Dal tadka is a comforting, flavorful and hearty Indian lentil dish. This super flavorsome & delicious homemade dal tadka rivals any Indian restaurant! One bite of this and you are sure to agree that making delicious restaurant quality food at home is simpler than you think. Made with pantry ingredients, this easy lentil dish is one of the best you can make for a simple vegetarian Indian meal.
For vegetarian Indians dal is a vital source of protein & nourishment. And the same for non-vegetarians too, it is a supplementary source. In either case, lentils are served with almost every meal in Indian households. So to keep it exciting, we cook lentils in numerous ways and this dal takda is one of them.
About Dal Tadka
Dal tadka is a popular Indian dish where cooked spiced lentils are finished with a tempering made of ghee/ oil and spices. In Hindi, the word ‘Dal’ means ‘lentils’ and Tadka means ‘tempering’. So dal tadka means lentils finished with a tempering, at the end.
Also known as Tarka daal, this is immensely popular in the Indian restaurants. Served with butter naan, tandoori roti, steamed basmati or jeera rice, this is a treat for many Indian food lovers.
Dal actually refers to any kind of lentils. It may be whole or split, with or without the skin. Various lentils may be used to make dal tadka, the most popular version uses toor dal also known as arhar dal or split pigeon peas in English.
Sometimes it is also mixed with masoor dal (red lentils) or even with moong dal (Skinned split mung lentils). Some people also use the whole lentils, each version has its own flavor and taste.
But when you see the name dal tadka, most often it refers to the skinned version of the dal, and is yellow in color. So it is also known as yellow dal tadka.
This kind of lentil dish is prepared almost in every part of India but with regional tastes and variations. So every household may have a different way of tempering and cooking the dal as well.
My Dal Tadka Recipe
My recipe will help you make a special dal tadka, packed with layers and layers of amazing flavors. Combining certain kinds of lentils will not only enhance the taste, flavor and nutrition but also does a real magic to the dish like this dal fry.
So this recipe uses 3 different kinds of lentils for taste, flavor and texture. While toor dal forms the base, moong dal is used for a thicker texture and chana dal for a unique flavor.
To further enhance the taste and flavor, the cooked dal is smoked which adds another layer of flavor to the dish as the smokiness tantalizes your taste buds even further.
The final tempering, made with pure ghee, is used as a garnish. This adds a pop of color, texture, and flavor to the dal.
Sometimes I make the simplest dal tadka by dumping every thing in the cooker & then tempering it. I have shown that in my masoor dal post. But this special dal tadka is always a huge hit in my home, especially with my boys. I am sure you will all love this too.
How To Make Dal Tadka (Stepwise Photos)
If you do not have a cooker, scroll down to find the instructions to cook in a pot. I have used the Indian stovetop cooker here but have also added the instructions for Instant pot.
1. Add 1 cup dal to a pressure cooker. I use ¾ cup toor dal, ¼ cup moong dal & 2 tablespoons chana dal. You can use only toor dal if you want. Feel free to replace moong dal with masoor dal or toor dal and skip chana dal. But you know the combo I mentioned gives you the best.
2. Rinse them well at least 4 times, rubbing with your fingers. You should see the water clear during your last rinse.
3. Add 3 cups fresh water and close the cooker. Pressure cook for 3 to 4 whistles on a medium heat. You may need to cook for more whistles depending on your cooker. If using Instant pot, cook for 10 minutes on a high pressure.
4. While the dal cooks, make the first tempering. In a medium pan, heat 1½ to 2 tablespoons oil, add ½ teaspoon cumin seeds and fry lightly until they begin to splutter.
5. Add 1 tablespoon fine chopped garlic and ginger (equal quantities). Fry them lightly until aromatic. Do not brown.
6. Then add ⅓ to ½ cup fine chopped onions & 1 green chilli (slit or chopped). You may skip the chilli if you intend to serve kids. Fry till the onions are translucent, stirring from time to time.
7. Reduce the heat. Add ¼ teaspoon turmeric, ½ to ¾ teaspoon red chilli powder and ½ teaspoon garam masala. Stir through well.
