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Tarka Dhal

Dhal is one of my favourite dishes. Although I usually like it as a side dish with curries, it’s lovely on it’s own or with rice or a heap of rotis or naans – perfect Indian comfort food. The recipe is pretty easy – if you want to make it really special, don’t leave out the tarka at the end – it’s worth the effort to really enhance the flavour.


1 cup of red lentils (rinsed)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic crushed (or finely chopped)
2-3cm fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon groundnut or vegetable oil
Approx 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garam masala
Half a teaspoon tamarind pulp or a squeeze of lemon

For the tarka:

Half a teaspoon of black mustard seeds
Half a teaspoon cumins seeds
1 dried chilli
6 curry leaves
A pinch of asafoetida (optional)

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onions, garlic and ginger and stir. Leave to cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften.
  2. Add the turmeric, stir, cook for another minute.
  3. Add the lentils and mix well so they are coated with the oniony mixture. Just cover the lentils with water. They will absorb the water so don’t add too much at this stage, you can top it up as the lentils cook if the consistency seems too thick.
  4. Cook the lentils for approx. 15-20 minutes (depends on the type of lentils, quick cook lentils will not take so long). Check them every few minutes to make sure that there is enough water. I like them to be saucy but not too runny, a kind of slurry consistency. Some prefer a thick porridge consistency, and others prefer them thin and runny, so cook them the way that you like. Taste them as you go, when they start to soften nicely, you can think about making the vagaar.
  5. For the tarka, heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a small frying pan. Add the mustard seeds, stir them and when they start to pop add the cumin, dried chilli and curry leaves – be careful – they can spatter. Give them all a quick stir for about 20 seconds. Add them to the lentils and stir in.
  6. Add a pinch of asafoetida if using (this helps with flatulence, but also enhances the flavour).
  7. Add garam masala.
  8. Add the salt and tamarind (or lemon juice) – just a little first and then taste the dhal, then add the rest if needed.
  9. You can also garnish with some coriander leaves. Dhal freezes well.

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