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South Indian Lentil Soup (Masoor Dal)


Chef notes

This lentil soup, also known as dal, is my go-to comfort food. It's what I most crave when I come home after a long shoot. Every Indian family has their own version — the variations are boundless. I eat it at least once a week, if not more.


  • 2 cups orange (masoor) lentils
  • kosher salt
  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2-3 dried red chiles (3 inches long)
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomato
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • handful of fresh chopped cilantro



Soak masoor lentils for 2 to 3 hours in tepid water. Drain and wash until water runs clear.


Gently boil the lentils in 6 cups of water with 1 teaspoon of salt until they are soft and mushy on medium, partially covered. You may need to add more water. That should take 30 over medium heat, maintaining a constant rolling gentle boil. Make sure to skim away any foam off the top with a spoon.


Once the lentils are soft, take a wooden spoon or mallet and mash them until they form a gravy-like, thick liquid. It’s fine if some of the lentils remain coarse. Add kale to dal; mix well. Adjust for salt, if needed. 


In a wok or small frying pan, heat oil over medium-high. Toast the cumin seeds for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chopped onion and red chiles, sautéing until the onions become translucent or glassy, about 4 to 5 minutes.


Add the ginger and garlic, cooking for about 2 minutes more. Add the turmeric powder and cook for 1 minute more.


Add the chopped tomato, cooking for 2 to 3 minutes more. Add mixture to the lentils and kale, and stir to combine.


Add the lemon juice and cilantro before serving.