Creamy Indian Lentils (Dal Tadka)

I have always been a fan of Indian food. As a vegetarian, lentil recipes have always had a special place in my heart. This easy yet authentic Indian lentil recipe is best made in the pressure cooker as it really infuses the flavors. But several readers have made it in the pan (check the comments) to great success,

I was lucky enough to be able to live in India for two years as my husband was expatriated there, in balmy Bangalore. I thought I might not like “real” Indian food as much as westernized Indian takeaway and restaurant food, but I was wrong.

It was even tastier than I could have hoped for. Everyone, from street vendors to 5-star hotels, served the most amazing and flavourful food.

I quickly fell in love with all types of dal (Indian lentil curry). Nutritious, cheap, and delicious, it became a staple of our diet, along with rice and thin home-made roti. My particular favourite was dal tadka. The dal refers to the lentils, while the tadka refers to the heated spices and oil or ghee mixture that flavours it.

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 and ghee is poured over it until it smokes, the pot is covered and left to infuse for a few minutes.

Dal tadka with rice

Unfortunately in Spain, I have a vitroceramic hob, so unless I get one of those fancy mini torches for crème brûlée (so on my wishlist!), the dhungar method has to take a back seat for now. I get around it by cooking the garlic until it’s a crispy brown. It’s still no substitution for the smoky charcoal hint of dhungar, but it does taste delicious.

Serve your dal with rice (this peas pulao is my favourite), lemon quarters for squeezing over it, naan or roti, chopped coriander, and if you’re not vegan, a lashing of plain greek yoghurt on top.

I also sometimes make it with more water or thin it down after cooking to make a delicious dal soup. I always make my dal in a pressure cooker, it’s my go-to tool for Indian cooking. Not only does it cook everything faster, I find it really infuses the flavours.

Rice with Indian lentils

However you could also make it in a pot (adjusting the cooking time), with quick-cook lentils, or in a slow-cooker. Kasuri methi is dried fenugreek leaves, which may be a little hard for you to find, but they really do lend a very distinctive flavour to the lentils. If you’re not vegan and can find it, substitute ghee (clarified butter) for the sunflower oil, for a real restaurant taste.

Yield: 4 people

Dal tadka

Dal tadka

Smoky garlic and toasted spices laced through this easy creamy light restaurant style dish, serve with fluffy basmati rice and soft naan or roti.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes



  • 1 cup dried lentils (split pigeon peas/split yellow lentils/toor dal)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 chopped tomatoes
  • ½ inch grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • ¼ tsp cayenne
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 veg stock cube
  • 1 tbsp crumbled kasuri methi, optional
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt to taste


  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil or any flavourless oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 5 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf


To cook the dal

  1. Add the first eight ingredients for the dal (from the lentils to the water) to your pressure cooker. Make sure to stir well, scraping up any lentils that have stuck to the bottom.
  2. Bring to pressure on the highest temperature, and cook for six whistles.
  3. Take off the heat and run cold water over the lid of your pressure cooker for one minute. Open, and check how well the lentils are done. They should be soft and mashable. If they're not done, put the pressure cooker back on for one whistle increments.
  4. Add the crumbled stock cube, the crumbled kasuri methi, and the garam masala.
  5. Add in the lemon juice and coriander.
  6. Whisk briskly to break up some of the lentils, and check for salt. I like to mash some of the lentils as well to thicken the dal, if they haven't given way to the whisk.

To cook the tadka

  1. Heat the oil in pan over a medium-high setting.
  2. 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, or mixed into them, depending on your preference.

Nutrition Information



Serving Size

1/3 plate

Amount Per Serving Calories 228 Total Fat 12g Saturated Fat 1g Trans Fat 0g Unsaturated Fat 10g Cholesterol 0mg Sodium 280mg Carbohydrates 28g Fiber 7g Sugar 11g Protein 6g

1 thought on “Creamy Indian Lentils (Dal Tadka)”

  1. I don’t have a pressure cooker but I went ahead anyway with a normal saucepan, Nor did I have red lentils but I went ahead anyway with green. I also added a heap of frozen spinach just for extra veg.

    I followed instruction number 1 and then left it to simmer for somewhere between an hour and a quarter and an hour and a half.

    Really wasn’t sure how it would work out with all my variations to the original recipe but it was perfect! I’ve tried other dal recipes before and I think this is the best one so far.


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