This is the ultimate comfort-food dish across both India and Pakistan. Dhal can be made of simple red lentils or other dried split pulses like masoor, urad, toor (split pigeon peas) and split chickpeas; there’s a whole host of them out there. One of the most popular and the one I use in this recipe is the straightforward red lentils, available at most supermarkets.

The “tarka” in the dhal is the icing on the cake. It’s added at the end of cooking the dish and consists of a selection of ingredients fried in oil or ghee and spooned lovingly over the dhal once it’s been cooked and is ready to serve. My mum used to vary her tarka. I think it depends on your mood – you can have simple fried garlic tarka or go for crispy, brown caramelised onion tarka or one with just a bit of ground cumin in the oil. Or you an opt for my own creative concoction of onion, garlic, cumin seeds, brown mustard seeds, chopped tomato and a wee squeeze of lemon! Sounds complicated, but it’s not…

Prep time: 5 min

Cooking time: 20 min


For the dhal:

  • 100g red lentils
  • ¼ tsp fresh crushed ginger or dried ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric
  • salt, to taste
  • water

For the tarka:

  • 2–3 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ small onion, sliced finely
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced finely
  • ¼ tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp chopped tomato
  • ½ tsp brown mustard seeds
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • ½ small green or red chilli, sliced finely (optional)


  1. Wash the lentils in cold water a few times and rinse.
  2. Place the washed lentils into a medium-sized saucepan and cover with double the amount of cold water.
  3. Bring to the boil and keep a close eye on it (it may boil over). Remove any foamy film that surfaces.
  4. Once any white film has surfaced and been removed, add the ginger, turmeric and salt and keep on medium heat for about 15 min, stirring every few minutes. The lentils should puff up and become translucent.
  5. Stir the mixture to make it blend together to become creamier in texture. Add more water if needed. The consistency of the dhal is really based on your preference – you can make it quite soupy if you like or a bit thicker by allowing the water to evaporate. I like a thick, creamy consistency!
  6. Once the dhal is cooked, leave it on very low heat. Then start your tarka.
  7. In a frying pan, heat the oil. Add the onion and fry until nearly brown, then add the garlic and cumin seeds, stirring for 1 min.
  8. Add the chopped tomato, mustard seeds and a squeeze of lemon juice. If you fancy a bit of heat, this is when you can add the sliced chilli. I tend to use a mild, chunky chilli – more for the look and fragrance, not the bite.
  9. Keep the tarka on medium heat until the oil glistens on the surface.
  10. Pour the hot dhal into a serving dish and gently spoon the hot tarka mixture over it – the tarka is both a garnish and final flavouring for the dhal!
  11. Tarka dhal is ideally served with steamed basmati rice or naan. It’s also nice with a salad made with onion, lemon and tomato.

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