Tarka dhal. That wonderful, creamy, spiced lentil dish that goes beautifully with every Indian meal. And yet, it’s not one that springs to mind when you think curry. It should be.
It’s a funny thing. This is how it goes when I go out for Indian with friends.
“Let’s get a dopiaza.”
“OK, and a jalfrezi.”
“Sure, and how about a madras?”
Then I pipe up. “How about a tarka dhal?”
“Tarka what? Is that lamb? I don’t like lamb.”
“Just trust me.”
Nobody ever wants to order tarka dhal. Nobody seems to know what it is. I always get pushback. Then they taste it. “What did you say these lentils are called? They’re awesome.” Every time.
Tarka is an Indian technique. It’s a way of seasoning. Fry some spices in hot oil. Add some onions and maybe tomato. Stir it into whatever you want seasoned. In this case it’s dhal. Tarka dhal. Pretty obvious once you know.
This one uses curry leaves for a bit of a South Indian twist. If you can’t get curry leaves, just leave them out. It’ll still be great. This dish makes a very tasty side dish or a main in a vegan menu. It’s perfect over basmati rice.
- 1 cup massoor dahl
- 3 cups water
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- big pinch of salt
- 45 ml oil
- 1 onion finely diced
- 1 tsp mustard seed
- 1 tsp cumin seed
- 4 green chilies de-seeded and chopped
- 10 or so fresh curry leaves
- 1 tsp dried methi - dried fenugreek leaves
- 1 tbsp tomato paste in 2 Tbsp water or some fresh tomato, diced
- 1 tbsp lemon juice - about 1/6 of a lemon
- handful of cilantro chopped
- Combine the masoor lentils, water and turmeric.
- Cook lentils until they completely break down into a creamy consistency. You will not be able to discern individual lentils.
- Add the salt. You will adjust the seasoning at the end so don't add too much.
- Heat the oil over medium heat.
- Add mustard seeds and cumin seed and fry briefly. They should crackle a bit and dance around.
- Turn the heat down a bit and add onion. Cook until the onions are translucent.
- Add the green chilies, curry leaves and methi and continue to cook for around 2 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 20-30 seconds then add the tarka to the dahl..
- Stir to thoroughly combine.
- Adjust consistency to your taste with little bit of water (I like it a bit runny).
- Add the cilantro and lemon juice to taste.
- Adjust salt.