October 21, 2013    BY Colleen Taylor Sen

(Lentil Stew with Potatoes and Onions)

If rice is the heart of South Indian cuisine, then lentils, or dal, are its soul. The variety of lentils and the multitude of ways they are used are truly astonishing: lentils are used in soups and salads, in breads and desserts, and even in drinks. The main course in a simple South Indian meal will be always some form of lentils, while a banquet will consist of a procession of lentil dishes. The popular saying, “Can there be a wedding without lentils?” illustrates their importance.
This dish can be eaten with rice and chutney for a simple but satisfying meal.


3 med. potatoes cut into
1⁄2" cubes
2 med. onions cut into 1⁄2" cubes
1⁄2 cup of lentils
1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric powder
Spicing for the cooked lentils
1 1⁄2 tablespoons coriander seed
3 teaspoons channa dal
1 1⁄2 teaspoons cumin seed
1⁄2 teaspoon fenugreek seed
1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon mustard seed
4 cloves
1⁄2" piece of cinnamon
1 to 4 red chilies (to taste)
1⁄2 cup dried ground coconut (unsweetened)
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
1 teaspoon brown sugar

Final seasoning:

1 tablespoon oil
1 red chili broken into pieces
1 teaspoon mustard seed
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
3 to 4 curry leaves


Wash the lentils well. Add 2 1⁄2 cups of water and the turmeric powder and cook 20-25 minutes until it is tender. Add the potatoes. After 5 minutes, add the onions and cook about 10 minutes until the potatoes are soft. Add more water if necessary to maintain the consistency of a creamed soup.

Roast the spices in a heavy frying pan over medium heat, shaking frequently, until they are brown. Blend the spices to a paste with the coconut; then add the paste and the tamarind paste to the boiled lentils.
Heat the oil for the seasonings. Add the chili and mustard and cook until they crackle. Add it to the lentils with the cilantro and the curry leaves

Colleen Taylor Sen
Colleen Taylor Sen is a freelance writer specializing in food and travel with a focus on India. Her articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, and Travel and Leisure. She is a student at the Sivananda Yoga Center.