Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Red Lentil Dal

A broken refrigerator inspired this week’s recipe for Red Lentil Dal, using only kitchen counter and pantry food items. (photos from Deborah Brooks)


This week’s recipe is brought to you by a broken refrigerator. Yes, in the middle of a lovely dinner with my two grown sons over for a family meal, I noticed that the fridge felt warm to the touch. By the time we were done eating, I was shooing them out the front door laden with insulated bags full of perishables, to keep in their refrigerators in their apartments.

“Bye, love you, drive safe but hurry home and put that food away!!”

Isn’t it Murphy’s Law that your fridge will stop working right after a big shop?

Fortunately, I had my sons there to rescue my food and store it for me.

Fortunately, my freezer is on a separate condenser and remained working.

Unfortunately, my go-to appliance repairperson was fully booked and it was going to be days with no fridge. That got me to thinking about how to shop and cook without one. I added no freezer to the mix, as it could have been both condensers out. Plus, many people have a single condenser for both fridge and freezer. I wanted to cover all bases for you.

So I’m going old school with an “only kitchen counter and pantry food items” recipe. A warm and comforting bowl of Red Lentil Dal, or Masoor Dal, served over basmati rice with a side of toasted garlic naan from Trader Joe’s. The bread I keep on the counter in a basket. Tomatoes are best kept on the counter. Cilantro can be kept in water on the counter for up to a week, like a bouquet of flowers. Just remember to change the water daily. Fresh ginger can be kept on the counter for 2-3 days. Garlic, shallots and onions should be stored in a cool dark place but not in the refrigerator unless cut, which is why I chose to use a shallot. The onions I had were huge and I didn’t want to throw away half. You could replace the shallot with a small yellow onion. The rest of the ingredients were from my pantry and spice drawer.

Since I wouldn’t be able to store leftovers in the fridge, I also had to gauge how much food to make for just one night’s dinner. I estimated ¾ cup lentils and ¾ cup of rice for my husband and myself. It was perfect with the side of naan bread. Without the bread, I might make a cup of each. How much to make to serve your family depends on appetites. This recipe is easily doubled, tripled, etc.

It’s good to have these kinds of meals in your cooking arsenal. Why?

  1. You can stock up on most of these items ahead of time and not worry about quick spoilage
  2. You can learn to be creative with your cooking
  3. You can save money, as most pantry items are less expensive
  4. You don’t have to rely on take out
  5. You can have a fantastic dinner you might not have cooked

Now, I don’t want to say that I’m glad that my fridge broke and that I discovered I could cook without it, though it’s tempting. What I will say is that I’m glad that I took the opportunity to make the most of a bad situation, especially my “aha” moment when I chose to replace yogurt with dried coconut, to top the dal. The sweet crunch was a fantastic counter to the savory and creamy lentils.

Whether or not your refrigerator is working, I do recommend trying this delicious Indian stew of lentils and tomatoes. It’s packed with flavor and nutrition. And you can customize the seasonings to suit your palate.

  • Don’t like cilantro? Top the finished dish with parsley.
  • Want it spicy? Add some cayenne pepper to the dry seasoning mix
  • Don’t want to buy dried cloves just for this recipe? Add a pinch of cinnamon

As always, have fun in the kitchen!


Red Lentil Dal

¾ cup dried red lentils
1 T ground cumin
2 tsp dried coriander
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp mustard powder
¼ black pepper
¼ tsp fresh grated nutmeg
Pinch of dried cloves
3 large plum tomatoes
2 T neutral oil
2/3 cup finely chopped shallot or yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 T grated fresh ginger
1 ¾ cups water
1 ½ tsp salt or to taste

Toppings: These really brought the dish to the next level!
Fresh chopped cilantro
Dried coconut flakes (unsweetened)
Fresh lime wedges

To serve with the red lentil dal
¾ cup dried basmati rice, cooked according to package directions while cooking the lentils
Garlic naan

Pick over the lentils for stones. Rinse, drain and set aside.

Combine all of the dried spices in a bowl and set aside.

Crush the tomatoes in a blender or food processor until sauce consistency. Should be 1 ½ cups. Set aside.

In a medium sized saucepan (I used a 4 qt Staub), heat the oil over medium low heat. Add the shallot (or onion) and sauté about 5 minutes, until translucent, stirring often. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté another minute, stirring to prevent burning.

Add the spice mixture and cook on low about 2 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent burning. The kitchen should smell delicious at this point!

Add the lentils and stir up to coat in the mixture.

Add the tomatoes and the water and stir all up, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan.

Raise the heat and bring to a boil.

Immediately lower the heat to cook the lentils at a fast simmer.

Cook uncovered 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Add the salt and stir up

Cook another 15 minutes or so, until the lentils are soft and the liquid has been mostly absorbed. Add a bit more water if necessary. I chose to make it very thick, like chili, as this was our entrée and I didn’t want it soupy. Most versions of dal do have more liquid. Make it the consistency you like.

Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking.

Turn off the heat and serve or cover for 10 minutes. This will further thicken the dal and enhance the flavors.

Serve over the cooked basmati rice.

I like to toast the naan on a very low flame on the gas burner, flipping once. Just stay and watch that it doesn’t burn. Otherwise warm in the oven.

Serve toppings on the side.


All the ingredients for this recipe from the kitchen counter and the pantry, no refrigerator required!


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Deborah Brooks
Deborah Brooks
Deborah is currently a documentary film producer. She is also a former certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition coach. The shutdown of business due to Covid-19 and the implication of an animal wet market connection caused her to rethink her high animal protein food lifestyle. She has spent the last year exploring the world of plant based eating for her own health as well as the health of the planet and all of its sentient beings. Her recipes can be found on Instagram. She would love you to follow along on her journey.

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