recipes that teach you how to cook without recipes


This is my dad’s recipe but I’ve made this so many times that I’m no longer sure if this is his original recipe. That’s the beauty of making daal though; you can do whatever you like, as long as lentils (red lentils in this case) are the main ingredient.

This recipe is for a tadka daal, which means whole spices are tempered in oil and then added to the cooked lentils. Sure, you could add the powdered spices to the cooked lentils and it will be good, but it won’t be the same. The other ingredients I’ve listed are what I tend to usually use but I know this would be delicious with eggplant or cauliflower or sweet potato, with a bit of garam masala or with brown lentils instead of red. This is a great recipe to know because you can do so much with it once you have the basic version mastered.

I’m used to eating this on steamy white rice, often with fried fish or shrimp. However, this daal is also great with chapati, roti, naan, bread or even on its own. 


Serves 2-3


1 cup red lentils

veggies, chopped into equal sized pieces

1 medium potato

1/2 onion

1 small carrot

1 bell pepper

1-2 green chilies, cut in half or thirds

a few slices of onion or shallot

2-3 garlic cloves, sliced

1 medium tomato, chopped

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

8-10 curry leaves, stems removed

salt, to taste

a pinch of asafoetida (optional)

coriander/cilantro, to garnish (optional)


  1.  Add the lentils and chopped veggies to a heavy bottomed pot, cover with water and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the lentils are fully cooked and the veggies are tender.
  2. Using an immersion blender or a regular blender, blend the mixture until it is the texture you prefer.
  3. Add salt to your taste, turmeric and asafoetida (optional).
  4. Temper the spices. In a separate pan, heat 2-3 tbsp of oil. When hot, add the mustard and cumin seeds and wait for the mustard seeds to start popping. Add the chilies, curry leaves, sliced onion or shallot, garlic and tomato. Mix all the ingredients in the hot oil briefly.
  5. Add the tempered spices and aromatics, including any oil in the pan, to the cooked lentil mixture. 
  6. Stir the daal to mix everything together, check and adjust for salt and garnish with cilantro (optional)
  7. Serve immediately.


Tempering spices might be tricky if you’ve never done it before. The key is not to let the whole spices burn or they will taste bitter. When you are heating the oil, add a few mustard seeds to the cold oil. Once the oil is hot enough, the seeds will pop and you can add all the spices and they will only need 10-15 seconds in the oil. 

If you can, use ghee instead of oil and it will be extra delicious.

This recipe works no matter which ingredients you have to skip (except the lentils, of course).

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