Tarka Dal

Tarka Dal

Hundreds of years ago when I was young and foolish I travelled the length and breadth of India and more or less every day I ate dal in fact I would say that dal was more or less a staple in every region I stayed in apart from Goa and Kerala, where naturally seafood and really good seafood at that was my preferred choice. The dal I had in India and Nepal was never as tasty as this recipe and was mostly a bit soupy. But it was cheap and it is a good healthy food!

This recipe is made using regular chana dal or tur dal which are split yellow lentils, the tur dal is quicker to cook than the chana dal. The Tarka is basically the name of the last minute fry of spices in oil or ghee which are then added on top of the lentils or dal and then can be mixed in to add spice and flavour. Tarka has other names too depending on which part of India, Sri Lanka or Pakistan you come from. I believe tarka is the Punjabi name?

Anyway there are many dal recipes out there and probably many versions of this dal and of course you can add extra spice or flavour using more garlic or adding ginger, a different mix of spice can also be used, but this is a good basic to get started on. I just cooked this and I think next time will add some cloves and ginger to flavour the dal more. The tarka, well, when you add that on top it just takes the recipes up a few notches!

This recipe is however for dal with tomatoes and is very simple to cook and very tasty!

Serves 2-4


For the dal

  • 200g tur or chana dal
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 green chillies, cut lengthways
  • 2 cloves of garlic, left whole
  • Small handful of curry leaves
  • Salt to season
  • 1/2 tspn tumuric

For the tarka

  • 2 tbsp veggie oil or ghee
  • 1 tspn black mustard seeds
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 dried Kashmiri chillies, chopped
  • Small handful of fresh curry leaves
  • Handful of chopped coriander leaves

Preparation method:

Soak the dal for about an hour in cold water.

Drain and rinse then put the dal in a saucepan and add water to about 4 cm above the dal and add the onion, tomatoes, chillies, cloves, curry leaves, tumuric and season with salt. Bring to the boil and if using the tur dal simmer for about 45 minutes, chana dal for about an hour and a half or until soft but with a little bite to it. Mash a bit with a potato masher but not too fine as it’s nice to have a bit of texture. If the dal is a bit thick, add some water to loosen it a bit but not too much as you don’t want it like soup. Remove to a serving bowl.

For the tarka, heat the oil or ghee in a pan, add the mustard seeds and fry until they start popping. Stir in the shallots, chillies and curry leaves and fry until the shallots have softened.

To finish, pour the tarka on top of the dal and sprinkle on the chopped coriander. This goes well with Aloo gobi and some plain boiled rice or chapatis!