Dhal is one universal Indian dish that transcends cultures, races, and genders, old and young, and is served in restaurants and the ‘Mamak’ store in Malaysia.
The reason? It has a universal taste: not spicy, vegetarian, mild, or kid-friendly, and can be the main dish or side dish, ideally eaten with roti, naan (flatbread), poppadoms, humble plain rice, or the fit-to-royalty biryani rice. It is hard to find any other simple meal so versatile as dhal.
You can spell dhal, dal, or dahl, which refers to the same Indian dal recipe. Local restaurants in Malaysia mostly serve it with roti canai or banana leaf rice.
So here is my version of the easy dhal recipe with some Malaysian influence.
In summary, dhal curry is prepared with slow-boiled lentils, tempered spices (mainly cumin), onions, tomatoes, and garlic. Other common ingredients in other recipes include eggplants and tomatoes.
How to make dhal
Note: This is a common type of dhal served in Mamak restaurants throughout Malaysia, a basic recipe. I have also included a link to a more complex recipe for dal tadka, masoor dal, located just above this recipe. These specific dhal dishes are served in most larger Indian restaurants.
1. Soak the lentils
Sieve the lentils (yellow split peas) with a colander or wire mesh strainer to remove pebbles or debris. Some lentils sold in packets are free from this debris, although they are more expensive.
a. Rinse with water a few times to remove any dirt.
Soak the lentils in water for a few hours. You can even soak it up to six hours. It will soften the lentils and shorten the cooking time. You need to increase the cooking time if you do not soak it in advance.
b. Boil the lentils
Boiling the lentils is an easy but crucial step. The key is to be patient.
The superbly cooked dhal should be creamy and thick; the lentils can still be seen as individual pieces but are incredibly soft. Lentil dhal should be cooked over low heat for a prolonged period to achieve this consistency.
How long it takes to get this consistently depends on the type of lentils, the initial amount of water, the duration for soaking them, and the intensity of the heat.
The yellow lentils I use in this recipe take about 45 minutes.
I soaked the lentils for four hours before cooking them in this recipe.
c. Following these steps:
- Bring the water to a boil. To cook the lentils, use about three to four times of water by volume. I use 800ml of water for 200g of lentils in this recipe. Add water whenever it is required.
- Add the lentils to the boiling water, then reduce to a simmer.
- Add one teaspoon of turmeric powder to it for additional flavor and color.
- Skim off any scum floating on the surface, or the dhal can turn bitter.
- Cook until it turns soft, which will take about forty-five minutes.
If the lentils are still hard after forty-five minutes, add some hot water and continue to simmer until it turns homogenous and creamy. The thickness can vary from a thin soup to a thick congee, according to your desire. You can also use a pressure cooker (Instant Pot) to cook the dial, although I have not done so.
d. Season the dahl with salt
Remember we add the water initially and simmer for forty-five minutes? I only add salt at this stage to avoid it becoming too salty. It is hard to estimate the amount of salt required without knowing the final volume of the dhal.
e. Stock or water?
It may seem logical to use vegetable broth to replace water to enhance the flavor of the dhal. On the other hand, the myriad of herbs, spices, and lentils have a strong flavor that makes the stock redundant.
Therefore, I only use water to cook the dhal in this recipe.
2. Fried the spices
Tempering the spices is one of the most common methods in Indian cooking. This step is called Tarka (or baghaar/chownk), which means tempering in Hindi.
Saute spices over low heat in a small frying pan with hot oil, either ghee or butter, until sizzling and aromatic. The spices will release the essential oil that contributes to the aroma. I do not recommend using any curry powder as the substitute as tempering the whole spices will give a much better result.
a. Here is how :
Melt the ghee or butter in a saucepan. You can use either one, but ghee gives a richer flavor, in my opinion.
b. Caramelise the onion
Add the chopped onion and sautéed until lightly golden and translucent.
You can decide whether to caramelize the onion longer for a stronger flavor.
c. Brown the garlic and ginger
Next, add the minced garlic and ginger. Do not fry the garlic too long or over high heat, as garlic will burn quickly. Burned garlic will cause the dhal to taste bitter.
You can omit ginger, which is optional.
d. Add tomato
Add the chopped tomatoes once the garlic starts to dry up and turns to light brown,
e. Add the ground spices and dry herbs
You can substitute the dry chili with chili flakes or fresh green chili.
Add the ground spices at this stage.
3. Combine the lentils and the tempered spices
The final step is to combine the lentils with the tempered spices.
Combine the spices with the softened lentils and mix well.
Serve this popular Indian dish with roti, biryani rice, or steamed rice.
Related recipe to dhal curry:
This is a simple dhal recipe that is easy to make. It is the basis of most complicated dhal (dal) recipes. You may want to try the following dhal curry recipes for a more authentic flavor.
Masoor Dal. This is a quick and easy recipe. First, it is the fastest lentil to cook, only fifteen minutes after soaking. Secondly, it is high in protein, making it an ideal choice for vegetarians who want to obtain a balanced nutrition.
Dal tadka. This is a more complicated recipe than the basic dhal in this article. The spices are tempered until aromatic. In addition, I also introduce the smoke flavor by using the dhungar method. The spices used are also more authentic, for example, hing and kasuri methi. Try this recipe if you are looking for an authentic Indian recipe.
The Dhal Recipe
- 200 g yellow lentils, , (Pigeon pea)
- 800 ml water, or vegetable stock
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tbsp ghee, or butter
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 small onion, about 100g, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 0.5 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- 0.5 tsp ground coriander
- 0.5 tsp garam masala
- 1 dried chili, cut into short pieces
- 0.5 sprig curry leaves
- 1 tomato, about 200g
For garnish :
Clean, soak and boil the lentils
- Sieve through the lentils with a colander.
- Rinse with water a few times.
- Soak the lentils in water for a few hours.
- Bring the water to a boil. Add the lentils to the boiling water, then reduce to a simmer.
- Add one teaspoon of turmeric powder.
- Cook until it turns soft, which will take about forty-five minutes.
- Season the dahl with salt.
Fried the spices
- Melt the ghee or butter in a saucepan.
- Add the cumin seeds along with mustard seeds.
- Add the chopped onion and sautéed until lightly golden and translucent.
- Next, add the minced garlic and ginger.
- Add the chopped tomatoes once the garlic starts to turn to light brown,
- Add the ground coriander, garam masala, curry leaves, and dry chiles. Mixed well
Combine the lentils with the tempered spices.
- Combine the spices with the soften lentils
- Cook further for a few minutes until it becomes homogeneous.
- Garnish with a dollop of yogurt, some fried shallots, and fresh coriander leaves.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Original Grass-Fed Ghee by 4th & Heart, 16 Ounce, Pasture Raised, Non-GMO, Lactose Free, Certified Paleo, Keto-Friendly
Pigeon Peas Split Dehusked (Toor Dal) - 2 Lbs - 1 Pack
Lodge 6 Quart Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven. Classic Red Enamel Dutch Oven (Island Spice Red)
Soeos Szechuan Dried Chili，Dry Szechuan Pepper, Dry Chile Peppers, Sichuan Pepper, Dried Red Chilies, 4oz, (Very Mild Spicy)
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 331Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 41mgSodium: 1962mgCarbohydrates: 33gFiber: 8gSugar: 11gProtein: 17g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 6/16/2019