Amid the harried lives most of us tend to lead, a simple lentil dal tadka offers a calming reprieve. It really is like this. Don’t believe me? Give it a try!
Dal Tadka is a lentil soup, flavored with spices tempered in ghee or oil (the tadka).
The spices used for the tadka vary throughout India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, where this cooking method is popular.
In this recipe, I call for cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, ginger, turmeric, green chili, and shallots.
Spices subjected to the tadka treatment are made infinitely more fragrant and flavorful by the addition of heat and fat. It takes just a few seconds of dancing aromatics while you enjoy the beauty of it all, and your dal will be forever transformed.
There are a few different types of dal (lentils) that can be used to make a dal tadka. In this recipe I recommend moong dal and toor dal, but chana dal works just as well.
Friends of mine made this with red lentils (masoor dal), and you could also get away with using split yellow peas. Speciality golden lentils would also work nicely.
What Is Moong Dal?
Moong dal (sometimes called mung) is a tiny lentil; probably the tiniest lentil you have ever seen. It is oval in size, about an eight of an inch on the long edge. The lentil is flat, and pale yellow, like the inside of a banana.
When you cook moong dal it breaks down into a very soft consistency. If you don’t use enough water it can get gummy. Using the right amount of water is key to getting the right texture.
When I cook pulses I usually like to use a pressure cooker, but I think moong dal will be my exception to that rule.
Moong dal cooks wonderfully in a saucepan, because it keeps more of its texture and resists getting gummy. (If you decide to combine moong with toor dal, a pressure cooker is recommended.)
So go ahead and cook it in a saucepan. It only takes 30 minutes.
Recipe for Yellow Lentils (Dal Tadka)
For cooking the dal
- 3/4 cup moong dal, (see notes)
- 2 1/2 cups water
- pinch turmeric powder
- pinch Himalayan pink salt
For the tadka tempering
- 1 tablespoon ghee, (see notes)
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds, (optional, see notes)
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, minced
- 1 teaspoon green chilis (substitute with jalapeños), finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon shallot, finely chopped
- a pinch asafetida, (optional, see notes)
- a pinch red chili powder (substitute with cayenne pepper)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 5-6 curry leaves, (optional, see notes)
- 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
Cook the dal
- Rinse moong dal in cold water 2–3 times until the water runs clear. Add to pressure cooker or saucepan along with water, turmeric powder, and a pinch of salt.
- Pressure cooker method: Use high heat to bring the pressure up to high, then reduce the heat slightly, and cook under pressure for 5 minutes. Allow the pressure to come down for 10 minutes and then open the lid safely. Instant Pot method: Set the timer for 7 minutes and high pressure. Allow the pressure to come down for 10 minutes and then open the lid safely. Reference: How to Cook Beans
- Saucepan method: Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the dal becomes soft.
Make the dal tadka
- Heat ghee in a small skillet on medium heat. Add black mustard and cumin seeds, and sauté until the mustard begin to pop and the cumin begins to brown.
- Add the ginger, chili, and shallots. Continue to sauté until the onion starts to caramelize.
- Add the asafetida, red chili powder, and turmeric powder, and stir to release the aroma. Add the curry leaves and stir for about 30 seconds. Turn off the heat. The tadka is done.
- Pour the tadka over the cooked dal along with salt. Stir well, bring to a boil, and simmer for a few minutes to combine the flavors. Taste, and adjust for salt.
- You could choose to either spoon the dal on top of the rice, or mix the two together to create the dish known as “dal rice.” For exceptional taste, add a dab of ghee on top of your dal just before serving.
- To learn more about ghee, please see my post How to Identify Ghee, and Ghee-buying Tips.