You’re going to love this easy, creamy (vegan!) slow cooker dal recipe, which is a cinch to make using inexpensive pantry ingredients. It’s rich and nourishing yet bright and healthy. I’ll show you how to serve it as a side dish OR healthy main course. [New VIDEO below!]

Red lentil dal over rice with sautéed kale and cashews.

This homemade slow cooker dal one of those meals that I crave. It’s a cinch to make using red lentils (no pre-soaking required 🙌). Coconut milk lends creaminess (and makes the dal naturally vegan), while curry powder, garlic and ginger give the dal warming spice. A splash of fresh lime juice at the end provides brightness. We serve it with naan bread, rice and greens (and some crunchy garnishes, but more on that in a minute) for a dynamic and wholesome one-bowl meal.

Overhead shot of red lentil dal in the slow cooker with bowls and toppings alongside.

Indian inspired slow cooker dal

This slow cooker red lentil dal recipe is comforting yet bright. I LOVE red lentils, which are easy to cook and require no pre-soaking. This recipe was inspired by the Curried Red Lentil & Sweet Potato Dal in my book, Build-a-Bowl. While that version is made on the stovetop, for this version I took a cue from my other book, Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker, and cook the dal in the slow cooker! It’s a cinch to make using ingredients I keep on hand, making it perfect for weeknights.

The ingredients for the red lentil dal on a countertop, including red lentils, an onion, coconut milk, garlic, ginger and spices.

What is dal?

Dal (which is also spelled dahl or daal) is an Indian stew-like dish made with dried lentils, split peas or mung beans (the word dal actually refers to both the beans AND the stew). It varies from region to region and from household to household, but it’s usually flavored with aromatics and spices. This version, called masoor dal, is made with red lentils. It’s comfort food at it’s best. 

New slow cooker Bluprint class!

My new Bluprint class, Slow Cooker Made Fresh, features some of my other favorite slow cooker recipes. The recipes are vibrant and packed with flavor, from a slow cooker chicken tikka masala, to a vegetarian lasagna, to a gorgeous breakfast strata, and more! Click here to watch the class trailer and join the class!

Slow Cooker Made Fresh class cover photo.

Dal with spinach or greens

While you can serve the dal on its own as a side dish, we transform it into a full meal by serving it with sautéed spinach or other greens (such as kale, collard greens or Swiss chard), but you could use any veggies you have on hand (sugar snap peas, snow peas, carrots and/or sweet potatoes are all good bets).

Close up of a plate of slow cooker dal with sautéed spinach over rice.

How to serve the dal

We serve the dal and greens over rice, with naan bread for scooping (pro tip: my kids are seventy-nine percent more likely to devour their food if they’re allowed to use their hands 😂). I include a few garnishes at the table for added texture and flavor. Toasted cashews provide crunch, fresh cilantro adds brightness and mango chutney gives the dish a touch of sweetness. You could also for sliced chiles or hot sauce for some heat!

How to make dal

  1. Combine chopped onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder, cumin and oil in a large microwave-save bowl.
  2. Microwave the vegetables until tender (alternatively, you can cook the ingredients on the stovetop!).
  3. In a slow cooker, combine the cooked vegetables with red lentils and a bay leaf.
  4. Add coconut milk and water.
Process shot divided into four quadrants showing the steps for making the slow cooker dal recipe.

It’s important to cook the aromatics (onion, garlic and ginger) quickly before they go into the slow cooker for two reasons: (1) it helps to draw out and mellow their flavors, and (2) it softens the vegetables so that they turn tender (otherwise they’ll still be crunchy at the end). The good news is that you can simply microwave the aromatics for 4-5 minutes (although I also include instructions for cooking them on the stovetop).

Red lentil dal in a slow cooker with a wooden spoon.

Cover the dal and cook it on LOW heat for 5-6 hours, or until the lentils are tender (do not cook the dal on high heat, as it will cause the lentils to cook unevenly and burst). Stir the dal well (it will turn creamy once stirred), then add fresh lime juice.

Do you have to soak lentils before slow cooking?

No! There’s no pre-soaking required. Raw red lentils can go straight into the slow cooker (in fact, soaking will cause the lentils to break down too quickly). Just give the lentils a rinse before adding them to the slow cooker to wash off any dust or impurities.

Uncooked red lentils in a bowl.

Do you stir lentils while cooking?

You don’t need to stir the lentils while they cook. Test them near the end of cooking – they should be slightly firm but not crunchy.

Why are lentils healthy?

Lentils are a fantastic source of fiber and protein, and they’re rich in folate, potassium and iron. They have been linked to cardiovascular health, heart health and diabetes prevention. Luckily they’re inexpensive and easy to cook—so go eat your lentils! 

