1. Thoroughly rinse 1 cup tuvar dal (arhar dal, or split & husked pigeon pea lentils) in water. Add them to a 3-litre pressure cooker.No pressure cooker? You can also cook the lentils in a pot. Soak the lentils for an hour or two before you cook them in a pot.
2. Add ½ cup chopped onions, 1 cup finely chopped tomatoes, 1 or 2 green chilies (1 teaspoon of chopped Anaheim pepper or Serrano pepper can be subbed for green chillies) and 1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger.
3. Pour 2.5 cups of water into the pressure cooker. If cooking in a pot, then about 4 to 4.5 cups of water can be added.
4. Add ½ turmeric powder and 1 pinch of asafoetida (hing). If you do not have asafoetida, then skip it. 5. Mix well.
6. Pressure cook the lentils for about 7-8 whistles, or until they become soft and creamy. Mash the cooked lentils with a wired whisk or with a spoon and keep aside. If the consistency looks thick, then add about ½ - 1 cup water (depending on the thickness) to get a medium consistency. Simmer dal for 3 to 4 minutes.
7. Once the desired consistency is reached, add 1-2 tablespoons low-fat cream (optional), ½ teaspoon garam masala powder, 2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves (cilantro) and salt to taste. Switch off the the heat.
8. Mix well so that everything combines uniformly. Taste and adjust salt before adding tadka.
2. Smoke lentils using dhungar method (optional)
10. To get the smoky fumes of burnt charcoal like you would in a restaurant, you'll want to follow the dhungar method. Using tongs, place a small piece of charcoal on a grill pan like shown in the photo below. Burn the charcoal till it becomes red hot. Please be sure to use natural charcoal for this method, avoiding anything that has a flame accelerant added. Note that this is an optional step - you can proceed directly to the tempering method.
11. Place the red hot charcoal in a small steel bowl. You can also use a halved hollow onion instead of the bowl.
12. Pour about ¼ tsp of oil or ghee on the charcoal. You will see fumes emanating as soon as you pour oil or ghee on the hot charcoal.
13. Place this bowl on the dal.
14. Cover the cooker or pot with a lid and let the dal get infused. Only smoke for 1-2 minutes. Do not keep for a long time, or you'll risk making the dal taste bitter. Remove the bowl carefully with the help of tongs and cover the cooker with a lid. Set aside.
make the tempering (tadka or chaunk)
15. Next, heat 3 tablespoons oil or ghee (clarified butter) in a small pan over low-medium heat. First, add 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and crackle them. The cumin should get fried and not be raw, but be careful not burn them.
16. Now add 2 to 3 dry red chilies, a generous pinch of asafoetida, and 5-6 medium sized garlic cloves which have been finely chopped. Let the garlic brown lightly and the red chilies change color. Do not burn the garlic.
17. Lastly, add 1 teaspoon crushed kasuri methi (fenugreek seeds) and ½ teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne pepper. Mix well and turn off the stove.
18. Pour entire tempering along with the oil or ghee into the dal.
19. You can either mix the dal with tempering, or serve the dal tadka with the tempering on top it. I personally like the aesthetic of having the tadka floating on top. Garnish with coriander leaves. Enjoy!
Serving Suggestion: Serve dal tadka hot with steamed basmati rice or jeera rice (cumin rice), or with roti, naan or paratha.
Type of Lentils: You can make the recipe with any yellow dal (split lentils). I make it sometimes with Tuvar dal (split pigeon pea lentils) and Masoor dal (split & husked red lentils) and sometimes only with Tuvar dal. You can even add an equal mix of tuvar dal and moong dal.
Soaking Lentils: You can also soak the lentils for 30 to 40 minutes before cooking them.
Tomatoes: I have added tomatoes and it gives a nice tang. If you do not have tomatoes, then add ½ to 1 teaspoon of lemon juice when the lentils are cooked.
Tempering: You can temper or fry the spices and herbs in either ghee or oil. In the recipe I have used sunflower oil but ghee (clarified butter) also gives a good flavor. You can even use peanut oil or any neutral flavored oil.
Dhungar Method: You can easily skip the charcoal smoking method if you don't have charcoal. Another alternative to get that smoky flavor is to add smoked paprika instead of red chilli powder or cayenne pepper.
Consistency: The consistency of the cooked dal is neither thick nor thin but medium. But if you prefer you can opt for a slightly thick or thin dal consistency.
Soaking Lentils: You can also soak the lentils for 30 to 40 minutes before cooking them. This helps in cooking the lentils faster and a recommended step.
For cooking the lentils in a pot
Soak the lentils for about 1 to 2 hours. Drain and rinse then well in water.
In a deep pot, add 4 to 5 cups water added to the lentils. Add the rest of the ingredients mentioned in the recipe.
Cover and cook the lentils. If the water begins to froth and bubble, then remove the lid or cover it partly and continue to cook the lentils till they become soft and creamy.
If the water becomes less, then add some hot water.
Once the lentils are cooked (takes from 45 minutes to an hour or sometimes more (depends on the quality and age of the lentils). Then follow the recipe further.