Dal Fry Recipe

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Dal fry is a delicious lentil recipe popular in India that is made with tur dal (pigeon pea lentils), onions, tomatoes and spices. Relish this mouthwatering, mildly-spiced, creamy lentil dish with roti, naan or your favorite steamed rice. I share three ways of making dal fry recipe – stovetop pressure cooker method with stepwise photos, while the pan and Instant pot method with detailed instructions.

Dal fry in a copper pan with a brass spoon inside placed on a small brass plate on a white marble board

What is Dal Fry made of?

In Hindi, ‘dal’ or ‘dahl’ is the generic term for lentils as well as the recipes made from lentils. Dal or lentils are a staple in Indian cuisine and make for an excellent plant based source of protein.

Dal Fry is a dish that is made in various ways in many Indian homes with tur dal or pigeon pea lentils.

If you are new to Indian cuisine, you may think that ‘dal fry’ indicates that some ingredient is being fried or the lentils are fried. Let me assure you that we don’t fry anything in a dal fry.

Here is how we make it. First the lentils are cooked until soft and mushy. Note that we do not cook al dente lentils.

The soft cooked lentils or dal is then mixed with a sautéed mixture of spices, onions, tomatoes and herbs. Then simmered for a few minutes.

In the Indian terminology, we often use the word ‘fry’ for ‘sautéed’ and hence the term dal fry. Though technically speaking nothing is fried.

About This Recipe

My dal fry recipe offers you a lot of restaurant like flavors and you will love it to relish with some roti or rice.

Dal fry is usually prepared with arhar dal, also known as tur, toovar (yellow lentils) or pigeon pea lentils.

I like to use an equal mix of masoor dal (pink or orange lentils) and tuvar dal (pigeon pea lentils), but this recipe is easily adaptable with any lentils you have.

I usually cook the lentils in a stove-top pressure cooker, but you can cook them in a pan or in an Instant Pot if you do not have a pressure cooker on hand. Details given below.

A popular lentil dish often served in Indian restaurants, Dal Fry should not be confused with the classic Dal Tadka.

What is the difference between Dal Tadka and Dal Fry?

Both these lentil recipes are made with different cooking techniques. While the ingredients are more or less the same, the unique cooking methods implied, makes a difference to the final flavors and taste.

  • In a dal tadka, the tur dal is cooked with aromatics like onions, garlic or ginger, turmeric and tomatoes. After being lightly mashed, a tadka or tempering mixture (fried in ghee or oil) of spices, herbs and seasonings are added to the dal – then mixed and served.
  • For a dal fry, the tur dal is simply cooked plain or with the addition of turmeric or asafoetida – which is then mixed with a sauteed onion-tomato base and further simmered.

Both of these recipes are famous in the Dhabas (highways and roadside eateries) in India, though the Dhaba Dal served in the Dhabas has a different taste than this recipe.

Ingredients You Need

I use ingredients which are easily available in an Indian kitchen. If you do not have these ingredients, then buy them online or from an asian or Indian grocery store.

  • Veggies: You will need an onion and tomato, both finely chopped for this dal fry recipe.
  • Green Chilies: Not as hot as jalapeños but just the right level of spice for the dish.
  • Curry Leaves: The subtle flavor of curry leaves are essential in this recipe. But if you don’t have it, then might well as skip it – though some flavor profile will be amiss.
  • Asafoetida Powder (hing): If using a strong asafoetida, then just one pinch is enough. I would definitely recommend adding a small amount at a time and seasoning to taste. And if you do not have asafoetida, then simply skip it.
  • Coriander leaves (cilantro): This simple herb brings a much needed hint of freshness to the dal fry.
  • Kasuri Methi (dry fenugreek leaves): Brings restaurant style flavors to the dal and gives a nutty aroma. Skip if you do not have it.
  • Additional Seasonings: You will also need several Indian pantry staples, including ginger, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric powder, red chili powder, Garam Masala powder, oil, lemon juice, and salt.

Step-by-Step Guide

How to Make Dal Fry

Cook Lentils 

1. Rinse your lentils in water for 3 to 4 times. I would recommend using ½ cup tur dal (arhar dal or pigeon pea lentils) or ¼ cup each of tuvar dal and masoor dal (pink or orange lentils).

