Bengali Masar Dahl


This recipe is spiced very ‘cool.’ More spices can be added for those who like it hot.

1 cup red lentils
3 cups water
1/3 tablespoon turmeric
2 medium onions – diced
2 tablespoons ghee, or safflower oil
1 tablespoon ginger – minced
1/2 tablespoon garlic – minced
1/2 tablespoon basil (dried)
1 bay leaf
1/3 teaspoon dry chili pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 14oz can diced tomatoes and juice
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds


  1. Sort and rinse the red lentils but no need to soak them.
  2. Cook them in the water using a flame tamer to diffuse the flame until soft and done, adding more water as needed to make a thick chowder and to keep from burning or sticking. Add the turmeric while they are cooking.
  3. Sauté onions in half of the ghee or oil (reserving the other half) until soft.
  4. Add ginger and garlic and sauté a few minutes more, then add the basil, bay leaf and chili and stir well into the hot ghee. Stir in the salt. Add this mixture to the cooked lentils. Then add the diced tomatoes with their juice.

Please read the rest of this recipe thoroughly before you begin the next stage!

  1. Measure out the mustard, cumin, fennel and fenugreek seeds and put them in a small cup. Put the rest of the ghee in a small saucepan and add the seeds. Place the sauce pan over a low to medium flame and heat it until the ghee is liquid and the seeds begin to sizzle and maybe pop.
  2. THIS IS THE TRICKY PART OF INDIAN COOKING! You must cook the seeds enough to bring out the flavor without burning them. Keep swirling the oil and seeds in the pan to keep the heat even. Watch for the cumin seeds to become a little brown. At this point you might notice that they suddenly give out a nice aroma. If you see a few become very dark it is time to turn off the heat right away. The ghee should never begin to smoke or turn dark. If this happens it has become too hot. Don’t become distracted or walk away while toasting the seeds or you will burn it. If it does burn, don’t try to salvage it. Best to start over with a new batch of ghee and seeds.
  3. After you take the pan off the heat, pour the contents into the hot lentil mixture. It will sizzle. Just stir it in, taste and add more salt if needed.
  4. The flavor will be much better if the dahl is brought to a boil, allowed to sit and ‘meld’ for at least 10-15 minutes or so before serving.
  5. Best served over white basmati rice.