Chana dal served with rice is a healthy, hearty and satisfying meal that you will love any time. It’s naturally vegan and gluten-free!! This recipe makes a delicious, spicy and protein-packed chana dal dish that will soon be your family favorite. Indians eat lentils almost daily in some or the other form. This chana dal recipe is yet another way of enjoying lentils with minimum effort. Make it on the stovetop using a traditional pressure cooker or a heavy bottom sauce pan or in the instant pot. I have shared the instructions for all the methods.
About chana dal
Chana dal also known as Bengal gram is the skinned & split version of whole brown chickpeas. Also known as kala chana, these brown/black chickpeas are the desi variety & are smaller in size than the white chickpeas, kabuli chana.
In Indian cuisine, we use the whole brown chickpeas as well the split & skinned version of the same which is the chana dal. I have also shared the recipe of the kala chana curry here.
Chana dal are one of those lentils which are high in protein, zinc, folate, fiber and calcium. So including them in our diet may help us.
In India, lentils are cooked in numerous ways and chana dal is no exception. Almost every state or region in India has a popular dish made with chana dal.
Apart from these a lot of home cooks use chana dal to make sundal, halwa, curry, stew, chutneys and many more. The fact that these are not only nutritious but also taste super delicious, has made them more popular.
In this post I share a simple and yet delicious side dish recipe that uses chana dal as the main ingredient. The lentils are cooked until tender and later simmered in a spicy onion tomato base. This chana dal recipe needs only pantry staples and will have you coming back to it time and again because it’s delicious, simple and easy to make.
If you love the dhaba flavors, then you can finish the dish by smoking it and make an additional tadka by following my dal tadka recipe here.
This chana dal goes well with plain fluffy rice, roti, naan or even with flavoured rice dishes like Jeera rice, ghee rice or mint rice. Some papads, vegetable salad or kachumber with a bowl of raita on the side will be great.
You can also serve this with pakwan, top the prepared chana dal with tamarind chutney, green chutney, some onions and coriander leaves. You have a fantastic meal ready!
If you want to make this in an instant pot, follow my instructions in the recipe card below.
How to make chana dal recipe (stepwise pics)
1. Wash half cup chana dal well a few times. Soak it for 1 to 4 hours depending on your convenience.
2. Drain the water and add the chana dal to the pressure cooker. Then pour 1¼ cup water.
3. Pressure cook for 3 to 5 whistles depending on the size and brand of the cooker. You can also keep the dal in a bowl and pour water. Cover it and keep inside the cooker. Cook for 5 whistles. If you do not have a cooker, then just boil in a pot pouring more water as needed.
4. Chana dal must be fully cooked but not turn mushy. It must be grainy.
5. Add 2 tablespoons ghee or oil to a kadai. When it is hot add ½ to ¾ teaspoon cumin seeds and let them sizzle.
6. Then add 1 broken dried red chilies and fry for 30 seconds. Quickly add hing.
7. Next add ¼ cup chopped onions and fry until golden.
8. Add 1 teaspoon ginger or garlic (¾ inch ginger or 2 garlic cloves). Saute just until the raw smell goes away.
9. Transfer chopped ½ cup chopped tomatoes or ¼ cup pureed tomatoes, ¼ teaspoon turmeric and ½ teaspoon salt.
10. Saute well until the tomatoes turn mushy. Then add ¼ to ¾ teaspoon red chili powder and ¼ to ½ teaspoon garam masala.
11. Again fry this for a few mins till the raw smell goes away.
Cooking chana dal
12. Next transfer the cooked dal along with the stock in cooker. You may add ¼ to ½ cup water if required to bring it to consistency.
13. Mash gently a few lentils and cook for a few minutes until the dal turns thick. Add ½ teaspoon kasuri methi and ½ teaspoon amchur (optional).
14. Cook further for 1 to 2 mins. Sprinkle coriander leaves.
Serve chana dal with plain rice, jeera rice, ghee rice, paratha or roti. Squeeze some lemon juice before serving.
Soaking chana dal: Soaking the lentils for will help them cook faster. A lot of people prefer to soak chana dal, as soaking also helps in easier digestion & avoid bloating. If making for toddlers, soak them for 4 to 6 hours. You can also refrigerate the soaked lentils for about a week so cooking becomes much easier.
Onions: A lot of times we also make this recipe without onions. We do not find much difference in the taste.
Tomatoes: Tomatoes add a depth of flavour, tang and taste to the chana dal fry. You can use more or less to suit your taste. Use them either chopped or pureed as per your liking.
Spices: We personally like to spice our lentil dishes to the minimum and here we prefer the flavour of chana dal to shine in so you won’t find a lot of whole or ground spices in this recipe.
If you prefer to use them, you can add a bay leaf and cinnamon stick either to the tempering along with cumin seeds or add them to the dal directly when you cook them initially.
Vegetables or leafy greens: We love our chana dal with various veggies and leafy greens. Sometimes I add carrots, ridge gourd, bottle gourd, yellow cucumber, spinach or methi leaves in this recipe. If using leafy greens add them to the tempering after cooking tomatoes. Wilt them and cook for a while before adding the dal.
