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.”

You need to try tarka dal

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 dhal makes a fantastic side or main in a vegan Indian meal.

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.

Tarka dal is easy to make. It’s healthy. Satisfying. And it’s delicious. You need to try this.


Tarka dhal makes a fantastic side or main in a vegan Indian meal.

Tarka dhal makes a fantastic side or main in a vegan Indian meal.
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tarka dhal

Tarka dhal is a delicious complement to any Indian meal. It also makes a great main for any vegan Indian menu. If you can't get the curry leaves, just leave them out.
Course indian
Cuisine side
Keyword tarka dal
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Servings 6
Calories 195kcal
Author romain | glebekitchen


The dhal

  • 1 cup masoor dahl
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • big pinch of salt

The tarka

  • 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


The dahl

  • 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.

The tarka

  • 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.
  • Enjoy.


Serving: 6servings | Calories: 195kcal | Carbohydrates: 22g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 8g | Sodium: 130mg | Potassium: 346mg | Fiber: 10g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 2.3% | Vitamin C: 49.9% | Calcium: 3.5% | Iron: 15.1%



8 thoughts on “tarka dhal

  1. I’m with everyone else – I had no idea what these were! Now that I know, I definitely plan on ordering them more often and can’t wait to try my hand at making them myself. It’s such a beautiful dish with those bright colors – I’m sure it tastes just as good! Pinning for later!

  2. My Pakistani colleague gave me a recipe for this from his wife. It’s almost identical to yours, except she puts in the chilli with the dahl at step 1, also chopped tomatoes. And her Tarka consists only of butter (not ghee, and I’m not sure of the science/logic behind this decision) with garlic and cumin. It’s incredible (and fast, you can fry the tarka in a metal ladle), but I am going to try your recipe tonight to compare.

    • Hmmm… I never thought about using butter. I imagine it adds a nice richness. I’d be worried about it burning but I will try it. Thanks!

  3. Hi Romain
    Is it possible to freeze this, wanted to make a batch for using in the dhansak recipe?
    There never seems to be any left when I make this for using in a dhansak, delicious!

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