Masoor dal is a variety of lentil very commonly used in Maharashtrian cooking and a big favorite in my house. Masoor dal is a delicious fast cooking lentil with a slightly nutty taste. In its whole dried form, it is brown in color but when skinned & split – it has a lovely bright orange/coral color that turns into a deep golden yellow color when cooked. Sometimes the skinned & split orange masoor dal is often confused with red lentils, which have a similar color but are much larger in shape and size. But they can be used interchangeably. Regardless, all lentils are low in fat but are a great source of both protein and fiber. Masoor dal is usually available all year round in most large Indian grocery or health food stores. But if you cannot find masoor dal, feel free to substitute any lentil, bean or dal of your choice but do note that the cooking times may vary accordingly.
Dal Fry (aka Tadka Dal) is a simple but tasty dish commonly eaten throughout India. There are many variations to this dish & as indicated above, I have made it using masoor dal. But feel free to use toor or arhar dal (split yellow pigeon peas), chana dal (split gram dal), moong dal (yellow skinned/split variety) or a combination of dal varieties.
TADKA DAL (Dal Fry)
2 cups split & skinned masoor dal, washed and drained
1 large onion, thinly chopped
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
2-3 large garlic cloves, finely minced
1” piece of ginger, peeled and finely minced
3-4 small green Thai chilies, slit in half lengthwise (or you can use dried red chilies), to taste
½ tsp turmeric (haldi)
½ tsp garam masala
¼ tsp red chili powder, to taste
½ tsp black mustards seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
pinch of asafetida (hing)
5-6 fresh curry leaves
salt & pepper, to taste
juice of ½ fresh lemon or lime
3 tbsp ghee or butter (or you can use vegetable or canola oil)
freshly chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
In a large soup pot on high heat, add 4 cups of water along with the masoor dal. Bring to a good boil, cover, reduce the heat to simmer and let cook until the dal is tender but not mushy (about 12-15 minutes). Alternatively, you could cook the dal in a pressure cooker if you wish.
In a large saucepan on medium high heat, add 2 tbsp of the ghee. Now add the onions & sauté until just softened & slightly browned. Next, add the ginger & garlic. Sauté for a few more minutes & then add the tomatoes. Stir fry until the tomatoes have softened & then add the turmeric, garam masala, red chili powder, salt and pepper. Mix well to combine all of the ingredients. After about another minute or so, carefully add the cooked masoor dal along with any cooking liquid. If necessary, add a little more water as needed. Now, add the lemon juice & simmer on low for about 4-5 minutes until all the ingredients have come together nicely.
In another saucepan on medium high heat, add the remaining ghee. When hot, very carefully add the mustard seeds. When the splattering subsides, quickly add the cumin seeds. Reduce the heat to medium and add the asafetida, green or dried red chilies and the curry leaves. Now carefully pour this entire hot oil mixture over the dal. Garnish with the freshly chopped cilantro and serve with warm chapatis and fragrant Basmati rice.
This recipe could be made using any dal such as toor dal, masoor dal, chana dal or your favorite type of dal. But remember that cooking times will vary according to the type of dal used. Also, feel free to add your favorite vegetables (such as spinach, carrots, zucchini...).
Sometimes, I like to garnish the dish with a little toasted cashew pieces for extra flavor & texture. For a little extra decadence, fry the cashew pieces in a little ghee or butter before adding to the dish.