How to Make The Whole Foods Red Lentil Dal with Spinach Soup Recipe at Home

This warm-spiced Indian soup is a staple of Indian-American cooking. An easy and delightful vegetarian recipe, this soup is a Southern staple with its roots along the Kerala coast that India shares with the island nation of Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan dal or dahl is an earthy, stew-like soup whose thick broth and deep spicy flavors should satisfy the most discerning eater.

Our variation on this soup is inspired by the Whole Foods Market’s Indian-style red lentil dal with spinach, combining earthy greens and lentils with bright aromatics like sharp onions and sweet carrots all in a vegetable broth with coconut milk and a zing of citrus. This soup will be a favorite for years once you try it for the first time.


  • Serves 4-6
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot diced finely
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 ½ cups dry red lentils
  • 1 carton low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • 2 cups of chopped spinach
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • Fine sea salt to taste


Enameled Dutch oven


  1. Heat the dutch oven over medium-high heat until hot.
  2. Add cumin and toast 1 minute or until aromatic, add a glug of high-quality olive oil and onion.
  3. Once the onion becomes soft and aromatic, about 1 minute, add the finely diced carrot and tablespoon of tomato paste. Stir while they heat until the carrots become aromatic and the tomato sauce just begins to caramelize and smell sweeter.
  4. Add the diced tomatoes, red lentils, and vegetable broth and bring to a boil.
  5. OPTIONAL: Spoon off some of the broth to temper the light coconut milk. This will heat the milk and reduce the likelihood of curdling during cooking.
  6. Reduce to simmer and stir in the light coconut milk, simmer until the lentils are softened and beginning to release their starch into the broth.
  7. Add the chopped spinach and lemon zest and stir in, watching until spinach is just wilted.
  8. Take off the heat and add lemon juice and fine sea salt, tasting as necessary.

What Comes Next

When finished, this soup should feature very soft lentils that burst under slight tooth pressure, earthy spinach and bright citrus flavor that will wake up all the rest of the soup. It should be served with a toothy grain bread and lassi or other Indian beverage, or beer if you choose to go in that direction.

Avoid the temptation to pair this soup with an india pale ale. IPAs are a British invention to supply ale to British forces in India during the Raj and were not actually favored by Indian people. Indian people have traditionally preferred light lagers in their beer choices.

This soup gets better in the refrigerator overnight and freezes beautifully; frozen it keeps for 1-3 months before becoming freezer burned. But let’s be realistic, you’re not going to let a soup like this sit in your freezer for three months.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why not pre-soak lentils?

Pre-soaking is a common step in the preparation of dry legumes, and many people will mistakenly use a pre-soak step with lentils, because they’re a legume and generally shipped dry. However, because lentils are very small individually and have a much thinner seed coat than other legumes, presoaking is unnecessary because they will absorb moisture more readily to begin with.

In almost all cases, lentils can dispense with the pre-soak step. Sometimes a recipe will call for a pre-soak, but it’s very uncommon and usually a step that can be skipped when it appears.

Does coconut milk need tempering?

Like dairy milk, coconut milk will curdle under high heat. Curdling is the process of proteins and fats in liquid forming curds, which comes from heat denaturing the proteins in the liquid. Coconut milk is not an animal-derived dairy, but it does contain protein and fat, so is vulnerable to curdling when added to hot liquid.

Because of this phenomenon of milk curdling, a recommended but optional step in preparation is tempering: Allowing the liquid to be added to be first introduced to a small amount of the broth that’s cooled slightly, reducing the temperature jump made when the coconut milk is then introduced to the dal soup.

Whence Garlic?

Garlic is one of the most delicious of all seasoning aromatics and is criminally underused in most recipes. Many recipes will purport that only one clove of garlic is required. A common rejoinder to this attitude is, “One garlic clove is only acceptable for a recipe to roast one clove of garlic – and even then, use two.”

Dal is not one of those recipes, however. Dal comes from a culinary tradition that doesn’t widely use garlic, but instead uses other aromatics. Because of that, this recipe does not call for garlic. If you truly feel that you can’t live without garlic, feel free to add some to the spice mix, but it’s nowhere near required to have a full experience with dal.

Why Use Cumin Seeds And Not Ground Cumin?

Herbs, for the most part, are nothing more than slightly smelly dust. Herbs rely on the oils contained in the leaves, and most of those oils are expressed and lost when the herb is dried and ground.

Cumin seeds don’t need to be ground to express their full pungency. If you feel you must have ground cumin seeds in the recipe, a mortar and pestle will produce more than satisfactory results.

What should this be served with?

Indian food has a popular array of appetizers. The most popular among these is naan, a flatbread cooled on the floor of a brick tandoor oven. This creates a luscious texture that’s compared in American circles to a soft Neapolitan pizza crust.

The highly open crumb and huge bubbles of naan allows stuffing with other ingredients like onion paste, pistachios or garlic. Dal can also be served as an appetizer. Usually before a meal of chana masala (spiced chickpea) or mutter paneer (spinach and cheese).

It also is not anywhere near uncommon to have it with a meat dish like butter chicken or lamb vindaloo. The diner’s and chef’s imagination can create any combination with this beautiful soup.

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