This easy-to-make red lentil dal makes for an ideal weeknight vegetarian dinner. Our version is naturally vegan and gluten-free, and includes a tadka (tempering of spices) to add that extra hit of flavour. We served the dal with a fresh, creamy raita and flaky paratha flatbread.
Country Number 13: Bangladesh
Finally… We’ve made it to our first Asian country in our around-the-world cooking challenge! Given how much Asian food we normally cook in our household, we have been hanging out for this moment. Admittedly, while we make and eat a lot of Indian, this was our first experience making Bangladeshi cuisine. Being neighbouring countries and having a similar colonial history, we knew India and Bangladesh use a lot of the same ingredients and cooking techniques. However, we were curious to learn the distinct differences between the two cuisines.
From our research, we learnt that Bangladeshi cuisine has over time been largely influenced by Mughlai cuisine, which was left behind by the Persian rulers. This can be seen through many of the country’s very rich and aromatic dishes, which utilise a wide variety of spices and heavy usage of ghee. Bangladesh’s cuisine has also been greatly shaped by the Bengali influence. Bengal is a geopolitical region including modern Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. The dishes and flavours are very similar across both regions. However, while West Bengal is a Hindu region, meaning it is predominately vegetarian, Bangladesh is a Muslim country, so halal meat is prevalent.
Over 60% of the population of Bangladesh live off the land, cooking what is accessible to them. With the abundance of rivers and coastal region throughout the country, this means fish is far more commonly eaten than meat. Thankfully, vegetables are also in abundance, meaning many Bangladeshi dishes are vegetarian. When vegetables are eaten, they are eaten in full, leaving no stem or leaf to waste. Lentils, rice and variations of fried bread are also staples of the Bangladeshi diet.
Popular Bangladeshi Vegetarian Dishes
- Dal- a staple in the Bangladeshi diet, dal is made of lentils, peas or beans that are dried, spilt and boiled, then made into a thick, seasoned soup
- Panta bhat– leftover rice that is soaked in water overnight to ferment then is seasoned by salt, chili and onion and served for breakfast
- Paratha- a flaky, layered flatbread made from shallow frying dough in ghee or oil. Stuffed parathas are also popular, with fillings including potatoes, dal or other vegetables.
- Chachchari– a dish made from frying up a mix of spices which chopped vegetables are then cooked in.
- Firni- A rice pudding made by boiling broken rice in milk and sugar. In different variations you’ll find saffron, cardamon, fruit and nuts (similar to the Bahrain pudding we made).
- Rasmalai– a traditional Bengali dessert made with semolina dumplings soaked in sweetened milk, which is often spiced with cardamom and decorated with ground pistachios.
Vegetarian rating of Bangaldeshi Cuisine
Making Red Lentil Dal (Masoor Dal)
Dal may not be unique to Bangladesh, but it is one of the most commonly consumed vegetarian dishes of the country. We had a friend who lived in Bangladesh for a while, and she always talked about how much dal she ate while she was there. Dal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All day, every day. As such, we thought it would be fitting to make this as our dish for Bangladesh.
If we are being honest, neither of us have been particularly blown away by dal in the past. Often, we find it be pretty bland. Similarly to why we opted to make dolma for Azerbaijan, we wanted to use this as opportunity to try and create a dal that had enough flavour for our fussy palettes.
Discovering the secret to a flavoursome dal
It was a pretty successful experiment, as it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable dals we’ve both had. During our recipe research, we believe we may have discovered the secret to a flavourful dal. Namely, a tadka. Tadka (which in English is known as tempering) is where spices are briefly roasted in oil to release their aromatic flavour then added on top of a dish. A tadka is a great way of adding extra flavor to dal to ensure the dish isn’t bland. We based our recipe for red lentil dal off one by Spice Bangalore, which of course, includes a tadka.
We should mention that we made some delicious flaky parathas with which to scoop up the dal and this definitely upped the enjoyment levels of the dish. Again, dal is not a dish we would go out of our way to order at a restaurant. However, it certainly makes for an easy, healthy and affordable weeknight dinner.
How to make red lentil dal
This red lentil dal makes for a quick and easy dinner as it comes together in less than 30 minutes in the following steps:
- Make dal by heating oil in pan and adding ingredients in stages, briefly sauteing each ingredient set before adding the next.
- Add in lentils then water and cook for 15 minutes until tender.
- Make tadka by heating oil in another pan and briefly frying spices, then pouring tadka ontop of the dal.
Ingredients notes for red lentil dal
- Red lentils- For this dal, we used dried red lentils. You can also use yellow lentils. Whatever you do, do not use pre-cooked lentils from a tin. They won’t create the same flavour or texture experience.
- Chilli– We’d recommend both fresh green chilli and dried chilli for this recipe, but you can substitute for any kind of chilli you can get your hands off (or omit all together if you are spice sensitive)
- Spices– We realise this recipe does call for a lot of spices, which may be intimidating if you don’t have a well-stocked spice rack. In our opinion, a large collection of spices are SO worth the investment. They add a huge amount of flavour to dishes like this and allow you to broaden the cuisines you cook.
Serving suggestions for red lentil dal
We had our red lentil dal with paratha, which is a buttery flaky flatbread that is very popular in Bangladesh. Making paratha is a bit of a labour-intensive process, but the result is delicious. We used this recipe to make our paratha. We also served out dal with raita, a refreshing yogurt-cucumber sauce that we’ve included the recipe for below.
Other dishes to make using lentils
- Lentil Kofte with Tomato Herb Salad (Vospov Kofte)
- Vegetarian Sausage Rolls with Mushrooms & Lentils
- Dolma with Vegan Mince + Bulgur Wheat
Red Lentil Dal with Raita (Masoor Dal)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 5 curry leaves
- 1 white onion (diced)
- 3 garlic cloves (minced)
- 1 inch ginger (minced)
- 4 green chillies (cut down the middle)
- 1/2 tsp chilli powder
- 1/4 turmeric powder
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tomatoes (chopped)
- 1 cup red lentils (washed thoroughly)
- 2 tbsp coriander leaves (chopped)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 cloves of garlic (minced)
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 dried red chillies
- 2 curry leaves
- 1 cup unsweetened yogurt (sub for coconut if vegan)
- 1 small cucumber (peeled and julienned)
- 2 tbsp mint leaves (chopped)
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a pan over medium heat. Once hot, add cumin seeds, mustard seeds and curry leaves and stir for 30 seconds.
- Add diced onions and sauté until translucent.
- Add in minced garlic, ginger, green chillies, chilli powder, turmeric and salt, and sauté for another minute.
- Add in chopped tomatoes and sauté until soft. Add in washed lentils and fry for another 2 minutes.
- Add 4 cups of hot water and stir, then cover and cook for 15 minutes or until lentils are tender.
- Take off heat and stir in chopped coriander.
- Meanwhile, prepare the tadka by heating 2 tablespoons of oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.
- Once oil is hot, add minced garlic and cook until brown. Next, add in cumin seeds, dried red chillies and curry leaves and stir.
- Pour tadka on top of dal and serve with rice, roti or paratha.
Make raita (optional)
- Mix all ingredients together and serve with dal.
Did you make this recipe? We’d love to know! Tell us how it went in the comments below or tag us (@gourmetvegetarians) in your photos on Instagram.
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