You think it’s impossible to make a Dal like Indian restaurants without hunting far and wide for exotic spices? Think again! Full of flavour, economical and nutritious, this Indian Dahl lentil curry is outrageously delicious. And it’s easy!
Dal, dahl, daal or dhal!
OK, so we might never agree how to spell it, but I think we can all agree that Dahl is one of the most fabulous transformations of the humble lentil!
Dal is probably the most essential staple dish in Indian cuisine. And it’s one of the most magical and economical foods in the whole world. A handful of lentils, a few spices, and just a bit of TLC transforms into a pot of deliciousness that’s nutritious and makes your tastebuds dance.
About this Dal
There are countless variations of Dal all across India. Every household has their favourite, different regions use varying methods and spices, sometimes it’s served as a meal, sometimes as a side.
This dal is a common variation of yellow dal found in northern India called dal tadka (aka dal tarka) that is the most common version served at Indian restaurants here in Australia. “Tadka” refers to a garnish of spices tempered in hot oil that is poured over the cooked dal at the last moment to add a deliciously nutty aroma and flavour bump to the Dal. The tadka is completely optional, as the dal in this recipe is still full of flavour on its own.
KEY DAL INGREDIENTS
Best lentils for Dal– This recipe calls for Channa Dal which is a type of yellow lentils which provides an ideal texture for this Dahl. I was astonished to discover it’s sold at Coles supermarket (international section). Yellow split peas is a terrific substitution though the cook times do differ (see recipe notes).
Other lentils can be used as well – see notes for directions and notes on other lentil types.
Dal Spices– Dal is made with far less spices than most Indian curries! This recipe calls for a simple combination of cumin, garam masala and turmeric. Garam masala is a spice mix found in supermarkets nowadays – it’s like a more potent curry powder.
Curry Leaves– Whether fresh or dried, they really do add that extra something-something to the Dal! They’re sold in the fresh herbs section at supermarkets and in the dried herbs and spices section.
Tadka Spices– As mentioned above, the hot oil spices is optional though if making this for company I would highly recommend it, if even for the dramatic moment when the sizzling oil hits the Dahl (see the video!).
The Tadka is made with cumin seeds, black mustard seeds and dried red chillies. You will likely need to find an Indian or other ethnic grocery stores to find black mustard seeds but do not worry if you can’t find them. The dominant flavour in the Tadka is cumin seeds. I wouldn’t even worry if you don’t have dried chillies.
There is a reason why Dal is the single most made dish all across India.
1.4 billion Indians can’t be wrong. Right? 😂 – Nagi x
PS Try slopping it up with Flatbread. Yesssss!!!!
MORE INDIAN CURRY RECIPES!
Recipe video below. There are countless variations of Dal all across India. This is a northern Indian version called "dal tadka" that's akin to what is served in Indian restaurants. "Tadka" refers to spices sizzling in hot oil that's poured over the dal. It's dramatic and gives it a flavour bump - but is optional. I include it for company, and leave it out for midweek or if being served alongside other punchy flavoured curries. Heat level in this recipe is mild - just a tickle. If you like it fiery, try leaving in the seeds in the chillies and/or adding some chilli powder. This is a dal that's flavourful to have as a main!
- 2 tbsp / 30 g ghee , or 1 tbsp oil + 1 tbsp/15g butter (Note 1)
- 2 green cayenne chillies , deseeded and cut into chunks (optional) (Note 2)
- 1 medium onion , finely chopped (brown or yellow)
- 6 garlic cloves , finely chopped
- 1 tbsp ginger , finely chopped (1.5cm / 3/5")
- 8 fresh curry leaves , or 6 dried (Note 3)
- 1 tomato , chopped
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 cup dried chana dal , yellow split peas or other yellow lentils (Note 4 for other lentils)
- 4 cups / 1 litre water
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/8 tsp garam marsala
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tbsp / 20g ghee , or half each butter + oil (Note 1)
- 1 eschalot or 1/4 small onion , halved lengthways and sliced (Note 5)
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds (optional)
- 3 dried chillies , broken in half, seeds removed (optional)
- Fresh coriander/cilantro sprigs (optional)
- Steamed basmati rice
Soak Lentils: Rinse lentils and leave to soak in plenty of water for 1 hour. Drain in colander.
