A guide to lentils & basic tarka dhal recipe

I was vegetarian for eight years or thereabouts, growing up. I loved it from the start and felt that I would never need meat again.

However, I was doomed to fail because, like many, I did vegetarianism badly. I was skinny, pale, had issues with my joints and digestion, and suffered from headaches… all the classic signs of a poor diet.

I simply didn’t take enough care in balancing what I ate, living mainly on carbohydrates. Try as my mother did (if you’re reading this, Mum, I swear I’m not implicating you) to get the recommended five-a-day onto my plate, if you choose a certain lifestyle you must take responsibility for doing it properly, and take responsibility I did not (believing myself to be invincible, as teenagers tend to do).

I buckled at last at 18, when confronted with lamb cooked over an open fire, and meat quickly re-entered my diet. Almost immediately I began to see the health problems that had plagued me through puberty melt away, and over the years that followed I began not to recognise myself; consistent colour in my cheeks and “meat on my bones”, as my very traditional grandmother would delightedly chuckle.

I have never opted back into full-on vegetarianism. However, the more I learn about the health and environmental implications of meat consumption, the closer I get to cutting it out of my diet again, once and for all. I rarely cook with meat as it is, due in no small part to how costly it is to eat at least even vaguely decent stuff. When I do eat it – a handful of times a month – I enjoy every bite. For the most part, however, my diet is pretty much meat free.

To make that existence feasible, I have a handful of go-to vegetarian ingredients that I usually combine in some form, and serve with a side of greenery for a decent meal: eggs, brown rice, sweet potato, tofu, more eggs, aubergine, peppers, quinoa, avocado and, as you’ve probably guessed, lentils.

I’m super-fond of those little pulses; they’re high in fibre, full of good protein, low in calories, basically fat free, quick and easy to cook, ludicrously cheap, substantial, versatile and delicious. However, I’ve met people who find lentils an intimidating ingredient, so I thought I’d contribute to National Vegetarian Week by going through the basics of one of my favourite vegetarian staples.

There are a number of different kinds of lentils, but the chief three groups are brown, green and red, with each group containing lentils of varying colours and origins. Brown lentils range from an almost sandy colour to deep black, and cook very fast. Green lentils, particularly popular in Europe, cook in around 45 minutes, and make for lovely rich stews. Both retain their shape well when cooked. Red lentils range from a golden colour to fully red, and tend to lose their shape somewhat when cooked, which makes for wonderfully thick and mushy dishes (essential for Indian dhals).

If you want to learn more about how to cook lentils here’s Akis Petretzikis with some handy tips:

Whether it’s in soups or stews or curries, incorporating lentils into a vegetarian diet is very advisable, so to open up the floor to the lentil world I’m going to pass over a basic recipe for Indian tarka dhal – probably one of my most well-loved meat-free dishes.

Absolutely essential ingredients

  • 400g red lentils
  • 2 tsps turmeric
  • 2 knobs unsalted butter
  • 2 tsps cumin seeds
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 1-2 fresh green chillies, finely sliced (remove seeds if you want to keep the heat down)

Optional (recommended) extras

  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 2-3 tomatoes, chopped small

Place the lentils in a pan and cover with enough cold water to come to around two inches above their surface. Bring to the boil (skim off any scum that rises to the top), and reduce to a simmer. Stir in the turmeric and a generous knob of butter. Cover and leave to cook gently.

In a small frying pan, dry-fry the cumin seeds over a medium heat until toasted and fragrant (no more than a couple of minutes). Remove from the pan and set to one side.

Melt a second knob of butter in the same frying pan and gently fry the chopped garlic, onion, chillies and the grated ginger and tomatoes, if you’re using them. Once the garlic is golden, mix in the toasted cumin seeds and, if using, the garam masala and ground coriander. Remove from the heat until the lentils are completely softened.

Give the lentils a good stir. They should have the consistency of porridge – thicker than soup and looser than houmous. Add more water as necessary (you will be surprised how thick they can get over just a couple of extra minutes cooking), and mix in your aromatic fried mixture.

Season to taste, then serve on its own, topped with coriander, or with a side of basmati rice and greens.

So simple, so quick, so good.

