Bengali Masar Dal Recipe

[I’ll do some photos next time I make it]

This is the best-tasting food in the world, and it’s pretty easy to make, besides being really inexpensive and healthy for you.  The final consistency is approximately that of a homemade apple sauce, except it’s savory and served hot.

This takes about 45 minutes to cook.  There’s no separate prep time if you’re working on one step as the previous one is going.  If you’re going to serve this with rice, don’t forget to start the rice cooker before you start this recipe.

Ingredients, Step 1:

  • 7 1/2 cups water
  • 1 Anaheim chili
  • 2 Jalapeno chilies
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups red/pink lentils (masar dal)*

Start the water to boil on high.  Cut the stem end off of the chilies.  For a milder taste, scrape the seeds out.  Dice or puree them.  Put the chilies, turmeric, and salt in the water as soon as possible and bring everything to a boil.  Set the timer for 30 minutes and add the lentils.  Return to a boil, then reduce heat to “medium” (~7000 BTU on my stove). Stir with increasing frequency to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

  • apparently some brands of lentils come with small stones in them.  I haven’t found this to be true with any of the lentils I’ve bought, but keep it in mind.  Fortunately, small stones probably aren’t pink, so they should be easy to see.  Most recipes call for washing and sorting the lentils, but I always skip that step.

Ingredients, Step 2:

  • 2-3 oz cooking oil (organic canola / extra virgin olive blend is good), depending on pan size
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 14oz can diced tomatoes

Start the oil heating in a large flat-bottomed pan while you dice the onion.  When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook on medium-high heat until the onions begin to brown on the edges.  Add the ginger.  Cook until the ginger stops sizzling, then add the can of tomatoes.  Cook the mixture on medium heat until the oil has separated out of the mixture and the tomatoes are somewhat carmelized.  That should be just about at the 30 minute mark if your stove is like mine.  When the mixture is ready, stir it into the lentil pot.

Ingredients, Step 3:

  • 1 oz cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon panch phoron (equal parts cumin, fennel, mustard, fenugreek, and black “onion” seeds)
  • 4 bay leaves (European, or 2 Indian-sized, crumbled)

Make sure the bottom of this pan is smooth.  If it has ridges (like a Circulon) the spices will get jammed up.  An omelet pan works great.   Pay attention to the heat.  You need to get the oil hot to fry the spices, but you do not want to burn these.  A little bit of smoke will signal when the spices are ready, and you have to dump them in the pot right away to prevent a burned flavor.   That said: add the panch phoron to the hot oil, fry until some of the seeds pop like popcorn, and then add the bay leaves.  Get the bay leaves down in the oil and fry until you first see smoke, them dump them in the pot and stir.

You want the lentils to cook with the tomato/onion mixture for at least five minutes, preferably ten, with the spices going in half way through.  But don’t let the lentils burn on the bottom of the pan for the sake of reaching a ten-minute mark – just turn off the heat and let them cool together if you need to.

This dish can be eaten straight (just a little bit scovie) or is great with basmathi rice.  It reheats easily and stores well for about a week.  Note, the bay leaves are not intended to be eaten but go ahead and crunch right through the other spices.

This recipe was adapted from Julie Shani’s Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking, which is an excellent cookbook.  Most of the recipes are easy to adapt to the tastes of your household.

If you can’t find any of the ingredients at your grocery story, any Asian or Indian store will have them.  Big Asian stores often have the best prices on all of these ingredients, including the produce.

Nutrition Information (Generated by

Per serving (recipe makes 8):

Calories: 272

Carbs: 26g

Fat: 15g

Protein: 10g

Sodium: 380mg

Sugar: 2g