I’m a sucker for dhal, especially the really smokey and garlicky tarka dhal you can find in a good Indian restaurant. It really is food for the heart and soul. Cheap, cheerful, healthy and utterly delicious. It tastes even better when you smile whilst you cook it!

I’ve been attempting to make a tarka dhal at home for some time – not just an average dish of lentils but one which hits the spot and by jove, I think I might have got there! Granted it probably isn’t truly authentic but it tastes great!

Serves 4 – 6


150g chana dhal/yellow split peas

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

100g split red lentils

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

2 tbsp vegetable/sunflower oil

2 inch piece of cassia bark or cinnamon stick

2 whole dried red chillies

1 large clove garlic, finely sliced

1 tbsp desiccated coconut (optional)

10 dried curry leaves

1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds

1 pinch asafoetida

1 ripe tomato, finely chopped

1 tsp garam masala


handful chopped coriander leaves


  1. Wash the yellow split lentils then tip into a large pan. Pour in enough cold water to cover the lentils by about 2 inches.
  2. Bring the lentils to the boil slowly. Once up to the boil, turn the heat down and remove the scum using a spoon.
  3. Add the turmeric and leave to cook until soft. This will take 45 minutes to an hour. If the water is running low, top it up.
  4. Once the yellow split peas have started to soften, wash the split red lentils and add to the pan. You may need to add more water at this point too if it’s running low.
  5. Once the water comes back up to the boil, remove any scum.
  6. Add the ground cumin and ground coriander and leave to cook for a further 15 – 30 minutes.
  7. By this point the lentils should be breaking up and the mixture thickening. The mixture will continue to thicken as the water soaks into the lentils. You can add a little more water as you work now until you achieve a consistency you like. Sometimes I fancy a thick dhal, other times I add plenty of water for a runnier consistency.
  8. Heat the oil in a frying pan and when it is hot, add the cassia bark/cinnamon stick and the dried chillies and fry for about 1 minute.
  9. Add the sliced garlic and as it starts to brown add the coconut (if you’re using it), fenugreek seeds and curry leaves. Carefully stir or shake the pan.
  10. Next add the asafoetida. Fry for a few seconds and as the seeds start to pop, add the chopped tomato. Be careful now because the water in the tomato will spit as it hits the fat.
  11. Cook for a few minutes, stirring or shaking the pan continuously. Then pour the contents of the pan, including the oil, into the dhal mixture.
  12. Add the garam masala and a good pinch of salt and stir. Leave to cook for a few minutes so that the flavours meld.
  13. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt. Lentils need quite a lot of salt so be generous.
  14. Stir in the chopped coriander just before serving.

What could potentially be even better than a side dish of tarka dhal – dhal soup made from the leftovers for lunch the next day.