The Most Basic Dal

Dal is both an ingredient and a staple dish in Indian cuisine using lentils or legumes. Though many stews may simmer for hours, this is my go-to dal recipe on a weeknight, since it's both easy and flavorful. It cooks really quickly, it has the depth of flavor of a dish that has been sitting on the stove all day, and served with rice or roti (and maybe some sliced cucumbers on the side), it's a complete meal.

Technique tip: Insert a long spoon into the pot to break the surface tension and prevent the lentils from boiling over.

Swap option: You can use olive oil or butter instead of ghee.

Tarka Dahl

Tarka dahl is comfort food at its best, but is definitely not over indulgent. Not only is it gluten free, and suitable for vegans but its packed full of vegetables and legumes, which provide vitamins, minerals, fibre and protein. Its also bursting with the fiery and aromatic flavours of turmeric, ginger, cumin and garam masala, which are the usual suspects for a tarka dahl Indian recipe. If its not Tarka Dahl on the menu then it has to be a tikka masala and I love to make that with my own homemade tikka masala paste , which will go into either a veggie or meat curry. More recently Ive also been making a biryani masala marinade which makes the most fabulous fish biryani rice dish.

The recipe for this tarka dahl was one that was originally introduced to me at the cooking course I attended at the beginning of the year in Halifax. Since then I have adapted the recipe, made it my own and then used it for an event that I was involved in last weekend.

Authentic Indian Recipes – Paneer Curry, Tarka Dahl + Kebabs

Cooking (and eating, let’s face it) has been one of highlights of each and every day in lockdown. We have been SO experimentative with our meals recently because we have more time than ever to research, prepare and cook, so I wanted to share a few of our favs here on the blog!

At the start of lockdown we decided to start a ‘virtual cook along’ series with our friends and family, the basic premise being that each week someone teaches us one of their signature meals over video call and we cook a long with them. It means we get to spend virtual time with our loved ones and also learn something new!

Mo, one of my boyfriend’s best friends is an INCREDIBLE cook. He used to run a Bangladeshi restaurant and every time we visit his place for dinner it’s always an incredible experience! So we were very keen for him to teach us some of his signature Indian dishes. These three recipes in particular were incredible, perhaps the best meal Geoff and I have EVER cooked at home.

I’ve written up all three recipes here and also filmed the cookalong video with each step, which you can watch on my YouTube channel. It might be a good idea to watch that to see how we juggled all three dishes at the same time, and also to get a feel for what each dish should look like after each step!

Without further ado, here they are!

NOTE – I’d approximate that these three dishes fed the two of us for three full meals, so you will have lots leftover to either have for lunch or freezer!

Paneer Curry (This recipe is for two blocks of paneer)!


1 x block of ginger (finely grated palm sized amount, but we use Taj’s Frozen Ginger blocks from any supermarket)

2 x blocks of frozen garlic (again, we use frozen pre-crushed)

One and a half chopped white onion

Two tomatoes – chopped and quartered

3-4 green chillis depending on heat

Lots of coriander (a big bunch)

Cooking oil (anything but olive oil, we use sunflower)


  • Heat oil, about 2 tablespoons
  • Once it’s hot, add the 2 x cardamon seeds, bay leaf, ginger and garlic. Cook for 5 mins.
  • Add one and a half chopped onion, one of the chopped tomatos, a handful of chopped coriander and 2 chopped green chillis (more if you like more spicy) (pic 1 is our ingredients chopped. Picture 2 is in the pan)
  • Cook for 5 mins
  • Add 1 x teaspoon turmeric and a teaspoon and a half of salt. Should look bright orange. (picture 3)
  • Now you need to cook this until all the onions and tomato have dissolved. This will take like 20 mins. DO NOT let the ingredients dry out. Boil a kettle and add bits of water to help keep it moist and wet. The point of this is to build up a paste. Simmer and bubble away, keeping wet and liquid-y, until it’s all soft. You will need more water than you think. (Picture 4 for example)
  • Chop paneer into cubes.
  • After 20-25 mins and once onions have dissolved, it’s time to add the final spices
  • Add 1 teaspoon of curry powder, 3 heaped teaspoons paprika, 1/2 teaspoon x chilli powder (more if more spicy)
  • Add more water, don’t let it dry out.
  • 2-3 mins after adding the spices, it’s time to build it up to a sauce so it can cover the paneer once it goes in, so keep adding more water. You want to build up enough water, bit by bit, so it’s enough to cover the paneer once that goes in.
  • Add paneer (picture 5)
  • Picture 6 (how watery it should be so it covers the cheese) (after adding the final spices and lots more water and the paneer)
  • Put on a low heat and let cook for 15 minutes.
  • After 15 mins, add the final garnish to the top – one tomato, chopped, more green chilli (one) and a lot of coriander! Enjoy!

