Tarka Dhal

I never expected to like Indian food.  Growing up, we had never tried any Indian dishes and it was something that just wasn’t on my radar.  Once I started to change how I ate, I branched out and tried a variety of different types of cooking and I started making a few simple Indian dishes.  Yum!  I love the way that most Indian dishes focus on the spices rather than the main bulk of the ingredients.  Most recipes start working with the flavor of the dish before they start adding in the main ingredients.  The way most people cook is to season their food later in the cooking process, almost as an afterthought.  One of my favorite Indian dishes is tarka dhal.  It’s simply cooked lentils that are garnished with spices.  My version is kind of like the comfort food version of this particular dish and will make you feel all good inside.  If you have never cooked/eaten Indian food before, have no fear!  This meal is simple and tasty.  The ingredient list may look long, but it’s mostly spices and things that you probably already have on hand.  Give this yummy tarka dhal a whirl and let me know what you think!

Tarka Dhal


  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, chopped finely
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds (you can also use yellow)
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup red lentils (or whatever variety you have on hand)
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 1/3 cup water
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup canned coconut milk
  • 4 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala (you can find this at most grocery stores, if not use curry powder)
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder

1.  In a large pan, heat olive oil over high heat and add onions.  Saute for about 3 minutes and then add in the mustard seeds.  Cover the pan with a lid and cook until the seeds start to pop.

2.  Take off the lid and add in the garlic, fenugreek seeds, ginger, and salt.  Mix together and then add lentils, tomato paste and water.  Bring this to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes

3.  Stir in the tomatoes, lemon juice, and cilantro.  Simmer for another 4 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the 1/2 cup coconut milk.  Remove lentils to a serving dish.

4.  In the same pan you just cooked the lentils in, heat a little more oil over high heat for a a minute or so.  Turn off the heat and stir in the garam masala and chili powder.  Pour this spice mixture over the lentils just before serving.

This is a really good meal to introduce someone to Indian food because these flavors aren’t too overpowering and it is a relatively simple dish.  Make a huge batch and freeze some for meals later or use for lunches for the week.  Enjoy!