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Tarka Dhal

Lentils are the simplest and quickest pulse to turn into a hearty meal. In Nepal, Dhal Bhat, a spicy lentil soup with rice, is traditionally eaten twice a day, mid morning and early evening. In Southern India, Rasam, a thin lentil soup is eaten with iddlies for breakfast. Tarka Dhal is traditionally enriched with butter or ghee, spiced with a masala spice mix and finished with "tarka", a spiced butter temper with fried shallots and garlic. Served with chapattis or naan, you can't ask for a more wholesome and satisfying veggie supper.

Moong bean dhal by urvashi roe

Photo by Urvashi Roe

Tarka Dhal

Serves: 4-6



  • 1 tbsp butter ghee or sunflower oil
  • 1 small shallot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 8 curry leaves
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • ¼ tsp asafoetida
  • 1 tbsp masala spice mix
  • 200g split moong dhal or split chana dhal. Pre-soaked in hot water for 2 hours, then rinsed and drained
  • 400ml water

Tarka Tempering

  • 3 tbsp butter ghee or sunflower oil
  • 2 small shallots, peeled and finely sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 small red chillis
  • 8 curry leaves

To finish

  • 2 tbsp tamarind water
  • 1 tsp jaggery
  • A handful of chopped coriander leaves


  1. Heat ghee or oil in a saucepan and fry the shallot with the curry leaves on a medium heat for 5 minutes until soft. Add the turmeric, asafoetida and masala spice mix, then the dhal and cover with water.
  2. Simmer until the dhal is soft. This should take about 40 minutes. If it begins to look dry, add more boiling water, don’t let the water evaporate fully.
  3. Tempering: When the lentils are soft, use a small frying pan and heat the butter ghee or sunflower oil until hot. Add the shallot, garlic, salt, cumin, mustard seeds, chillies and curry leaves. Fry on a medium heat until the onions are a medium golden brown. Pour straight over the lentils, stir and season with tamarind and jaggery to taste.
  4. Add chopped coriander leaves to finish.

Masala Spice Mix photo Eat Pictures

Photo by Rob Wicks of Eat Pictures

Masala Spice Mix

Northern Indian Curry powder

Whole Spices

  • 2 tbsps coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp fenugreek
  • 1 tsp kalongi/nigela
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 1 bay leaf

Ground Spices

  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • pinch of salt


  1. Dry fry the whole spices, until fragrant, cool and grind. Add the ground spices and mix in.
  2. This will store in airtight container for a month, or you can make a paste…
  3. To make a paste mix the spice blend with a little vinegar and water until it resembles a paste. Leave to stand for 10 minutes.
  4. Heat some oil in a pan and add the paste. Gently stir fry for about 5 minutes until the paste start to make a bubbling noise.
  5. Remove from heat and leave to cool-the oil should rise to the surface.
  6. Store in sterilized jars-the layer of oil on top adds to the storing process-keep in the fridge.

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