A very basic Gujarati tarka dal


A very basic dhal is a must for any curry. It is usually served in bowls as an accompaniment as the texture should be soupy and not thick. Tarka is the crispy topping and just livens up a rather basic dish. You can use all sorts of pulses – I used vaal dhal, which are split fava beans; but yellow split peas or split mung will also do. Whatever. The main trick is to follow the cooking instructions on the packet. I cooked this with my delicious aloo gobi.

Serves 2-3 as an accompanying dish

  • 400g lentils
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 4cm piece of root ginger, peeled and cut into half a dozen chunks
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 4 or 5 small green chillies, 2 finely chopped, 2 or 3 left whole
  • slat and good grind of pepper

The tarka

  • 2 tbsp oil –  groundnut, sunflower or rapeseed
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced (or a small red onion)
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 10 or so fresh or dried curry leaves
  • Bunch of fresh coriander, chopped to serve


  1. Put the beans in a large heavy-bottomed pan with a lid and cover with cold water.
  2. Bring to the boil for 10 minutes then drain, rinse and return to the pan.
  3. Cover with about 2 litres of cold water, bring back to the boil and add the garlic, ginger, turmeric and chopped chillies with a pinch of salt.
  4. Turn down the heat and put the lid on – leaving space for steam to escape.
  5. Simmer the dal very gently, stirring occasionally and checking that it isn’t sticking – add a little more water if required.
  6. After 30 to 40 minutes the beans will have broken down and become creamy.
  7. Now either add a little boiling water or reduce the dal further to achieve your preferred consistency.
  8. Season to taste, needs quite a lot of salt.
  9. Stir in the two whole chillies and simmer for a further 15 minutes.
  10. I leave everything in the dhal to add a bit of crunch and goodness. Nothing like a bit of chilli, ginger and garlic!

For the tarka

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the shallots.
  2. Stir until golden and beginning to crisp, but don’t allow to burn.
  3. Add the dried spices and cook for a couple of minutes until the mustard seeds are popping.

To serve spoon the the dhal into bowls and top with the crispy tarka. Mop up with a decent roti!

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