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 soft-textured lentil soup, flavored with cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, ginger, turmeric, green chili, and shallots, cooked in ghee. This flavoring is the tadka part of Dal Tadka. Tadka is a Hindi word that translates as tempering.
Tadka is a cooking technique that is popular in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. For a tadka, the spices may be cooked in oil or ghee.
The technique makes the spices highly aromatic and flavorful, much more so than if you added them directly to the dal without tempering.
Put simply then, Dal Tadka refers to dal, flavored with tempered spices.
The type of dal used for Dal Tadka varies, but it is always of the yellow type. I have to tell you about these wonderful lentils in the next section, because they are nothing like the lentils that are ubiquitous in the West.
These are so much better in my opinion! They are not hard to find either. See my Amazon recommendations below.
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 inch on the long edge. The lentil is flat, and pale yellow in color, like the inside of a banana.
When you cook the moong dal it breaks down into a very soft consistency, similar to the way split peas break down. 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.
Moong dal is likely available in your grocery store, either on the bottom shelf on the grocery isle, or in the bulk section. If you want it even easier, check my Amazon choices below. I am also including options for some of the spices used in this dish.
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Recipe for Yellow Lentils (Dal Tadka)
For cooking the dal
- 3/4 cup moong dal, see notes
- 2 1/2 cups water
- a pinch turmeric powder
- a pinch of salt
For the tadka tempering
- 1 tablespoon ghee
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds, (optional), see notes
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
- 1 teaspoon green chili , (or jalapeño, Thai, or Serrano chilis), finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon shallot, finely chopped
- a pinch of asafetida, (optional), see notes
- a pinch of red chili powder, (or cayenne pepper)
- 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
- 5-6 curry leaves, (optional), see notes
Cook the dal
- Rinse moong dal in cold water until the rinse water becomes clear. Add to cooking pot along with water, turmeric powder, and a pinch of salt.
- If you are cooking under pressure, bring the pressure cooker to high pressure, and then reduce the heat and cook under pressure for 5 minutes.
- If you are cooking in a saucepan, simply bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the dal breaks down into a soft consistency.
Make the dal tadka
- Heat ghee in a small skillet on medium heat. Add black mustard seeds 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 a half teaspoon of 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 an exceptional taste, add a dab of ghee on top of you dal just before serving.
- To learn more about ghee, please see my post How to Identify Ghee, and Ghee-buying Tips.