How to make dhal- a basic recipe (simple lentil curry) (2024)

Dhal is one universal Indian dish that transcends cultures, races, and genders, old and young, and is served in restaurants and the ‘Mamak’ store in Malaysia.

The reason? It has a universal taste: not spicy, vegetarian, mild, or kid-friendly, and can be the main dish or side dish, ideally eaten with roti, naan (flatbread), poppadoms, humble plain rice, or the fit-to-royalty biryani rice. It is hard to find any other simple meal so versatile as dhal.

You can spell dhal, dal, or dahl, which refers to the same Indian dal recipe. Local restaurants in Malaysia mostly serve it with roti canai or banana leaf rice.

So here is my version of the easy dhal recipe with some Malaysian influence.

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How to make dhal- a basic recipe (simple lentil curry) (1)

You can use the red lentils (Masoor dhal) or the yellow lentils (Split Pigeon Pea or Toor dhal). Both are the popular choice in Malaysia. I am using yellow lentils in this recipe.

In summary, dhal curry is prepared with slow-boiled lentils, tempered spices (mainly cumin), onions, tomatoes, and garlic. Other common ingredients in other recipes include eggplants and tomatoes.

How to make dhal

Note: This is a common type of dhal served in Mamak restaurants throughout Malaysia, a basic recipe. I have also included a link to a more complex recipe for dal tadka, masoor dal, located just above this recipe. These specific dhal dishes are served in most larger Indian restaurants.

1. Soak the lentils

Sieve the lentils (yellow split peas) with a colander or wire mesh strainer to remove pebbles or debris. Some lentils sold in packets are free from this debris, although they are more expensive.

a. Rinse with water a few times to remove any dirt.

Soak the lentils in water for a few hours. You can even soak it up to six hours. It will soften the lentils and shorten the cooking time. You need to increase the cooking time if you do not soak it in advance.

b. Boil the lentils

Boiling the lentils is an easy but crucial step. The key is to be patient.

The superbly cooked dhal should be creamy and thick; the lentils can still be seen as individual pieces but are incredibly soft. Lentil dhal should be cooked over low heat for a prolonged period to achieve this consistency.

How long it takes to get this consistently depends on the type of lentils, the initial amount of water, the duration for soaking them, and the intensity of the heat.

The yellow lentils I use in this recipe take about 45 minutes.

I soaked the lentils for four hours before cooking them in this recipe.

c. Following these steps:

  • Bring the water to a boil. To cook the lentils, use about three to four times of water by volume. I use 800ml of water for 200g of lentils in this recipe. Add water whenever it is required.
  • Add the lentils to the boiling water, then reduce to a simmer.
  • Add one teaspoon of turmeric powder to it for additional flavor and color.
  • Skim off any scum floating on the surface, or the dhal can turn bitter.
  • Cook until it turns soft, which will take about forty-five minutes.

If the lentils are still hard after forty-five minutes, add some hot water and continue to simmer until it turns hom*ogenous and creamy. The thickness can vary from a thin soup to a thick congee, according to your desire. You can also use a pressure cooker (Instant Pot) to cook the dial, although I have not done so.

d. Season the dahl with salt

Remember we add the water initially and simmer for forty-five minutes? I only add salt at this stage to avoid it becoming too salty. It is hard to estimate the amount of salt required without knowing the final volume of the dhal.

e. Stock or water?

It may seem logical to use vegetable broth to replace water to enhance the flavor of the dhal. On the other hand, the myriad of herbs, spices, and lentils have a strong flavor that makes the stock redundant.

Therefore, I only use water to cook the dhal in this recipe.

How to make dhal- a basic recipe (simple lentil curry) (2)

2. Fried the spices

Tempering the spices is one of the most common methods in Indian cooking. This step is called Tarka (or baghaar/chownk), which means tempering in Hindi.

Saute spices over low heat in a small frying pan with hot oil, either ghee or butter, until sizzling and aromatic. The spices will release the essential oil that contributes to the aroma. I do not recommend using any curry powder as the substitute as tempering the whole spices will give a much better result.

a. Here is how :

Melt the ghee or butter in a saucepan. You can use either one, but ghee gives a richer flavor, in my opinion.

