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.
Nutritional info is approximate.
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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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AndreaJuly 25, 2013 at 12:52 pm
I always wanted to try india food, but no one in my family likes “exotic food”. I just love the array of spices! This recipe looks delish! Are split mung beans something that typical grocery stores sell, or would I need to go to an international grocery store or Whole Foods? Thanks!
moonwatcherJuly 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm
This sounds really good, Susan! I love dals, and it’s neat to have an oil-free way to approach this dish. The browned onions on the top look tasty too. The photo showing the red pepper flakes is just gorgeous!
MirandaJuly 25, 2013 at 1:22 pm
This looks absolutely delicious and I’d love to give it a try. However, I do not have a pressure cooker. Do you know the cooking time/steps for either a slow cooker or stove top? Thanks so much!
Susan VoisinJuly 25, 2013 at 1:27 pm
The stovetop directions are in the Notes section of the recipe. For slow-cooking, my guess is 4 hours on high or 8 on low–but that is just a guess. With either method, you may need to add extra water because not much water is lost during pressure cooking.
ChessieJuly 25, 2013 at 1:41 pm
Brilliant, as always. This is one of my favorite Indian dishes, and I must try it your oil-free way.
Kath (My Funny Little Life)July 25, 2013 at 2:14 pm
This looks wonderful! My husband is very much into lentils and Indian dishes, so I’m definitely going to make this! 🙂
LoriJuly 25, 2013 at 2:21 pm
Thanks for the recipe, as I love Dal too! I usually “toast” my spices in the saute pan without oil, just stirring frequently on low-med heat for a few minutes till lightly brown and fragrant, then add them in – it seems to take away the bitterness of raw spices and bring out more flavor.
janet @ the taste spaceJuly 25, 2013 at 2:36 pm
I love, love, love dals, too. The homemade ones are what got me hooked onto Indian food and I haven’t looked back. I am curious to try your no-oil version because I have never found a no-oil version that was very good. Even just a tablespoon of oil for the tarka is plenty to make the dish sing, and to be honest, I don’t shun oil in that small amount anyhow.
CourtneyJuly 25, 2013 at 3:42 pm
Yum! Like E, dal is by far my favorite Indian dish. Any idea on how much ground cumin to use in place of the cumin seeds? I know I should just get cumin seeds, but I really want to make this and have ground cumin on hand!
Susan VoisinJuly 25, 2013 at 3:55 pm
Hi Courtney, I would start with half as much ground cumin and add more after the lentils are cooked if you think you need it.
CarolynJuly 25, 2013 at 8:58 pm
I was feeling uninspired for dinner tonight. I was going to make that kale and black bean salad but I had no canned beans and wasn’t excited to prepare dried beans. Then I checked your site again and you updated with this and I had all the ingredients! It is amazing! My 9 year old claims she dislikes it but she ate it all, and the the year old gobbled it down. I adore it and will definitely put this in the rotation.
Susan VoisinJuly 25, 2013 at 10:14 pm
I’m so glad you liked it! It’s funny how kids can say they don’t like something but then eat it all up. My daughter still does that at 16!
LisaJuly 25, 2013 at 9:33 pm
I swear you are my most favorite food blogger lately. I cook from your blog about 90% of the time and everything we make is so good! I was just thinking, “I wonder if Susan has any Indian recipes on her site” because I got a new Indian cook book and of course, she uses too much oil. Then, this recipe shows up in my inbox. We love Indian food and I can’t wait to try this.
Susan VoisinJuly 25, 2013 at 10:12 pm
Thanks, Lisa! I’m so happy to hear that! If you’re looking for more Indian recipes, I have quite a few and they’re all listed on this page: https://blog.fatfreevegan.com/tag/indian
JillJuly 25, 2013 at 10:23 pm
We had this for dinner tonight delicious! I added lots of broccoli for nutrition, served it over black rice and it looked beautiful too. As usual, thanks very much, Susan.
systemaJuly 26, 2013 at 11:08 am
Add about 1/4 tsp asafortida (hing) to the lentils – stops flatulance !!
MercedesJuly 27, 2013 at 7:17 am
Just reading this makes me hungry. Can’t wait to get cooking
kensington cookerJuly 27, 2013 at 8:18 am
I frequently make the dal part of your cauliflower dal. It stands well on its own even without the rest of the recipe and is so simple it practically cooks itself. Since that one is a favorite way of fixing red lentils around here, I figured this one would be even better. And I was not disappointed! The flavor is lovely. Thanks again Susan
Marta @ What Should I eat for breakfast todayJuly 27, 2013 at 3:35 pm
I’m not the biggest fan of Indian food, but my husband is, since it’s a healthier version, it sounds worth trying.
Laura T.July 27, 2013 at 8:13 pm
This looks delicious. I promised my husband I’d make dhal next week (he asks for it nearly every day when I ask him what he wants for dinner!) and this looks different enough to my usual version to keep things interesting! We are trying to eat less fat and salt at the moment too.
LindaVJuly 28, 2013 at 1:32 pm
I was just at the Indian market stocking up on dals yesterday-I must try this!
Malvi Doshi, in her wonderful book “Cooking Along the Ganges,” suggests that for oil-free tempering dry spices be dry toasted over low heat briefly until fragrant (with a lid if using mustard seed as it pops). Once toasted, she adds a little water and cooks the spices in the water for one minute before adding the wet ingredients.
I’m still experimenting, but so far it works for me. Whole dried chiles are fine this way, but don’t toast red chile flakes too long or they get really hard. All other dry spices, whole or ground, have worked well for me so far.