8. Add ¾ to 1 cup deseeded and fine chopped tomatoes. Also add 1 teaspoon salt.
9. Sauté till tomatoes are softened. If you want you can also saute for 2 to 3 mins and then cook covered.
10. Meanwhile check if the dal is done in your pressure cooker. Let the pressure drop on its own, then open the cooker. Dal has to be soft cooked and mushy. This is the texture you get to see. Toor dal and moong dal is almost mushy but chana dal has some texture. Stir and mash lightly, we don’t want the chana dal to be completely dissolved.
11. At this stage, you may add some hot boiling water to the dal to adjust the consistency, as required. I had to pour about ¾ to 1 cup.
12. When the onion tomato mixture is ready, add it to the cooked dal & mix.
13. Simmer for 6 to 7 minutes so that flavors blend. Bring it to the consistency you want at this stage. Also note that dal will become thick upon cooling. I prefer an almost runny consistency. Taste test and add more salt if required. Also crush 1 tablespoon kasuri methi in between your palms and add it to the hot boiling dal. Give a good mix and add coriander leaves. I forgot to add the coriander leaves here. Turn off the heat.
Optional – Smoke the dal (Dhungar)
14. This step is optional and you may skip this. For the restaurant flavors you have to smoke the dal. Place a small tall steel cup in the center of the pot. With a tong, hold a piece of wood coal over direct fire, like a candle or a lighter until a little portion of the coal becomes red and hot. This takes less than 2 minutes. Carefully place that in the cup. Pour half teaspoon ghee over the hot coal. You will see smoke immediately.
15. Cover the pot with a lid. Let the dal smoke for about 3 to 4 minutes. Then remove the cup from the dal and transfer to a serving bowl.
16. In a small pan melt 2 tablespoons ghee. Add ½ to ¾ teaspoon cumin seeds and sauté over low heat until aromatic.
17. Mix in 2 whole dried red chilies.
18. Add ½ to 1 tablespoon fine chopped garlic and fry lightly until aromatic. Do not brown the garlic as it can taste bitter.
19. Mix in ⅛ teaspoon asafoetida and ⅓ teaspoon red chilli powder. Immediately remove from heat.
20. Pour the hot tadka over the dal. Garnish dal tadka with coriander leaves before serving.
This dal tadka pairs very well with any kind of roti, chapati, paratha, butter naan or plain steamed rice. At home we often serve this with Jeera rice or ghee rice. There is no hard and fast rule and you can make the dal of the consistency you want. Some people prefer to make a somewhat thinner version to eat with rice, whereas with rotis, the thicker version is preferred.
It is often served with a dry or almost dry curried vegetable dish, papad, pickle, salad like this kachumber and some cut lemon. Simple jeera aloo goes well with this dal, though you can make any kind of vegetable or mixed vegetable dishes with it.
Some people prefer to have a basic dal rice or dal roti meal without anything else except perhaps accompaniments like papad, pickle, and sliced onions. It is a complete and nutritionally rich meal and a comfort food for many and a staple in Indian diets. So experiment & serve with what you like.
Dal tadka in a pot
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can make this lentil dish in a stockpot or saucepan – just use a deep one. For this method, it is best to soak the dal in water for at least 15-30 minutes or longer. This will shorten the cooking time. Strain the dal before cooking it, discarding the soaking water.
- Put the dal to boil in 4 cups water in a pan.
- Let it come to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. The dal will take time, depending on how long you have soaked it.
- You may need to add more water to replenish the water that has boiled off.
- Remove any scum that forms on top of the dal and discard it.
- Once the dal is soft and mushy, remove from heat.
- Mash dal if required.
- And follow the rest of the directions as above.
