be :)

  17. I am making this today lady. I can’t wait!

  18. Made this today and it came out great. Much better than a recipe I was using from a vegetarian cookbook. Thanks so much for posting this and keep up the awesome work on this blog!

  19. I made this for my vegetarian fiancé today, and she LOVED it! I took saikat’s advice and used less garlic, but added cumin, coriander and curry for a more ‘authentic’ flavor. Luckily for me, it turned out well. I might try soaking the lentils next time, but overall a great recipe-keep up the great work!

  20. Anonymous says:

    I make a recipe similar to this at least once per month, it’s an excellent meal for very little outlay =)

    But one thing I must stress: ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS check your lentils for any small stones first! It’s not uncommon for small stones and/or grit to find their way into dried lentils, so unless you have a crush on your dentist it’s wise to take a few seconds to inspect your lentils before you begin.

    Sam (Glasgow)

  21. Tara S. says:

    Beth, I have a question. How do you store left over ginger and garlic?
    I’ve never bought ginger before, so this will be my first time and I have no idea how to store it once I’ve used some of it.
    And with garlic, I never know the best way to store a bulb once I’ve opened it up and taken out some of it’s cloves.
    Would love your input.

  22. Well, I store my garlic just sitting on the counter top at room temperature. Leave any extra papery peel on the bulb. I find that it stays fresh for about two weeks, during which time I’ll use at least 2/3 of it. Since one bulb only costs me about 25 cents, if I end up having to throw some away, I really don’t lose much.

    You can store ginger in the freezer although I usually don’t end up resorting to that. At the store you can break off a piece as big or small as you’d like so I usually just get a knob about 1 inch long. That usually only costs me about 15 to 30 cents so again, if I don’t use the whole piece I only lose a few cents.

    Hope that helped!

    • Caitlyn says:

      I never knew you could break off a piece of ginger! I never buy ginger because I can never fathom using much before it goes bad. Mind blown. Thank you!!

  23. Sonia says:

    This was delicious! I made it last week and it turned out great. One question though – I had to buy cream just for this recipe and ended up with a whole lot left over. Would I be able to substitute yogurt instead? And if so, what kind should I use (Greek or regular) and how much? Thank you!

  24. Hmm, using yogurt would be interesting! I haven’t tried it so I can’t say for sure but it sounds like it would add a nice tang (and I love tang)! I would use greek, full fat. Let me know how it turns out if you try it!

  25. Anonymous says:

    Hi there!

    A friend of mine in PA, just sent me the link for your site this morning(we are in Ontario, Canada), and I have to say I am delighted to have already made the Dal Nirvana. Plus purchasing the ingredients for the raspberry oat bars(for co-workers) and the English muffins(but I will have to use a gluten free flour blend, but I can just tell they will still be fantastic)

    So first off, your site is fantastic and I am already planning next weeks grocery shop around its recipes. Second, the above recipe was amazing, it needs no adjustments, it is subtle, flavourful and comforting to smell and eat. It felt like an indulgence ;-)

    I have to eat gluten free for health reasons, which was another reason this was such an appealing recipe.

    Please dear, keep up the good work, keep creating, and my only wish is that I had found this site sooner.

  26. I’ll make this in the next couple days with the yogurt and let y’all know how it is.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I actually tried it with nonfat Greek yogurt. I can’t tell if the yogurt kinda curdled or cooked! lol But either way it tasted great!

  28. Hi! I just wanted to say that I have now made several of your recipes, and they are all good. I’ve made this three times for my family, and we — including my two-year- old — love it. I think it’s something about the butter… :)

  29. I think I’ll try to veganise this using my Earth Balance butter and Silk Soy Creamer….looks good!

  30. I used 2% greek yogurt and stirred it in after I removed the dal from the heat. It was wonderful and the recipe has moved into my regular rotation.

  31. Anonymous says:

    If you are trying to make it vegan or eliminate the cream I would suggest trying cashew cream. It is a recipe from the cookbook Conscious Cook. You rinse and soak 2 cups of raw cashews overnight, drain the water, put them in a blender and add enough water to cover them, blend, and it stores in an airtight container for 2-3 weeks in the fridge.

