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. The trick is to use a lentil that breaks down into mush. The common brown and green lentils don't break down.
What Is Moong Dal?
Moong dal (sometimes called mung beans) are 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 in about 30 minutes, and it keeps more of its texture and resists getting gummy. (If you decide to combine moong with toor dal, a pressure cooker is recommended.)
Recipe for Yellow Lentils (Dal Tadka)
For cooking the dal
For the tadka tempering
- 1 tablespoon ghee, (see notes)
- ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds, (optional, see notes)
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, minced
- 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)
- ¾ 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.
- Choose one of the following cooking methods:1. Instant Pot: Reduce the amount of water to 1 ¼ cup. Ensure the steam valve is on “sealing,” and set the timer to cook on High Pressure for 10 minutes. Allow the pressure to come down naturally for 15 minutes. After that, force release any remaining pressure by carefully opening the steam valve to “venting.” Open the lid and remove it.2. Stovetop pressure cooker: Use high heat to bring the pressure up to high (when you hear the first whistle), then reduce the heat slightly. Cook under pressure for 6 minutes. Allow the pressure to come down naturally for 10 minutes, then open the lid safely. 3. Saucepan method: Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the dal becomes very soft. Add more water if necessary so that the dal remains covered. Reference: How to Cook Beans
Make the dal tadka
- Heat ghee in a small skillet on medium heat. Add black mustard and cumin seeds, and sauté until the mustard seeds begin to pop and the cumin begins to brown.
- Add the ginger and shallots. Continue to sauté until the onion starts to brown.
- Add the asafetida, red chili powder, and turmeric powder, and stir for a few seconds to release the aroma. Add the curry leaves and stir for about 30 seconds. Turn off the heat.
- Pour the tadka over the cooked dal, and add salt. Stir well, bring back up to a boil, and simmer for a few minutes to combine the flavors. Taste, and adjust for salt. Finish with a splash of fresh lemon if you like.