Tarka Dhal

I cannot think of anything more comforting than a bowl of hot steamy “Tarka Dhal”. Dhal is a staple food, served in most Indian household – a true classic. Creamy, spicy, aromatic with a blend of golden roasted flavours of spices. Tarka dhal is very unique to each individual; this is my version, like most of my food I like them aromatic with subtle spices. Just by looking at a tarka dhal with all the ingredients in it may seems complicated but trust me this is a quick recipe. I use either red split lentil or Moong dhal for this dish as it does not take long to cook, turns very creamy and easy to digest. Enjoyed with Indian breads, rice, even with croutons or crusty bread. Here is one of my favorites, a very easy to cook meal that will be enjoyed by everyone.


Ingredients Serves 4-6

  • 125 gms Moong dhal or yellow split lentils
  • 250 mls water – enough to cover the dhal
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ cinnamon stick
  • 2-3 bay leaves

For the Tarka:

  • 1 finely sliced onion – fried in oil until nicely browned
  • 1 small tomato finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 inch ginger, grated
  • 2 tsps cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander powder or garam masala
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp chilli powder, to taste
  • 1 dried red chilli
  • Handful of coriander, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbs ghee or vegetable oil
  • Few curry leaves or sage leaves (I did this with sage leaves once and it tasted really good with the crispy fried sage leaves, quite different)
  • Chopped coriander leaves for serving – I like to add the coriander stalks in the dhal while it simmers.


  1. Wash the dhal in a deep saucepan, add enough water to cover and bring to the boil. As it starts to boil a white scum will start to form, using a ladle skim the white foam scum. Add salt, cinnamon stick, the bay leaves and leave to boil until soft. Cooking can take up to 20 minutes on a medium heat.
  2. While your dhal/lentils is cooking, prepare the tarka ingredients.
  3. In a small sauce pan melt the ghee/vegetable oil add the sliced onion, curry leaves, cumin seeds, garam masala or coriander powder, turmeric powder, chopped tomatoes followed by the ginger and garlic. Leave to cook until all the ingredients are golden brown almost reducing into a paste. ( whenever adding spices to a dish it is very important to add them in stages as not all cook at the same temperature and by doing so it releases each of the ingredients aromas in stages)
  4. Pour the taka over the lentils and stir it all in, leaving some of the tarka mixture for later. Leave the dhal/lentils to simmer for another few minutes or until all comes together. Taste for seasoning and texture as it should neither be too thick nor too watery.
  5. Just before serving warm the reserved tarka add a little drop of ghee, the dried chilli and pour over the dhal/lentils and enjoy the aromas as it sizzles.
  6. Serve hot. 20141102_203325