I pressure cook other veggies with the lentils, the veggies turn mushy but that’s how we like.
Choosing lentils: Buy lentils from a store where the stocks move out faster. Old/aged stock of lentils take longer or even forever to cook. So buy from a store where you get fresher stocks.
But if you have already bought old stock lentils, then place them in a bowl and pour hot boiling water. Cover and rest for an hour before cooking.
Ingredients (US cup = 240ml )
- ½ cup chana dal (bengal gram)
- 1¼ cup water (1½ cups for pot & instant pot)
- 2 tablespoon ghee or oil or butter
- ½ to ¾ teaspoon cumin (jeera)
- ⅛ teaspoon asafoetida (hing) (optional)
- 1 small onion (¼ cup chopped)
- 1 green chili chopped (skip if making for kids)
- 1 teaspoon ginger or garlic (chopped or paste, ¾ inch ginger or 2 garlic cloves)
- 1 medium tomato (½ cup chopped finely or ¼ cup tomato puree)
- 1 dried red chili broken (less spicy variety, optional)
- ½ teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
- ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ to ¾ teaspoon red chili powder (adjust to taste)
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon garam masala (adjust to taste)
- ¼ to ½ cup water (use as needed to bring to consistency)
- ½ teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) (optional)
For garnish & serving
- 2 tablespoons coriander leaves (cilantro chopped finely)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice or ¼ to ½ tsp dried mango powder (amchur powder)
- Add chana dal to a pot or cooker. Rinse a few times until water runs clear. Soak it in regular water for 1 to 4 hours as per your convenience.
- Later drain the water and pour 1¼ cups fresh water. If cooking in a pot pour 1½ cups water.
- Cook chana dal on a medium heat until soft and completely done. Dal must hold shape, yet get mashed well if you mash it .
- If using pressure cooker you may need to cook it any where for 3 to 5 whistles depending on the brand of cooker. When the pressure releases, open the lid.
Tempering chana dal
- Heat ghee or oil in a pan. Add cumin and red chili. Saute until cumin begins to splutter.
- Add hing, green chilies and onions. Saute very well until the onions turn lightly golden.
- Next ginger or ginger garlic paste. Saute for 30 to 60 seconds until it turns aromatic.
- Add tomatoes, salt and turmeric. Saute and cook until the tomatoes turn soft.
- Next add chili powder and garam masala.
- Saute for 1 to 2 mins. Make sure raw smell of all the ingredients has gone completely & the masala smells good.
- Add chana dal along with the left over stock or water in the pot/ cooker.
- Mix everything well and if needed add little water to bring it to a consistency you like.
- Lightly mash the dal with the spatula to get a thick consistency. Cook until the chana dal begins to bubble well. Do not overcook.
- Add crushed kasuri methi and amchur powder (optional).
- Stir and turn off the stove. Add some coriander leaves & squeeze in some lemon juice.
- Transfer chana dal to a serving bowl. Serve with rice, ghee, papad or a veg salad.
Instant pot chana dal
- Pour oil to the steel insert and press saute button. Once the oil is slightly hot, add cumin seeds. As soon as they splutter, add hing, green chilli and onions.
- Stir fry until transparent for 2 mins. Add ginger garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, salt, turmeric, red chilli powder and garam masala.
- Saute for 2 to 3 mins and add the chana dal. Pour water and deglaze the pot by scrubbing the bottom of the steel pot with a spatula.
- Secure the instant pot with the lid and position the steel release handle to sealing. Press pressure cook button and set the timer to 13 minutes.
- When the pressure drops open the lid and check. Chana dal should be soft cooked yet holding its shape. If you want a slightly consistency, you may mash some of the lentils with the back of the spoon.
- Stir in crushed kasuri methi. If you want you can also add half teaspoon amchur, more salt and garam masala at this stage. If the lentils are runny, simmer for a few more minutes. If you like it runny, add some boiling hot water and cook on a saute mode for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Turn off when the chana dal is still runny as it thickens upon cooling. Squeeze some lemon juice and garnish with coriander leaves.
- You may soak the chana dal for 1 hour in hot water so they cook faster.
- Avoid using older stock of lentils as they take forever to cook.
- Add 1 cup of chopped spinach to the onion tomato masala and saute until the leaves wilt. Then pour the cooked chana dal. If cooking in instant pot, add the spinach after the lentils are cooked. Simmer for 1 to 2 mins until the spinach wilts.
- You can skip the onions completely and add a small carrot.
- Reduce the amount of chili powder, garam masala & skip green chilies if making for toddlers & kids.
Alternative quantities provided in the recipe card are for 1x only, original recipe.
For best results follow my detailed step-by-step photo instructions and tips above the recipe card.
NUTRITION INFO (estimation only)
© Swasthi’s Recipes
Chana dal recipe first published in May 2018. Updated and republished in August 2021.