  32. Delish recipe…I’ve made it a few times now and find that it freezes really well, too.

  33. I get sooo excited whenever I visit ur blog =) ahaha
    I bookmark pretty much all ur recipes to make in future =) I’ve made a lot of them nd LOVED THEM :D

    thanks :)

  34. made this the other night and it was amazing!! I doubled the recipe (’cause if I’m gonna go to all the work, why not?) and was planning on freezing half, but only one small container ever made it to the freezer :) love how versatile it is too. I added half an onion and two grated carrots to it and used greek yogurt instead of cream. I’m still dreaming of it. might have to make more this weekend!

  35. Anonymous says:

    Made this a while ago, minus the cream (I didn’t have any) and ate it with Beth’s yellow rice. Fantastic! It also freezes really well, which is great, since this recipe made quite a bit of food for someone who lives alone. Thanks for the recipe.

  36. This was so good! The only thing I did differently was use greek yogurt instead of cream, and use less ginger because I’m not a fa of ginger. I also used 2 cups lentils because “1 seems so small, I’m not sure if it would feed all of us!” Um, 1 cup would of been plenty LOL. I have so many lentils leftover for lunch now, good thing I loved it! Even my 2 year old liked it.

  37. Anonymous says:

    For those wanting to substitute for the cream, you can use coconut milk.

  38. I made this last night and it was so delicious.

  39. I cooked this up last night along with your yellow jasmine rice & made up work lunches – it is absolutely delicious! Was also really easy to make, first time preparing dried lentils for me so was very satisfied!

  40. Anonymous says:

    YUM! I added the cumin as suggested (how can i pass up suggestions on an indian dish by an indian cook?) and, as i didn’t have cream or yogurt and couldn’t live another day without trying this recipe, stirred in sour cream at the end. It was great! The lentils took a bit longer than i expected but perhaps are old-ish.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Delish!! Thanks for the recipe. I cut the cayenne in half and used roasted tomatoes.

  42. Anonymous says:

    I was soooo eager to try this! As per usual, I went grocery shopping without a list and forgot to buy canned tomatoes. Not to be detered, here’s what I did: I subbed the tomatoes for tomato paste diluted in broth (1 cup). I also added a big minced onion (wanted some texture), and changed the spice as I didn’t have fresh ginger nor chili and my garlic was looking very stale: 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp tumeric, 1 tsp garam masala, 1/2 teaspoon of mustard powder, 1/2 ground coriander/cilantro, 1/2 ground clove.
    The result is delightful, but in retrospect, I wish I had used less tomato paste, cuz my dahl came up kinda sweet.
    ALL THAT TO SAY: I really like this website, it inspires me to cook more, for less so i can spend more money on other stuff like books :)

  43. K. Kirkpatrick says:

    Really great! Even my husband (who doesn’t consider it a meal if there’s not any meat involved) thought this was a very hearty and satisfying dinner. Thank you :)

  44. Melly – I used 3/4 c of green lentils, and 1/4 c of red lentils. The red mostly disintegrate and become part of the sauce.

    I also used coconut milk instead of cream, and it turned out delicious.

    Thanks for a great recipe!

  45. I’m enjoying the dal right now. Thank you for an incredible collection of delicious, but budget conscious recipes. Your website is the first place I go when menu planning for the week. I also appreciate the variety.

  46. I also made this one a few weeks back, along with your naan. Delish!

  47. Anonymous says:

    Hahaha! I poured the whole carton of cream (a cup) into the Dal I guess I got distracted, tasted good but had a funny looking color (pinkisk) Lol

  48. Anonymous says:

    this is my first time cooking with ginger and man were the flavors goooood! i didn’t use any cream but will next time. Thanks again for this awesome recipes.

  49. Anonymous says:

    This is so amazing! It’s so easy and tastes so good. We’ve made it four times in the last couple of weeks. Fyi I’ve used ground ginger (that’s all I had on hand) and it still tasted wonderful. Thanks you for this wonderful recipe.

  50. Aelia Morris says:

    I have tried it many times and my family loves it! This time I left the lentils half-cooked when boiling, and I fried the spices, ginger and garlic in the butter for a minute or 2 before adding lentils, then i poured in a cup of chicken broth along with tomatoes. It came out so yummy! thank you for this recipe!

