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Baby’s First Daal (lentils for your baby)

Baby's first lentil dish: an Indian staple called Moon Daal! Perfect for spoon feeding or for baby led weaning.
A side by side image of moong dal with the left bowl being suitable for the whole family and the right bowl being just right for baby. Paratha on side for dipping.

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I (Nita) still remember it, it was the summer of 2017. I was a little nervous but also pretty excited. This was was the day I was going to start my baby on solid foods. Or so I thought!

You might be wondering, what did this Dietitian mama serve as her baby as his first food? I thought about it fairly strategically. I knew that I wanted to offer my baby of food that was iron rich since that’s a really important nutrient of concern for young infants who are getting ready for solids. I also knew that I didn’t want his first few foods to be meat, to respect requests from my family. We eventually offered my son meat after a ceremonial haircutting he had at 7 months.

After a bit of consideration, it dawned on me. I would feed my baby homemade daal that I would purée myself. So I went ahead and did just that. I remember adding a pinch of cumin and a pinch of garam masala. So what’s daal, you might be asking? Daal is both an ingredient and a dish that typically has lentils as the main ingredient. You could also say that daal is the Hindi or Punjabi word for ‘lentil’! There are a variety of different daals that are enjoyed in India, Pakistan, and other countries; the dishes made from daal, or, called daal appear to look a lot like western soups.

Why is daal a great first food?

As clarified above, daal is essentially lentils! And lentils are so so so wonderful in terms of their nutritional benefits. They contain a great source of iron, fibre, complex carbohydrates and other trace minerals like B vitamins and magnesium.

The other bonus is that they can be easily mashed or puréed, making it perfect for a baby that is being spoonfed.

a baby spoon filled with daal, and indian lentil dish, perfect for baby's first food

What type of lentil can I use for my daal?

Ultimately, you can choose any lentil that you desire. But, it’s important to keep in mind that the amount of water and cooking time required varies from lentil to lentil. For example red split lentils can cook in no time, about 20 minutes on the stove top. Whereas green lentils can take a little longer!

It’s also your choice if you’d like to use canned lentils versus dry. If you go the route of purchasing canned lentils do your best to source something that is low sodium or be sure to rinse the lentils underwater. Also note that most canned lentils are green lentils. Red split lentils would turn to solid mush if they underwent canning! 

Personally, I like to keep it traditional and use dry lentils for my cooking.

For this particular recipe, you’ll need two different types of lentils. 

  • Red split lentils are kind of a salmon or pink colour if you will. These are very common in western stores. 
  • The second lentil you’ll need is called moong daal – it’s a tiny little yellow color. Where I live, we tend to find it in the international aisle with all of the other imported Indian foods.

Daal takes time

Have you ever read a really cute children’s book called, Bilal Cooks Daal? It’s written by Aisha Saeed. Our children (Jessica’s too!) love reading it. The overarching message in this cute book is that daal takes time. And boy oh boy is that ever correct!

When you prepare this recipe, you want to be particularly patient as you build what is known as the masala – it’s essentially the base of the soup that includes onions, tomato, aromatics like ginger and garlic along with spices. Trust me when I tell you this, your daal is only as good as your masala.

I have a feeling Bilal would say the same, he he.

How do I feed daal to my baby and family?

For your baby, all you need to do is serve the daal as is or you can blend it up further depending on your baby’s ability. I find this daal to be a little bit more on the runny side, so you are welcome to thicken it with something like mashed potato, mashed rice, or infant cereal!

Another great handheld way to offer daal is to mix it with some rice and shape it into a ball. You’ll need to work and work and work the rice in with the daal but eventually you will get there.

A final way to enjoy this delicious recipe is to serve it with rice on the side or with roti, a traditional flatbread. Naan is also a great option.

In case daal is new to you, you can enjoy it with a spoon. But it’s also traditional for Indian’s to use a piece of roti to scoop some up and enjoy it that way. Oddly enough, it’s not messy at all. My mother always reminded me “your hands are your first utensil”. I think she was right about that when I reflect on how my babies learned to eat. Moms…they’re always right.

