Tarka Dhal

Serves 2 as a main (4-5 as a side)

Yet another in my series of how I cook well known dishes pretty inauthentically, but heck we all cook to our own tastes. Dhal is one of my very favourite things to eat, I never visit a curry house without ordering it and it is one of my staple foods at home too. At CWU conference I persuaded my Comrade Doug Lilicrap, who like me is having to watch what he eats, to try a bit of my Tarka Dhal. He was suitably impressed and has been badgering me to send him the recipe ever since.

Therefore I decided to get my latest iteration of the recipe up here on Lunchtime Legend. This is like I said pretty inauthentic, it’s source if a Ferrett family recipe version nicked off my old man and it has undergone some revision to get to the final version (you can see the first ever version I posted on teh interwebs some years ago here)

Probably my favourite dish.



200g Toor Dal or Channa Dal

50g Red Lentils

2 1/2 inches fresh ginger grated*

8 large cloves of garlic (and a couple more to serve)

1 1/2 tsp Mustard seed (slightly crushed)

1 1/2 tsp Coriander seed (slightly crushed)

1 tsp Cumin seed (well ground)

Seeds of 5-6 cardomon pods (well crushed) discard the husks

1 tsp tumeric

1 tsp garam masala

2 onions finely chopped

3 fresh chillies finely chopped*

Handful coriander

Groundut oil

Sal pepper

* Now cooked like this it is a bit hotter than it would be if you ordered it from a common or garden takeaway. It makes a lovely mild curry if that is more your thang. Just half the proportion of ginger and only add one chilli.


This is a dish that is quite “busy” once you first start cooking and one in which timing are quite important. Therefore I recommend you spend a little while getting the stuff ready to go at the start. First of all grate the ginger and crush the garlic cloves and put to one side. Next in a pestle and mortar lightly crush the Mustard and Coriander seeds and put to one side (ideally on a side plate or something you can easily move about), add to this the crushed cumin. But keep the crushed cardomon in the mortar (or is that the pestle? Never quite sure which is which!!) as you add that a bit later.

Right now in your biggest pan (Dhal, like Risotto always expands loads more than you expect, I have been caught out a few times using to small a pan!) heat up some ground nut oil. I am usually pretty sparing oil but for this dish you need to use a reasonable amount. Ground nut is pretty healthy and eating Dhal is a goo thing so no guilt here! Once the oil is hot, but not spitting add the garlic and ginger. You will need to be quite busy here stirring it and making sure it doesn’t stick to the side, add a another sploosh of groundnut oil if you are worried.

Once it has been cooking for a couple of minutes but not starting to brown add the Mustard, Coriander and Cumin seeds, keep moving around for a couple of minutes making sure the mix doesn’t stick to the sides. You will know when you are ready to move on because the mustard seeds will start to make a popping noise. At this point add the onions, garam masala, turmeric, crushed cardomon, salt and pepper. You will need to turn the heat down and slowly fry until the onions start to soften. I normally find at this juncture that I need to add more oil.

Once the onions are softned add the Toor/Channa and the red lentils. you will want to let the dried pulses fry a little in the juices for about 4-5 minutes being careful to make sure it doesn’t all stick to the sides. At this point add some boiling water. You want there to be enough to cover all the pulses by about a couple of centimetres.  Turn the heat down and leave to simmer for about an hour or an hour and a half. A bit like cooking a Risotto you will probably need to keep topping up with boiling water (hooray might as well have a cuppa whilst you are at it right?) and basically leave it to its own devices. The pulses will start to turn pretty gloopy, I like there to be a few slightly more crunch ones so about 30-40 minutes into cooking I tend to add another handful og toor/channa. About 5 minutes form serving you want to add a whole handful of chopped fresh coriander leaf.

I like to thinly slice a couple of cloves of garlic and then fry until crunchy to serve on top, but otherwise I serve the dish as is for a bowl of lovely, healthy, easy, filling food. Dhal is great! It is also good as a side if you are cooking some other curry, and like most it always tastes better having been left overnight and reheated making it an easy bit of prep food if you want to serve curry for a dinner party.

One of the things I love about Dhal is how cheap it is, but if you don’t have the stuff in your cupboard the spices and pulses can be relatively expensive if bought from a supermarket. Much better is to go to your local asian supermarket. The pulses and spice seeds (whilst uncrushed) last for ages and are much cheaper form this sort of shop.

This dish is endlessly customisable as well, you can change the pulses there are all sorts of types of split peas and lentils and using different will change the dish. A lot of people might want to try fennel seed, asofoetida, fenugreek either as well as, or instead of, some of the spices I put in here.

Probably best not to have this before date night mind, it is very garlic-ee and we all know the…. erm… musical effect pulses have on our digestive system!



24. June 2012 by Ralph Ferrett
Categories: Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 comments

Comments (3)

  1. Do you make your own Garam Masala?

  2. Wow! Looks yummy! Thanks for sharing the recipe. Now we could try it out. 🙂
    Kelly Young recently posted..personal injury lawyer seattle wa

  3. I ‘ll test this recipe soon. We had another Tharka Dal yesterday from a magazine that was pretty tasty.
    Thanks for the recipe.
    Nils Glava Sweden

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