Authentic Bangladeshi Red Lentils (Monsoor Dahl) Recipe

Ah, the promise of a great meal!

Before anyone calls me on this, I want to make something perfectly clear — I, myself, am not an authentic Bangladeshi but I was taught this recipe by a friend who is.

Monsoor Dahl is an adjustably-spicy South Asian lentil dish that is light, flavourful, and meat-free. It’s delicious as a side to other South Asian dishes but also can be paired with Western main courses — I suggest that you first serve it along with a curry, such as Super Bowl Curry (a recipe I posted previously that can be eaten independently of sporting events), and then figure out after tasting it what other continents’ dishes it would go well with. It also is great to keep in your fridge so you can spoon a little over rice for a quick and nourishing snack.

It’s preparation is not all that difficult but is a bit complicated (compared to the previous recipes I’ve posted) in that you will need two cooking vessels — a pot and a frying pan — and cooking is done in four stages. But even with the two pots and four stages, it’s actually really easy to make and is ready in a little over an hour. A novice in the kitchen could easily pull this recipe off and “wow” his/her dinner guests. If you happen to be a novice cook and you find something about this recipe confusing, please contact me and I’ll do my best to clarify things.

This wonderful dish contains no animal bits. I hesitate to label it as officially vegan or even vegetarian because my younger sister, NeoVegan, claims that all kinds of stuff conventional wisdom would indicate is vegan, like tap water and BBQ chips, is actually processed using animal by-products. What the hell, let’s call it vegan until Orthodox Vegans convince me otherwise.

Warning! Turmeric Alert! This recipe employs turmeric, the yellow spice that gives curry powder its characteristic colour. Turmeric will stain just about everything it comes in contact with from Formica counter tops, to painted walls, to clothing. It can also discolour human skin, so unless you want people to think you have jaundice to get out of a math test or to repel the romantic advances of someone, avoid rubbing it on yourself. 
Equipment You’ll Need

A large pot, a large frying pan, a sharp knife, cutting board, a stove… nothing that you don’t already have.

Ingredients

Because this is cooked in four stages, I’ve grouped the ingredients according to the stage you’ll be needing them. I recommend that you prepare the second and fourth stage ingredients while the first stage ingredients are cooking — you’ll save a bit of time that way.

Stage I

  • 1 cup dry red lentils, washed.
  • 4 cups water.
  • 1½ onions, quartered and thinly sliced.
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric.
  • 4 or 5 bay leaves.
  • 1 tomato, diced.
  • 2 Indian chilies, thinly sliced

Stage II

  • ½ onion, quartered and thinly sliced.
  • ½ garlic bud, minced.
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin, whole seed is best but ground cumin will work just fine if that’s all you’ve got.
  • Oil for frying.

Stage IV

  • ½ bunch fresh coriander (a.k.a. cilantro) leaves and stalks, chopped.
  • salt to taste.
Procedure
  • Stage I: Place all Stage I ingredients into a large pot, stir, and then simmer until the lentils are tender, about 45 minutes.
  • Stage II: Fry the onion slices and cumin in a large frying pan with a couple of tablespoons of oil. When the onion is tender, add the garlic and fry until golden brown.
  • Stage III: Transfer as much of the Stage I ingredients into the frying pan as the pan can hold without boiling over. Be warned that when the lentil mixture hits the frying pan it will splash all over the place so prepare yourself for your new yellow polka dot wall motif!
  • Simmer in the frying pan for about 5 minutes.
  • Stage IV: Transfer everything back into the large pot and salt to taste.
  • Add the coriander leaves and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Serve over Basmati rice.

Stage I is under way!

Stage II. Can't you just smell the onions, garlic, and cumin frying? Terrific!

Pour most of the big pot's contents into the frying pan in Stage III. Everything will be going back into the big pot for Stage IV.

Did I mention Stage V? This is where you get to eat your creation!

Bonus Kitchen Tip: If you ever need some hot chilies but only can find peppers with little or no “bite”, use them and add cayenne powder! You get the heat from the cayenne and the pepper taste from the peppers!

