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Dal Bhat (Nepalese Lentil Curry)

I have always had a passion for mountaineering. This dish, Dal (lentils) Bhat (rice), has its roots in the Himalayas of Nepal and thus, has a big influence on mountaineering in the area. On the trek into Everest base camp, dal bhat is basically the only meal served in the tea houses along the path. It is so closely tied to mountaineering that climbers often rate each day’s trek by the number of servings needed to complete it, such as a “2 dal bhat” climb or a “4 dal bhat” for something really strenuous. Every time I make this curry, I can almost picture myself at the 17,000-foot base camp, waiting to make a push for the summit.

It is no surprise to me that this dish of plant-based nutrition is what fuels climbers in the most strenuous environment in the world: carbs, protein, fiber, vegetables, vitamins, and spices. It is the most perfectly balanced meal.

This dal (lentil stew) is really similar to the chickpea curry I’ve made in the past. The flavors and technique both draw inspiration from the chickpea version, with some differences. It’s actually really easy to make and super flavorful with the spices. This one is a staple in my home and I hope you love it as much as I do.

Dal Bhat

Makes 4-5 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked rice
  • 1 cup dry Lentils (any color)
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 16 oz. canned tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup cilantro
  • 1 lime
  • 1 red chili
  • Spices to taste: Salt, Cumin, Coriander, Turmeric, Cayenne Pepper

Dal_Bhat_Bowl

Step One

Begin cooking the rice according to the package instructions (usually 2 parts water to 1 part rice). Once the rice is starting, chop the onion and garlic and add them to a large pan with a splash of olive oil.

Step Two

Once the onions and garlic have softened, add the lentils and allow them to cook dry for a minute or two, then add about 3 cups of water into the pan, cover, and let cook. Once that water is absorbed (15+ minutes), add the spices to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon of each to start), the can of tomatoes, and more water (if needed). Simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the lentils are fully cooked and the flavors have melded together perfectly. Give them a taste and adjust any seasonings as needed.

Step Three

At the very last minute, add a handful of chopped cilantro and remove from the heat. The rice should be cooked and fluffy at this point. To serve, add a few heaping spoons of rice to a plate and top with the lentils. Garnish with a lime wedge, some sliced chilies, and a sprig of cilantro.

Dal_Bhat_Close

And now, a picture looking back from just below the summit of Everest… Who wants to come with me?

Everest Summit
credit: Jimmy Chin

55 Comments

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  1. This looks great! I am Nepalese and growing up, I have had this almost every day, if not, twice a day! Very similar to what my mom put in her dal.

    Thanks for putting this up!

    • Oh I’m so excited that it’s similar to an “authentic” dal! Thank you for letting me know that. Since I (sadly) haven’t been to Nepal yet, I’ve had to create my own version.

    • Can you tell me are the lentils raw to start with or are they soaked. You state ‘dried lentils’ in the ingredient list. But lentils take a long time to cook don’t they?

      • Hi Kate, the lentils are dried (not soaked). In my experience, dried lentils only take about as long to cook as brown rice, maybe 45 minutes at most in a covered pot of boiling water. Alternatively, I know many stores sell canned lentils that are pre-cooked – you could try those as well.

    • Hi Amber, well I think this pairs best with white rice, something fragrant like Basmati and that’s what I used in these photos. But if I make it for myself, it will typically be made with brown basmati, which I love.

  2. Looks so good! I can’t wait to make it. How much of each spice? I’m kind of a newbie at Dal and don’t really know where to start… πŸ™‚

    • Hi Karolyn! That’s a great question and I probably should have given more insight into that in the post. I would start with about 1/2 teaspoon of each and see how you like it from there. I often add that much to start and when it’s almost finished I’ll give it a taste and adjust as needed in the final minutes.

  3. Thanks for posting this great recipe. I loved eating Dal Bhat when I visited that wonderful, enchanting country of Nepal. This recipe is the closest thing to being there. While I did not scale Sagarmatha I had a great trek. Our porter and guide did indeed say we had a one or two Dal Bhat day! Thanks again for the post. I have to get back to that magical land. Namaste Andrew.

  4. It’s been since 1986 that I had the Nepali Dal Bhat when trekking thru Khumbu villages, and I can still fondly recall the distinctive smell and taste. I’ve got a batch going right now!

  5. Wow!
    I just made it for supper for my hostfamily and they were so impressed!
    First, I was a bit scared, because I am actually not a good cook, but that recipe is easy and tastes great!! My hostfamily also said, I should do that more often! πŸ™‚ So, thank you!

    You have very nice recipes on your page and I am definetly going to try some more of them!! πŸ™‚

    Thank you and greets from Scotland!

