Side dish

Tarka Dal recipe

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The buttery, garlicky yellow dal found in Indian restaurants, made with two kinds of lentils and two tarkas. One of my favourite dals.

  • Prep15m
  • Stand3h
  • Cook45m
  • Total4h

A long time ago I used to think I didn’t like lentils, which was nonsense as I’d never even tried them. Now lentils find their way into loads of my dishes and this is yet another daal recipe but it’s a really good one.

I wanted to make the tarka dal that we order without fail every time we go to an Indian restaurant and I’ve put together instructions from two recipes as well as making my own modifications. Two tarkas give the dal incredible flavour and using chana dal (split chickpeas) makes all the difference to the texture.

I make a big batch as leftovers taste great the next day and it freezes well. I’ve specified a large quantity of garlic but if you’re a fan of restaurant tarka dal you’ll know why. We’re all social distancing at the moment so it shouldn’t matter anyway.


I like this dal to be fairly thick but if you’d prefer a more soup-like texture then increase the water to 1¾ litres.

The water that the lentils cook in will be absorbed; the lentils don't need to be drained.

Be mindful not to add too much salt if your butter is already salted.

The fenugreek leaves aren’t essential - I’m trying to use mine up but the dal is perfectly good without them.

Make this dal vegan by swapping the butter/ghee for vegetable oil.


Tarka Dal

  • Prep15m
  • Stand3h
  • Cook45m
  • Total4h
Serves: 6-8



  • 100g chana dal (soaked for 3-4 hours)
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt (plus more to taste)
  • ¾ tsp ground turmeric
  • 400g split red lentils
  • 1½ litres of freshly boiled water

First tarka

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves (optional)
  • 1 tbsp butter or ghee
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • 2 large white onions, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh root ginger, chopped
  • juice from half a lemon

Second tarka

  • 3 tbsp butter or ghee
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • ½ tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 5-6 curry leaves (optional)


  1. Soak 100g of chana dal for 3-4 hours (or overnight) before using.
  2. Dal: Place a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the drained chana dal along with 1½ litres of freshly boiled water. Rest a wooden spoon over the saucepan (this can help to stop the water from boiling over) and prop a lid loosely on top. Boil the chana dal for 20 minutes then add 2 teaspoons of fine sea salt, ¾ teaspoon of turmeric and 400g of rinsed split red lentils to the saucepan.
  3. Once the water has come back to a boil, put the wooden spoon and saucepan lid back onto the saucepan, turn the heat down low and boil for 15-20 minutes until the red lentils have broken down and the chana dal is soft. Make sure to stir the lentils from time to time to stop them from catching on the bottom of the saucepan.
  4. First tarka: While the lentils are cooking make the first tarka. Bash 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds and 1 teaspoon of fenugreek leaves (optional) in a pestle and mortar.
  5. Add 1 tablespoon of butter or ghee and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to a small, heavy bottomed saucepan placed over a medium heat. Add the bashed cumin seeds and (optional) fenugreek leaves, 1 teaspoon of yellow mustard seeds and ½ teaspoon of chilli powder. Fry for 1-2 minutes until the mustard seeds start to pop.
  6. Add 2 diced white onions, 5 cloves of chopped garlic and 1 tablespoon of chopped ginger to the small saucepan. Cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring constantly. The onions need to brown and caramelise but take care not to burn them.
  7. Once the lentils have cooked, tip the onion tarka into the lentil saucepan, squeeze in the juice from ½ a lemon and stir well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
  8. Second tarka: Place the same saucepan that cooked the onions over a medium heat (no need to clean the saucepan) and add 3 tablespoons of butter or ghee. After a few minutes add 2 sliced cloves of garlic, ½ teaspoon of dried chilli flakes and 5-6 curry leaves (optional). Fry until the garlic just starts to colour then turn off the heat, divide the dal into bowls and pour over the garlic tarka. Serve with rice, chapattis, paratha or naan.

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