If you enjoyed this read, you might also want to check out: 5 Indian Foods to Offer Your Baby

Alrighty, the main attraction of this blog post. My recipe for Moong Daal.

Enjoy!

Moong Daal

Baby's first lentil dish: an Indian staple called Moon Daal!
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time55 mins
Total Time1 hr 5 mins
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup yellow moong lentil also known as yellow petite lentils
  • ¾ cup red split lentil
  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp whole whole cumin seed
  • 1 large onion finely diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tbsp ginger minced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 3 roma tomatoes diced (about 1 ½ cup)
  • ¼ tsp cayenne (you can use 1/8 tsp or omit if you want to reduce the spice level)
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp salt *not for baby
  • 6 – 6.5 cups water
  • ¼ cup cilantro *optional for garnish
  • ½ tsp garam masala

Instructions

INSTANT POT version:

  • Sift through lentils to ensure there are no other particles! Rinse thoroughly – draining about 4 or 5 times until water runs fairly clear.
  • Leave the lentils soaking in some water, enough to cover it while you prepare your masala (onion and tomato mixture).
  • Heal oil for one minute over medium heat in a small pot. Once the oil is shimmering, add whole cumin seed. You want to just lightly toast the seeds, not burn them. After about 30 seconds add onion, garlic and ginger.
  • Cook onion mixture for 10 – 15 minutes. They should be very well cooked and almost on the brink of caramelizing!
  • Add diced tomatoes, cayenne, turmeric, black pepper and salt if using (if baby is > 1 year of age) and sauté for another 10 – 15 minutes. The mixture should basically look like a wet mush! You want to be constantly stirring it. At this point you may need to turn down the heat to prevent burning on the bottom of your pan. This is where the magic of patience takes place.
  • In the meantime, rinse the lentils one final time and add into Instant Pot with 6 cups of water.
  • Add your masala into the Instant Pot and give this a final stir.
  • Secure the lid, place to SEALING and cook on Manual setting for 25 minutes.
  • Once completed, natural release for 10 minutes and then quick release.
  • Taste and adjust seasonings as you wish or add more water to thin out.
  • Garnish with cilantro and garam masala.

STOVE TOP version:

  • Sift through lentils to ensure there are no other particles! Rinse thoroughly – draining about 4 or 5 times until water runs fairly clear.
  • Leave the lentils soaking in some water, enough to cover it while you prepare your masala (onion and tomato mixture).
  • Heal oil for one minute over medium heat in a small pot. Once the oil is shimmering, add whole cumin seed. You want to just lightly toast the seeds, not burn them. After about 30 seconds add onion, garlic and ginger.
  • Cook onion mixture 10 – 15 minutes. They should be very well cooked and almost on the brink of caramelizing!
  • Add diced tomatoes, cayenne, turmeric, black pepper and salt if using (if baby is > 1 year of age) and sauté for another 10 – 15 minutes. The mixture should basically look like a wet mush! You want to be constantly stirring it. At this point you may need to turn down the heat to prevent burning on the bottom of your pan. This is where the magic of patience takes place.
  • In the meantime, rinse the lentils one final time and add into a large pot with 7 cups of water.
  • Add your masala into the pot with lentils and give this a stir.
  • Bring to a light boil and cook for 25 – 35 minutes stirring every few minutes. You want to boil this until your lentils are softened – the water will evaporate so you can also add more if you’d like but you definitely want this to reduce and thicken.
  • Taste and adjust seasonings as you wish or add more water to thin out.
  • Garnish with cilantro and garam masala.

Notes

Will keep in fridge for 3 days.
Freezer friendly. 
jess and nita, registered dietitians
Meet Jess and Nita

Hi! We’re both Dietitians & boy mamas! We’re here to help you confidently raise kids who will grow up to be lifelong Happy Healthy Eaters. Dig into our site for kid-tested recipes & feeding tips. 

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