Close up of a fork taking a bite of dahl and rice.

Tips for making slow cooker dal:

  • You will need a 4- to 7-quart slow cooker for this recipe. I love my KitchenAid 6-Quart model. Different models cook at different rates, so check your dal early (the lentils should be slightly firm, but not crunchy). In my model it takes 6 hours. 
  • Do not use high heat when cooking the dal, as it will cause the lentils to cook unevenly and burst. 
  • I prefer to use light coconut milk in this recipe, as it gives the dal a silkier texture. You can use full-fat but it will be thicker. 
  • If you like it spicy, feel free to throw in some red pepper flakes or a dried chili when assembling the slow cooker.
  • Find a ton of other flavor-packed recipes in my books, Build-a-Bowl and Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker!
  • For more slow cooker inspiration, check out my Bluprint class, Slow Cooker Made Fresh.

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links to products I use and love (at no cost to you). Thank you for supporting From Scratch Fast!

Other slow cooker recipes to try:

Other healthy meals you might like:

Watch the video!

Get the recipe!

Easy Slow Cooker Dal

You’re going to love this easy, creamy slow cooker dal, which is a cinch to make using inexpensive pantry ingredients! It’s rich and nourishing yet bright and healthy. Serve the dal as a side dish, or turn it into a full meal by pairing it with rice and/or naan bread and sautéed vegetables (we especially love this with garlicky sautéed greens, such as kale, spinach or Swiss chard). If you’d like, you can also serve shredded rotisserie chicken alongside. I prefer to use light coconut milk in this recipe, as it gives the dal a silkier texture (you can use full-fat but it will be a bit thicker). If you want to skip the stovetop prep you can simply cook the aromatics in the microwave (I've included instructions below!). Be sure to cook the dal on low heat, not high (see the Notes below). For a stovetop version, check out my book Build-a-Bowl!
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time6 hrs
Total Time6 hrs 15 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: easy dal recipe, red lentil dahl recipe, slow cooker dal recipe
Servings: 6 people

Ingredients

Stovetop (or microwave) prep

  • 1 tablespoon neutral vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

Slow cooker

  • 2 cups dried red lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (13.5-ounce) can light coconut milk
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 lime

For serving (optional)

  • Rice and/or naan bread
  • Sautéed greens, such as kale, spinach, collard greens or Swiss chard
  • Chopped cilantro or mint
  • Toasted cashews
  • Mango chutney

Instructions

Prepare the stovetop ingredients

  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger, curry powder and cumin. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. (Alternatively, combine everything, including the spices, in a heatproof bowl and microwave on high, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4-5 minutes.) Scrape the mixture into a 4- to 7-quart slow cooker.

Assemble the slow cooker

  • Add the lentils, coconut milk, water and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until the lentils are tender (they should be slightly firm but not crunchy), about 5-6 hours on low (it takes 6 hours in my KitchenAid 6 quart model); do not use high heat. Squeeze in the juice from 1/2 lime, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve the dal as-is as a side dish, or turn it into a full meal by serving it with rice and/or naan bread and sautéed greens. Let people garnish their dishes with cilantro or mint, toasted cashews and/or mango chutney.

Notes

Slow Cooker Jumpstarts: You can cook the aromatics ahead of time and refrigerate them for up to 2 days before cooking the dal. 
Storage: The dal can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.
Notes:
  • You will need a 4- to 7-quart slow cooker for this recipe. I love my KitchenAid 6-Quart model. Different models cook at different rates, so check your dal early (the lentils should be slightly firm, but not crunchy). In my model it takes 6 hours. 
  • Do not use high heat when cooking the dal, as it will cause the lentils to cook unevenly and burst. 
  • I prefer to use light coconut milk in this recipe, as it gives the dal a silkier texture. You can use full-fat but it will be thicker. 
  • If you like it spicy, feel free to throw in some red pepper flakes or a dried chili when assembling the slow cooker.
  • Find a ton of other flavor-packed recipes in my books, Build-a-Bowl and Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker!
  • For more slow cooker inspiration, check out my Bluprint class, Slow Cooker Made Fresh.

FAQ

Can you cook lentils in the slow cooker?

YES! This slow cooker dal is an easy and DELICIOUS way to cook red lentils.

Do you have to soak lentils?

Nope! Lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking, making this an easy weeknight meal.

What are some other ways to serve dal?

We love this dal over rice with sautéed greens and naan bread, but it’s also a fabulous accompaniment to curries and roasted meats. You can also thin the dal with water or broth to make a soup!

Stay Connected!

I’d love to hear what you’re cooking, and I’m happy to answer any questions! Be sure to tag any photos so that I can share! @FromScratchFast