Ingredients (US cup = 240ml )
- 1 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas or ¾ cup toor dal, ¼ cup moong dal or red lentils & 2 tbsps chana dal)
- 3 cups water (to cook dal)
- ¾ to 1 cup hot water (to adjust the consistency)
- 1½ to 2 tablespoon oil
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds (jeera)
- 1 teaspoon garlic fine chopped
- 1 teaspoon ginger fine chopped
- 1 medium onion (⅓ to ½ cup fine chopped)
- 1 green chilli (chopped, optional)
- 2 medium tomatoes (¾ to 1 cup deseeded, fine chopped)
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ to ¾ teaspoon red chilli powder
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon salt (more to adjust)
- 1 tablespoon kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
- 1 to 2 tablespoon coriander leaves (fine chopped, more for garnish)
- 1 medium lemon (for serving)
- 2 tablespoons ghee (oil for a vegan dish)
- ½ to ¾ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 dried red chilies
- ½ to 1 tablespoon garlic fine chopped (I use 1 tbsp)
- ⅛ teaspoon hing (asafoetida) (or gluten-free hing)
- ⅓ teaspoon red chilli powder
- Add dal to a pot or pressure cooker and rinse them very well with lots of water. Rub the lentils well with your hand while you rinse. Drain completely.
- Pour water and pressure cook the dal on a medium heat for 3 to 4 whistles. To cook in instant pot, pressure cook on high for 10 minutes. To cook in pot check my notes below.
- When the pressure drops naturally, open the lid. Dal should be soft cooked.
- Lightly mash keeping some of the dal intact. Add more water only if required to bring to consistency.
- While the lentils cook, to a medium pan pour oil and heat it. Add cumin seeds to the hot oil.
- They will begin to splutter, then add ginger garlic and saute on a low heat until fragrant.
- Add onions and green chilies. Fry them until slightly golden.
- Reduce the heat. Add red chilli powder, turmeric and garam masala. Give a quick stir.
- Stir in the tomatoes along with salt. Saute until the tomatoes become soft. The mixture begins to smell good at this stage.
- Transfer this to the cooked dal and simmer for about 6 to 7 minutes. Taste test and add more salt at this stage. Then add kasuri methi and give the boiling dal a good stir. Add coriander leaves and turn off the heat.
Smoke Dal (Dhungar, optional)
- Place a tall steel cup in the center of the pot. With a tong hold a wood coal over direct fire like a candle or lighter until a portion of it becomes red and hot. This will take about 2 minutes.
- Place this gently into the cup and pour ½ teaspoon ghee directly over the hot coal. It will begin to release smoke. Quickly cover the pot and let the dal smoke for 3 to 4 minutes.
How to Make Dal Tadka
- Transfer the hot cooked lentils to a serving bowl. Pour 2 tbsps ghee to a small pan & heat it on a medium heat.
- Add cumin seeds and let them fry on a low heat until aromatic.
- Next add red chilies and give a good stir. Add garlic and fry until light and aromatic. Do not brown.
- Stir in asafoetida and red chili powder. Quickly remove from heat and pour the tadka over the dal.
- Garnish dal tadka with coriander leaves. Squeeze some lemon juice over the dal while serving. Serve with rice, roti, paratha, naan, jeera rice or ghee rice.
- For 1 cup dal mentioned in the recipe I use ¾ cup toor dal (split pigeon peas), ¼ cup moong dal (or red lentils/ masoor) & 2 tablespoons chana dal (bengal gram). If you want you may just use 1 cup toor dal. This combination is what makes this dal tadka so much special in flavor, texture and taste.
- Water: If using only toor dal, you will require lesser water to add at the later stage i.e while cooking with onion tomato masala.
- To cook in a pot, simply soak the lentils for at least 15 to 30 minutes. Drain the water and pour 4 cups of fresh water. Let it come to a boil over high heat. Then simmer for 20-30 minutes. If required add more hot water. Remove any scum that forms on top of the dal and discard it. Turn off the heat when they are soft and mushy. Follow the rest of the recipe.
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
I’m Swasthi Shreekanth, the recipe developer, food photographer & food writer behind Swasthi’s Recipes. My aim is to help you cook great Indian food with my time-tested recipes. After 2 decades of experience in practical Indian cooking I started this blog to help people cook better & more often at home. Whether you are a novice or an experienced cook I am sure Swasthi’s Recipes will assist you to enhance your cooking skills.
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