Why Masoor Dal Is Padma Lakshmi's Go-To Comfort Food

Padma Lakshmi shared with Today that a bowl of dal is her favorite comfort dish to make after a long work day. Specifically, Lakshmi enjoys masoor dal, a lentil soup that originates from the northern region of India. "It's what I most crave when I come home after a long shoot," Lakshmi explained. "I eat it at least once a week, if not more."

Masoor dal is made with masoor lentils of the same name, which are distinguishable from others due to their pink color. This lentil dish differs slightly from other more popular versions in India. For one, when the masoor lentils cook down, they are thicker than other varieties, making it more difficult to mix in with the typical side dish of rice.

Regardless, these lentils are a popular staple in many households, valued for their efficient cooking time, ability to take on flavor, and many variations. "Every Indian family has their own version, the variations are boundless," said Lakshmi. This dish offers a low-risk, high-reward approach to cooking, requiring little effort to produce a deliciously easy meal.

How to make masoor dal

For a single serving, you'll need masoor dal, garlic, yellow onion, ginger, ghee, oil, green chiles, diced tomatoes, and a blend of spices that often includes turmeric, cumin, coriander, garam masala, and salt. If you don't want to spend the money buying individual spices (which you should consider as a diverse spice cabinet is a great investment), you can always opt for buying a spice blend packet that contains the spices mentioned.

To prepare masoor dal, you'll start by rinsing your lentils. It's at your own discretion if you wish to soak the lentils or not. If you have a history of digestive issues, soaking may help alleviate bloating. Ultimately though, masoor dal does not need to be soaked before cooking. Start by cooking your lentils in whatever amount of water is needed for the amount of masoor dal. While this happens, start toasting your aromatic spices in the ghee or oil in a separate pan. Once these are fragrant, you'll add in your other solid ingredients, except the cooked lentils. This mixture is called your tarka. After this cook-down, you'll combine the cooked masoor lentils and tarka. Taste to see if you need more spices and serve with a cilantro garnish.

Variations of masoor dal

The ease of preparing this dish allows for ample room to experiment and find a version that you truly love, and it is easily customized based on your own flavor preferences. You are free to add as much or as little of the spices as you want, and popular spice additions include kasuri methi. Laksmi enjoys adding kale to her dish for additional nutritional benefits. Other popular vegetables to include are spinach or sorrel. 

A well-known variation of masoor dal is called masur ma jib, a lentil stew with goat tongue. While meat isn't a typical addition to lentil soup, adding meat that cooks well in Indian-style dishes such as goat or chicken is a tasty option. You can also try Tasting Table's recipe for a spiced dal breakfast bowl. This version of the dish combines creamy yogurt with the spiced masoor dal for a perfect balance of savory and spice.