Tarka Dhal – The Easy Indian Dish That Tastes Amazingly Good


I love this tarka dhal recipe.

Tarka Dhal

Home-made tarka dhal. This gets it.

It makes a great starter or side dish.

It is easy to make but a bit time consuming. If you want, you can leave the ‘tarka’ out and save both time and calories.

The tarka part of this tarka dhal is just slices of onion that have been shallow fried until crispy and then allowed to dry on paper towels.

The resulting soup without the tarka is still amazing and good for you. It is often used in restaurant style cooking for curries such as lamb Dhansak.

To make this tarka dhal recipe, I use Massoor dhal (split small red lintels). Red lentils are available in most supermarkets though you will find them cheaper at Asian markets. Massoor dhal, unlike other lentils only needs to be washed and rinsed under cold water. I do let mine soak in clean water for about a half hour while I prepare the other ingredients but it isn’t really necessary.

Preparation Time 30 minutes (15 minutes if you are not making the tarka)
Cooing Time 30 Minutes

Serves 4


INGREDIENTS for Indian Tarka Dhal


250g Massoor dhal – washed
4 Tablespoon ghee or clarified butter
fresh curry leaves (optional)
1 Tablespoon white cumin seeds
8 garlic cloves finely chopped
1 one inch cinnamon stick
2 Tablespoons garam masala (preferably home made)
salt and pepper to taste

2 Red onions finely sliced
Vegetable oil

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For the Onion Tarka

I usually make the onion tarka first. It can be made a couple of days ahead of time and stored in a tight lidded container.

Slice your onions paper thin with a knife or food processor. Heat about one inch of vegetable oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot enough that a slice of onion sizzles when it is placed in the oil, add a handful of the onion slices.

Toss around in the oil for a few minutes until the onions turn brown. You will probably need to do this in batches. Remove the finished onion tarka to dry paper towels.

Now for the Lentils.

Place the washed massoor lentils in a heavy bottomed pot and cover with about an inch of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the lentils are soft and creamy.

You may need to add a little water if the lentils begin to get too dry.

While the lentils are simmering away, melt the ghee over medium heat.

When the ghee is melted add the curry leaves (if using) cumin seeds, garlic cloves and cinnamon stick. Let the ingredients mingle for about two minutes.

Now add the garam masala and about 2/3 of the onion tarka and then pour in all over the creamy lentils.

With a heavy spoon or whisk, whip it all around into a nice smooth soup and enjoy.

I would love to hear how you get on with this tarka dhal recipe. Be sure to leave a comment. Let me know if you have improved it in any way.


Believe me – you are going to love the tarka dhal!



  1. Ralph Wilkin says

    Very tasty but mine turned out a bit grey in colour. Ones I have made before had turmeric in with the initial cooking of the dahl. Have you tried this?

    • Dan Toombs says

      Hi Ralph

      That’s the first I’ve heard of it turning grey. At least it was tasty. I have used turmeric. In fact I use it a lot in other dhal recipes. It would be very good here to. Maybe it will help get rid of the grey colour. :)

  2. says

    Hi Dan,
    I’ve never seen anyone cook this many curries. You’re indeed ‘The Curry Guy’. I was led to your blog through ‘compulsivefoodie’ blog. I’m amazed to see your interest in curries and Indian food. I live in Ireland for 5 yrs and didn’t taste a decent curry in any indian restaurant. You curries are authentic. Infact, you’ve demystified that curry does not mean just the heat, but it’s a myriad of flavors. Nice to have met an enthusiastic blogger. Happy Blogging :)

    • Dan Toombs says

      Hi Cheryl

      Thank you so much for your nice words. It means a lot coming from you. I’ve just been checking out your blog and absolutely love it. Great writing and amazing pictures. Consider your blog bookmarked. I’m looking forward to trying some of your recipes. Dan

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