Making Dal (Split Lentils, Peas, or Beans) in a Rice Cooker

Making Dal in a rice cooker? You can, and it is such a great way to ‘set and forget’ as you work on the rest of dinner, or anything else! I love my rice cooker for making rice, but was wondering what else I could do with it. We have a few kitchen gadgets, but did not want to get every appliance out there (we still do not have an Instant Pot, which I’m not sure I am happy about). So what else could I get this rice cooker to do for me?

Dal is the Sanskrit word for ‘split’. Though in Hindi, it may refer to split lentils, peas, or beans. This makes for a quick cooking time, and lends itself to the relatively fast cooking rice cooker (compared to a slow cooker). So keep in mind, not all lentils are Dal. And, thy spelling may be Dahl, Daal, or Dal.

Dal is a Healthy and Nourishing Food

Dal a a good source of protein, fiber, and several vitamins and minerals. It also contains a class of phytochemicals called flavonoids that have a positive impact on our bodies physiology and metabolic function. Several studies show eating lentils is linked to a reduced incidence of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cancers and cardiovascular diseases due to its bioactive compounds.

Soaking the Dal

I’ve read that at least rinsing red lentils is recommended, as they can have a bitter taste if you do not. If you have time, however, I recommend soaking your dal before cooking. Either soak them overnight or all day in preparation for dinner. This works well if you do it before work or in the morning (~8 hours soaking time).

While not necessary, the enzyme phytase is activated when the lentils are soaked. This helps break down phytic acid which would otherwise bind to calcium, iron, and zinc. So the soaking helps to make absorption of these nutrients easier. Also, if you experience gas or bloating after eating dal, you may notice that soaking lentils results in less gas or bloating.

Water to Dal Ratio

Starting with 1 cup of dry lentils, even after soaking, add 3 cups of water to them before cooking. A cup of dry lentils will make about 2 ½ cups cooked lentils. Lentils increase in volume about 2 ½ times when cooked. 

In other words, add fresh water to dry dal in a 3:1 ratio, i.e. 3 cups of water for every 1 cup of dry, unsoaked dal. If you prefer a chunkier dal, you can add less water, ~2.5:1 or even 2:1 water to dal ratio. I personally like a thinner, more soup like dal. It goes well with rice or naan bread.

I recommend using measuring cups instead of the cup that comes with the rice cooker. The cup that comes with the rice cooker is fine if you are making plain rice. However, once you start adding additional ingredients to the cooker, it could throw off the ratio. When you use the cup that comes with the rice cooker, you then add water to a line in the rice cooker bowl. If you are adding more ingredients, these ingredients take up volume, so it will throw off the amount of water you add.

Seasoning the Dal and Other Ingredients

Seasoning the Dal can be as uncomplicated as salt, pepper, and ~2 tablespoons of your favorite curry seasoning from the store (a premixed blend of coriander, ginger, turmeric, cumin, and other spices).

You may choose to create your own blend of spices to make a curry. Here is a suggestion which I’ve added to 1 cup dry but rinsed red lentil dal with 2 1/2 cups water in the rice cooker:

  • 1/2 diced onion
  • 2-5 minced garlic cloves depending on how much you like garlic 😉
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger or if you don’t have fresh you can use 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
    • (generally use 1/4 teaspoon of ground for every 1 tablespoon of fresh called for in a recipe)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika (smoked or not per your preference of smoked flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

Another optional addition is tomato. In the summer when there an abundance of tomato in the garden (as it is at the time of this writing), I like to get 3 larger or 5-6 smaller sized tomatoes and quarter them before adding them to the rice cooker pot. They cook down very nicely and add dimension to the dal.

You can add other vegetables to your dal as well, but must be careful that your rice cooker has room for the volume of food you are putting into it. This works well with larger rice cookers, though smaller ones can manage ~1 cup of added chopped vegetables. Try carrots, eggplant, or peppers.

I also would add a good 3 tablespoons of pasture raised butter or ghee if you have it to the pot (yum!). If you prefer to keep it vegan, add a fat such as coconut oil or olive oil. Having some fat will add dimension to the flavor and help you absorb fat soluble vitamins in the dal.

Cooking the Dal in the Rice Cooker

You can cook the dal on the white rice setting, typically an hour, even if you only rinsed the dal (without soaking it), and add raw diced/minced ingredients such as onion and garlic. The amount of heat time is enough to cook these raw ingredients, releasing their flavors into the dal. Some people really prefer to saute the garlic, onion, and spices before hand to enhance the flavors.

If you choose to use fresh grated ginger or turmeric, this can also be added straight to the dal in the rice cooker. There is no need to saute these ahead of time and dirty another pan.

The dal will stay hot in the rice cooker until you are ready to serve it. As with many soup like foods, it will taste even better the next day, after the flavors marinate together. If you eat it the next day, you could make a rice in your rice cooker to go with it! If you are eating it immediately, I like to have it with some of Trader Joe’s frozen naan bread which heats up quickly in the oven. If I am lucky, my husband will have made fresh naan bread in our tandoor oven!

Cilantro makes a nice garnish for this dish, but if you are not into cilantro, consider finely chopped green onion, some slightly toasted pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top, or croutons.

Resources:

Gupta RK, Gangoliya SS, Singh NK. Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains. J Food Sci Technol. 2015 Feb;52(2):676-84. doi: 10.1007/s13197-013-0978-y. Epub 2013 Apr 24. PMID: 25694676; PMCID: PMC4325021.

K, Xu B. Polyphenol-Rich Lentils and Their Health Promoting Effects. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Nov 10;18(11):2390. doi: 10.3390/ijms18112390. PMID: 29125587; PMCID: PMC5713359.

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Anne Marie Berggren RDN, MS, CDN, CNSC is a Registered Dietitian with a Master's Degree in Nutrition, training in integrative and functional nutrition, nutrition for mental health, obesity and weight management, is a board certified nutrition support clinician, and an adjunct professor for the Stony Brook Graduate Nutrition Program teaching advanced clinical nutrition.

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