Dal Nirvana

$3.39 recipe / $0.57
by Beth - Budget Bytes
4.83 from 45 votes
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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 with Naan and rice plated on white plate

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Dal Nirvana

4.83 from 45 votes
Dal nirvana is a simple, creamy lentil dish seasoned with aromatic Indian spices.
Servings 6
Prep 10 mins
Cook 1 hr
Total 1 hr 10 mins


  • 1 cup dry brown lentils ($0.31)
  • 1 15oz. can crushed or diced tomatoes ($1.49)
  • 2 cloves garlic ($0.12)
  • 1 inch fresh ginger ($0.07)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper ($0.03)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin ($0.03)
  • 2 Tbsp butter ($0.17)
  • salt and pepper to taste ($0.05)
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk or cream ($0.75)
  • 1/4 bunch fresh cilantro ($0.37)


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Stir in the evaporated milk or cream and garnish with fresh, chopped cilantro. Serve over rice or with naan bread for dipping!

See how we calculate recipe costs here.


Serving: 1ServingCalories: 204.3kcalCarbohydrates: 28.98gProtein: 10.78gFat: 6.08gSodium: 327.67mgFiber: 5.05g
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Dal Nirvana with naan and rice plated on white plate

Step By Step Photos

brown lentils in bag with measuring cup full of lentils on side
I 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.

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

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

ginger and garlic with garter and peeler
While the lentils boil, mince the garlic, peel and grate the ginger.

lentils in drainer
Drain the lentils then return them to the pot (reduce heat to medium).

lentils in pot with butter, garlic, ginger, cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper
Add the butter, garlic, ginger, cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper. Stir it on up.

tomatoes added to lentils and spices in pot with wooden spoon
Add the can of crushed or diced tomatoes, one cup of water and stir it all together.

mixture simmering in pot
Simmer the mixture with a lid on until it is cooked down to a soft, thick mixture.

cream added to cooked lentil mixture in pot with wooden spoon
Add the evaporated milk or cream…

finished lentils in pot with wooden spoon
Stir it up, sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve it up!

Dal Nirvana with naan and white rice plated on white plate

NOTE: 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.

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    1. I have used 1/2 C canned coconut milk instead of regular for it and it turned out fine.

  1. This recipe is a keeper. I like the cream addition at the end. I used 1 1/2 tsp cumin and 1 tsp curry powder and stirred in 2 handfuls of baby spinach when there was about 7 minutes left of simmering

  2. I made this for dinner tonight, except that I used a can of cocunut milk instead of evaporated milk. It came out very well, spiced but not overly spicy. I also had forgotten that I was out of rice until it was done, it work with tortilla chips pretty well.

  3. This is my family’s go to favorite lentil recipe. We’ve played with it over the years – trying almond milk, coconut milk, extra spice, even cooking it all in one pot to skip the rinsing step. All are good. I usually add a quick vegetable beside like peas or zucchini with a little cumin and salt. Sometimes raita. Such a staple!

  4. Delicious but spicy! I made a few changes. I used fresh tomatoes, coconut milk and decreased the amount of cayenne pepper. If you have a low tolerance to spicy foods, you will want to use a lot less cayenne pepper.

  5. Looks delicious, but is it possible to substitute or omit the tomatoes? I’d like to cook this for a relative with a tomato allergy. Thanks!

  6. Really tasty stuff for people who have never had dal and aren´t always sure about lentils. I was worried that 1/2 tsp of cayenne would be too spicy, even though we like a fair amount of spice, but it was perfect for us. At the end I took someone elses advice and added a teaspoon of chicken bouillon because I felt like it could use a little something. Perfect touch!

  7. I doubled the recipe and used a can of full fat coconut milk, I also added chicken bullion powder and a jalapeno instead of cayenne it was delicious. I topped mine with a spoonful of greek yogurt, sriracha and cilantro. Dirt cheap and enough leftovers for the whole week:)

  8. Great recipe! I added a sprinkle of garam masala and a bit more of each seasoning but all over, really simple and cheap (why I love your site!). Served with cauliflower rice and roasted okra for a lower carb meal. I forgot the cilantro and it was still great.

  9. At the beginning of the pandemic I was looking for shelf stable sources of nutrition so I picked up a bag of brown lentils. I finally wanted to use them so I searched my favorite recipe blog for lentils and this recipe looked like something I’d like. I made it according to the recipe except I added 1/2 teaspoon of garam masala, a box of chopped (thawed) frozen spinach, and a few shakes of dried minced onion. It was delicious! But I found it a little too spicy. Maybe next time I’ll leave out the cayenne entirely.

    Thanks Beth!

  10. Delicious! I added half a red onion and some diced zucchini that I needed to use, and coconut cream instead of the evaporated milk since it’s all I had, and it worked out great! Thanks so much for sharing!

  11. Absolutely wonderful! Even my younger brother liked it and he is a very picky eater. The only substitution I made was adding 1 cup of beef broth instead of water when adding the tomatoes and water to the lentils. It added an extra bit of flavor but I am sure it would work fine with just water still.

  12. I love all of your recipes that I have tried but this is our favorite!!!
    I make it every week or two and usually make the Naan bread with it. You and your blog are a treasure!

  13. I have been making this recipe for years and I am OBSSESSED! I never leave reviews and am always on the hunt for easy, inexpensive recipes that taste amazing – and this one fits the bill. My husband who hates lentils and “needs” his meat with every meal loves it and asks for it all the time. So tasty and so easy to make, I always crave this recipe. Thanks!