The slow-cooker lentil dish for sustainable, busy people.
I love dahl – it’s a thick, deeply spiced stew made from split lentils. As a teenager growing up in the Midwest, dahl was a sort of magic-spell soup. I couldn’t believe that so much flavor came from a cup of dried, pebble-like grains.
Now when I make dahl, I see how small techniques – like unlocking the spices in hot oil and making a garlic-ginger paste – are those secret spells that transform this dish.
Cooking magic aside – there’s no witch or fairy godmother that can give me back the time it takes to create a bangin’ dahl… until I made this version.
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A dish deep in flavor and emotion
A few years ago, I ready Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s food memoir, A Settler’s Cookbook, her heartbreaking and heartwarming story about growing up as a migrant in Ethiopia and eventually migrating to England. She intertwines recipes with nostalgia and stories in a way that gives life to the food rather than food giving life.
I realized then, although I had experienced it for my whole life, that our relationship with food is symbiotic. We place an emotional weight to certain ingredients and meals, and we feel that weight lifted off us when we eat it.
Dal is one of those dishes for Alibhai-Brown. The an article on Independent, she wrote, “I ensnared my beloved English husband by cooking and serving his my exceptionally delicious dhal and spinach.”
When I make dahl, I remember the first time my mom made the dish, a tomato and almond soup. I remember Gory, my cousins’ neighbor who taught my aunt how to make authentic Indian dishes. I think of all the Indian takeout my friends and I would eat during college.
Easy Indian food – no flavor compromises
I always find that the longer I let the dahl stew in the pot, the deeper the flavor. Similarly, the more whole spices and different ingredients I can add to it, the riched and more complete it tastes.
Those dahls take a lot of time and ingredients. Most of us don’t have enough of those.
As a compromise, I pull out the slow cooker. Making dahl in a crock pot seems like a short-cut (a long-cut, actually), but the flavor and richness makes it worth it. I can make the dahl before I go to bed, leave the slow cooker on low heat overnight, and the dahl is ready when I wake up.
Here a few tricks to getting the slow cooker dahl to taste like you put five hours into it:
- Start by adding the olive oil and spices to the slow cooker. Put the heat on high, and let the whole thing get aromatic.
- Rinse your lentils by soaking them in water for 10 minutes, then rinse them until the water running through is clear.
- If you’re adding meat to this, put the meat on the bottom of the slow cooker and let lentils and vegetables go on top.
Store your slow-cooker dahl for the week
Several facets of this meal make this dish a sustainable recipe.
For one, the base ingredients you can get year-round, and they have a low carbon footprint. Lentils are an ideal replacement for meat because they are high in protein, iron, and other important micronutrients.
Onions are the main vegetable in this dish, and they are in-season year-round for most people in the US. Tomatoes are not, but you can preserve tomatoes via canning (or do what I do and stock up on cans when they’re in season). TIP: add your favorite in-season vegetable to make this your own and to change-it-up throughout the year.
Second, this slow-cooker dahl requires no oven or stove. That mean no gas cooking – which is not a sustainable cooking method. I know… I love a good gas stove, but if I can use electric instead, I know I’m doing the environment a little flavor.
Lastly, you can make this dish one time and get 10-12 healthy servings. I live with my boyfriend, Zack, so this dish will feed us on Sunday and lunch for the work week. If you live alone, freeze half of the dahl to save for another week. To use the frozen dahl, let it thaw by transferring it to the fridge the night before. You can store the dahl in the freezer for up to 2 months.
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A few ingredients, a little bit of effort – maximum flavor. This rich, curry-and-cumin dahl is steadfast, sustainable recipe you can return to again and again.
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 3 cups lentils
- 6 cups water or vegetable stock
- 5 cloves garlic
- 3 Tbsp. ginger root or paste
- 1 large white onion
- 1 (28 oz) can tomatoes
- 1 (14 oz) can lite coconut milk
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 2–3 hot chiles (optional)
- 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp. garam masala
- 1 Tbsp. ground turmeric
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- Soak the lentils in water for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse until the water running through the lentils is clear.
- While the lentils soak, add the olive oil to the slow cooker. Sprinkle the cumin, hot chiles, garam masala, turmeric, and salt on top. Mince the garlic and ginger and add that as well. Turn the slow cooker on high and let the spices warm until they are aromatic.
- Chop the onion to your desired width and length. If you’re adding more vegetables, prep them now. Then, add all the remaining ingredients to the slow cooler, including the lentils. Cook for 8 hours on low heat or 4 hours on high. Serve warm and store in the fridge for a week or freezer for 2 months.
- Serving Size: 1.5 cup
- Calories: 295
- Sugar: 4.2
- Sodium: 481
- Fat: 7.5
- Saturated Fat: 2.8
- Unsaturated Fat: 0
- Trans Fat: 0
- Carbohydrates: 41.4
- Fiber: 19.2
- Protein: 16.1
- Cholesterol: 0