Creamy red and yellow lentils are delicately seasoned and topped with browned onions and hot chile pepper in this fat-free version of the classic Indian dish.
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 Instant Pot 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.
Fat-Free Dal Tadka
- 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
- 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 and lock the lid. (See Notes below for regular stovetop cooking.) Cook at high pressure for 10 minutes (on the Instant Pot, select manual and change the time to 10 minutes). Allow pressure to drop naturally for 10 minutes and then do a quick-release.
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 red lentils through salt 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. Proceed with the final three steps.
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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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