Uncooked yellow and orange lentils for dal fry recipe

2. After rinsing, pour the lentils into a 2-liter pressure cooker and toss in a pinch of turmeric powder and 1.5 cups of water.

Lentils and water in a pressure cooker for dal fry recipe

3. Pressure cook the lentils for 9 to 10 minutes on medium heat, or until they are thoroughly cooked and completely soft. Once lentils are cooked, mash them with a spoon or wired whisk, then set aside.

TIP: You can see the consistency of the cooked lentils in the photo below. It is important to note that there should be no separate grains visible.

cooked yellow lentils in a spoon

Sauté Onions, Tomatoes and Spices

4. Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil, ghee or unsalted butter in a pan or skillet. Once hot, add ½ or ¾ teaspoon of black mustard seeds.

mustard seeds frying in ghee in a kadai (Indian wok)

5. When you hear the mustard seeds start crackling, add 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds and fry them with the mustard seeds for several seconds or until they change color. You should hear the same crackle for the cumin seeds!

Cumin seeds and oil frying in the kadai

6. With the mustard and cumin seeds still in the pan, add ⅓ cup of chopped onions.

Cumin seeds, chopped onions, and oil frying in kadai

7. Sauté the seeds and onion mixture until the onions become translucent or lightly browned.

Sautéing onions

8. When the onions have lightly browned, add in 1 to 1.5 teaspoons ginger-garlic paste and stir to combine. Sauté the mixture for a few seconds or until the raw aroma of the ginger-garlic goes away on a low heat.

TIP: Make your own paste by combining 1 inch ginger with 3 to 4 medium-sized garlic cloves, crushed to a paste in a mortar-pestle.

ginger-garlic paste added to sautéed onions in a kadai

9. Finally, add in 10 to 12 curry leaves, 2 to 3 dry red chilies, and 1 to 2 green chilies. Stir to combine with the ginger-garlic paste mixture.

TIP: You can skip the curry leaves if you don’t have them! I always like to add curry leaves, as they add such a nice flavor to the dish.

red chillies, green chillies and curry leaves added to kadai

10. Mix well on a low heat, stirring to combine the flavors.

sautéing the spices and herbs

11. Add all the spice powders and mix again!

  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ½ teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne or smoked paprika (For a light smoky flavor)
  • 1 to 2 pinches of asafoetida, or hing (Skip if you do not have it.)
spice powders added to kadai

12. After mixing thoroughly, add about ⅓ to ½ cup finely chopped tomatoes.

tomatoes added

13. Stir together one more time and continue to sauté until the tomatoes become soft and pulpy. The oil should also start to leave the masala mixture, which is an indication that the onion-tomato base mixture is fully cooked.

tomatoes sautéed for dal fry recipe

Adding Cooked Dal

14. Add your mashed lentils to sautéed onion-tomato masala mixture in the pan or skillet.

added mashed dal to the sautéed tomatoes, onions and spices mixture

15. Combine and mix everything evenly with the rest of the masala mixture.

dal mixed evenly to make dal fry recipe

16. Pour 1 to 1.5 cups water. You can adjust the consistency of dal fry by adding more or less water.

water added to skillet

17. Mix and stir thoroughly to get a smooth and even consistency.

water mixed throughly in skillet with other ingredients to make dal fry recipe

18. Season with salt. Mix again.

salt being added with a measuring spoon into the dal fry

Making Dal Fry

19. Simmer 5 to 6 minutes on a low to medium heat. Stir occasionally, so that the lentils do not stick at the bottom of the pan.

simmering dal fry

20. Add 1 teaspoon of crushed kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves) and sprinkle ¼ to ½ teaspoon of garam masala powder.

TIP 1: You can substitute kasoori methi with a pinch of fenugreek seeds powder. If you don’t have either, then just skip this step.

