Vegan Brown Lentil Dahl
Deliciously spiced lentils and cauliflower come together to make this hearty brown lentil dahl, with a thick and creamy gravy. Filled with fiber and protein, it’s an ideal vegan freezer filler which is super simple to make.
What is brown lentil dahl?
Dahl is a rich spiced lentil curry, which uses brown dal (lentils) for an earthy flavour. It’s a great way to use dried and canned ingredients from the pantry, with lentils, ground spices, canned diced tomatoes, and coconut cream on the ingredients list.
It’s a really simple curry recipe and doesn’t call for any complicated ingredients. It uses spices and blends that you likely already have in your cupboard (or should definitely stock up on!).
This vegan lentil dahl doesn’t need butter or dairy to make it creamy. The brown lentils are starchy and thicken the sauce as they cook, and I’ve added coconut cream at the end to make it even more luxurious.
A healthy whole food recipe, brown lentil curry is super filling from all of the protein and fiber found in the lentils. It’s really satisfying, and is delicious on it’s own or on the side of rice or bread.
What are brown lentils?
I love a classic red lentil dal, but sometimes I fancy something with a bit more bite. Brown lentils are simply red lentils with the skin (or hull) still on. They hold their shape whilst cooking in this brown lentil dahl recipe, but still have a lovely creamy texture inside. They are also known as whole masoor dal.
Not only that, but the skin contains even more fiber, making whole lentils even better for you. Prebiotic fiber helps us to maintain a healthy weight, and is great for gut health.
Lentils are so good for you, and are rich in folate, potassium, iron and vitamin B1. They are a super cheap plant based protein, and are dried so keep for ages in the cupboard.
Why I love vegan lentil dahl
- It’s great comfort food! This is a very wholesome Indian recipe, and is perfect for when you need something comforting and healthy.
- It’s the perfect freezer filler. Make up a big batch of vegan brown lentil dahl and you’ll always have a delicious meal waiting in the freezer. The flavour only improves with time, so it’s great for meal prep.
- It uses simple ingredients and is super easy to make.
- It’s very budget friendly, as dried lentils are a cheap and cheerful plant based protein.
- Brown dal is completely vegan and gluten free.
- Made in one pot, there’s very little washing up needed at the end.
What ingredients are needed for this recipe?
Aromatics: onion, garlic, ginger and chilli– These all get fried off at the very beginning of the recipe. I love garlic, so I would recommend making this really garlicky! If you don’t, stick to a couple of cloves and it will still be delicious.
Spices– Curry powder, ground cumin, and ground coriander give brown lentil dal it’s flavour. These are very common spices, so even if you don’t have them in your cupboard yet, you will definitely make use of them! I’d suggest adding a couple of dried bay leaves for a little extra flavour, and you can add some ground cayenne if you like it spicy. You could swap the ground cumin for cumin seeds if you prefer the taste of whole spices.
Lentils– These are a very common ingredient, and you will be able to find them in most grocery stores. If you are shopping in an Asian grocery store, look for whole masoor dal (not split masoor dal).
Chopped tomatoes– Tomatoes add a rich colour, and balance out the creaminess of the curry with a bit of acidity. I’ve gone for canned chopped tomatoes for ease.
Cauliflower– Although brown lentil dahl doesn’t typically contain a lot of vegetables, I always like to squeeze a portion of veggies onto my plate, so I have added some cauliflower into this recipe. Roasting it before stirring it through the curry really brings out it’s flavour.
Coconut cream– A couple of spoonfuls of coconut cream added at the end of this recipe add an extra boost of creaminess. For easy coconut cream, refrigerate a can of full fat coconut milk overnight, then use the thick cream which rises to the top for a creamy coconut dahl. Don’t use light coconut milk for this.
All you need to make this recipe is a big pot or pan. I would recommend using something with a heavy base, as this will better distribute the heat, and the lentils will cook evenly.
I’m certain you could cook this recipe in a pressure cooker or slow cooker with great success, but haven’t yet tried it myself yet. Let me know if you give it a go!
How to make brown lentil dahl
This cauliflower dahl is super easy to make, and needs just 10 minutes of hands on time before it simmers away on the stove.
Start by preheating the oven to 200c/390f. Add the florets to a medium baking tray or dish and toss with 1 tablespoon of oil. Season with salt and pepper and pop them in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until cooked through and beginning to brown.
Heat the oil in a wide pan over medium heat, then throw in the chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Fry the onion off for 2-3 minutes until it starts to soften, then add the garlic ginger and chilli. Fry these for around 2 minutes.
Now, add the ground spices to the pan. Stir and fry these off for a minute or so. You will know they are ready when they begin to smell fragrant and delicious. Frying off the spices ensures the best flavour for your brown lentil dal.
Add the rinsed lentils, chopped tomatoes, bay leaves and water. Stir so that everything is mixed together, then bring it to a simmer.
Cover the pan tightly, and leave the dahl to cook until the lentils are cooked through, around 30 minutes.
