Tadka Dal

The Big 8 – The only curry recipes you’ll ever need!” – Part 1/8

Tadka Dal

Dal is often consigned to the “side dishes” section on restaurant menus, but this hearty lentil curry deserves to take centre-stage. It makes a fantastic meal accompanied by some bread or rice. I think lemon rice makes a particularly nice accompaniment, though this is not very authentic. Tadka dal is more a north Indian specialty, lemon rice being from the south.


  • 225g toor dal
  • 750ml water
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • thumb-sized piece of root ginger
  • 2 green chillis
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced/finely chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp black mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp onion (nigella) seeds
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • 8 curry leaves
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon
  • fresh coriander, a handful


  1. Rinse the lentils and check for little stones. Rinse well using a sieve, then place in a large saucepan along with the water, turmeric and salt. Make an incision in the green chillies and add them too. Slice the root ginger into fine matchsticks and add to the lentils also.
  2. Bring to the boil and skim off any scum that rises to the top of the cooking water. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes. Stir regularly as the lentils will stick to the bottom of the pan as the liquid evaporates.
  3. While the lentils are cooking, make the tadka in a separate pan. Heat the butter and oil, then add the whole spices and curry leaves. Stir-fry until the mustard seeds start to pop. Reduce the heat then add the onion and garlic. Cook gently for about 15 minutes or until the onions are soft and browned. Add the chopped tomatoes and fenugreek then cook for another 5 minutes.
  4. The lentils should now be fully cooked. Squash the lentils using a potato masher (or use a stick blender) to achieve a creamy consistency. You can add a little extra water if you want a thinner consistency.
  5. Add the tadka to the lentils and simmer very gently for another 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Stir through the fresh coriander and a good squeeze of lemon juice, then serve.

Cheat’s Sambar – This recipe can be easily converted into a cheaty version of sambar, a thin lentil soup commonly eaten in South India. When the dal is cooked, add 750ml – 1 litre of good-quality vegetable stock, 2 tsp of tamarind extract and some chopped vegetables. I use canned chickpeas, frozen peas and frozen broad beans. Simmer gently until the vegetables are cooked. This is also a good way of using leftover dal; just use a smaller amount of stock and vegetables until you achieve the desired consistency.


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