  6. I know you said the spices to taste of how much to add, but I have never worked with spices like this, how much of the spices each do u like to add for yours? Please.

    • Hi Jasmine, good question! I use about 1/2 a teaspoon to start and then add anything else that I think it needs. Thanks for pointing that out. The recipe was a little vague there and I updated it with a note about spices in step two.

  7. Just to let you know, the correct term is “Nepali” Curry dish, not “Nepalese”. Though it sounds the most natural it isn’t the term usually used. Love the recipe though!

  8. Cooked this a few times now and it is amazing, thanks so much for this! I’ve cooked it for myself, my immediate family and my extended family and it’s been praised by all, so know you have about thirty new fans in Ireland! My girlfriend did it the other day and added in a bit of ginger, then had about a teaspoon of each of the spices but only a quarter of the cayenne pepper and the salt and it was a very nice twist, just if you wanted to give it a go!

  9. Andrew, great recipe! I have been to Nepal and Sikkim several times and this is what all the porters eat while they serve the trekkers Western fare. I can’t believe you haven’t been to Nepal, that’s a shame. However, come out here to Mammoth Lakes and you can bang around the Sierras to your heart’s content. It’s not the Himalayas, but the Range of Light is the prettiest and most pleasant mountain range to spend time in! Paul

    • Ooh, I love the Sierras! I can’t wait to climb Whitney some day soon. Down in LA, all we have are the San Gabriel Mountains, which are nice, but they aren’t the Sierras …or the Himalayas πŸ™‚

  10. It’s been almost 20 years since I was in the Himalayas, and I loved Dahl Bhat then too, and cooked it when I got back for a while. I had since lost the recepie, but now we have the internet, and I found your post. It’s cooking up now ready for my son’s breakfast and all those smells are bringing back memories. Just something I remember from my old recepie: they recommend you dry fry the spices first, because that really brings the flavours out. Thanks for your recepie, I particularly liked the way you organised it into easy steps.

    • That’s awesome, Peter!! I’m so happy this recipe is bringing back memories :D. Yes, toasting spices is great (and it’s something I should really do more often..) thanks for the reminder!

  11. Thanks for posting. I just bought some dal (dried split lentals) from HEB grocery in the international food section and was curious how to cook it. Looks yummy. Will give it a try. Also got garam masala spice. Have you tried it with that spice mix yet?

  12. this is my new favorite dish! I can see how the Nepali people can eat it twice a day! I made mine very spicy and it hots all the flavor spots and is healthy too boot! I can’t wait to try your Thai red curry next!

  13. Oh, joy. This will be on my to do list this week. We just returned from our trek of the Annapurna circuit above Kathmandu and I worried about life after Dal Bhat. It was sustenance and comfort. The remark about the one or two Dal Bhat days was hilarious and spot-on! Your comment on the seasoning was very appropriate. It really is flavored differently everywhere you have it, even to the addition of chilie or ginger. Namaste, and thanks so much. Jen j

  14. I am so happy I’ve found this website and recipe! it looks incredible! just returned from Everest and am having Dal bhat withdrawals! cannot wait to try, thank you!! πŸ™‚ more importantly…. when’s the hippy commune happening?!

    • I’m so jealous of your Everest trip! I can’t wait to go sometime.

      OMG, you want to join the commune?! I think you’re the first one to notice that little blurb. It’s hidden in plain sight so that only those who are cool enough to join the commune will find it, haha. But I seriously want to do it! I Just need to somehow acquire a huge piece of land along the coast of Big Sur first…

    • I would suggest draining them. Usually there isn’t too much liquid and it won’t make a big difference, but if you drain them you can always add a little water back in later if needed.

  15. Just returned from Nepal. Many Dal Bhat mealsβ€”most were very soupy but tasty. Hard to eat with your fingers. Also served with various cooked veggies and pickled sides. Any suggestions for those?

  16. Some mango pickles and some plain yogurt would be a nice accompaniment.

    I eat dal about three nights per week. Add a little minced garlic to the lentil water. After the lentils are cooked soft, add a quarter tsp of concentrated tamarind and stir well until it’s fully blended in. Now fry two dried red peppers, one tsp cumin seeds and one tsp mustard seeds in a small pan. Just as the red peppers begin to darken, scoop the whole thing into your pot of cooked lentils. Stir so it’s well mixed. Oila.

  17. Dal Bhat Power 24 Hour!!!

    We just completed our trek to EBC and lived on this super food while trekking!!!

    Can’t wait to try you recipe!

    Thanks for posting!!

  18. Hi!

    I am visiting Nepal shortly but have a sever nut allergy.
    From your experience, did any of the Dal Bhat’s contain nuts?

    Thank you!

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