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Tarka Dal With Tomato and Spices

tarka dal
A feature on many North Indian restaurant menus is Tarka Dal. A creamy dish consisting of yellow or red lentils, tarka dal is actually a generic term for any cooked dal tempered with a final addition of seeds and spices fried in hot oil or ghee— the tarka — to give it a simple but elegant finish. One of my favorites for sure and that is the reason I came up with another version than the one I often make, this time with the addition of tomatoes.


My choice of lentils for this tarka dal was toor dal, otherwise known as toovar dal or split pigeon peas, which I find is a slightly sweeter and more full-textured split dal than most. With very little preparation or cooking time, this dal is an excellent addition to a full-course Indian meal and makes for a quick and simple but lovely Indian dinner by itself with rice and a vegetable dish. Basmati rice is a perfect accompaniment, but I choose to cook up some Jasmine rice to go along with the dal. Any Indian flatbread would also be a fine addition to your dinner, with or without rice. Hot days certainly call for rather easy to prepare meals and India is hot, but most folks there eat spicy dishes. It does help to cool you down, believe it or not.

Dal:
  • 1 cup dried toor dal, channa dal, or red lentils
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3 fresh red or green chilies, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
Tarka (tempering):
  • 1 tablespoon ghee or olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon urad dal, rinsed
  • 4 whole dried red chilies
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, minced or grated
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
  • handful of dried curry leaves
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • fresh parsley or coriander for garnish, chopped
Instructions:
  • Rinse the lentils. If using toor dal or channa dal, soak them in water for about 30 minutes then drain and use fresh water for cooking. Combine the dals or lentils with 2 cups of water, olive oil, fresh chilies and turmeric in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour or until the dals or lentils are soft and the liquid is reduced (this may take much less time than 1 hour). Near the end of the cooking time, stir in the tomato and salt. Purée the dals or lentils with a hand-blender or in a food processor or countertop blender.
  • To complete the dish, prepare the tarka. Heat the ghee or oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When hot, toss in the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Stir for 1 to 2 minutes or until the mustard seeds turn grey and begin to splutter and pop. Add the urad dal, dried red chilies, onion, ginger, garlic and curry leaves to the pan. Stir for 3 to 4 minutes or until the onion is softened and the urad dal turns reddish-brown. Now add the garam masala, cayenne and asafoetida, and continue to stir for another minute. To finish the dish, pour the tarka into the cooked dal, add the lemon juice, and stir.
  • Serve hot on a bed of fresh cooked white rice and garnished with parsley or coriander. 

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