I have lost track of how many people have asked me for a dhal recipe. As a child, I completely undervalued dhal, not because it wasn’t utterly delicious but because it seemed so regular, accessible and so normal. As an adult it has been an absolute joy to learn how to cook it properly and to keep refining my recipe. Tarka dhal brings me a particular kind of comfort, unmatched by any other dish. For those who haven’t much experience, masoor or toor dhal is one I would recommend you practise with first, predominantly as it is inexpensive and doesn’t require soaking or slow cooking. Batch-cook it once a month and you’ll never be stuck for an obscenely delicious dinner again. If you have any curry leaves, you could pop these into the tarka but I promise the dish won’t be any less amazing if you don’t.
Vegan friends: please make the tarka without butter – you can replace it with a teaspoon of coconut or vegetable oil.
Recipe taken from Modern South Asian Kitchen: Recipes And Stories Celebrating Culture And Community (Quadrille, 2023) Photography by Maria Bell.
Ingredients for Dhal Serves: 4
Ingredients for the Tarka, to Finish
- 20g ( ¾ oz) butter
- 1 green chilli, sliced at an angle
- 1 garlic clove, finely sliced
- 1 small thumb of fresh ginger,
- julienned or finely chopped
- 1 heaped tsp cumin seeds
- Curry leaves, optional
Method for the Dhal
- Put your lentils in a sieve (strainer) and rinse under the cold tap until the water is clear and not cloudy. Pop into a saucepan with 400ml (1 ¾ cups) cold water and bring to the boil with a wooden spoon resting across the pan (this should stop the overboil). The lentils should take about 15–20 minutes to cook through, until they break easily between your fingers and don’t leave a chalky residue.
- Meanwhile, put the oil in another pan and add the onion and begin to cook out – this will take about 15 minutes if you have sliced it finely. Add the chilli, ginger and garlic pastes and cook out for a further 8 minutes or so. Add ½ teaspoon salt and turn off the heat.
- Add the onion mix to the pan of lentils and stir well.
- For the tarka, melt the butter in the pan used to cook the onions, add the rest of the tarka ingredients and heat over a medium–high heat until they begin to sizzle. The butter should brown but not burn and you must catch the garlic before it burns but after it colours. When the butter is foaming, turn the tarka into the dhal, mixing well.
- Add the garam masala, salt to taste and some fresh coriander.