Picture 1 – the onion, 1 tomato, coriander and chilli for the first step

Picture 2 – frying all of these in oil along with the bay leaf and cardamom seeds.

Picture 3 – after we added the turmeric and salt.

Picture 4 – keeping it moist with water, should look like this. You want to dissolve the tomato and onion to make a base for the sauce.

Picture 5 (after approx 20-30 mins of dissolving the onions, adding spices and more water, add paneer)

Picture 6 (how it should look)

Picture 7 (after paneer has been simmering on low heat for 10 mins)

Picture 8 – add final garnish and you’re done!


  • Half a white onion chopped
  • One cup of red lentils
  • Teaspoon turmeric
  • Teaspoon salt
  • 2 x cardamon seeds
  • 1 x bay leaf
  • Dried chillis or chilli flakes (3 pinches of flakes)
  • Big handful of fresh chopped coriander


  • Wash lentils
  • Add one cup of red lentils to three cups of cold water into a pan on the hob
  • Add onion, turmeric, salt, cardamon and bay leafs into the pan. (pic 1)
  • Bring to boil and cook lentils until thick but watery.
  • One the lentils are nice and thick, but watery, it’s time to add the Tarka to the Dahl. So you want to really finely slice a clove of garlic (pic 2)
  • Bring a couple of teaspoons oil to the boil in a seperate frying pan.
  • Once the oil is really hot, add chilli flakes and thinly sliced garlic
  • Cook until brown (don’t burn, shouldn’t take too long)
  • Once brown, add to the Dahl. This will fizzle and spit, so stand back, but this adds amazing smoke to the flavour.
  • Stir in
  • Add a big bunch of coriander as garnish
  • It’s done!

Picture 1 – all the ingredients in the pan

Picture 2 – thinly sliced garlic

Picture 3 – Once lentils are cooked but still at a water-y consistency (like this) it’s time to add the tarka

Pic 4, once you’ve browned the garlic and chilli flakes, add it all to the Dahl

Pic 5 – add coriander and it’s done!

Lamb kebabs

  • Big bunch of coriander, chopped finely
  • Two green chillis (more, depending on how spicy)
  • One white onion grated or finely chopped
  • Lamb mince
  • 1 teaspoon of garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon of jeera (cumin)
  • 2 x paprika powder
  • 1 x chilli powder(depending on how spicy)
  • 1/2 spoon curry powder
  • 1/2 spoon salt
  • Garlic x 2 big cloves, crushed or finely grated
  • Ginger – two big thumb sized piece grated (We use two frozen ginger cubes)
  • Put all ingredients and spices in with mince and mix together. Marinade in fridge until ready to cook.
  • Shape into thin, small burger patties
  • Grill on griddle pan for healthy version (add tiny bit of oil to stop sticking) or shallow fry in veg/sunflower oil
  • Cook 3/4 mins each side until cooked. Either griddle

And there you go! As I said, for a better sense of timing and juggling all three of these dishes at the same time, watch my YouTube video here!

I can’t express how delicious all three of these meals are. I really recommend you try. Sorry if the instructions are manic, I’ve never written up a recipe before!

Yellow Daal Tadka

Posted By Savita

A simple, healthy split yellow lentil (daal) recipe prepared with aromatics, seasoned with tomatoes and garlic, and flavored with spiced oil known as Tadka. A simple, quick, and perfect meatless Monday meal with side of steamed rice. This classic lentils recipe never gets old. It freezes well, is gluten free, vegan, and has potential to load-up with any seasonal veggies in-hand.

Two months ago, CDH completed 7 years. While I wanted to share something special for the occasion.. Our move made me change my plans. Last week, while cooking a simple weekday dinner of this Daal Tadka and Rice reminded me of old days when I started blogging.. This was one of the first recipe I posted on blog. So, I decided to take few clicks and revive this old post with some new pictures.. and give you flavor of old CDH. :)

Yellow Daal with Tadka (tempered spiced oil) is most humble lentil preparation and an every day recipe in every Indian household. Every region has their own version of this lentil stew. My recipe is most common in Northern region. Over time, my lentil Tadka recipe has grown as my taste and love for food has grown.. These days, I prepare it various ways depending upon the season and mood. Initially, I had planned to share another version of this Lentils today but felt.. I cannot do justice with new recipe until I revive my old post. I still plan to share the few other favorite versions of Daal Tadka. Check back soon. I will update all my shares here.

