Tarka dhal

Tarka dhal

I Love Curry
Jonathan Gregson

This is a classic, it is absolutely wonderful and easy to make. Tarka simply means a few ingredients fried up and stirred in at the end; most Indian lentil dishes are made this way. Many restaurant tarka dhals often have two tarkas; the first prepared as in this recipe and the second as fried cumin seeds and sliced garlic poured over the top. I haven’t done the latter as I didn’t want to add another step and all the flavour you need is already here. But feel free to fry two or three finely sliced garlic cloves or a small onion in lots of oil until golden (garlic) or well-browned and slightly crisp (onions), then pile them on top.

For the dhal


Quantity Ingredient
100g bengal gram
50g red lentils
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3 fat garlic cloves, grated into a paste
10g fresh root ginger, peeled weight, grated into a paste
salt, to taste
handful chopped fresh coriander leaves

For the tarka

Quantity Ingredient
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 rounded tablespoon butter
2-4 dried red chillies
1 rounded teaspoon cumin seeds
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1/2-3/4 teaspoon garam masala, or to taste


  1. Wash both types of lentils together in several changes of water. Place the lentils and 1 litre of water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, skimming off any scum that forms. Add the turmeric, garlic, ginger and a little salt. Simmer, covered, for 40 minutes, giving the pot an occasional stir.
  2. After the lentils have been cooking for about 30 minutes, heat the oil and butter for the tarka. Add the whole dried chillies and cumin seeds and, once they have browned, add the onion; sauté until well-browned. Add the tomatoes, garam masala and a little more salt and sauté until the masala releases oil, around 10 minutes. Pour some of the lentils into this pan, swirl and scrape the base to extract all the flavours, then pour everything back into the lentils.
  3. Cook for another 10 minutes, mashing some of the lentils on the side of the pan to make a homogenous dhal. Add a little water if the lentils are too thick (remember it will thicken further as it cools). Taste, adjust the seasoning and serve scattered with the chopped coriander.
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