  51. Revisiting this recipe and noticed the ingredients list calls for evaporated milk, but everywhere else in the recipe it says cream. I’m pretty sure the last time I made this, it called for heavy cream, not evaporated milk. Am I crazy?

  52. Gina – Hahah, no, that’s my mistake. I originally used cream, but have since been using evaporated milk. Looks like I did a sloppy update job :P

  53. Hehe okay! You find that evaporated milk tastes better?

  54. Nah, I mean, you can’t beat cream… but the evaporated milk is definitely less guilt inducing. I was surprised at how good it was in the indian style creamed spinach, so I tried it here too. Loved it!

  55. Just wanted to let everyone know: I made this for dinner last night and forgot to add the cream, and it was still amazing! I didn’t even realize I forgot the cream until I was lying down for bed! This is one of my favorite dinners to make because it tastes fancy but is so simple and cheap. I also made your naan recipe to go with it. It was my first attempt at naan and it could not have turned out better! I was surprised at how much I could taste the yogurt! I guess what I’m trying to say is MAKE THIS and MAKE THE NAAN!!!!!

  56. Anonymous says:

    This is DELICIOUS!!!!!!!! Thanks so much!!! added the sauted onions as someone suggested… REALLY REALLY GOOD!! Thanks!!!!

  57. Katie says:

    How could I modify this so I could use my crockpot? I am sure it is probably an obvious fix but I am crock pot newbie.. please help! I really want to try this recipe out :)

  58. Katie – I’m not sure if this one could be modified to work in the slow cooker (at least not without me doing a lot of experimentation) because of the fact that the lentils have to be cooked in water first and then the water is discarded.

  59. I wanted to make this but I’m counting my calories this month… so I did the research. One serving (w/ heavy cream) is about 175 calories, 18g carbs, 11g fat, 8g protein. Not nearly as bad-for-you as I thought! :) I’m going to give it a try. Love dal. Thank you!

  60. Erin says:

    Hi Beth, This recipe looks great and I can’t wait to try it tonight. I noticed in the picture of the ginger and garlic that there was a peeler. Did you use this for the ginger? Have you ever tried to peel ginger with a tea spoon edge? It is a super easy an effective way to remove the skin and very little of the ‘good stuff’. Just thought I’d share. Thanks for sharing all of your great recipes! I had the golden rice bowls last night and they are such a quick and easy dinner. I use my rice maker and it is even easier!

    Thanks again!!


    • Yep, someone clued me in to the spoon trick a while back! Super convenient, especially if you don’t have a peeler. I tend to think the peeler is faster and easier, so I still do that :) I often mention the spoon trick in posts, though, for those who want to try it.

  61. Molly says:

    Just made this tonight. Amazing! Only thing I changed was adding 1/4 tsp garam masala powder. Served it with naan and steamed cauliflower. Thanks!

  62. Joanne says:

    Wow, made it this past week and it was incredible! We used red lentils. The recipes states 6 servings but how many cups is each serving approximately? We were too ravenous and between the two of us gobbled down everything.

    • I don’t remember off hand (I think that bit of data didn’t get transmitted to the new format when I moved pages), but it was probably around 3/4c to 1 cup per serving. If you don’t serve it with rice and other sides, then you’ll definitely eat more :)

  63. Amelia says:

    Hi! I really love this recipe but the times I’ve made it, it takes much longer than 30 minutes for the lentils/tomatoes/water to cook down! What’s up with that? I leave it around 3 on my burner and its bubbling so it’s plenty hot… Any tips? It’s just a little annoying to have it simmer for an hour+!

    Thanks :)

    • It sounds like you may be using French or green lentils. That variety takes 45+ minutes to cook. The trouble is that the packages aren’t always labeled with the same names, so it can be tough to know which kind you have. Look for “brown” lentils and if it doesn’t have a specific variety listed, check the cooking instructions on the package to see if it says to simmer for 20-25 minutes or closer to 45 minutes. I hope that helps! :)

  64. Dawn says:

    I have to wonder if the lentil cooking water really does need discarded. Going to research this – am sure other lentil soups don’t require that? Actually, i’m going to make a non-drained, double batch in the crockpot!

