Bengali Red Dal Curry from Jake

I’ve written on this blog more than once about my feelings of intimidation about making authentic Indian food, and confessed that I use things like Pataks Biryani Paste when I get that Indian food craving. This fear of Indian cooking is still alive somewhere in my cooking psyche, but when my 20-something nephew Jake raved about a dal recipe he’d made, and then showed up at my house with this fantastic dish, I realized I need to get over it.

Jake is a good cook, an almost-vegetarian, and a fan of Indian food, and he found this recipe online and pretty much followed it exactly except for removing the dried red chiles at the end. The recipe was posted by Jonathan Kandell, but I don’t know if he created the recipe or was just reposting it. Maybe he’ll google his name sometime and find it here. However the recipe came about, it was an incredibly flavorful blend of interesting tastes. If there are readers who are more knowledgeable about this type of food than I am, please chime in about the five spice mixture used here, something I’m learning about for the first time.

Bengali Red Dal Curry
(Recipe posted online here by Jonathan Kandell, shared with Kalyn by her nephew Jake. Reposted with only slight editorial changes to the recipe by Kalyn.)

Key spice used in this recipe:
Panch Phoron spice Mix, also known as Five Spice – do not substitute Chinese Five Spice! Mixture consists of equal proportions of whole cumin, fenugreek, anise, mustard, and kalunji (“Indian black onion” seed). You will need to go to an Indian Store to get the last ingredient if you make your own. It is not related to the onion.
(Note from Kalyn added 2-26-07 – Jonathan Kandell spelled the spice mixture Panch Phanon, but after reading about this Bengali Five Spice Mixture online, I have changed the spelling, since it seemed to be spelled with an *r* everywhere I saw it. Thanks to Sandeepa for the tip to look up Panch Phoron on Wikipedia. Apparently you can buy the Panch Phoron already mixed or you can mix your own.)

1 1/2 C red lentils
3 1/2 C water
6 serrano chilies (or 3 jalepeno?) either whole or sliced in quarters
1/4 t turmeric, or more to taste
1 1/2 t salt

4 T ghee, butter or vegetable oil
(I would probably use coconut oil, which would make this recipe vegan)
1 C minced onions
1 C chopped tomatoes
1 T grated fresh ginger

2 T ghee or vegetable oil
1 T Panch Phoron spice mix
4 dried small red chilies
1-3 cloves garlic


There are three basic steps to this recipe: cooking the lentils in water, making a tomato/onion/ginger mush, and making a spiced oil.

1. Rinse lentils well, add water, serrano chilies, turmeric and salt. Bring carefully to boil and cook over low to medium heat, partially covered, for 25 minutes. Cover and cook another 10 minutes. Adjust salt.

2. While lentils are cooking, cook onions in a frying pan in the oil until they are golden brown (approximately 10 minutes), stirring constantly. Add tomatoes and ginger and continue cooking until the tomatoes decompose into a delicious and fragrant mush (approximately 8 minutes.) Stir constantly so that tomato mixture doesn’t stick. Turn heat to low if necessary.

3. Scrape out this mush into the lentils and stir it in. Let lentils sit while you make the spiced oil.

4. Do a quick rinse of the frying pan, without soap, and dry thoroughly. Add the remaining 2T oil and heat over medium high heat. When oil is hot add panch phanon mix and heat until the seeds begin to pop, about 15 seconds. Add red chilies and fry for another 15 seconds, until they turn a little darker. Turn off heat and add the crushed garlic and let sizzle for about 30 seconds. Stir this mixture into the lentil/tomato mixture and serve with rice. Adjust salt.

Jake adds this note to the recipe: Dried small red chilies have a burnt taste and should be taken out of the final dish.

This would be great served with rice, but when Jake brought it to my house, we just ate a bowl of it alone. I had eaten nearly half of mine with enthusiasm before I had the presence of mind to try to take a few photos so I could share it here.

South Beach Suggestions:
Oil would be better than ghee or butter if you’re making this for South Beach.  Dried beans and lentils are considered a “good carb” for any phase of The South Beach Diet. I’ve previously shared recipes for Indian Spiced Lentils and Lentils Rice and Sausage Another dish I loved was Sausage and Lentils with Fried Sage. Much less authentic than this recipe, but still pretty tasty was Curried Rice and Red Lentils.

Nutritional Information?

I chose the South Beach Diet to manage my weight partly so I wouldn’t have to count calories, carbs, points, or fat grams, but if you want nutritional information for a recipe, I recommend entering the recipe into Calorie Count, which will calculate it for you.

Blogger Disclosure:

Posts may include links to my affiliate account at, and Kalyn’s Kitchen earns a few cents on the dollar if readers purchase the items I recommend, so thanks for supporting my blog when you shop at Amazon!

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28 comments on “Bengali Red Dal Curry from Jake”

  1. This looks great, I love dahl. It is one of my favorites and I have only made it a handful of times. I have a list of Indian spices to pick up when I see them and I will have to add these to the list.

  2. Hi Katerina,
    Your blog is one of the ones I can’t leave comments on any more since I switched to new Blogger, so I hope you’ll see this! For some reason, on a small percentage of Blogger blogs (including my family blog) the comment window won’t open up. I wish I knew how to fix it. Anybody know?

  3. Hi Kalyn,
    I’m mostly a lurker on your site…(as you probably know from the reader survey you took ๐Ÿ™‚ )…anyways…dal is not a type of curry so we don’t say xyz dal curry, we say we made xyz dal. As for the five spice powder, this is the first I’ve heard of it….we do use garam masala a lot( a mixture of powdered cumin, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and black pepper) but as for the five spice powder you mentioned I haven’t heard of it..sorry

  4. Nabeela, thanks for the comment. I hadn’t ever heard of a dish called both Dal and Curry either, but since it’s not my recipe,and that’s the name he gave it, I just went with it.

