Tarka Dhal

A couple of months ago someone ran into the back of my car (or to be more accurate their car did –  if it had just been a person the damage would have been significantly less).  Because of our holiday and Christmas and so on I put off getting it fixed until about 10 days ago.  It is due back on Monday but we are currently carless.   We live reasonably close to public transport so this hasn’t really affect our lifestyle but it has meant large shopping trips are not possible at the moment.  As a result I have been examining my cupboards and have found a veritable food mountain in there waiting to be cooked.  The number of lentils in there would feed the average lentil lover (I’m envisioning Neil from the Young Ones here) for about 6 months, my family of happy lentiler and 3 not keen lentil eaters quite possibly 6 years.  Happily though L from 500m2 in Sydney asked for a lentil recipe just this week so here is Tarka Dhal.  Incidentally tonight seems to be a night of food requests, The New Goodlife has posted a couple of requested recipes too.


Tarka, which I think means seasoning, is basically a cooking method which sees spices and other flavourings fried and added to a nearly cooked dish to enhance its flavour.  Often they are fried in butter however here I have just used oil.  Feel free to add butter if you want to give the dish a richer flavour.

In this recipe I have combined a number of different lentil varieties  but you could use one of these or all three.  If you are using just red lentils the cooking time will be shorter and you will need to reduce the amount of water added.   

Tarka Dhal (Serves 6)

  • 100g each of Chana dhal, Toor Dhal & Red Lentils.
  • 2 litres water
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 40g ginger – finely chopped or grated
  • 4 cloves garlic – finely chopped or grated
  • 4 tbspns oil
  • 2 red chillies – split in half
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder (or more to taste)
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3/4 tsp garam masala
  • a handful (or more to taste) of coriander finely chopped (optional)

Place the lentils in a saucepan with the water, turmeric, ginger & garlic.  Bring to the boil and then simmer until cooked (about 30 – 45 minutes).  When the lentils have about 10 minutes to go heat the oil in a pan.  Add cumin seeds and then immediately add onions and fry until golden brown.  Add split chillies, chilli powder and tomatoes.  Cook for a couple of minutes on high.  When the tomatoes are collapsing add the garam masala and then pour the whole lot into the lentil mixture.  Stir and season with salt (it will need a reasonable amount).  Cook for another couple of minutes, remove from heat, stir through the coriander and serve.

To see what others are dishing up this week, tune in Thursday’s Kitchen Cupboard over at the Gardener of Eden.

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21 Responses to Tarka Dhal

  1. Tarka was an otter too! I have another use for lentils – I have a bag which I rest my elbow on when I’m at the computer – it adjusts to the shape of your elbow to cushion it. At the moment it’s just in the bag as it was bought – must make time to sew a little pillowcase.

  2. Oooh love this, I’ll be giving it a go when I feel up to re-entering the kitchen or when my freezer supplies run out.

  3. Jody says:

    Mmm, ginger. That looks delicious.

  4. kitsapFG says:

    That sounds delicious! I have quite a stock of lentils in the pantry and was wondering what creative way I could come up with to use them soon – this recipe looks like it would really be a delicious way to use my lentil supply.

  5. Robin says:

    This does sound good. We have several bags of lentils that need to be used. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Frogdancer says:

    I just bought a 5kg bag of lentils when I popped into an Indian supermarket for some ginger for my ginger beer. I want to make more vego meals, and the lentils were So Cheap; but I still think we’ll be eating from this bag for a long long time.
    This recipe may just help the situation though.

    • Liz says:

      Personally I think lentils are marvellous – its just getting the rest of the family to indulge that is the difficult part…..

  7. Prairie Cat says:

    Sounds delicious!

    We had car problems, too, but only a few days after Christmas. We ended up having to rent a car to drive us the 200+ miles to get us near to home and buy a new (used) car. What a hassle! If only we could just stay home all of the time and not have to go anywhere!

  8. Mark Willis says:

    I’m a fan of dhal in any guise, mostly due to my time spent with the Gurkhas. They eat it twice a day, 365 days a year. I remember one of the most interesting aspects of preparing for a “trek” in Nepal, was buying the provisions (usually for a month or so) in the cantonment bazaar, and watching all the good-natured arguments over how much of each spice should be bought, for the tarka!

    • Liz says:

      That is great I have a great image in my head now – I love how passionate people become about everyday foods,then I guess everyday foods are the ones that are about family, tradition, lifestyle, and childhood which do tend to be the things people get most passionate about….

  9. Leanne says:

    My husband is a vegetarian, I will have to pass this recipe onto him.

  10. KL says:

    Nice post but I have to tell you that authentic tarka-daal is made with tarka – it is the green lentils (called green moong). And, actually when you mix various lentils like that, you prepare another Indian dish – Khichuri (also spelled as Khichdi), and not tarka-daal. Hope you don’t mind for telling you all these; just thought you would appreciate it. Thanks.

    • Liz says:

      Thanks for both visiting and commenting on the blog – I really appreciate it. Thats really interesting about Tarka Dhal traditionally being made with one type of lentil, I definitely don’t mind you letting me know. Much of my knowledge of Indian food comes from when I lived in the UK where I have British Asian friends and I also did an Indian cookery course there. They certainly mixed lentil varieties in some of their Tarka Dhals but then most of the people I knew had migrated to Britain from Africa so the dish may well have changed over time due to the availability of ingredients both in Britain and in Uganda/Kenya. To have a different perspective is always both interesting and educational so I definitely appreciate your wisdom.

  11. kallie says:

    At first glance it looked really cheesy, and I’m surprised there’s no cheese in it! Thanks for recipe! I have lots of stuff to try this week xx

  12. Jan says:

    I love the look of the recipe but I am a cook that has to follow instructions to the letter (and a picture of how it looks (or supposed to) is imperative.
    I can’t find where the 2 red split chillies come into the recipe. Can you help?


    • Liz says:

      Woops – sorry about that and very well spotted – you add them at the same time as the chilli powder when making the tarka. thankyou for pointing that out i have now updated the post. By the way the link on your comment doesn’t go anywhere if you click on it – not sure if you left something out of the address?

  13. Jan says:

    There we go – I hope. I am also a very slack blogger……


  14. Smriti says:

    Hi Liz

    I am a new follower of your blog… a foodie and a gardening enthusiast! 🙂 Chanced upon this post and couldn’t help commenting on something I have grown up with (you guessed it, I am from India!). Your daal recipe is not far from the native and I would just like to add that if you boil the daal with salt it cooks quicker (saving energy), is more flavoursome because salt gets absorbed and for the same reason actually requires less salt (hence you end up with a bit less sodium)! In fact adding salt where ever you can in the initial stage of cooking is generally a good idea!

    • Liz says:

      Hi Smriti, Welcome, thanks for visiting and thanks for leaving a comment. I’ve always believed that adding salt to daal when its cooking toughens the skins of the lentils. It does make sense that it would cook quicker though. I’ll have to try your method and see what differences I can notice. Looking forward to it and thanks for the tip.

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