By Ali Lopez
MRG Contributor

Happy end-of-February—the longest shortest month! Being that it is winter and soups and stews are where it’s at, I thought it was about time that I shared one of my other signature dishes. This one is a little different than my chili recipe and might not be as familiar to all of you. But I promise that if you give it a try, you will love it. 

I learned to make this when I was living out in California in a yoga community. I worked in the kitchen and we often made Indian-inspired dishes. Some of you may be wondering what exactly “dal” (also spelled dhal) actually means. According to Wikipedia: “Dal is a term used in the Indian subcontinent for dried, split pulses—that is, lentils, peas and beans. The term is also used for various soups prepared from these pulses.” So basically it is a dish, and an ingredient in the dish!

I love this recipe for a number of reasons. It is made from mostly pantry items, which means no special shopping trips. (I even use frozen veggies in it. Something you should always have in your freezer!) I also love lentils. Read all about the wonders of lentils and my lentil soup recipe. This recipe also comes together really quickly because of the red lentils. If you haven’t cooked with them before, they are awesome because they cook so quickly, even without soaking. And for those who think Indian dishes are spicy, that is not always true. Yes, they are “spiced,” meaning flavorful, but not always “spicy” meaning hot. You can add hot sauce or cayenne to the recipe and adjust the heat from none to POW! 

And this dish is also awesome for runners! It is loaded with “good for you things,” such as anti-inflammatory garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric along with protein, iron and anti-oxidants in the red lentils. And of course I always add a good dose of greens, which are loaded with all the good nutrients.

This dish was not named by me, but by a dear friend of mine (who has since left the earth) because she loved my dal and told me she tried to make it (before I had a recipe written out) but what was my secret to my “magical “dal? And I remember telling her it was all in the love. Don’t forget to add a good dose of love to everything you cook. It really does make a difference.

Ali’s Magical Dal

The recipe makes about 10 cups, and is even better the next day. It also freezes great so make the full recipe. I also usually serve this on rice or with naan bread.


 cups red lentils

1 tablespoons coconut oil, or olive oil

medium yellow onion, small dice

1 large carrot, diced

2 big garlic cloves, chopped

1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced

teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, or to taste)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

 heaping teaspoon ground cumin 

 heaping teaspoon ground coriander

1 heaping teaspoon ground turmeric

 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste

-14 oz. can coconut milk

1 bag frozen chopped spinach, kale or collards

1/2 – 1 lime (or lemon) juiced

tablespoons coconut oil, or olive oil

 teaspoons cumin seeds

teaspoon black mustard seeds

Optional: 1 small head cauliflower, roasted

For serving: I love to add roasted cauliflower. Set oven for 425. Toss cauliflower florets with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on one or two sheet trays. Roast for about 15 minutes. Flip and roast again another 15 or until crispy delicious! Add to the dal.


-In a large stockpot or dutch oven, sauté the onions, carrot, garlic and ginger in coconut oil until just softened. 

-Add the ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, black pepper, 1 teaspoon of the salt, optional cayenne and cook until fragrant. 

-Add the lentils and 6 cups of water and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered, low heat for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils begin to break down. When they are mostly cooked, add the can of coconut milk plus 1/2 can of water and keep cooking until the lentils are completely cooked (They will fall apart.) At this point, add the spinach, another teaspoon of salt, half the juice

Don’t skip this part: In a small skillet, over a medium flame, warm the oil. Once it is shimmering, add the seeds and swirl the pan, keeping the seeds moving. They will sizzle and bubble a little – that’s what you want. Don’t let them burn. Once they pop, take them off the heat and pour the mixture carefully into the lentils, standing back so you don’t get hurt when the mixture sputters again. Stir to combine. Taste to see if you need to add more spices, juice or salt. Add the roasted cauliflower if you want and serve over brown rice, if you’d like.

Ali Lopez is a northern Michigan runner, chef and health coach. You can learn more about her at her web site Healthy Chef Ali. She’s also on Facebook here »

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