  5. Not seen this 5 spice before. I always love lentils and dal. Sounds divine.

  6. Hooray for Jake for delving into Indian cooking! I, too, am occasionally intimidated, but there are so many good Indian cookbooks and blogs out there with recipes. Most of the difficulty is in mixing the spices, not in the methods of cooking. Will look forward to seeing more Indian cooking from your kitchen!

  7. Thats weird. It’s because of the pop up? I bet it would be fixed if Iyou switched to use the non pop-up style.

    Since it does sound like a problem on your side, maybe try clearing your cookies? (Under internet options…)

    Another easy option is to right click on the “Comments” link and choose “Open in a new WindowTab”. That *should* work.

    Good luck.

  8. Tanna and Lydia, Hooray for Jake. This was so amazingly delicious.

    Double hooray for Katerina. She is so smart. The trick of opening the link in a new window worked. This is going to help me on a lot of blogs where I haven’t been able to leave comments. If anyone is having that problem where the comment window doesn’t fully open and the “maximize” button doesn’t work, just use her trick.

  9. Gorgeous color,I love it.
    You are right about Chinese five spice Vs Panch Phoron!!LOL!!
    Great recipe,thanks Kalyn and thank you Jake!

  10. Hi kalyn
    So glad to see one of my fav dishes here. This Dal is a staple at our house and its my comfort food of all times

  11. Also saw a comment on the Five Spice mix or “Panch Puran”. You are right about it Kalyn, thats a very popular spice for the Bengalis and there is even an article on Wiki on it

  12. I’ll have to try this one, and pass it along to my sisters. I have a jar full of red lentils in the kitchen, and I ordered red lentil seeds from Victory Seed Company so I can try growing them this summer. Apparently it’s a relative of vetch.
    Finding the Indian Black onion spice may be difficult out here in the sticks, though!


  13. Wow Kalyn!

    Exploring Indian food….good Idea!

    I dunno much about bengali food…but seeing the ingredients and the list, hope it is authentic..! i never knew that we have people in west to taste such hot n spicy dishes!!

    Happy exploring!!

  14. Asha, glad you like the recipe. I thought this was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted, no kidding.

    Sandeepa, thanks for the tip about Wikipedia. Cool! I’ll look there for sure and add in a link. Also I notice you and Asha are both spelling the second word differently than the source I got it from, and I bet you guys are right.

    Willa, interesting. I haven’t heard of growing your own lentils. Apparently Jake found the black onion in Salt Lake, but there are a few good Indian grocery stores here.

    a yunus, it sure seemed authentic to me, but what do I know? But delicious for sure.

  15. Nice to see this recipe posted. Actually I subscribe to your feed, which is great since I get all your posts, but makes me lazy to actually visit and post a comment. I use panch phoron a lot, there are some recipes on my blog about this. Love this dal, my kids have this all the time.

  16. There’s chinese five spice and Indian 5 spice, perhaps its the garam masala that uses 5 kinds of spice mixed. Sometimes, there’s even 7/8/9 spice such as : adding nutmegs, mace, coriander to the basic garam masala spice mix as nabeela mentioned. oo…I love dal of any kind, yummy ! Thx for sharing, Kalyn ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. It’s the second time I come back here to this post and it’s the second time I get really annoyed! I want that 5 spice mix toooooo, it looks and sounds like a perfect dish for me… Why oh why aren’t there any Indian shops that I know of here??

  18. Creative Cook, will check it out on your blog.

    Melting Wok, I added some links to more information about the Bengali Five Spice Mix.

    Ilva, if I find it here I will send you some!

  19. I just had this for dinner, and it was delicious. Mine turned out less mushy than yours looks, but still great. I’m including a pic on my post at one weigh or another. (

  20. Debs, fun seeing how yours turned out. Glad you liked it.

  21. This sounds like such a wonderful combination of flavors. WTG on getting over that intimidation!

  22. Kalyn, Panch Poron (with accent on each ‘o’ as in “open”) is definitely a true blue Bengali spice mix – no other region in India uses it a a ‘standard’ house seasoning/spice mix. Therefore it is not surprising that even some other Indians who posted here have not heard of it. It is used when making veggies, dal, curries – anything and everything ๐Ÿ™‚

    Really like your style and enthusiasm in your writing. thanks!

  23. Panch Phoran is perhaps one of the most commonly used spices in a bengali kitchen. It is a combination of five seeds – fennel, kalonji, mustard, methi, cumin. It is used to cook bengali dal(lentil soup), mixed vegetables etc. However, it is probably not used in any other part of India- Anonymous Bengali.

  24. Thanks for sharing the information about this wonderful mixture. It’s so tasty!

  25. hi kalyn! I found this fabulous recipe via different route, and absolutely loved it!

    as regards panch phoron, i wanted to add that it’s also used in bihar, india, where they add ajwain seeds to it. these are tiny and very aromatic, sligthly similar to how thyme smells. they are truly fantastic. i use them all the time in pakoras, and in this gorgeous bihari aloo:

  26. I can never get Dal just right. Grrr. I think I may try this one though. Nothing beats Indian on a cold, wintry night…

  27. I did love it when my nephew made it for me. Hope it works for you.

  28. Thanks, Kalyn. We made this tonight, increasing the turmeric to 1 teaspoon and maxing out the garlic, and it turned out very well. Also it tastes like a dish where the flavor will just improve over a day or two.

    We served this with a few MTR boil-and-eat entrees. My niece wanted naan or rice to eat with her meal, so I may have a repeat performance with the leftovers and add some starches for her (I'm on Phase 1, so for now bread is a no-no).

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