Heat ghee/oil in a heavy based saucepan over high heat. Add green chillies and fry for a minute until starting to blister.
Add onions and fry until softened.
Lower heat to medium, add garlic, ginger and curry leaves. Cook for 1 minute until garlic starts to turn golden and smells amazing.
Add tomatoes and cumin, cook until tomatoes start to break down and thicken to a paste - about 2 minutes.
Add lentils, water, tumeric and salt. Stir, bring to simmer, cover and simmer gently for 1 hour. Stir two or three times during the hour.
Remove lid and simmer gently for 30 minutes to thicken, stirring every now and then. The dal is ready when it has a consistency like porridge - some lentils should be intact but some have broken down to thicken the sauce.
Stir through garam masala at the end. Adjust salt if desired.
Pour over Tadka, if using, and stir through.
Serve Dal over rice, garnished with a sprig of coriander if desired.
Heat ghee in a small pan over medium heat until hot but not smoking.
Add cumin and mustard seeds, stir until cumin is slightly golden.
Then add chillies and cook for 20 seconds, then add eschallots and cook until tinged with gold. Don't let the spices burn!
Immediately pour into Dahl.
1. Ghee is clarified butter and it's the main fat used in Indian cooking. Sold in the international section of Coles and other major Australian supermarkets. Otherwise, use equal parts butter + vegetable oil.
2. The green chillies sold at supermarkets in Australia are cayenne green chillies.
3. Curry leaves really add an extra something-something to curries. Find them in the fresh herb section of Australian supermarkets or find dried in the dried herbs and spice section.
4. LENTILS: I use chana dal here for its shape and texture - sold in the international section of some Coles supermarkets. Any yellow dal such as channa dal, toor dal or moong dal can be used in this recipe.
If you cannot get hold of chana dal, yellow split peas are a terrific substitution but only use 3 cups of water and cook for 40 minutes covered and 30 minutes uncovered.
For toor dal, only use 3 cups of water and cook per recipe times.
All other lentils - follow the Yellow Split Pea directions above, then at the end of the cook time, you might need to add more water and/or cook for longer.
This recipe is not suited to puye lentils, or other teeny tiny lentils. Anything shaped like yellow split peas should be fine.
5. Eschallots are the small onions that are finer than normal onions. The white part of green onions/scallions/shallots will be fine, or even 1/4 of a normal onion.
6. GENERAL NOTES:
* Fat levels - You'll miss some of the luxurious richness if you cut down on fat but you can reduce slightly if desired.
* Dal will thicken after cooking. Stop the cooking just before what you think is the ideal consistency, and it will be just right by the time you serve. If reheating the next day, add some water to loosen the dal.
* Dal is FILLING!!! This recipe feeds 3 very generously, or 4 normal servings.
* Be really careful making the tadka, as it's easy to burn the spices. It is better to have oil that's not hot enough and then turn up the heat, than oil that is too hot to start with.
7. Recipe Source: This recipe is another RecipeTin Family effort. We referenced a number of authentic sources, distilling the best bits into our recipe to achieve the closest possible replica of the Dahl we love from Indian restaurants. Indian celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor's dal tadka was one source, as was a recipe we found from Rick Stein and his travels across India. A few Youtube videos from home cooks in India also helped us get the tadka technique down (after burning the spices and smoking ourselves out of the kitchen a couple of times - read the notes and learn from us!) We hope you enjoy this dal as much as we do.
8. Nutrition per serving, dal only, assuming 4 servings.
WATCH HOW TO MAKE IT
LIFE OF DOZER
He thought all his Christmas’ had come at once when a box of groceries tipped over in the car….until he realised it was just filled with vegetables!!