Dal tadka, or Yellow dal. Is this something you often order when you go to the Indian restaurant? I’m sure you must have tried this popular and iconic dish some time or other. Surely a waiter suggested you try this delicious vegetarian fare, which is cooked in so many Indian households on a daily basis.
Yes, daily! I grew up on some type of dal every single day, that’s how common it is in Indian homes. And there are endless variations and styles from home to home and state to state, some simple and some not so simple.
What is Dal Tadka?
Some of you might not be aware of this curried lentil dish, like my husband. When I met him seven years back he knew next to nothing about Indian food. I was quite excited to try this comfort food on him. He wasn’t too keen when I mentioned lentils, as he was only familiar with American style brown lentil soups. But then one bite into it… I do remember the expression on his face… and he was blown away by the flavor.
So yes, it is a soupy Indian lentil dish, generally served with rice. The literal translation of dal tadka is lentil tempering. Tadka, or tempering, is the technique of adding spices to hot oil or ghee. This is then added as a seasoning, either at the start or end, to the dish. Common spices for tempering include cumin seeds (jeera), mustard seeds, chilies, curry leaves and even garlic.
This dal can be made with different types of lentils. Sometimes they mix a few varieties together. I myself love it with toor dal. It is available in Indian grocery stores. If you don’t have one nearby, you can always get any of these ingredients online. So no more excuse that I don’t have Indian things in my pantry!
- Toor dal – Our base.
- Onion – In most Indian dishes.
- Tomatoes – Another staple.
- Green chili or jalepenõ – For a little kick.
- Ginger and Garlic – We must have our ginger garlic paste!
- Masala spices – Turmeric powder, coriander powder and red chili powder.
- Tadka spices – Cumin seeds, mustard seeds, curry leaves and dry red chilis.
- Ghee – For tempering. You can make this dish vegan by substituting with oil.
- Cilantro – For garnishing.
How to create these amazing flavors
Most lentils take a long time to cook in a regular pot. You need them nice and soft. You can cook them super quick in an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, which we use in India. In, fact I brought mine with me when I moved to the States! I will walk you through my method, but if you are using an Instant Pot or just plain stove top, check the notes in the recipe card.
First, wash your dal in a pot, changing the water several times, until the water appears clear. In your pressure cooker, add dal, 4-5 cups of water, salt and a dash of turmeric. Seal the lid as instructed by the manufacturer and cook over medium high heat. After six whistles, remove from heat. Do not remove the lid at this point, the pressure must go down. Let it sit 10 minutes before removing lid. Check the dal. If it is not fully cooked, add two additional whistles, using same safety precautions.
While the dal is cooking, chop your onion, tomatoes and green chilis. Mash the ginger and garlic into a rough paste (I use a mortar and pestle for this).
Now you can start your first tempering. Yes, this dal tadka has two, one in the beginning and one at the end. In a large pot, heat up 2 Tbsp ghee (or oil) over medium high heat. Once it’s piping hot, add half of your mustard and cumin seeds. Let them pop a bit and then add half of your curry leaves. Don’t worry if you can’t find these. I often make it without them, but they do impart a distinctive flavor. Be careful with these temperings, as they tend to splatter.
Once you get those nutty aromas, about 10 seconds after adding the curry leaves, add in diced onion and sauté until lightly brown. Add chopped green chili and ginger garlic paste, and sauté one minute.
Next, mix in tomatoes, red chili powder, coriander powder and turmeric. Sauté this masala mixture until you have a nice homogeneous consistency, about 10-15 minutes.
Now it’s time to add your cooked dal and mix well. Some people prefer their dal a little runny and some thick. You can adjust to the desired consistency by adding water.
Now boil everything for 10 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed. Throw in a nice handful of cilantro. You can finish it off right here…
But if you want the restaurant quality flavors, you need a second tempering. In a small vessel (I have special tadka pot, but any small pan will work) heat 3-4 tablespoons of ghee or oil over medium high heat. Here the dal takes the turn from skinny to sinful!
Heat it up then repeat the tempering process starting with your remaining mustard and cumin seeds, followed by 6-7 more curry leaves, but this time adding dried red chilis along with the curry leaves. Again, be cautious of splattering oil. Add a pinch of red chili powder at the end.
