A guide to lentils & basic tarka dhal recipe | Features | Jamie Oliver (2024)

I was vegetarian for eight years or thereabouts, growing up. I loved it from the start and felt that I would never need meat again.

However, I was doomed to fail because, like many, I did vegetarianism badly. I was skinny, pale, had issues with my joints and digestion, and suffered from headaches… all the classic signs of a poor diet.

I simply didn’t take enough care in balancing what I ate, living mainly on carbohydrates. Try as my mother did (if you’re reading this, Mum, I swear I’m not implicating you) to get the recommended five-a-day onto my plate, if you choose a certain lifestyle you must take responsibility for doing it properly, and take responsibility I did not (believing myself to beinvincible, as teenagerstend to do).

I buckled at last at 18, when confronted with lamb cooked over an open fire, and meat quickly re-entered my diet. Almost immediately I began to see the health problems that had plagued me through puberty melt away, and over the years that followed I began not to recognise myself; consistent colour in my cheeks and “meat on my bones”, as my very traditional grandmother would delightedlychuckle.

I have never opted back into full-onvegetarianism. However, the more I learn about the health and environmental implications of meat consumption, the closer I get to cutting it out of my diet again, once and for all. I rarely cook with meat as it is, due in no small part to how costly it is to eat at least even vaguely decent stuff. When I do eat it – a handful of times a month– I enjoy every bite. For the most part, however, my diet ispretty much meat free.

To make that existence feasible, I have a handful of go-to vegetarian ingredients that I usually combine in some form, and serve with a side of greenery for a decent meal: eggs, brown rice, sweet potato, tofu, more eggs, aubergine, peppers, quinoa, avocado and, as you’ve probably guessed, lentils.

A guide to lentils & basic tarka dhal recipe | Features | Jamie Oliver (1)

I’m super-fond of those little pulses; they’re high in fibre, full of good protein, low in calories, basically fat free, quick and easy to cook, ludicrously cheap, substantial, versatile and delicious. However, I’ve met people who find lentils an intimidating ingredient, so I thought I’d contribute to National Vegetarian Week by going through the basics of one of my favourite vegetarian staples.

There are a number of different kinds of lentils, but the chief three groups are brown, green and red, with each group containing lentils of varying colours and origins. Brown lentils range from an almost sandy colour to deep black, and cook very fast. Green lentils, particularly popular in Europe, cook in around 45 minutes, and make for lovely rich stews. Both retain their shape well when cooked. Red lentils range from a golden colour to fully red, and tend to lose their shape somewhat when cooked, which makes for wonderfully thick and mushy dishes (essential for Indian dhals).

If you want to learn more about how to cook lentils here’s Akis Petretzikis with some handy tips:

Whether it’s in soups or stews or curries, incorporating lentils into a vegetarian diet is very advisable, so to open up the floor to the lentil world I’m going to pass over a basic recipe for Indian tarka dhal – probably one of my most well-loved meat-free dishes.

Absolutely essential ingredients

  • 400g red lentils
  • 2 tsps turmeric
  • 2knobs unsalted butter
  • 2 tsps cumin seeds
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 1-2 fresh green chillies, finely sliced (remove seeds if you want to keep the heat down)

Optional (recommended) extras

  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 2-3 tomatoes, chopped small

Place the lentils in a pan and cover with enough cold water to come to around two inches above their surface. Bring to the boil (skim off any scum that rises to the top), and reduce to a simmer. Stir in the turmeric and a generous knob of butter. Cover and leave to cook gently.

In a small frying pan, dry-fry the cumin seeds over a medium heat until toasted and fragrant (no more than a couple of minutes). Remove from the pan and set to one side.

Melt a second knob of butter in the same frying pan and gently fry the chopped garlic, onion, chillies and the grated ginger and tomatoes, if you’re using them. Once the garlic is golden, mix in the toasted cumin seeds and, if using, the garam masala and ground coriander. Remove from the heat until the lentils are completely softened.

