As a vegetarian, lentils have always had a special place in my heart. Yet I rarely ordered Dal Tadka in restaurants before I lived in India. Now, this creamy garlicky vegan Indian lentil curry is a weekly staple in our house.
In India, everyone made their dal in a pressure cooker. I’m having a bit of a hate-hate relationship with mine at the moment (everything is sticking to it and burning – I’m going to kick it to the curb and replace it with an Instant Pot soon).
So I’ve figured out how to make this delicious authentic tasting dal tadka on the stovetop in a regular pot. The best part? No, not that it’s vegan – that’s just a really great part. The best part is that you can make it in just 25 MINUTES!
It’s also a really cheap recipe to make. All you need is some toor dal (split pigeon peas), tomatoes, onion, garlic, fresh coriander, and spices.
This is a mild kid-friendly version if you want to spice it up feel free to increase the cayenne pepper to half a teaspoon.
What is dal tadka?
The “dal” refers to lentils and the “tadka” is the heated spices and oil (or more traditionally, ghee) that flavours it. You’ll notice in this recipe that the tadka is prepared separately to the dal and then poured on top.
Some recipes call for preparing the tadka and then popping everything else in to cook but I don’t recommend this as it really diminishes the flavours. And trust me, I’m a one-pot-meal kinda gal so if I don’t do it, it’s because it really does make a difference flavour-wise.
Dal tadka is normally also infused with a smoky taste using the dhungar method, where a piece of charcoal is superheated over a flame, then added to the pot.
Then a small amount of oil or ghee is poured over it until it smokes, the pot is covered and left to infuse for a few minutes. I don’t have a gas stovetop in my house but I’ve managed to nearly replicate the slightly smoky flavour by lightly charring the garlic.
If Indian-style recipes are your thing, then a) you are my kind of person, and b) you might want to check out some of my other easy vegan Indian recipes such as the most popular ones below.
- Easy vegan chickpea spinach curry
- Easy vegan dal makhani
- One-pot vegan tikka masala
- One-pot vegetable biryani
- Quick peanut chaat
- Spicy Indian tomato soup
What to serve it with
In India, we normally always ate dal with roti (thin wholewheat Indian flatbreads), kachumber and plain white rice, as well as some yummy raita (try this smoky onion raita) if we had any on hand.
Kachumber is a really easy Indian salad which you can make by roughly chopping an onion, two tomatoes, and a cucumber. Mix together and add a teaspoon of lemon juice, salt to taste, half a teaspoon of toasted cumin, one mild finely-chopped green chili pepper and about two tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro.
We normally had one or two other curries as well at the same time. There is NOTHING better than a plate of rice and curries with thin freshly made roti on the side.
Some spicy mango or lime pickle chutney is also awesome dolloped on the sides. Roti are hard to make without a gas stovetop (although I have nearly mastered a way to do so and will be sharing later!), so a nice plain or garlic naan would also be awesome with this.
I also love some lemon quarters to squeeze over (who doesn’t love lentils and lemon juice?), but you do you.
How to make it
This is a really easy lentil recipe suitable even for beginner cooks. If your cooking skills are a bit more advanced you can probably skip right ahead to the recipe card but I’d still advise checking out the photos to make sure you stay on track.
First, finely chop the tomatoes and onion, and peel and finely grate the ginger. Add them to a pot along with the lentils, ground cilantro, turmeric, cayenne pepper and crumbled stock cube.
If you can’t get split pigeon peas, you can substitute with red lentils or any other quick-cooking lentil. Just make sure you adjust the cooking time to the instructions on the packet.
Add the water on top and stir well, making sure to use the spoon you are stirring with to unstick any errant lentils that have stuck to the bottom of the pot (I have no idea why some lentils like to pretend they are limpets).
Cover the pot and bring to the boil. Once it has come to the boil, reduce to a medium heat and set a timer for 15 minutes. The lentils should really be done at around 12 minutes but 15 will have them breaking down which is what is required for dal tadka.
After about five minutes you’ll see the dal starting to thicken and from this point on you will need to be pretty vigilant about stirring, as otherwise some lentils will stick to the bottom and create a burnt layer which will ruin your dal.
