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Tarka Dhal

I can't think of anything more soothing than a steaming bowl of "Tarka Dhal." Dhal is a basic cuisine that is served in almost every Indian home - a true classic. Creamy, spicy, and aromatic, with golden toasted spice flavors. Tarka dhal is highly personal to each person; here is my version; as with most of my food, I enjoy it fragrant with delicate spices. Looking at a Tarka dhal with all of the components may appear complicated, but trust me when I say this is a simple dish. For this recipe, I use either red split lentils or Moong dhal since they cook quickly, turn creamy, and are simple to stomach. It goes well with Indian breads, rice, and even croutons or crusty bread. Here's one of my favorites: a quick and easy lunch that everyone will appreciate.

 

Ingredients for Dhal:

Serves 4-6

  • 125 gms Moong dhal or yellow split lentils
  • 250 mls water – enough to cover the dhal
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ cinnamon stick
  • 2-3 bay leaves

Ingredients for the Tarka:

  • 1 finely sliced onion – fried in oil until nicely browned
  • 1 small tomato finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 inch ginger, grated
  • 2 tsps cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander powder or garam masala
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp chilli powder, to taste
  • 1 dried red chilli
  • A handful of coriander, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbs ghee or vegetable oil
  • Few curry leaves or sage leaves (I did this with sage leaves once and it tasted really good with the crispy fried sage leaves, quite different)
  • Chopped coriander leaves for serving – I like to add the coriander stems to the dhal as it simmers.
     

Preparation of Tarka Dhal:

  1. In a large saucepan, wash the dhal, cover with water, and bring to a boil. As it begins to boil, a white scum will appear; skim the white foam scum with a ladle. Add the salt, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves and cook until soft. On medium heat, cooking can take up to 20 minutes.
     
  2. Prepare the Tarka ingredients while your dhal/lentils are cooking.
     
  3. Melt the ghee/vegetable oil in a small sauce pan, then add the sliced onion, curry leaves, cumin seeds, garam masala or coriander powder, turmeric powder, diced tomatoes, and ginger and garlic. Cook until all of the ingredients are golden brown and practically reduced to a paste. (When adding spices to a dish, it is critical to do so in stages because not all spices cook at the same temperature, releasing each ingredient's scents in stages.)
     
  4. Pour the taka over the lentils and mix everything together, reserving part of the tarka mixture for later. Allow the dhal/lentils to simmer for a few minutes more, or until everything comes together. Check for seasoning and texture, since it should be neither too thick nor too thin.
     
  5. Warm the reserved tarka, add a drop of ghee, the dried chilli, and pour over the dhal/lentils. Enjoy the fragrances as it sizzles.
     
  6. Serve immediately.