Tarka Dal

Recipe by Jenny Chandler
How about... stirring in a handful of spinach leaves just before adding the tarka ...adding tamarind paste, lime juice or even a pinch of amchur (an intriguingly sharp powder made from dried green mango) instead of the lemon. Or leave out the sharp element for a more mellow dal that would work alongside a zippy curry or pickle.
Jenny Chandler is a teacher, cook book author, consultant and food blogger. Passionate about inspiring others to source, prepare and eat great food.


 Serves 8 as a side dish, 4 as a main with flatbread or rice.

400 g/14 oz/2 cups moong dal, masoor dal, or a mixture of both

1.2 litres/2 pints/5 cups water

5-cm/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tsp ground turmeric

½–1 tsp salt

2 tbsp roughly chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)

squeeze of lemon juice (optional)

For the Tarka:

2 generous tbsp ghee, butter or vegetable oil

1 red onion, sliced

3–4 fresh green chillies, sliced


Wash the dal thoroughly and check for any tiny stones. Place them in a large saucepan with the water. Bring them to the boil and skim away any frothy scum.

Throw in the ginger, garlic and turmeric and simmer, with lid ajar, on the lowest heat possible for about 1½ hours. (A ridged griddle pan can help to diffuse the heat if you have a particularly fierce gas hob, just put your saucepan on top.) Stir from time to time and add more water if the dal is getting very thick.

When the lentils have collapsed, taste and season with salt. Add more water if you like a soupy consistency; I prefer mine to be more like a loose porridge. For the tarka, heat the ghee, butter or oil in a small pan. (I would go for the luscious creaminess of ghee or butter every time.) Add the onion and cook until golden. Add the chillies and stir for a moment or two over a high heat.

Tip the tarka over the dal, stir it in along with a squeeze of lemon juice and then sprinkle with coriander.