Like I said, this simple dish can also be served as a spiced soup. Serve bread to scoop the daal and splash of lemon juice to cut balance the flavor of spices. Even today, whenever I prepare Daal Tadka for dinner.. I save some leftovers for lunch. For lunch, I thin-out the daal with some water or vegetable stock, taste and adjust seasoning, warm it up, add splash of lemon juice. This easy step turns it into a lentil soup. A side of warm bread and this soup feels like a most comforting easy meal ever!

Make Ahead: Daal Tadka can be prepared 1-2 days in advance. It gets thick as it sits for long which can be fixed while re-heating the daal. Simply dilute with water and adjust seasonings (if needed). Reheat and enjoy!

All lentils are gluten free. So is this daal recipe. It is also nut free and vegan. In traditional preparation, clarified butter (called Ghee) is used to instead of oil for tempering. I like to only use oil and no butter which makes this recipe vegan and lighter.

I recommend loading daal with seasonal veggies such as small diced carrots, zucchini, or cauliflower. Boil with lentils for more flavor. Make it a loaded veggie and protein-full meatless weeknight dinner. If prefer, serve with rice, bread, or naan. Or a green citurs salad goes great as well.

No matter how you serve.. One thing is certain! You will fall in LOVE with the flavors and simplicity of this dish!

PS: Yellow Daal Tadka recipe was first published in June 2011. Today, I have updated the pictures, and added more explanation in method of preparation.

Anjum Anand's easy tarka dhal recipe

A classic vegetarian recipe that is so easy to make. Tarka simply refers to the few ingredients fried up and stirred in at the end most Indian lentil dishes are made this way.

But what makes dahl such a good dish to be cooking up right now?

The masur dal (aka. red lentils) is perhaps one of the most common pulses in an Indian kitchen and is a good source of protein, essential amino acids, potassium, iron, fibre and vitamin B1. It also helps to lower cholesterol and control sugar levels.

As well as this it is straight forward to make, is incredibly filling and can easily be frozen and warmed up a later date.

Add rice and vegetables alongside the dish. Traditionally it is served with a spoonful of yogurt, but it can also work as an accompaniment for a roast chicken or braised lamb.

Tarka Dhal

1. Place the split peas and lentils in a sieve and wash under running cold water. Put into a large saucepan with 900ml water and bring to the boil. Skim off any froth that rises to the surface. Stir in the turmeric, then cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally for 35-40 minutes, or until the lentils are just tender.

2. Remove from the heat and stir to break down the lentils. The mixture will thicken as it cools. Add a little extra water if it becomes too thick.

3. While the lentils are cooking put the onion, chillies, ginger and garlic into the Kenwood BlendXPro blender and chop using the coarse chop programme.

4. Heat the oil in a large pan, add the cumin and mustard seeds and fry until they begin to pop. Add the onion mixture and fry gently for 4-5 minutes, stir in the coriander, tomatoes and 2 tbsp water. Cook a further 2-3 minutes.

5. Stir the onion mixture into the lentils and season to taste. Sprinkle over the garam masala, cover and stand for 1 minute before gently reheating. Serve with crispy fried onion.

  • 250g/9oz chana dal, rinsed until the water runs clear
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3–4 whole green chillies, pricked with a knife
  • 2cm/¾in piece fresh root ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
  • 3 tomatoes
  • ¾ tsp ground turmeric
  • ¾ tsp garam masala
  • 1½ tsp ground coriander
  • handful fresh coriander leaves, chopped
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the lentils and 900ml/1¾ pints of water into a saucepan, stir well and bring to the boil. Skim off any froth that forms on the surface of the water with a spoon. Cover the pan with a lid and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer, stirring regularly, for 35–40 minutes, or until the lentils are just tender, adding more water as necessary.

When the lentils have cooked through, remove the pan from the heat and use a whisk to break them down. Set the mixture aside to thicken and cool.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and fry for 20–30 seconds, or until fragrant.