TIP 2: If you are using homemade or a strong garam masala, then add ¼ teaspoon.

crushed kasuri methi and garam masala added to dal fry

21. Stir and simmer for 1 minute.

simmering dal fry in kadai

22. Switch off the heat and add 2 tablespoons of chopped coriander leaves. You can also add ½ to 1 teaspoon lemon juice at this step for a little added freshness and tang.

coriander leaves added to dal fry

23. Stir just one last time.

dal fry recipe ready to be served

Garnish and Serve

Serve dal fry hot with paratha, roti, jeera rice or plain steamed basmati rice accompanied with onion-tomato raita, papad, lime/lemon slices or mango pickle or onion salad or kachumber.

You can also garnish with some more coriander leaves before serving.

Close up photo of dal fry in a copper pan with a brass spoon inside placed on a small brass plate on a white marble board

What to Serve with Dal Fry

  • Roti is a round flatbread popular in India, and a staple bread that is served with lentils or curries. Soft roti tastes great with piping hot dal.
  • Naan, a leavened flatbread made in some countries in Asia, is not as much of an Indian household staple as roti, but it is still a deliciously soft and slightly chewy side option.
  • Steamed rice always goes great with dal fry recipes, and you can make it in the pressure cooker to save cook time.
  • Jeera Rice, which is a simple yet delish cumin flavored rice is a fabulous option to serve with dal fry.
Tips

Cooking Lentils in a Pan

  1. First, rinse and soak the lentils for thirty minutes to an hour. Soaking helps the lentils to cook faster. Later drain all the water with a sieve or colander.
  2. In a pan take the soaked lentils and 2 to 2.5 cups water. Add 1 teaspoon of oil. Cover and cook the lentils on medium-low to medium heat. If the water froths too much, then remove the lid and cook. It may take 30 to 45 minutes for the lentils to soften and become mushy. Keep a check and if needed, add some more water. 
  3. Then follow the recipe instructions as detailed in the step-by-step guide above to make dal fry with your cooked lentils.

Instant Pot Dal Fry

In the Instant Pot, you simply need to cook everything together. Though the taste of dal fry made in the Instant Pot is different from the one made on the stove-top. Follow the steps below to make instant pot dal fry.

Sautéing in the IP

  1. Frying spices: Press the sauté button of your IP. Let the display show hot. Add ghee or oil in the steel insert. Add the mustard seeds to the hot oil or melted ghee and let them crackle first. Then add the cumin seeds and let them splutter.
  2. Sautéing aromatics: Next add in the chopped onions and sauté until they soften. Add ginger-garlic paste and sauté for a few seconds. Stir in the curry leaves, dry red chillies and green red chillies. Again sauté for a few seconds.
  3. Cooking tomatoes and spices: Add chopped tomatoes and sauté them until they soften. Mix in the turmeric powder, red chilli powder and asafoetida.

Pressure Cooking in IP

  1. Adding lentils: Add the rinsed lentils and 1.5 cups of water. Deglaze removing any ingredient bits stuck to the bottom of the steel insert. Season with salt as needed.
  2. Pressure cooking: Secure the lid of your IP and position the steam release handle to sealing. Press the pressure cook button setting the time to 15 minutes on high pressure. It may take 10 to 15 minutes for the lentils to cook depending on their age and quality. For a dal fry, the lentils have to be softened nicely.
  3. Waiting: When you hear the beep after the pressure cooking is done wait for 10 minutes and then do a quick pressure release.

Simmering dal fry further

  1. Dal consistency: Lightly mash the cooked dal. If you find that the dal has become thick, add some hot water to thin and lighten it up. If the dal is thin for your liking, press the sauté button and simmer for a few minutes.
  2. Final touches: Lastly add the kasuri methi, garam masala powder and coriander leaves. Mix and switch off your IP. Serve hot or warm.

Expert Tips

  • Consistency: You can alter the consistency of dal by adding less or more water. If you prefer a thinner consistency, then increase the amount of water a bit and not too much. If dal becomes thin or runny, the flavors will get diluted and it won’t taste good. Keep checking and if needed, add more water. 
  • Fats: Dal fry always taste better with ghee. But you can make it with oil or butter. Use sunflower oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, mustard oil or coconut oil. Note that mustard oil and coconut oil will give their taste and flavor in the lentils – so add according to your preferences.
  • Smoky flavors: For more restaurant style flavors, you can smoke the dal using the dhungar method, I have described in my Dal Makhani recipe. Alternatively, use smoked paprika in place of red chilli powder or cayenne to get a faint smoky flavor.

