Dinner Tonight: Tadka Dal Recipe

My infatuation with vegetarian Indian cuisine continues. Tadka dal combines masoor dal (red or pink hulled lentils) with a hell of a lot of onions and spices. It doesn't quite sound like enough to make a satisfying meal, but the result is a creamy, slightly spicy stew that is astonishingly good and hard to keep from downing in just one sitting.

I found this recipe in Saveur, and my only worry was finding the right kind of lentils. I finally tracked them down in the bulk section of Whole Foods. My only previous experience with lentils has been with the green variety, which can make a mean soup when paired with pork. But I've never explored their use in Indian cuisine. It's the star of this dish, and it breaks down after 20 minutes into a fragrant, luscious puree.

The only animal product to come close to this guy is butter—lots of it. Like a whole stick. Of course, you'll need to turn that into ghee, and here is a great recipe for doing so. It does take a little time, but it is relatively painless. I've also seen ghee sold in enormous plastic bottles at a local grocery store if you can't be bothered, but I don't really see the point. You could also safely just use butter, but it certainly won't taste as gloriously nutty and fragrant.


  • 1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled, sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 cup ghee
  • 2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 1/2 cups masoor dal (hulled red lentils)
  • Salt
  • 2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 Thai green chilies, stemmed and sliced


  1. Add the ginger, garlic, and 1/4 cup of water to a blender and process until smooth.

  2. Pour half of the ghee into a large pot set over medium-high heat. Dump in the onions and cook, stirring often, until they are well browned, about 20 minutes.

  3. Pour in the garlic and ginger puree along with the cayenne, coriander, ground cumin, and turmeric. Cook until the water has nearly evaporated, about 5 minutes.

  4. Pour in 4 cups of water along with the lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  5. Add the rest of the ghee to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Toss in the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and chilies. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes. Ladle some of the lentils into a bowl and pour some of the ghee and chili mixture on top.