14 Sep 2010

Tarka Dal

Dals are amazing - they're tasty, nutritious, cheap, quick to cook, and they can be as simple or complex as you care to make them. They are also great for vegetarians as lentils are full of protein.

This recipe is probably the simplest recipe around but it tastes amazing and can be done in no time at all. All the ingredients should be available in your supermarkets but I would urge you to go to independent local shops. Most towns have Asian grocery stores and the ingredients needed for this will probably be cheaper (and fresher) in these.

Cooking time: 15-20mins
Serves two people.

What you will need:

1 cup red lentils/split peas
2-3 cups water (depending on the texture you like)
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
1 or 2 tablespoons of oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of black mustard seeds
A few curry leaves (fresh if you can get them but dried work also work)
Salt to taste (a pinch should be enough)



There are two stages to this:
  • First, put the lentils and water in to a pan and bring to the boil. 
  • Add the turmeric. 
  • Boil the lentils until they are soft and are starting to break up and dissolve. You may need to add more water.
  • Add the salt.

For the tarka (or Chaunk)
  • Heat the oil in a frying pan on a medium heat, then add the mustard seeds. 
  • When these start to pop add the curry leaves and the garlic. 
  • Cook the garlic until it goes golden brown (should be about a minute). 
Pour the tarka over the lentils, leave for a few seconds and then stir in to combine the two elements. Serve with rice or fresh chapatis.


There are so many variations on this recipe, just use your imagination. I will post different versions but you can add tomatoes and garam masala or coconut milk and cardamom, or any combination of vegetables and spices. If you do add lots of spices try to add small amounts first, you can always add more but you can't take it out! Different types of lentils can be used and change the texture and taste of the dal, however, red lentils are the quickest cooking and easiest to start with.

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