Add the cumin seeds (along with mustard seeds if you wish) and fry over low heat until it turns aromatic and toasted, which will take about two to three minutes.

b. Caramelise the onion

Add the chopped onion and sautéed until lightly golden and translucent.

You can decide whether to caramelize the onion longer for a stronger flavor.

c. Brown the garlic and ginger

Next, add the minced garlic and ginger. Do not fry the garlic too long or over high heat, as garlic will burn quickly. Burned garlic will cause the dhal to taste bitter.

You can omit ginger, which is optional.

d. Add tomato

Add the chopped tomatoes once the garlic starts to dry up and turns to light brown,

e. Add the ground spices and dry herbs

Add the ground coriander, garam masala, curry leaves, and dry chiles at this stage. Mix it well, and it’s ready to combine with the cooked lentils.

You can substitute the dry chili with chili flakes or fresh green chili.
Add the ground spices at this stage.

How to make dhal- a basic recipe (simple lentil curry) (3)

3. Combine the lentils and the tempered spices

The final step is to combine the lentils with the tempered spices.

Combine the spices with the softened lentils and mix well.

After mixing, transfer the dhal to a shallow bowl. Garnish with a dollop of yogurt, fried shallots, and fresh coriander leaves.

Serve this popular Indian dish with roti, biryani rice, or steamed rice.

Related recipe to dhal curry:

This is a simple dhal recipe that is easy to make. It is the basis of most complicated dhal (dal) recipes. You may want to try the following dhal curry recipes for a more authentic flavor.

Masoor Dal. This is a quick and easy recipe. First, it is the fastest lentil to cook, only fifteen minutes after soaking. Secondly, it is high in protein, making it an ideal choice for vegetarians who want to obtain a balanced nutrition.

Dal tadka. This is a more complicated recipe than the basic dhal in this article. The spices are tempered until aromatic. In addition, I also introduce the smoke flavor by using the dhungar method. The spices used are also more authentic, for example, hing and kasuri methi. Try this recipe if you are looking for an authentic Indian recipe.

The Dhal Recipe

Yield: 3 people

How to make dhal- a basic recipe (simple lentil curry) (4)

Here is the basic dhal recipe that is easy to make, and kid-friendly and like by everyone.

Prep Time15 minutes

Cook Time45 minutes

Total Time1 hour


For garnish :


Clean, soak and boil the lentils

  1. Sieve through the lentils with a colander.
  2. Rinse with water a few times.
  3. Soak the lentils in water for a few hours.
  4. Bring the water to a boil. Add the lentils to the boiling water, then reduce to a simmer.
  5. Add one teaspoon of turmeric powder.
  6. Cook until it turns soft, which will take about forty-five minutes.
  7. Season the dahl with salt.

Fried the spices

  1. Melt the ghee or butter in a saucepan.
  2. Add the cumin seeds along with mustard seeds.
  3. Add the chopped onion and sautéed until lightly golden and translucent.
  4. Next, add the minced garlic and ginger.
  5. Add the chopped tomatoes once the garlic starts to turn to light brown,
  6. Add the ground coriander, garam masala, curry leaves, and dry chiles. Mixed well

Combine the lentils with the tempered spices.

  1. Combine the spices with the soften lentils
  2. Cook further for a few minutes until it becomes hom*ogeneous.
  3. Garnish with a dollop of yogurt, some fried shallots, and fresh coriander leaves.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving:Calories: 331Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 41mgSodium: 1962mgCarbohydrates: 33gFiber: 8gSugar: 11gProtein: 17g

This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 6/16/2019

How to make dhal- a basic recipe (simple lentil curry) (2024)


What is dhal curry made of? ›

As a recipe, dal is made by simmering together yellow or red split lentils with warming spices and often coconut milk, tomatoes and broth to create a lovely, super-nutritious meal with a stew-like consistency.

What is the difference between lentil curry and dal? ›

Dal is just boiled lentils, with simple spices added after boiling. A 'curry', on the other hand, is usually heavily spiced. In a curry, the spices are added at the start, not at the end.

