A bowl of comforting Indian dal, flecked with health-supportive spices and studded with seasonal vegetables, is one of my favorite plant-based meals. A few years ago I started making some version of dal about once a week, often after we’ve had an indulgent meal or celebration and are in need of a culinary reset. I always add plenty of fresh ginger, turmeric, and the magical combination of cumin, coriander and fennel, renowned in Ayurveda for its ability to soothe and regulate the digestive system.
To achieve a creamy and luscious dal I use split and hulled legumes that will break down during the cooking process — typically split red lentils
, mung beans
, golden lentils, or a combination. These nutrient-dense legumes, rich in protein, fiber, and minerals such as iron, have a mellow, earthy flavor that’s the perfect foundation for pungent spices and aromatics.
I often make a basic dal containing simply lentils, water or vegetable broth, fresh and dried spices, and aromatics (garlic, ginger, green chile); I love the simplicity of it. To make this dal a little more special, I added coconut milk for an extra luxurious texture, and also toasted the spices in coconut oil, adding them to the dal after the lentils had broken down. Adding the spices later in the cooking process allows their flavors to come through with more clarity, and the spice-infused oil also imparts a ton of flavor.
If we’re having the dal as a one-bowl meal, I like to add in a few seasonal vegetables for textural contrast, extra flavor, and a nutritional boost. In fall and winter this could be onions, sweet potato, carrots, parsnips, and winter squash. Now in mid-June the farmers’ markets are bursting with spring and early summer vegetables, so I went with spring garlic, green onions, sugar snap peas, and summer squash. Sautéing the vegetables in coconut oil until lightly caramelized and adding them to the dal toward the end of cooking allows the flavors to come together but avoids breaking down the vegetables.
Finished with a drizzle of coconut milk, thinly sliced scallions and a scattering of toasted sesame seeds, this is a balanced, satisfying one-bowl lunch or dinner. Add a scoop of steamed basmati rice to make it a heartier meal, if you like.
Spring vegetable dal
Serves 4 to 6
Vegan, Dairy-free, Gluten-free
1/2 cup hulled and split mung dal (mung beans)
1/2 cup split yellow or golden lentils
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
4 tablespoons virgin coconut oil, divided
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 cup full-fat coconut milk (I use Native Forest brand, which does not contain preservatives and is packaged in a BPA-free can)
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 stalk of spring garlic, thinly sliced
1 small jalapeño, chopped (optional)
1 small summer squash, diced
1 cup sugar snap peas, ends trimmed and strings removed, cut on the bias into 1/2-inch pieces
kosher or Celtic salt
freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 lime
cooked basmati rice, for serving (optional)
for garnish/serving: coconut milk, sliced scallions, toasted sesame seeds, lime wedges
In a large pot combine mung dal, lentils, ginger, turmeric, and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, partially covered, until lentils are tender and falling apart, about 20 minutes.
Heat 3 tablespoons coconut oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add cumin, fennel and mustard seeds and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring often, until seeds begin to pop. Add coriander, stir for another minute to toast it, and remove from heat.
Add toasted spice mixture to the dal along with coconut milk, tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Continue to simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes more.
In the same skillet used to toast the spices heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of coconut oil. Add onions, garlic, jalapeño, squash, and snap peas. Saute over medium-high heat until vegetables are just beginning to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Add vegetables to dal and cook for another 5 minutes to allow the flavors to combine. Add lime juice. Taste and add more salt, if needed.
Serve dal with basmati rice, if desired, and garnished with coconut milk, scallions, sesame seeds and a wedge of lime.