FAQs

What type of lentils should I use?

You can make dal fry recipe with moong dal (yellow mung lentils), chana dal (bengal gram) and masoor dal (orange lentils), or you can opt for a combination of these.

How do I make the recipe less spicy?

For a less spicy dal fry, add less chili powder and green chilies.

Can I make gluten-free dal fry?

To make a gluten-free recipe, simply skip the asafoetida (hing) in the recipe or use a gluten-free asafoetida.

More Indian Lentils Recipes!

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Close up photo of dal fry in a copper pan with a brass spoon inside placed on a small brass plate on a white marble board

Dal Fry Recipe

4.87 from 122 votes
Dal fry is a delicious lentil recipe popular in India that is made with tur dal (pigeon pea lentils), onions, tomatoes and spices. I share both the stovetop and Instant pot method to make this dal fry recipe.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 25 mins

Cuisine Indian
Course: Main Course
Diet: Vegan, Vegetarian
Difficulty Level: Moderate

Servings 4
Units

Ingredients

For pressure cooking lentils

  • ½ cup tuvar dal (tur dal, arhar dal, pigeon pea lentils) or ¼ cup each of tuvar dal and masoor dal
  • 1.5 cups water for stove-top pressure cooking
  • 1 pinch turmeric powder (ground turmeric)

Other ingredients

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons oil (neutral tasting) or unsalted butter or ghee (clarified butter)
  • ½ to ¾ teaspoon mustard seeds (black)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • cup finely chopped onions or 1 medium-sized
  • 1 to 1.5 teaspoon Ginger-Garlic Paste or 1 inch ginger & 3 to 4 medium garlic cloves crushed in a mortar-pestle
  • 2 green chilies – slit or chopped
  • 2 to 3 dry red chilies – kept whole or halved and deseeded
  • 10 to 12 curry leaves
  • 1 to 2 pinches asafoetida powder (hing) – for a strong asafoetida, just one pinch is enough
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder (ground turmeric)
  • ½ teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne pepper or smoked paprika
  • ⅓ to ½ cup finely chopped tomatoes or 1 medium-sized
  • 1 to 1.5 cups water or add as required
  • salt as required
  • 1 teaspoon kasuri methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon Garam Masala Powder
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon lemon juice – optional
  • 2 to 3 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves (cilantro leaves) for garnish

Instructions

Cooking lentils

  • Take tuvar dal (arhar dal or pigeon pea lentils) or half-half of tuvar dal and masoor dal (pink or orange lentils) in a colander or sieve.
  •  Rinse the lentils in water three to four times. Drain all the water.
  • Then add the lentils in a 2- litre pressure cooker. Add a pinch of turmeric powder (haldi) and 1.5 cups water.
  • Pressure cook the lentils for 9 to 10 minutes on a medium heat until they are softened thoroughly.
  • Once the lentils are cooked, then mash them lightly with a wired whisk or with a spoon and set aside.

Sautéing onions, tomatoes, spices

  • In another pan heat oil or ghee or unsalted butter. Add the mustard seeds and let them splutter.
  • When you hear the spluttering sound of the mustard seeds, add the cumin and fry them.
  • Add the onions and sauté stirring often until they become translucent or light brown.
  • Now add the ginger-garlic paste and sauté for some seconds or until their raw aroma disappears.
  • Add the green chilies, red chilies, curry leaves and mix well.
  • Add all the spice powders – turmeric powder, red chili powder, asafoetida powder. Stir and mix again.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook until they soften and you see oil releasing from the sides of the masala.

Making dal fry (stove-top)

  • Now add the cooked and mashed lentils. Mix thoroughly. Add water, salt and mix again.
  • Simmer for 4 to 5 minutes more or till you get a smooth and slightly thick consistency, stirring at intervals.
  • Dal fry is not thin and is usually has a medium to thick consistency. So you can adjust the amount of water you want.
  • Keep the dal to a medium consistency if you prefer. Making it very thin will dilute the flavors.
  • Lastly crush the kasuri methi in the palms of your hands and add. Then add garam masala powder. Simmer for a minute. Switch off the heat and add chopped coriander leaves. Add lemon juice if you want, at this stage and stir well.
  • You can garnish dal fry with some more coriander leaves while serving.
  • While serving top it with some ghee or butter if required.
  • Serve dal fry hot with steamed basmati rice, biryani rice, jeera rice or saffron pulao. It also goes well with roti or naan.

