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

4.8 from 18 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, cumin, 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, cumin, 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. kerry says:

    This is a simple delicious and healthy recipe. I made today to go with some leftover rice I had from my indian takeout last night. I used red lentils and coconut milk as I didn’t have any heavy cream and it turned out great. Thanks so much!

  2. James says:

    This recipe was outrageously delicious! It took a bit longer to cook down the water than I thought, but totally worth the wait.

  3. Theresa says:

    This was SO good! I will be making this recipe over and over again. Thank you!

  4. emma says:

    I made this tonight its lovely! I added some cumun seeds, garam masala as well as sautéed onions. Its got such a full flavour with much more bite than i expected! Love it

  5. Carol Cross says:

    Hi, I’m making this right now! Very excited and encouraged to read other’s reviews of this recipe. I did not have all the ingredients, so improvising a little.
    Didn’t have canned tomatoes and not enough fresh, so I used my dried tomatoes and some sauce left over.
    I’m simmering right now, and my rice I changed up to brown rice, with some curry. (Didn’t have enough of the jasmine in my pantry) The rice is almost done and so are the lentils.
    I do juicing, so I had some fresh “pulp” in the fridge from this morning, so I added some to the lentil mixture, to add some veggie flavors and some extra thickness.
    I pre-tasted and I am excited!
    When I have all of the right ingredients for this recipe, I would like to try it as it should be…but I really wanted to try it. My husband is mostly vegetarian, so we do have lentils around, etc. He just got home and said it really smells good, and he will wait for it! :)
    Thank you ~

  6. Bronlyn says:

    I started making this and then realized that I was missing a couple rather key ingredients, however it still tasted great! I used tomato sauce in place of the diced tomatoes and i didn’t use and cream or replacement. It still disappeared from the freezer very quickly!

  7. Amy b says:

    We love this and make it often. You can easily make it in the slow cooker. Just throw everything in (lentils uncooked) with water indicated on lentil package and set on high for about 3-4 hours. So easy and yummy. The lentils get all creamy this way!

  8. I love this recipe! Mine comes out a lot more orange than the picture. It still tastes great, but do you have any idea why that might be?

  9. Can you use tomato puree instead of diced or crushed tomatoes? what about using ground ginger & ground garlic stead of fresh?

    • Yes, puréed tomatoes would also work. Ground ginger does taste quite different than fresh ginger, but I’m sure it would still be tasty.

  10. Carrie says:

    Hi I love
    Your blog!! I have been cooking up a storm thanks to you. I made this recipe only change was I added in some diced red onion, carrot and red bell pepper! So delicious thank you thank you thank you

  11. Kelly says:

    Can you sub ground ginger for the fresh?

    • Yes, but the flavor is slightly different than fresh ginger. You can try about a half teaspoon.

      • Kelly says:

        Thanks for the super quick reply! I’ve made this before with fresh ginger I just dont want to run to the store and that’s my only missing ingredient. I’ll try ground instead

  12. Dove Dunham says:

    I made this last night and really loved it. I did add a small amount of curry and garam masala. The only change I want to try is to use coconut milk instead of cream.

  13. Yum! I made this tonight and modified the recipe just slightly, adding a little extra cayenne and about 1/4 tsp of curry powder. The result was delicious–wonderfully earthy, yet warm and pleasantly spiced.

    I didn’t have any naan, but had two packages of bakery-outlet pita in the freezer, so I broiled a pita instead. For veggies, I sauteed up some spinach, which fit alongside the rice, pita, and lentils just marvelously!

  14. Tommy Jensen says:

    If I wanted to make this in a slow cooker, what times would you recommend? I was thinking maybe 4 hours on high or 7-8 on low?

    • I think those times/heat levels sound about right, although I don’t know how the evaporated milk will do in the slow cooker. Maybe try adding it at the very end. Also, you’ll still have to cook the lentils separate so that the cooking water can be drained off.

  15. This was so yummy but it lacked something so I added about 2 tsp or so garam masala and a bit more cumin and it did the trick! I also added some potato starch to thicken it up some more. I made this tonight with the Indian style creamed spinach, tandoori bites and naan bread…the whole dinner was spectacular! Thanks beth for such amazing recipes!

  16. OMG. We made this for dinner tonight, along with your naan recipe – seriously amazing. We added a healthy portion of curry powder and garam masala as another reviewer suggested, too. We just moved to an area with no indian restaurant probably within a 1.5 hour radius, and this really hit the spot. We’re first time naan makers too, and they turned out perfect, even though we made the dough this afternoon and let it sit in the fridge until dinner.

  17. Maggie says:

    I’ve made this twice- the first time I failed miserably attempting to make this with red lentils (big mistake!). Last night I used french green lentils (because that’s what I had on hand, and I was feeling experimental), and it turned out pretty okay… not as excellent as the picture, but good enough. I like this dal, but it is a bit spicy. I definitely need to track down some brown lentils, and maybe reduce the cayenne just a bit.

    • Michele says:

      Red or brown lentils should work fine. Green lentils don’t break down much so they are better in soups. Whenever I have made dahl with green lentils it’s very dry.

  18. This was really good! I forgot to add the dairy at the end because I’m a genius, even though I had both ev. milk and cream on hand. It was still very good without it, a great tomato flavor. I ended up adding the ev. milk for today’s lunch leftovers. Both good. I made naan and didn’t want to do double carbs, so instead of rice I made a dish from The Picky Eater blog called “Indian Style Asparagus”. It was a great complement to the dish. I recommend trying it, maybe once you aren’t on your snap budget ;-)

  19. Robin says:

    While I’m late to the game, I found this recipe on Pinterest and can’t say enough good things about it! My husband said he wants me to make this once a week. My girls, 5 and 2, love it and usually eat two bowls. Thanks for a delicious low-budget meal!

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