The Indian Dal Narrative

The making of an Indian dal is no more difficult than a hot bowl of oatmeal except a million times tastier. If you have a pregnant person in the family, then this is also a great source of non-heme iron, folate and other vital prenatal nutrients. This is my go-to for a solid Indian dal especially if there is going to be a large spread with a lot of other flavors. You can’t have everything be everything.

This is my baby dal. It is simple to make and yet it delivers delicious, complex flavors with a powerhouse of protein.

The First Step in Indian Dal

Do a pantry / cupboard check. Do you need to go shopping? This is a work horse of a dal. Feel free to explore but please start with these ingredients and these measurements.

Next you want to make sure to start prepping (even a day before) some of the ingredients. Also, please get comfortable with the metric system. It’s far superior to the “standard” system I learned as a kid in the USA.

An Authentically Proper Indian Dal

Bloom (dry toast) the turmeric, garam masala and cumin in a 4 quart pot. Stir constantly. This is very important so you don’t burn your spices. This should only take 15 seconds. Don’t let it smoke. Take it off the heat and keep stirring to cool.

Prepare your ginger and garlic paste (adrak-lehsun) by putting it into a little CuisinArt or mortar and pestle. You want it a level below minced. This one mixture is a building block for a ton of Indian recipes in the North.

Add in the vegetable oil and bring up to medium heat. Add the chopped onion and “adrak-lehsun” (garlic + ginger mixture). Saute for a couple minutes and fold the bloomed / toasted spices in. Stir for a couple minutes and then add the water, Indian bay leaves, salt, chopped tomato, minced Jalapeño pepper and lentils. Give it a few nice stirs and leave it on simmer for thirty minutes.

I love Indian bay leaves. They impart this very unique cinnamon-like flavor but not everyone has an Indian market near them so if you must, sub in a pinch of finely grated cinnamon bark and add a regular bay leaf. It will be similar.

With this Indian dal recipe I want to get intimate. The spices are there to provide accents, notes…or the treble to the bass. Don’t forget that.

Once the dal is a porridge like consistency taste it. Does it need a bit more water? Is it too smooth? Is it spicy enough? Salty enough? Now would be a great time to adjust these things before the “tempering”. Every audience is different.

Everything tasty?

Great, start the “Tadka” (or tempering) of the garlic, ground cloves, mustard seeds, pepper and clarified butter. This should only take about a minute. Whisk it right into the dal and serve with some cilantro on top.

Indian Dal Recipe

Yield: 8 (depends on total meal)

Serving Size: 2 ladles

Indian Dal Recipe


  • 250 grams / ~2 cups lentils
  • 50 grams / ~4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 liter / ~4 cups of water
  • 8 grams / ~4 teaspoons of turmeric
  • 350 grams / ~3-4 vine ripened tomatoes chopped
  • 2 Indian bay leaves
  • 6 grams / ~2 teaspoons organic black cumin
  • 35 grams / ~7-8 garlic cloves chopped
  • 35 grams / ~an inch of ginger chopped
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 gram / ~1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 10 grams / ~1 1/2 tablespoons garam marsala
  • 350 grams / ~2 red onion chopped
  • 15 grams / ~3 teaspoons Kosher salt (you can add more later to taste)


  1. Read the narrative for the hot-to make dal, but the tempering is simply a process of searing some aromatics and mixing them along with some smoke into the dal.
  2. Indian Dal Tempering
  3. 2 cloves
  4. 1 garlic clove sliced
  5. .5 grams of mustard seeds (about a pinch)
  6. 10 grams minced Jalapeño pepper
  7. 13 grams clarified, unsalted butter

That’s it. What a great protein, source of folate and non-heme iron-rich meal. They are a super-food. Serve it up with a grilled fish, blistered okra, some fresh naan or a little bit of saffron rice.