Add the onion, chillies and ginger and fry for 4–5 minutes, or until golden brown.

Blend the garlic and tomatoes to a purée in a food processor. Add the purée to the pan and stir well to combine.

Add the ground spices and 100ml/3½fl oz of water to the pan and stir well to combine. Season, to taste, with salt and simmer over a medium heat for 15–20 minutes, or until the oil from the sauce has risen to the surface of the sauce.

Add the cooked lentils to the sauce and stir well, adding more water as necessary to loosen the mixture. Bring the mixture to the boil and season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Stir in the chopped coriander just before serving.

Recipe Tips

The chana dal need to be rinsed thoroughly until the water runs clear before using.

Top 10 best ever dhal recipes

Make one of our top 10 best ever dhal recipes for the ultimate comforting bowl of curry. Try a classic khatti, a terrific tarka or creamy black dhal recipe.

Craving something comforting and versatile? Try one of our delicious dhal recipes – they’re perfect for feeding a crowd and can use up a variety of veg. They can be as complex or simple as you like and use budget-friendly ingredients like pulses and lentils.

A dhal is a hearty family dish and there really is one for everyone. Whether you prefer rich and spicy or creamy and coconutty, our Indian-inspired recipes are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. If you want even more inspiration see our healthy Indian recipe collection.

1. Spinach, sweet potato & lentil dhal

Want to take a look at another super healthy Indian dish? Our Indian winter soup is just as delicious and can be stored for ultimate convenience.

2. Aubergine dhal with tomato & onion raita

Looking for more gluten-free goodness? Our saag paneer is super quick and easy to make, and a very popular traditional Indian dish.

3. Creamy black dhal with crispy onions

For inspiration, check out our guide for the best Indian side dishes, jam-packed with recipes to cater for everyone.

4. Khatti dhal

Looking to serve with a tasty side dish? Try these easy onion bhajis or Indian oven chips for a family feast.

5. Chickpea & coconut dhal

If you’re running low on time and want something with fewer ingredients, try our 20-minute lime and coconut dhal.

6. Next level dhal makhani

Want to add a little something extra? Take a look at our one-pan lentil dhal with curried fish.

7. Red lentil & squash dhal

Perfect as a starter and a main, our hearty red lentil and squash dhal uses butternut squash for a healthier twist on an Indian classic. Served with a dollop of sweet mango chutney on a warm naan, this dhal will warm you up from the inside out.

Fancy something with a little more spice? Take a look at our spicy veggie chapati wraps to crank the heat up.

8. Sweet & sour lentil dhal with grilled aubergine

Discover our best ever aubergine recipes for feeding a crowd, try them baked, grilled or barbecued.

9. Tarka dhal

Find more protein-packed dishes in our ultimate lentil recipe collection.

10. Spinach dhal with harissa yogurt

Try even more spinach recipes, from fresh salads to sumptuous saag paneer.

Enjoyed these recipes? Try even more delicious curries…

What’s your favourite dhal recipe? Leave a comment below…

Basic dahl

The word "dahl" refers to both lentils and the simple Indian stew made using either lentils or other legumes. This basic recipe for dahl is spiced with a tasty combination of spices, and make a fantastic vegetarian dinner.



Skill level


  • 1 tbsp oil (olive, vegetable, coconut)
  • 300 g (1½ cups) dried red lentils
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 fresh red chilli, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • ⅓ cup chopped coriander
  • 1 litre (4 cups) vegetable stock or water
  • 2 cups chopped seasonal vegetables of your choice
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley, to serve

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Heat the oil in a slow cooker over high heat.

Add the lentils, cumin, turmeric, garam masala, chilli powder, red chilli, onion, garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring, until the onion softens.

Add the coriander, stock and chopped vegetables, and cook over low heat for at least 1 hour (the longer the better).

Place the lentils in a large saucepan with the turmeric , ginger, garlic and chili flakes and add 2 pints of water. Bring to a simmer (dont let it boil) and simmer for 35-40 minutes stirring every now and then. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a small frying pan spray with spray oil and place on a medium heat, Add the cumin and mustard seeds and wait for them to start to ‘pop’ stir and cook for another minute or so then stir into the lentil mixture along with the salt.

Return to the heat and bring back to the boil ,taste in case you need more salt and serve.