That’s it! If you try this recipe, please let me know how things turned out. You can download a print-friendly PDF version of this recipe here. You can find links to other of my recipes and printable “Eat Sheets” here.

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About HoaiPhai

I'm up late digging up the dirt. View all posts by HoaiPhai

34 responses to “Authentic Bangladeshi Red Lentils (Monsoor Dahl) Recipe

  • Carl D'Agostino

    I like the brown ones Cook in beef stock with hint of garlic, touch of sliced carrot and spinach. Usually add a little elbow macaroni instead of rice. Add ground hamburger or ground sausage for variation. Never overpower mix with other ingredients because it is first of all a lentil dish – Italian rural Sicily.

    • HoaiPhai

      I know the lentils of which you speak, the swarthy brown Mediterranean ones. When I was a kid, every once in a while we’d be served a great Greek lentil soup called “fakes” [pronounced "Fah-kehs"]. I’ve made it a couple of times, but not in a while. I think I’ll have to make it again, shoot photos of the whole thing, and post a recipe here. Fakes is the proof that vegetarian food can be fully satisfying to carnivores!

  • Stepping My Way to Bliss

    This sounds delicious…as soon as I can FIND red lentils in my stores, I will definitely be making this. The only ones I can ever seem to find are the greenish brown ones. Maybe I will have to go to a Mediterranean or ethnic type store. But I really want to try this…today!

    • HoaiPhai

      You might be able to pick up the red ones in the ethnic aisle of a regular grocery store. I don’t know if you’d be able to get them at a Mediterranean store but certainly they can be found in an Indian (Pakistani, Bangladeshi, etc.) one. The way that you know a store is South Asian is that the words on the sign look like a doctor wrote a prescription on a 10′ x 30′ sign (except Bangladeshi, which looks like a triangle-based Klingon dialect).

      Have you ever had a Greek lentil soup called “fakes” [pronounced "Fah-kehs"]? That uses the greenish brown lentils and is a personal comfort food… it’s simple to make. I’ll try to get a recipe up but I won’t have time to do this for a while because I have family trickling in from out-of-town (I’m presently waiting for a phone call letting me know what time to pick up the first arrival at the bus station) who will be camping out at Chateau HoaiPhai for the next five days. Maybe I can work Fakes into the feeding rotation, take a couple of pictures, and that way you won’t have to wait weeks for a way to use up your little greenish brown pulses.

      • Stepping My Way to Bliss

        You are too funny. If you can manage some photos and a post during the “feeding rotations” then great! If not, I can certainly wait until a calmer time descends upon the chateau.

        BTW, the spices in this dish are all my favorites…it is just missing ginger.

      • HoaiPhai

        Oooh, ginger! Do you like kung pow chicken? I’m a big fan of kung pow and just in the last year I’ve found the secret to a great kung pow. The secret isn’t ginger, but ginger’s inclusion goes without saying! You’ll have to wait a bit for that recipe as I have to cook that outdoors in my giant wok with my NASA test stand heat source and I don’t think I have enough propane for the project. Will keep you “posted”.

  • clownonfire

    HoaiPhai,
    One: Your kitchen looks divine.
    Two: Sod off for your culinary skills.
    Three: Do you know of VeggieWitch, another fellow Canadian blogger? You should:

    http://veggiewitch.wordpress.com/

    Le Clown

    • HoaiPhai

      Le Clown,
      One: Thanks to controlled lighting, narrow field-of-view, and my black belt in PhotoShop my kitchen doesn’t look anything like it does in real life. I’ve go yellow spots all over from a turmeric-rich diet and red dots from my wife’s dependency on “gochugaru”, Korean red pepper powder. I’m not going into the frites grease all over the place or the fact that I have painted nothing in nine years.
      Two: I now live in Niagara where you cannot find a decent restaurant unless you want to pay a day’s salary for a single meal (and even then it’s a crap shoot) so I’ve had to rely on my own cooking to keep nourished.
      Three: I’m not a vegetarian but every once in a while I’ll “veg out” for a meal. I haven’t been to her blog but if her recipes are good enough for a guy with easy access to Montreal restaurants, that’s good enough for me!

