Store Cupboard Tarka Dal

Tarka Dal Recipe

An intensely aromatic, easy to whip-up Tarka Dal, packed with toasty spices – made almost entirely with store cupboard essentials. Combo with some basmati rice or a soft roti and you’ve got a ready to go week-night dinner!


For the Dal
  • 3 T vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 t ground turmeric
  • 1 t garam masala
  • 2 tomatoes, finely chopped (or half a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes)
  • 75g moong dal
  • 75g red split lentils
  • 600ml boiling water or vegetable stock
For the Tarka
  • 4 T vegetable oil
  • 1 t cumin seeds
  • 1 dried red chilli
  • ¼ t chilli powder
  • ¼ t asafoetida
  • 4 curry leaves
  • ½ t yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced


To Make the Dal

  1. Place a medium saucepan over a medium heat and add the vegetable oil. Bring to temperature before adding the onion and frying for a few minutes. Do not allow the onion to brown.
  2. Add the garlic and fry for a further few minutes before adding the turmeric, garam masala and tomatoes. Cook for a few minutes, stirring often, until the tomatoes start to lose their shape. Add the dal/lentils along with the boiling water or vegetable stock. Bring to a simmer before covering and turning the heat to low.
  3. Allow the dal to cook for a total of 20-30 minutes, removing the lid to stir regularly. The dal is done when the lentils are completely soft but still hold their shape slightly.
  4. Season with sea salt to taste.

To Make the Tarka

  1. Add the oil to a small saucepan or frying pan and place over a medium low heat. Once the oil is hot, add all the remaining ingredients except the garlic. Stirring constantly, fry the spices for around a minute – do not allow them to burn.
  2. Once the spices are fried and the oil has taken on a slight red hue from the chilli, add the garlic and fry very briefly before removing from the heat and spooning over the cooked dal. Serve with some fresh coriander and some basmati rice or roti (optional).


The process behind this dal recipe couldn’t be more simple – but there are a few key steps. See below for a breakdown of each one.

Cook up the aromatics!

The recipe starts with onion, garlic, spices, and tomato. Super simple! The idea is to cook everything until just soft so that we can hit the ground running with our lentils. Be sure not to brown the onion or the garlic as this can add a bitter taste to the dal. Also, chop your tomatoes before you begin so that you can add them as soon as your spices start to stick to the bottom of the pan.

Tarka Dal Recipe

Be patient with the dal!

Lentils are wonderful things! When cooked properly, they can have the most beautifully creamy texture with just the right amount of bite. If cooked too much, they turn to a textureless mush – not enough and you’ll have crunchy lentils left in your dal. Aim for a texture like the one below, and don’t be afraid to add more water if things start getting a little thick!

Tarka Dal Recipe

Gather your Tarka spices beforehand!

The Tarka really is the key to making this dal pop with flavour. A Tarka is essentially just a collection of spices that are tempered in hot oil to release their maximum potential! You’ll want to add the Tarka right before serving the dal, so gather your ingredients and have them to hand.

Tarka Dal Recipe

Don’t burn the Tarka!

Frying the spices really unlocks an incredible toasty vibe that would otherwise be completely missed. But if you go too heavy on the heat, you’ll find that the Tarka just adds bitterness to the equation. Keep an eye (and nose) out for burning spices and remove the Tarka from the heat as soon as things get smoky.

Tarka Dal Recipe

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