  65. Rabia says:

    The cooking water doesn’t need to be discarded at all! We never throw the water away when we make daal (I’m Pakistani, but obviously our food is Indian in origin). And if you keep the water, then you can easily make this a slow cooker recipe (crock pot daal is amazing btw!).

    We rinse it very well, then soak it for 20-30 min prior to cooking- so that it cooks faster. Add it to a pot with water, add salt, 1/4 tsp turmeric, 1/4 tsp red chili powder, and 1/2 a chopped tomato. Bring it to a boil, then simmer until it’s tender. Separately fry a small, thinly sliced onion and 1 thinly sliced clove of garlic until golden brown, then add in 1/4 tsp of cumin seeds 30 seconds before the onion-garlic mixture is done…pour this over the daal and mix it well. Add some butter and some cream to the daal, garnish w/ chopped cilantro and you’re done! This is basically daal makhani, since you added butter and cream to it. Regular daal is made w/o those last 2 ingredients added.

  66. Cherie M says:

    This was super easy and delicious. I used red lentils since they were on hand and just used 1% milk in my fridge. Still very flavorful, creamy and smooth. The red lentils make the dish quite a bit brighter visually. Had it with garlic naan and a stir fry of veggies, cinnamon, cloves and pepper. Great dish, healthy and inexpensive.

  67. Cameron says:


    I’m super excited to make this and just want to make sure that I get it right and make enough! How much salt did you end up using in your recipe? How big would you consider a serving to be? Thanks!

    • It was probably about a cup of lentils per serving. I didn’t measure the salt, I just sprinkled some on, stirred it, tasted, then added more if needed. So just start with a dash and taste to see if you want more. :)

  68. Shannah says:

    This recipe is amazing! So delicious, simple to prepare and can be made in under an hour. Today I ran out of rice/naan so I ate it with cottage cheese and even though I don’t like cottage cheese, I do when it’s with this dish!

  69. Rachel R. says:

    This is one of my favorite recipes, ever. I make it, like, twice a month. So good, so cheap, so easy – thank you!

  70. Margaret Watson says:

    Dahl is actually a favourite comfort food in this family – we have it for a mother’s treat with home made chappattis, mint and cucumber raita, and mango chutney – the later is considered essential by one member of this family.

  71. Cherie M says:

    This was a surprisingly filling dish. I used red lentils, as that is what was on hand, and served with a little rice, garlic naan and some stirfried veggies. It was a huge hit, and the spices were spot on.

  72. Becca says:

    I was wondering if anyone had experience with the Trader Joes Coconut Milk “beverage”.. which I bought last night when preparing to make this dish only to realize when I got home, that it said beverage and not milk. I do not want it to ruin the recipe if it is not thick enough/too sweet. Would it be better at this point to go for not using any “creamy” component at all or shall I try the mystery “milk beverage”. HELP PLEASE, I have to serve dinner in 4 hrs :)

    • Sorry I didn’t get to your comment on time, Becca! I’m honestly not sure what I would have done in that situation. The coconut beverage is much more watery than regular coconut milk, so I think maybe I would have just skipped it and had the dish be a regular curry lentil instead. :P

      • Becca says:

        ya.. i skipped it, and yet the lentils still came out watery..it was my first try though and i love lentils so ill keep trying. i made last month Asian cuisine month and cooked several of your recipes and me and my man LOVED them…. my first “go” at Indian food March was not so good. I made the tandoori bites and think I cut the chunks too thin and the meat was overcooked. Also, before I flipped them over, I noticed there was sauce that was prob from left over yogurt… is that normal to see that liquid? Then I tried to use brown jasmine rice to be healthier for the “yellow rice” and the rice was a bit too aldente…haha… do you have a recommendation for any lentil dishes that do NOT use tomato? I am sensitive to acidity and I would love any suggestions on that end.

        • Hmm, I don’t remember any sauce/liquid under the tandoori bites, but chicken does usually release some moisture as it cooks (as protein fibers contract, they squeeze out water), so it could be that. And yeah, you definitely want to use white jasmine rice for the yellow rice. :) Maybe you could try this lentil recipe? It’s a lot like the yellow rice, but with lentils instead… but it needs the coconut milk again. :)

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