Instant Pot Dal Fry

  • Press the sauté button of your IP. Let the display show hot. Add ghee or oil in the steel insert.
  • Add the mustard seeds to the hot oil or melted ghee and let them crackle first. When you heat them crackling, add the cumin seeds and let them splutter.
  • Then add the chopped onions and sauté stirring often until they soften.
  • Add ginger-garlic paste and sauté for a few seconds.
  • Stir in the curry leaves, dry red chillies and green red chillies. Again sauté for a few seconds.
  • Add chopped tomatoes and sauté them until they soften.
  • Next add the turmeric powder, red chilli powder and asafoetida and mix well.
  • Add the rinsed lentils and 1.5 cups of water. Deglaze removing any ingredient bits stuck to the bottom of the steel insert. Season with salt as needed.
  • Secure the lid of your IP and position the steam release handle to sealing. Press the pressure cook/manual button, setting the time to 15 minutes on high pressure. It may take 10 to 15 minutes for the lentils to cook depending on their age and quality. For a dal fry, the lentils have to be softened nicely.
  • When you hear the beep after the pressure cooking is done wait for 10 minutes and then do a quick pressure release.
  • Lightly mash the cooked lentils. If you find that the dal has become thick, add some hot water to thin and lighten it up. If the dal is thin for your liking, press the sauté button and simmer for a few minutes.
  • Lastly add the kasuri methi, garam masala powder and coriander leaves. Mix and switch off your IP. Serve dal fry hot or warm.

Video

Notes

  • Lentils: You can also make dal fry with moong dal (yellow mung lentils), chana dal (bengal gram) and masoor dal (orange lentils) or you can opt for a combination of these three lentils.
  • Cooking lentils in a pot or pan: Rinse and soak the lentils in water for thirty minutes to an hour. Later draining all the water using a sieve or colander, add the lentils in a wide enough pot or pan. Pour 2 to 2.5 cups of water with 1 teaspoon oil and cook on medium heat with or without lid until the lentils are softened. Keep checking and if needed, add more water. 
  • Consistency: For a thicker dal, add less water. For a slightly thinner consistency, add a bit more water. But do not make the it very thin as it will dilute the flavors. 
  • Spicing: For a less spiced dal, add less chilli powder and green chillies. For a spicy tasting dal fry, increase the amount of red chilli powder and green chillies.
  • Fats: Dal fry always taste better with ghee. But you can make it with oil or butter. Use sunflower oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, mustard oil or coconut oil. Note that mustard oil and coconut oil will give their taste and flavor in the lentils – so add according to your preferences.
  • Gluten-free version: To make a gluten-free recipe, simply skip the asafoetida (hing) in the recipe or use a gluten-free asafoetida.
  • Smoky flavors: For more restaurant style flavors in your dal fry, you can smoke the dal using the dhungar method, I have described in my Dal Makhani recipe. Alternatively, use smoked paprika in place of red chilli powder or cayenne to get a faint smoky flavor.

Nutrition Info Approximate values

Nutrition Facts
Dal Fry Recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 120 Calories from Fat 72
% Daily Value*
Fat 8g12%
Saturated Fat 1g6%
Sodium 382mg17%
Potassium 203mg6%
Carbohydrates 12g4%
Fiber 3g13%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 2g4%
Vitamin A 491IU10%
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) 1mg67%
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 1mg59%
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) 29mg145%
Vitamin B6 1mg50%
Vitamin C 59mg72%
Vitamin E 3mg20%
Vitamin K 4µg4%
Calcium 36mg4%
Vitamin B9 (Folate) 327µg82%
Iron 1mg6%
Magnesium 19mg5%
Phosphorus 43mg4%
Zinc 1mg7%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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This dal fry recipe post from the blog archives (August 2009) has been republished and updated on 4 February 2021.

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