Some dal notes

You make a dal by cooking a lentil/mix of lentils and seasoning it with a mix of spices (or tadkas). So, the possibilities are endless. Some quick notes


  • Use any lentils you’d like. I’ve used Toor dal, which is a kind of yellow split lentils, moong dal, both split (yellow) and unsplit (green), red lentils (masoor), black eye peas, it does not matter. They all have a distinct taste and tend to pair with different kinds of spices.
  • Use whole (with skin) lentils if you want more texture and nutrition. They will take a little longer to cook. If you do not have a pressure cooker, you may have to soak in warm water for a few hours before cooking.
  • Use split and skinned lentils for a more soupy, creamy consistency. They tend to cook faster
  • I have always owned a pressure cooker, so I do not know how long it takes to cook lentils without one, I guess it depends on the lentils. In general, simmer covered until soft is the rule, I guess (I’ve never had to do it!). But, a pressure cooker is a great thing to have if you will eat lentils a lot.
  • Using a mixture of one faster cooking and one slower cooking lentil will give you lots of texture, good if you’re looking for almost a one course meal.
  • Adding fresh spinach, or kale, or any other fast cooking green is a good way to use up old greens.
  • Feel free to add vegetables as necessary, it’s your dal!
  • Tomatoes are useful for providing some tartness. I put tomatoes in almost every dal I make.


  • Depends on how intense you want the dal to be. In most meals, the dal is a complement, and is not meant to overwhelm the flavours of the other dishes. In this case, go easy on the spices. If you’re looking for a one course meal and a hearty one, make your dal nice and spicy. It all depends!
  • Most whole spices keep for a long time if well covered.
  • I rarely use powdered spices in dal unless I’m going for an especially unsubtle dal.

Cooking tips

  • Using fresh green/red chillies usually provides enough “hot” spice. Use them whole/slitted for a subtle flavour and chopped fine and sauted for a bigger bite. I use thai green/red chillies, they’re usually more predictable. You will not need more than 2-3 for 1 cup of uncooked dal. Chillies are usually the first “wet” ingredient added, as you need some oil to release the spice and if there are too many other ingredients present, they will not pick up enough heat.
  • Cilantro – Some like it, some don’t. I don’t think it adds much in taste, but it sure as hell improves the visual appearance. Always chop fine, some of the juices should come out when you chop. This avoids that dreaded “soapy” texture. Add at the end.
  • You can also use the green tips of green onions to provide some colour.

Some classic combinations

  • Yellow lentils with ginger, garlic, chillies, lime, tomato and cumin.
  • This is a good complementary dal, goes great with rice or chapatis and home style fried potatos, or pretty much any vegetable dish with a bit of flavour. The dal itself will not have too many aromatic flavours.

Serves 4

Yellow lentils (toor dal or similar – 1 cup)
Ginger – a 1-2 inch piece grated
Garlic, a few cloves – chopped fine, minced or pressed.
Cumin seeds, a couple of tea spoons
Tomatoes – Enough to provide the dal with nice texture. Do not chop fine, halves or quarters work better.

  • Cook the yellow lentils until soft, mash coarsely. Texture is a very personal thing. I prefer a dal where there is enough fine particles to make a stable suspension gravy, but enough coarseness so it is not baby food consistency. You get to pick! Same with the amount of water, you pick. Most lentils will absorb water as they cool and thicken, so you’ll need to add more next time you eat it any way.
  • To a warm pot, add a few teaspoons of oil, once the oil is warm (never needs to get too hot here as you’ll be adding all the ingredients quickly) and you don’t want anything to be over done), add the cumin seeds and let them fry for a bt till you can smell the oils releasing and the cumin changes colour.
  • Add 2-3 slitted green chillies to the oil, and let the oil release some of the chilli goodness.
  • Add the garlic and ginger, let them cook for about a minute or so. If you’re partial to one or the other, mix and match them up as you see fit. A warning, too much ginger will make the dal bitter.
  • Add the tomatoes, cook till they soften up a little bit and the skin is starting to separate from the body
  • Add the lentils, mix in, don’t break up the tomato too much, you want enough tomato gravy for the flavour, but you also want large bits to chew on.
  • Add water, salt to taste and bring to a boil, turn off.
  • Season with cilantro
  • Add lemon juice to taste. I like it lemony, some people only want a hint.

A Hearty, bold Dal

This one’s a meal. I made one for a potluck the other day with blackeyed peas and a kidney bean type lentil that was quite loaded!

  • 1 cup dry blackeyed peas (or 2 cups canned), half a cup of any other slower cooking lentil. Note, if you don’t want to cook the lentils together (especially if you don’t know what will cook when), just cook them separately. Cook the blackeyed peas to a mashable consistency and the other to a chewy, but not mashable (think chickpeas in chickpea salad) consistency.
  • One medium sized onion, chopped fine
  • As much ginger or garlic as you need. The usual amount for a 4 serving meal is about a 2 inch piece of ginger and 3 cloves of garlic.
  • 2-3 green chillies, red chillies, chooped fine, or just use red chili powder to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon of coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin powder

(note – this is considered one of those classic ratios in North Indian cooking, the 3:1 coriander:cumin, don’t know why, but it works, so I don’t mess with it).

  • Garam Masala, or any aromatic spice mix. I sometimes put in some ras el hanout, ) to give it an extra aromatic kick, very optional, your dal will just taste different, not better or worse!
  • A couple of medium sized tomatoes, quartered. I usually use a juicy tomato (roma, etc), not a sandwich type (beefsteak).


  • To a warm pot, add a few teaspoons of oil, medium heat. Once the oil is ready, add the chopped chillies, fry for about 10 seconds or so (feel the sizzle!), then add the onions and saute until transluscent.
  • Add the ginger and garlic, saute for another minute or so (you’ll smell it when it’s done!).
  • Reduce the heat and add the dry spices, cumin powder, coriander powder (and chilli powder if you did not use the chillies in the beginning).
  • Immediately add the tomatoes and cook till a little tender (skin separation is always a good sign).
  • Add the lentils, mix in, don’t break up the tomato too much, you want enough tomato gravy for the flavour, but you also want large bits to chew on.
  • Add water, salt to taste and bring to a boil, add the aromatic spice mix (optional) and turn off.
  • Season with cilantro or green onions. As always, feel free to add greens, or soupy vegetables for more texture.

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