      By the way, did they make Celine Dion convert to Judaism when she took over Schwartz’s? Do you have a link to the YouTube video of René Angélil getting his conversion operation? Repost, please!

      • clownonfire

        You’ve read about Celine and Schwartz’s, did you… I still haven’t digested the news, nor the many smoked meat sandwiches I have devoured from that deli.
        Le Clown

      • HoaiPhai

        I guess she got a taste for the industry by way of “Nickel’s”. Some say that Rene’s meat has been hanging too long for someone Celine’s age… I wonder if that has anything to do with her buying smoked meat restaurants.

      • clownonfire

        Man, you made me laugh. Seriously!
        Le Clown

      • HoaiPhai

        Oh, there was a whole lot more to say on that subject but I cannot afford a law suit. Do you think that now that Celine is involved, do you think Notre-Dame Basilica will open a Schwartz’s kiosk inside and replace the traditional ostie with rye bread?

      • clownonfire

        HoaiPhai,
        Be my best friend?
        Le Clown

      • HoaiPhai

        That’s OK with me but can you be friends with a guy who grew up in TMR? In what part of town did you grow up?

      • clownonfire

        I grew up in Westmount, but I don’t say it loud…

      • HoaiPhai

        Really? I have some great stories about Westmount… about me and my friend Fat Tommy at a rich girl’s house in Upper Westmount, all kinds of stuff in Lower Westmount around Sherbrooke Street.

      • clownonfire

        Really! in Lower Westmount, on Metcalfe. And then downtown, on Cote-des-Neiges, between Dr. Penfield and Summerhill. I got sick of Baby White Jesus going to St-Leon’s church, and school…

      • HoaiPhai

        Oh yeah, I used to visit the trainatorium as a kid, too karate at the YMCA as a teen, and then had a pot connection on Claremont, a good friend on Grosvenor, many memories of Arage’s and the phone booth outside, Brian Mulroney lived in Westmount and a friend told me that he was a lousy tipper, I graduated from Westmount High (night school after going to MRHS and Winston Churchill High day programmes), helped start up the Korean church at Sherbrooke and Northcliffe, etc., etc. Great times!

      • clownonfire

        I had many friends who went to Westmount High… Are you 107 like me? Mike Casali might be in your age range..
        Le Clown (went to St-Luc)

      • HoaiPhai

        I went to the night school there to actually study. When I was going to MRHS, I used to skip class to go to the restaurant down the street from Westmount High because I wanted to hang around with a girl named Carole who looked a lot like a 16 year old Ali MacGraw, only better. She didn’t like me much but her friend, “the rich girl” from upper-upper Westmount did like me, but I was too hypnotized by Carole. Just like the song “Love Stinks”.

  • Preena @ A Teaspoon of Turmeric

    Although it stains, I love, love turmeric! Yes, need to use with caution!

  • nigel

    That certainly does look good! Lovely photos.

  • Nicole

    I love red lentils. And they are so healthy. They make a great soup with lots of veggies and chicken stock.

  • The Hook

    Very cool – and tasty – share!
    Now if I only had your culinary courage…

    • HoaiPhai

      It’s actually fairly easy to make if you cut everything up first and go about it set-by-step. Take a chance, all you have to lose is your eardrums when your smoke detector goes off when frying the onions and the uniform colour of your kitchen walls and counters when the lentils splatter as you pour them into the frying pan!

  • Cardinal Guzman

    Sounds great! I will try this recipe!

    • HoaiPhai

      It’s not something we cook very often but every once in a while my wife and I both seem to get the craving for this dish on the same day and then we both get what we want for dinner.

  • Naomi Baltuck

    I have a red lentil dish that I make and enjoy, but am always looking for something to dress it up–can’t wait to try this.

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