Dal Tadka is the dish that made my daughter love Indian food. Years ago, E resisted every time her father and I wanted to go to our favorite Indian restaurant. She wasn’t a big fan of our usual favorites–Baingan Bhurtha, Channa Masala, Aloo Gobi–but once she tried the Dal, she was hooked. That restaurant is now one of her favorites.
The only problem with restaurant Dal Tadka is the oil (or, possibly, ghee). The word tadka or tarka means tempering whole spices, such as mustard and cumin seeds, by frying them in oil to release their flavors. That flavored oil is then poured on top of the dish, the dal (lentils), in this case. So you can see the problem for a no-added-oil diet. In the past I’ve tried cooking the whole spices in just a touch of oil (1/8 teaspoon in this Masoor Dal) but I’ve always wanted to find a truly fat-free way to get that restaurant dal flavor.
This time, instead of frying the spices in oil, I just cooked them along with the lentils in my electric pressure cooker and then added browned onions and red pepper to the top. The result isn’t as decadent as the restaurant version, but we found it just as delicious. I served the dal over brown basmati rice along with a new version of Okra Masala, which I will post soon, as well as E’s other favorite Indian dish, vegetable samosas. Unfortunately, the samosas came from the local Indian grocery and were, I’m afraid, fried, but if you’re looking for a healthy substitute, check out my fat-free samosa wraps.
Easy Fat-Free Dal Tadka
All of the heat is in the onion topping, so if you’d like your dal spicier, add as much red pepper as you like while the lentils are cooking.
- 1/2 cup split red lentils (masoor dal)
- 1/2 cup yellow moong dal (split mung beans) OR yellow split peas OR additional red lentils
- 3 cups water
- 1 large tomato, chopped
- 1/2 large onion, chopped (set aside other half)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ginger root, minced
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (if desired)
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala plus more to taste (see my recipe)
- 1/2 large onion, sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
- Put the lentils, water, and next 7 ingredients (through salt) into a pressure cooker (see Notes below for regular stovetop cooking). Cook at high pressure for 10 minutes and allow pressure to drop naturally for 10 minutes. Open lid carefully and check to make sure lentils are tender. If not, continue to cook without pressure until lentils are fully cooked. Add garam masala and stir vigorously to make the lentils creamy. It should be a medium consistency, so add a little water if it’s too thick. Keep warm.
- While the lentils are cooking, heat a small non-stick skillet. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until they begin to brown. Add the red pepper flakes and cook until onions are softened and touched with brown.
- Check the seasoning of the lentils and add additional salt and garam masala to taste. Serve over rice and top each serving with the browned onions.
If cooking without a pressure cooker, bring ingredients to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan, reduce heat to low, and cover. Cook until lentils are soft, stirring often and adding water if they start to get too dry. Different types of dal take different amounts of time, so allow at least 30 minutes.
Preparation time: 10 minute(s) | Cooking time: 25 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6
Nutrition (per serving): 129 calories, 5 calories from fat, <1g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 203.5mg sodium, 216.2mg potassium, 22.7g carbohydrates, 6.4g fiber, 1.7g sugar, 9g protein.
Oh, You Beautiful Dal!
I took inspiration for my dal tadka from these recipes:
- how to make restaurant style dal tadka by Veg Recipes of India
- Dal Tadka by Tarla Dalal
- Dal Tadka: Seasoned Indian Style Lentil Soup by Zesty South Indian Kitchen
- Yellow Lentils with Onion and Garlic from India’s Vegetarian Cooking by Monisha Bharadwaj
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