Dhal - The Base for Your Creativity

Dhal - The Base for Your Creativity

Dhal (or dahl, daal or dal) is the perfect base for you to create a side dish or main course that is uniquely yours!

In Indian cuisine, dal or paruppu, are dried, split pulses that do not require soaking before cooking. India is the largest producer of pulses in the world. The term is also used for various soups and curry's prepared from these pulses.

In the well know Tarka Dhal the tarka is the savoury ghee or oil poured over the cooked lentils, giving it the flavour required.  Tempering spices helps to add a layer of flavour and texture to many Indian dishes and curries. Whole or broken spices are quickly fried in hot oil to release their essential oils and flavour the cooking oil now known as Tarka (or tadka, bagari or chownk)

At its simplest you cook the lentils in lightly salted water, fry some garlic and onions in oil until soft add some garam masala, cook a little bit longer then tip the lentils into a bowl add the onions on top and garnish with some tomato and coriander.

At its more complex you swap our lentils for chickpeas, change water to stock, add coconut milk, lots more veg and a load more spices to the Tarka!

Simple Tarka Dhal for 2

  • 200g red lentils
  • 2 tbsp ghee, or vegetable oil if you're vegan
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • coriander, to serve
  • 1 small tomato, chopped


Rinse the lentils several times until the water runs clear, then tip into a saucepan with 1 litre water and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 25 mins, skimming the froth from the top. Cover with a lid and cook for a further 40 mins, stirring occasionally, until it’s a thick, soupy consistency.

While the lentils are cooking, heat the ghee or oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, then fry the onion and garlic until the onion is softened, so around 8 mins. Add the turmeric and garam masala, then cook for a further minute. Set aside.

Tip the lentils into bowls and spoon half the onion mixture on top. Top with the coriander and tomato to serve.


Swap stock for water

Use 1/2 coconut milk for a creamier finish

Top with spicy cauliflower
Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Toss a small cauliflower (cut into florets), including the leaves, with 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp turmeric and 1 tbsp oil. Season well, spread out on a baking tray and bake for 15-20 mins or until cooked through and a little charred.

Top with grilled vegetables


Chickpea and Coconut Dhal for 4


For the Dhal

1½ tbsp ghee or rapeseed oil
2 onions, finely chopped
8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3cm piece ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp nigella seeds
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp chilli flakes
4 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground
2 bay leaves
600g chickpeas, cooked
75g yellow split peas
400ml can coconut milk

For the garnish

2 tbsp ghee, or unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely sliced
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp chilli flakes
3 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped


Heat the ghee or groundnut oil and fry the onion over a medium heat until it’s pale gold and soft. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another couple of mins. Stir in all the spices and cook for another minute or so, then add all the remaining ingredients and 450ml water. Bring to just below boiling point, turn the heat down and simmer for about 40 mins until the split peas are soft. If you like your dhal thick in texture, mash the chickpeas to break them down. If the mixture is getting dry, add more water. If it’s too thin, keep cooking until you get the thickness you want. There is no ‘right’ consistency; dhal can be almost brothy or like a thick purée.

To serve, heat the ghee or butter in a pan and add the shallots. Fry until they’re golden, then add the cumin seeds, black mustard seeds and chilli flakes. Cook until their aromas are released. Scatter coriander on top of the dhal, then pour over the spiced butter.

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