If you’ve ever been to an Indian restaurant in North America, there’s a very good chance that you’ve seen “tarka dal” on the menu. There’s a good reason for this apart from the ease of preparation and cooking — a good tarka dal is probably the ultimate Indian comfort food for vegetarians. A good creamy tarka dal is one of my own favorites and a great meal solution when I am pressed for time.
But a tarka dal is only a generic term for yellow or red lentils cooked with turmeric and tempered with a final addition of seeds and spices fried in hot oil or ghee — the tarka — to give it a simple but elegant finish. Toor dal (split pigeon peas), chana dal (split black chickpeas) and masoor dal (red lentils) are the most commonly used and all are cooked until creamy before the tempering. The variations of seeds and spices in the tarka or the additions of other ingredients like chilies, onion and ginger mean that there are countless ways of preparing a tarka dal.
This tarka dal uses all three of the dals that can typically be found in this dish, and features a delicious assortment of both hot and aromatic seeds and spices. What makes this tarka dal different than many is the use of a small piece of burning charcoal added for a few minutes in a bowl that is placed in the pot where the dals are cooking. This technique adds a fragrant and tantalizing smokiness to the dish that enhances all of the other flavors and will leave your diners craving more.
You can skip the smoking technique and you’ll still have a fine tarka dal to serve along with some Indian flat breads or hot fesh cooked rice. Although it won’t have that unique smokiness that only the charcoal touch provides, there will still be some smoky flavor from the ghee and the final addition of the fried tarka at the end of the cooking time.
|Smoky Mixed Dal Tarka
|Recipe by Lisa Turner
Published on May 14, 2019
Spicy split pea and lentil curry with an intense smoky ghee flavor
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- 1 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas)
- 1/2 cup chana dal (split chickpeas)
- 1/2 cup red lentils
- 3 tablespoons ghee
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 black cardamon pods, crushed
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
- 1-inch fresh ginger, minced or grated
- 1 to 2 fresh red or green chilies, seeded and minced
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 large tomato, finely chopped
- 5 cups water
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon black salt (optional)
- juice from 1 lime (2 tablespoons)
- fresh chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)
- 1 small piece of charcoal
- 1 tablespoon ghee
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 dried whole red chilies
- small handful of dried curry leaves
Rinse the dals and lentils and soak for 6 hours or overnight in enough water to cover. Drain, rinse again, and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the ghee over medium heat in a large saucepan. When hot, add the cumin seeds, cardamon pods and cloves, and stir for a few minutes until the cumin seeds darken a few shades. Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes to soften. Toss in the garlic, ginger and chilies, and stir for another few minutes. Add the turmeric, ground cumin, coriander, paprika and chili powder, and stir for a minute until the spices are fragrant.
Add the tomatoes and simmer, stirring often, for 5 minutes until somewhat thickened. Pour in the water and the dals and lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the dals are soft and tender — about 50 minutes. Add more water to achieve your desired consistency (the dal should be soupy but not too thin). Season with salt and stir in the lime juice. Turn off the heat.
Using tongs and a lighter, bring a small piece of charcoal to flame. When it is burning hot, place the charcoal in a heat-safe bowl or cup, place the cup into the cooked dal, and drop 1 tablespoon of ghee onto the burning charcoal. Immediately cover the pot and leave it to smoke for a few minutes.
For the final step, prepare the tarka. Heat the ghee in a small saucepan over high heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds, chilies and curry leaves, and cook for 30 seconds. Remove the bowl or cup with the charcoal from the dal and pour in the hot tarka. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes.
Taste for seasoning and serve hot, garnished with fresh chopped cilantro if desired.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Other dal recipes to try from Lisa’s Kitchen:
Creamy Mung Dal Curry
Simple Lemon Dal
Indian-Style Yellow Split Pea Curry (Matar Dal)
Mixed Lentil Dal
Urad Dal with Spices
Audio accompaniment: Purl – Stillpoint
This is my contribution to My Legume Love Affair, a popular monthly event featuring the goodness of legumes, started by Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook, administered by me since 2013, and kindly hosted each month by different bloggers. A special thanks to Renu for hosting the May edition. For details and to participate, you can see her announcement post here.