You can check and stir the brown dahl every once in a while to make sure that there is enough liquid. If it’s looking like it’s sticking or a little dry, just add a splash of water as needed.
Once the lentils are cooked, stir through the coconut cream and cauliflower until it’s all combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- I like to serve my brown lentil dahl with steamed basmati or brown rice, a good amount of chopped fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lemon juice.
- If you fancy it, vegan naan bread or roti are delicious for scooping up creamy lentil dahl.
- For a lower starch option, you can make a side dish of stir fried vegetables.
- Quinoa is another great grain-free side dish option. It’s also a good source of plant-based protein.
- You can simply enjoy this vegan lentil dahl on it’s own. If you’d like to make it more like a soup, you can add some extra water to your taste.
- Serve some bowls of chutneys or pickles on the side, such as mango chutney or lime pickle.
- You can make some vegan raita, or simply serve it with plain dairy-free yoghurt.
- Whip up a delicious kachumber salad, which is a great light side dish.
My top tips for the best brown lentil dahl
My top tip for making sure that this easy lentil dahl tastes delicious is to make sure you are using fresh spices! Get the best and keep them fresh. A lot of people don’t realise that ground spices have a shelf life, and won’t taste as good after a while.
Keep them stored in a cool, dry place, preferably in the dark (so a kitchen cupboard is perfect). Keep them away from heat sources, such as your stove, as the humidity can cause them to become clumpy and damp.
If you don’t use spices that often, try to buy them in small quantities. Spices have ‘best before’ dates, and may not taste as good if you don’t get to use them before this. As this brown lentil dahl recipe relies on ground spices only, it’s important that they taste great.
Ingredient substitutes or additions
Lentils– I wouldn’t recommend changing the type of lentils in this vegan lentil dahl, as this would affect the cook time and the consistency of the curry. At a push, you could use green lentils, as these would hold their shape. However, they will have more of a bite to them than brown lentils do.
Veggies– I’ve added cauliflower into this brown lentil curry to make it a little bit different, but you could add any veggies you fancy. Try broccoli, peppers, zucchini or eggplant. Harder vegetables such as potatoes or squash would need steaming or boiling first, then stirring through towards the end.
Spices– If you don’t have all of the spices needed, you could try sticking with just a spice mix alone. Use either curry powder, garam masala, or another curry spice mix. These will all have different flavour profiles, so expect that your brown lentil dahl may taste a bit different. If you use a mix, use around 1 level tablespoon.
Coconut cream– I like my brown lentil dahl with coconut milk or cream. If you would like a lentil dahl without coconut milk, you could use dairy-free yoghurt instead, or leave the cream out entirely.
Yes, this recipe can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
You can reheat brown lentil dahl in the microwave or the stove. On the stove, place in a saucepan and warm over a medium heat until hot through. In the microwave, it should only need a couple of minutes per portion, just make sure that it is hot before eating. It may be a little thick after refrigerating, so add a little extra water as needed.
Yes, you can also freeze cauliflower dahl in portion-sized containers ready to eat. Make sure that it has cooled completely before freezing, and keep it sealed in the freezer for up to 3 months.
From frozen, defrost in the fridge overnight or on the counter for a few hours. Reheat as above.
Do you like vegan curry recipes?
Then you might like…
- This delightfully pink easy vegan beetroot curry
- A bowl of super simple one-pot biryani
- Protein-packed ‘royal’ shahi korma with tofu
- My Thai red silken tofu curry
- Rich and creamy aubergine bhaji
- Or this creamy coconut mushroom curry
Vegan Brown Lentil Dahl
- 1 head cauliflower chopped into small florets
- 1½ tbsp canola (rapeseed) oil
- 1 brown onion diced
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1 inch ginger minced
- 1 green chilli minced
- 2 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp cayenne (optional)
- 200 g brown lentils rinsed
- 400 g can chopped toms
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 500 ml water
- 100 g coconut cream or yoghurt
- Preheat the oven to 200°c/390°f.
- Add the cauliflower florets to a baking tray and toss with 1 tablespoon of oil. Season with salt and pepper and place them in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until cooked through and beginning to brown.
- Heat the remaining oil in a wide pan over medium heat, then tip in the chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Fry the onion for 2-3 minutes until it starts to soften, then add the garlic, ginger and chilli. Fry these for 2 minutes.
- Now, add the ground spices to the pan. Fry these, stirring, for a minute or so until fragrant.
- Add the rinsed lentils, chopped tomatoes, bay leaves and water. Stir so that everything is mixed together, then bring it to a simmer. Cover the pan tightly, and leave to cook until the lentils are cooked through, around 30 minutes.
- You can check and stir the dahl every once in a while to make sure that there is enough liquid. If it’s looking like it’s sticking or a little dry, just add a splash of water as needed.
- Once the lentils are cooked, stir through the coconut cream and cauliflower until it's all combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaves before serving.