Now pour your tadka mixture in your prepared dal. It looks beautiful and your home will be filled with some amazing aromas.
Mix well and serve your very own homemade dal tadka over nice hot rice and garnish with more cilantro. A side of my tomato cucumber raita goes hand in hand with this dal-rice combination.
People often ask
Your dal makes great leftovers! Store covered for up to four days in the refrigerator. It can be frozen in an airtight container for up to one month, after which the lentils begin to lose their consistency.
You sure can, just follow the same steps as above. The flavor will be different depending on the type, but will still be yummy. These toor dal are very mild lentils, as are red lentils. Brown or green lentils have a stronger, more distinctive flavor. You can even mix and match!
This dal tadka needs a few ingredients, but if you are missing one or two it will still turn up A-AMAZING! Give it a try, you are going to love this classic plant based meal, which every single Indian eats every single day. When I am on the look out for meatless dishes with a boost of taste, Indian food is the answer! This one is my favorite, and in no time it’s going to be your favorite too!
For many more Indian delicacies and other treats from around the world, be sure to subscribe to GypsyPlate. And while you’re here, check out my collections of the best Lentil Recipes and best Curry Recipes.
Dal Tadka, on my Gypsy Plate… Enjoy!!!
- 1.5 cups toor dal
- 4-5 cups of water
- 1 medium sized onion
- 3 medium size tomatoes
- 1 green chili or jalapenõ
- 3 Tbsp ginger garlic paste (equal parts ginger and garlic)
- 1 tsp mustard seed, divided
- 1 tsp cumin seeds, divided
- 12-14 curry leaves
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- 3 tsp coriander powder
- 2-3 whole dried red chilis
- 6 Tbsp ghee (divided)
- 1 tsp salt (plus to taste)
- Big handful of cilantro
- Wash your toor dal a few times, replacing the water until it is clear.
- Place dal in pressure cooker with 4-5 cups of water, 1 tsp salt and a pinch of turmeric. Seal lid. Cook over medium high heat for 6 whistles of the pressure cooker. Remove from heat *but do not remove lid!*. There is still a great deal of pressure built up which must dissipate, set aside 10 minutes.
- Chop onion and tomatoes small dice sized. Chop green chili. Make a rough paste of ginger and garlic together.
- In a heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat, heat ghee or oil and once hot add half each of mustard seeds and cumin seeds until they start to pop. Add curry leaves and sauté 10 seconds. Be cautious, this step can cause splattering oil.
- Add in chopped onions and cook for 3-4 minutes, until they are soft and start changing color. Add ginger garlic paste, chopped green chili and sauté for a minute. Now add in chopped tomatoes along with your spice powders. Mix well and cook for 10-15 minutes, until tomatoes are soft and cooked.
- Add the cooked dal. Mix in additional water, according to the consistency you like. Some prefer a little thicker dal and some soupy. And let it simmer for 10 minutes. Add in chopped cilantro.
- For the final tempering, in a small pan (such as a tadka pot), heat 4 Tbsp ghee. Repeat the tempering process in step 4, but this time add dried red chilis along with the curry leaves. At the very end, add a pinch of red chili powder, then pour this tadka mixture over the dal.
- Mix well and serve with basmati rice. Garnish with extra cilantro.
- To cook the dal in an instant pot, cook for 15 minutes, then wait 10 minutes before opening.
- If you are cooking the dal on stove top, without the aid of a pressure cooker, this recipe takes longer. To speed up the process, you can soak the dal in water for 2 hours. Then bring to boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium low and simmer covered, stirring intermittently. Cook until dal is soft, 45 - 60 minutes.
- Use oil instead of ghee to make this vegan.
- You may use a combination of different dals to make this dal tadka. Commonly used mixes are Toor dal + moong dal or toor dal + massor dal (red lentils).
Nutrition InformationYield 6 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 416Total Fat 28gSaturated Fat 12gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 12gCholesterol 66mgSodium 1336mgCarbohydrates 25gFiber 6gSugar 6gProtein 17g
Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.
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