Amy at NoWheyNoCow.comJuly 28, 2013 at 6:13 pm
Yet another beautiful recipe! I so love the flavors in Indian Cuisine. I certainly don’t cook it enough, though. Thanks for reminding me how delicious it is!
nathanJuly 28, 2013 at 8:34 pm
Looks delish! I cook my first homemade Indian food with one of your recipes about 5 years ago. Thanks for getting me started.
MelisaJuly 29, 2013 at 11:51 am
Any ideas for leaving the tomato out? My husband has a sensitivity to them . . . would leaving it out change the recipe too much? any substitution ideas?
Susan VoisinJuly 29, 2013 at 11:55 am
You can definitely leave the tomato out. It adds some liquid to the dish, so you should add extra water. I’d try 1/4 cup.
AngieJuly 29, 2013 at 7:25 pm
This is so good! I used a can of diced tomatoes drained instead of fresh because that’s what I had. I also added some fresh spinach at the end. Totally love it! So much that I can’t wait to make it again. My husband loved it too. He’s been to India twice in the last two years for work and claims that it tasted almost like “real Indian food”. I take that as a compliment. Thanks for another great recipe. We’ve been following your blog for a few years now and have liked every recipe we’ve tried.
Tami@Nutmeg NotebookJuly 29, 2013 at 7:51 pm
I do enjoy Indian food but it is so full of fat when eaten at a restaurant so I really appreciate you figuring out how to make dishes like this at home without all the fat. Your recipes are always fool proof and I love that!
Lindsay @ VeganYumminessJuly 30, 2013 at 5:25 pm
YUM, Susan! This looks delicious. I’ve always loved Indian food, but I love how you’ve found a tasty fat-free variety as well.
MollyJuly 30, 2013 at 5:28 pm
This looks so yummy, I’ve always wanted to make dal but didn’t want the oil. Do you the this would work with Chana dal as well? I’m out of red lentils!
BeccaJuly 30, 2013 at 8:47 pm
This was CRAZY good. Already thought I had an amazing dal recipe, but this topped it hands down. Thanks! New staple for me 🙂
DonnaAugust 2, 2013 at 4:03 pm
This is a new favorite in our house! easy, yummy and gets better as leftovers!
Meredith PAugust 2, 2013 at 4:22 pm
Thanks so much for posting this. I love restaurant dals, but I shudder to think what’s in them that makes them taste so good.
I made this last night and it was really good. Had to use split yellow peas, and served it over brown basmati rice. Definitely a keeper! Hard to believe it was so tasty and yet still fat free. Yum!
NoraAugust 2, 2013 at 5:51 pm
This looks so good, I love Indian dishes that get a healthy makeover!
suja mdAugust 6, 2013 at 12:44 am
wow..Susan you made me to go through your recipes by recipes, a best fusion Indian food blog. We, on the other hand, trying out fusion Oriental food. A beautiful cultural exchange is going on between the food bloggers. Love your blog susan 🙂
BrendaAugust 12, 2013 at 12:25 pm
I made this over the weekend. So simple and delicious! Thanks!
bikehikencAugust 12, 2013 at 1:45 pm
This was a huge hit! My hubby was not so sure about it but he ended up finishing it up! Delish and looking forward to making again!! I served it with stuffed pabolo peppers and roasted okra!
MarciaAugust 19, 2013 at 4:03 pm
OMG Susan, this is to die for, thank you so much! The only thing it left me wanting was MORE ONION to put on top! It was so creamy and full of flavor that my husband had seconds (which really says a lot for Mr. Meat Eater). You had me humming Oh, You Beautiful Dal all day!
Low Fat Vegan Chef VeronicaSeptember 9, 2013 at 5:36 pm
Cool! This is very similar to my Red Lentil Tarka Dal. I just cook the spices dry along with ginger dry in the pan after and stir it into the dal in my recipe here:
Super delicious and super quick! I agree it’s a favorite.
BekahSeptember 24, 2013 at 11:11 pm
Just made this last night and it was wonderful! Newest staple in our dinner rotation.
LindsaySeptember 30, 2013 at 6:08 pm
Made this dish for dinner tonight…. delicious!!! Really glad I discovered your site. I love that your dishes are flavorful and healthy.
JessicaOctober 12, 2013 at 2:57 pm
Can I serve this over brown rice? Or does it need white rice?
Susan VoisinOctober 12, 2013 at 3:21 pm
Of course you can! I only use brown rice.
AnaNovember 3, 2013 at 2:10 pm
I made this dish today and it’s great! I love Indian food, but hardly eat it because of the amount of fat and calories in it. It was nice to have the flavors and spices without all the bad stuff 🙂 Thanks for this recipe and your site in general!
KristiNovember 11, 2013 at 7:24 pm
This is so delicious! This is my second time making it now (the rice cooker has already popped, and the pressure cooker is depressurizing as I type). I made it with 1/2 T of ground cumin both times, and it was lovely (I’m assuming that it will be lovely again). I meant to put in my leftover spinach this time, but I forgot. Oh well!
Thank you SO much for this amazing recipe!
Vijay - ChennaiNovember 29, 2013 at 12:14 am
For Tadka we fry little bit of Red chilli/black mustard / cummin / curry leaf / White Urad dal (black gram, split and skin removed) in gingelly oil, Pour it over the cooked dal with hot oil.
There is a bad reputation for Indian food in most of the western countries for Ghee & Butter. In a real Indian home we mostly use gingelly oil / mustard oil / groundnut oil / coconut oil for cooking, Butter/Ghee is pretty costly and will be used only by rich people.
PaulJanuary 3, 2014 at 5:25 pm
Sweet! I made this tonight to go with some rice I baked. The rice was fusty and old tasting, but your Daal was terrific. This one’s a keeper! Off to the store for rice from a reputable seller.