Reduce the heat even more at around the ten-minute mark and stir more often, until the fifteen minutes are up. Take the pot off the hob and whisk briskly to break up the lentils even more.
Add the garam masala, kasuri methi, lemon juice, chopped cilantro, and salt to taste.
I normally add about 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, it really depends on how salty the vegetable stock cube you used was.
Kasuri methi is dried fenugreek leaves, you should be able to order them on Amazon or find them at any Asian food or Indian specialty store. They’re not 100% necessary so if you can’t get them you can do without, but I really recommend you add them.
They’re what gives that “restaurant-style” taste. I crumble them by rubbing them in my palms before adding to the pot.
Give the dal a good stir and set to making the tadka.
To make the tadka, add the oil to a small frying pan, heat over medium-high heat and put the cumin seeds in the pan. Once the cumin seeds start sputtering or crackling, add the bay leaf and the chopped garlic.
Ideally, if you could get it, you would use tej patta instead of a bay leaf, but I can never find them and haven’t found a huge difference in flavour by substituting with a bay leaf.
Stir often. Once the garlic has taken on a nice pale brown colour, remove the frying pan from the heat. You’ll see the garlic will continue to darken slightly until it’s the colour of the photo below.
It’s important the garlic be this colour. If it’s not brown enough it won’t have that slightly smoky flavour, and if you burn it, it will be bitter.
Pour the tadka on top of the dal, swirl through it (don’t mix it in completely), top with a little more fresh coriander and serve as is.
This yummy dal tadka will keep in the fridge for around 5 days. The flavours deepen as time goes on and it will taste even better the day after making it. It also freezes beautifully and is a favourite of mine for food-prepping as it’s really easy to double up.
The dal will thicken as it cools but you can just add more water and whisk to break it up and return it to your preferred consistency.
This recipe will make around three large portions (a filling meal with just some rice) or four smaller ones (you might need a side or two).
Did you make this recipe? Let me know how much you loved it with a star rating in the recipe box, review, or comment below.
Or take a picture and tag me on Instagram (@the_fiery_vegetarian), I love seeing all your creations!
- 1 cup dried lentils (split pigeon peas/split yellow lentils/toor dal)
- 1 chopped onion
- 2 chopped tomatoes
- ½ inch grated ginger
- 1 tbsp ground cilantro
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (or lal mirch if you can get it)
- 1/2 vegetable stock cube
- 3 cups water
- 1 tbsp crumbled kasuri methi (optional)
- ½ tsp garam masala
- 1 tbsp chopped coriander
- Juice of half a lemon
- Salt to taste ( I use 1/2 tsp)
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil or any flavourless oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 5 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf (or tej patta)
- White basmati rice
- Fresh cilantro
To cook the dal
- Add the first nine ingredients for the dal (from the lentils to the water) to a pot. Stir, making sure to scrape up any lentils that have stuck to the bottom.
- Heat covered on high heat until at a boil then reduce the heat to medium and cover or partially cover with a lid to keep at a simmer for 15 minutes.
- After five minutes, stirring regularly to prevent the lentils from sticking and burning. At ten minutes reduce to a low-medium heat and keep stirring for five minutes more.
- Take off the heat and whisk briskly to break up the lentils more. Add the crumbled kasuri methi, garam masala, lemon juice, and chopped cilantro.
To cook the tadka
- Heat the oil in pan over a medium-high setting.
- Add in the cumin. When the seeds start to sputter, add in the bay leaf and garlic. Cook the garlic until brown but not burnt. Immediately remove from the heat and serve over the lentils, swirling it in without mixing completely.
- Sprinkle a little more fresh chopped cilantro to serve and serve with white rice (some roti, naan, pickle, kachumber, and raita would also be AMAZING).
I also love to serve this with some wedges of lemon because I like a MEAN amount of lemon in my dal tadka, but husband is not as particular to lemon as me.
Serving Size1/3 plate
Amount Per Serving Calories 276Total Fat 11gSaturated Fat 1gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 10gCholesterol 0mgSodium 280mgCarbohydrates 38gFiber 6gSugar 11gProtein 7g