Give the lentils a good stir. They should have the consistency of porridge – thicker than soup and looser than houmous. Add more water as necessary (you will be surprised how thick they can get over just a couple of extra minutes cooking), and mix in your aromatic fried mixture.

Season to taste, then serve on its own, topped with coriander, or with a side of basmati rice and greens.

So simple, so quick, so good.

A guide to lentils & basic tarka dhal recipe | Features | Jamie Oliver (2024)


What is the difference between Dahl and Tarka Dahl? ›

In reality, Tarka signifies that the dhal has been tempered with a mixture of crisp fried garlic, onion and chilli towards the end of cooking, a process which adds a total flavour bomb to the lentils.

Which lentils are best for dal? ›

Best lentils for Dal– This recipe calls for Channa Dal which is a type of yellow lentils which provides an ideal texture for this Dahl. I was astonished to discover it's sold at Coles supermarket (international section). Yellow split peas is a terrific substitution though the cook times do differ (see recipe notes).

What is tarka dal made of? ›

Tarka dal (also known as tadka dal) is one of my all-time favourite lentil recipes. It's a simple lentil curry that's made with the most irresistible, aromatic ingredients – like toasted spices, fried onions and garlic – which really bring the lentils to life.

Is tarka dal unhealthy? ›

Tarka Dhal is food for the soul, it will heal you from the inside out, this is what I eat if I seek comfort from feeling run down and tired. Its full of nutrient rich spices and herbs, and the Lentils are high in fibre, low in fat, help to lower cholesterol, are good for the heart and can be easily digested.

What does dahl mean in Indian? ›

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 dal does not need to be soaked? ›

Toor dal or yellow pigeon peas are a must-have in Western and Southern India. Rich in protein and folic acid, they're typically sold split and skinned. Like chana dal, toor dal can go from store to table rather quickly, as they do not require soaking.

Which dal is most delicious? ›

Masoor Dal (Red Lentils): Cooks quickly and has a slightly sweet and nutty flavor. Toor Dal (Split Pigeon Peas): Has a mild, nutty flavor and is commonly used in South Indian cuisine. Moong Dal (Split Yellow Lentils): Has a mild and slightly sweet flavor. It is often used in soups and stews.

Which lentils have the most flavor? ›

Black Beluga lentils have the most flavor, adding a rich, earthy taste and a firm texture that holds up well during cooking. Black lentils will be ready in 20–25 minutes; however, they will fall apart like their brown, green, and red partners once you cook them for too long.

What is tarka dal called in english? ›

Dal Tadka is a popular Indian dish where cooked spiced lentils are finished with a tempering made of ghee/ oil and spices. In Hindi, the word 'Dal' means 'lentils' and Tadka means 'tempering'. So Dal Tadka means lentils finished with a tempering, at the end.

Do you eat rice with Daal? ›

In Indian households, we eat our dal with roti, rice, or dosa. With the carb component you have a complete protein and an amazing meal at that. I encourage folks that take my classes to think of dal as a side to bread and/or rice or as a soup.

What vegetables go well with dhal? ›

When it comes to what goes with dal, roasted vegetables are always a great choice for a side dish! You can use any veggies you prefer or have on hand, but this recipe uses sweet and regular potato, zucchini, eggplant, garlic, tomato, green beans, and onions for a varied and delicious taste.

What is the difference between Tarka and tadka? ›

Tadka, also known as tarka, refers to both a technique and the infused oil it produces, which adds an extra layer of flavor and texture in many Indian dishes.

Which is the most popular dal in India? ›

In India, one of the most commonly eaten dals is "Toor dal" (also known as Arhar dal or Split Pigeon Peas). Toor dal is widely consumed across the country and is a staple in many regional cuisines.

What does tarka mean in Indian cooking? ›

Tarka, also tadka or chhaunk, in Indian cuisine is a method of seasoning food with spices heated in oil or ghee.

What are the different types of Dahl? ›

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).

What is the difference between Dal Fry and dal Tarka? ›

Dal fry is when you add cooked dal to the sautéed/ fried masala & simmered for a short time. Dal tadka is when you pour tadka (tempering) over cooked spiced dal & no further cooking is done.


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