How do you thicken lentil dahl? ›

You can add 1 or 1/2 teaspoons of coriander powder in order to thicken dal. Rinse the lentils, put them in a pot with enough water to cover by about an inch, bring them to a boil, and reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened but not congealed, unless you want it that way.

What do you eat with lentil dahl? ›

This warming Indian classic brings everyone together at the dinner table. This hearty dhal is a meal in itself but can be served with a little rice or warm naan bread for mopping up the delicious sauce. This dish happens to be vegan too.

What is lentil curry made of? ›

It's a gourmet-tasting yet weeknight-friendly meal that packs rich and decadent flavors into a simple one-pot recipe. Using pantry staples, like red lentils, coconut milk, aromatics, ground Indian spices, and almond butter, this hearty lentil curry comes together in a snap.

What is difference between dal and dhal? ›

In Indian cuisine, dal (also spelled daal or dhal in English; pronunciation: [d̪aːl], Hindi: दाल, Urdu: دال), paruppu (Tamil: பருப்பு), or pappu (Telugu: పప్పు) are dried, split pulses (e.g., lentils, peas, and beans) that do not require soaking before cooking.

Which lentils are best for dal? ›

Any yellow dal such as channa dal, toor dal or moong dal can be used in this recipe. If you cannot get hold of chana dal, yellow split peas are a terrific substitution but only use 3 cups of water and cook for 40 minutes covered and 30 minutes uncovered. For toor dal, only use 3 cups of water and cook per recipe times.

What is dal called in English? ›

Daal are often known as lentils, but actually refers to a split version of a number of lentils, peas, chickpeas, kidney beans etc.

What are the three types of dal? ›

Some common Indian dal types include masoor dal (red lentils), moong dal (split green gram), toor dal (pigeon peas), chana dal (split chickpeas), urad dal (black gram), and arhar dal (split pigeon peas).

Do you need to soak lentils for dhal? ›

You don't absolutely have to soak the red lentils but from what I have read, if you soak them and drain the water, it helps to remove some of the phytic acid which makes them easier to digest. Doing so reduces the cooking time, as well!

How long to soak lentils for Dahl? ›

Let the dal remain soaked for 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the type of dal. Split pulses can be soaked for 30 minutes or 1 hour and whole pulses should be soaked for 2 hours. This will not only break down complex carbs but will also cut down cooking time. Again wash 3-4 times before using.

How long to soak lentils for dal? ›

Soaking lentils for two- eight hours is mostly recommended. In a bowl add the dal and rinse it with water, changing the water 3-4 times and clean it gently by stroking with your fingers. Now add water to a bowl and soak the dal for about 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the type of lentil.

What vegetables go well with dhal? ›

This light and pillowy bread is just perfect to dip into the soupy texture. Nothing beats gently spiced and roasted cauliflower served alongside Dahl. In fact, any roasted veg will work. While the dahl is cooking you can add tomatoes (or any other veg) to make a warming and hearty spiced lentil stew.

What is the difference between lentils and dahl? ›

Though often translated as lentils, dals are actually any split pulses (legumes). A pulse refers to the dry, edible seed of the pod. This includes beans, lentils, peas, and other little seeds in lentils or beans. So, any split legume is considered a dal in Indian culture.

Can I eat dahl every day? ›

Yes, dal can be eaten daily in a wholesome and varied diet.

What does dhal curry taste like? ›

With a rich buttery taste, the lentils are cooked down until super tender then spiked with sweet spices and a touch of chilli.

What is the difference between curry and dahl? ›

What's the difference between a dahl and a curry? A dal recipe includes a split pulse, has a more soupy consistency, and has fewer spices than a curry. As dahl and curry novices we loved how quick and easy this recipe came together, we had dinner in 30 minutes.

Is dhal same as curry? ›

Dal Spices– Dal is made with far less spices than most Indian curries! This recipe calls for a simple combination of cumin, garam masala and turmeric. Garam masala is a spice mix found in supermarkets nowadays – it's like a more potent curry powder.

What is dhal in Indian food? ›

Dal in Sanskrit, an ancient Indo-Aryan language, means “to split.” Today, in Hindi, dal can refer to certain dried lentils, beans, or peas in split or whole form or to the dish made from them—a preparation that some researchers date back as far as 800–300 B.C. in South Asia.

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