Indians take their dals very seriously, you’d hardly find an Indian who doesn’t eat dal. Dal is a bean or lentil that has been peeled off its outer skin and split in half. When cooked with spices and fats, it creates a healthy and delicious staple in many Indian homes. This easy dal fry is a common lunch recipe which can be fixed quickly and keeps you full for a long time.
Indian food is a very versatile cuisine but in many parts of India, the food is vegetarian. To replace meat proteins, South Indian cuisine relies largely upon lentils and beans. Dals keep you full for a long time besides being irresistibly yummy. If you ever visit India, it is impossible not to taste dal or lentils at least once. Today I’ll share a popular Indian recipe based on lentils called dal fry.
Where does Dal Fry originate?
Delicious Dal Fry (pronounced “Doll Fry”) is popular all over India and the south Asian subcontinent. As widespread as this dish is, there are as many variations to cooking it. Today we’re going to try a famous restaurant style dal fry based on split lentils or toor dal/arhar dal.
Trust me if you try this aromatic, flavourful and nutritious recipe once, you’ll come back for more. So let’s see what this recipe is based on.
Is It Really Deep Fried?
Before your calorie-calculator starts shouting ‘NO’ in capital case letters, stop right there. Although the name insinuates some heavy frying involved, there is no such thing. We are just dramatizing the saute part to call it dal fry. Otherwise, this dal includes no deep frying techniques or heavy amounts of oil like some other Indian foods. However, it does include a good amount of ghee or oil which makes it, Oh… so delicious.
What Exactly Is Dal Fry?
Dal Fry is a famous household dish which is often served at restaurants as well. As the name indicates, it is a dish based on lentils, mixed up with several spices and herbs to make an aromatic side dish.
To make dal fry, you can use almost any kind of lentil or dal. In North India and Punjab, chana dal or masoor dal is typically used for a dal fry. In South India and many other regions toor dal also called: tuvar dal, toor dal or arhar dal is used. Toor dal is essentially peeled yellow split pigeon peas.
A restaurant style dal fry is typically based on toor dal mixed with yellow moong dal or masoor dal. This dal fry recipe follows the common restaurant style recipe but with my personal secret ingredient.
But first, Let’s have a look at the ingredients.
Ingredients For Dal Fry Recipe
You need top-grade and preferably organic dal/lentils to make the best quality of dal fry. The quality of your lentils is very important when it comes to making a good dal fry. So choose your lentils wisely. We are using three parts toor dal and one part moong dal for this recipe. I always soak my lentils for a good 30-40 mins so they become tender in their own water. Then I rinse them until the water runs clear.
Ghee or Oil: You can make dal in either oil or ghee, but restaurants generally use ghee for a more authentic flavor. You can add a little butter to it too, and your kids will love it.
Cumin seeds, fenugreek leaves, mustard seed, are the main spices used for tempering.
You need moderate amounts of red chili powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder, salt and if you want an north indian twist on this recipe you can add garam masala powder.
You need onions and tomatoes for cooking and green chilies and coriander for the garnish.
My secret ingredient
Most South Indian versions are vegetarian, but I add half a cube of chicken stock or a pinch of chicken powder to it. You can totally skip it but whenever someone eats my dal fry, they always compliment that it tastes like restaurants, so this is the secret ingredient.
Now that we have sorted out the ingredients, let us move on to the dal fry recipe itself. Fold up your sleeves, put on your aprons – it’s time to shine!
For this dal fry recipe, you can use a simple pot, a pressure cooker or an instant pot. It is all up to you and your preferences.
First things first, you need soak your dal in a pot of water for 30 to 40 minutes. After soaking them, start rinsing your dals until the water looks clear. This will fluff up your dal, make it cookable and remove any contaminants.
Now you need to cook the dal. Add three parts toor dal or split pigeon pea lentils and one part moong dal (you can replace with red lentils or masoor dal) to your pressure cooker or a simple pot and add water to it. I usually use a 2:1 water to dal ratio when cooking in an Instapot and 2.5:1 when cooking in a pressure cooker or pot.
Pressure cook to 3-4 whistles and turn off the heat, or if you are not using a pressure cooker, cook the lentils until they become soft.
Now open the lid and, with the help of a masher, give your dal a good mash.
On the other side, start preparing your dal fry masala. In another pan, pour your ghee/oil and let it heat up a bit. I also add a small slice of butter for added taste.
When the oil is hot, add cumin and mustard seeds to it and let them splutter.
Then break a dried red chili in half and add it to the oil.
Throw in a pinch of asafoetida powder or hing. Leave this step out, if you want this meal to be gluten free.
You can also add a sprig of curry leaves.
Then add ¼ cup of finely chopped onions to the mix and let them turn golden brown.
Now add garlic ginger paste or chopped garlic and ginger and sauté them.
Then add ½ cup chopped tomatoes and salt to taste. Wait until the tomatoes become mushy.
Then add turmeric, coriander powder, chili powder, chicken stock cube (optional), and optional garam masala powder if you want to give it a more North Indian taste.
After a minute or two, add in the mushy lentils and give it all a good mix.
Add a little water and keep stirring while you let your dal fry simmer to get your desired consistency.
When it gets nice and thick, adjust the salt and spices.
Add coriander leaves and green chilies. Squeeze a lemon if you wish, and your dal fry is ready to be served.
Instant Pot Dal Fry
We understand that in these times of instant gratification and instant results, an Instant Pot is one of the major necessities of life and it has made our lives much easier and simpler.
So, if you are wondering whether you can make dal fry in an Instant Pot, YES YOU CAN!
For an Instant Pot dal fry, we keep all these ingredients the same. Just change the sequence a little bit and you can easily have the best of both worlds. So, let us get started.
Take out your instant pot and get the game ready as the first step because your dal game is going to get amazing.
Pour oil or ghee in your instant pot and turn on the sauté mood.
Add cumin and mustard seeds to your oil and let them splutter. Now add onions, ginger, garlic and a few curry leaves if you like them.
Mix it all until it gets a nice light golden color, and then add in a pinch of asafoetida (this should be left out for the gluten-free version).
Throw in the chopped tomatoes and start sautéing.
Add the powdered spices, chicken stock cube (optional) and salt to your tomatoes and let them cook for a few minutes.
Now add your lentils, fry them in this mixture for a bit and then add 2-3 cups of water.
Now press the pressure cook button and set the timer to 10 minutes. Close the lid securely and place the pressure weight on ‘Sealing’. How quickly your dal fry will be ready!
Once the time goes off, let it sit for 15 minutes. Open the cooker and check your dal, now mash it to a smooth and thick paste and add water where necessary.
Remember, dal fry should be neither too thick nor too runny. Dal Fry perfectly pairs with dosa, chapati, roti or jeera rice etc.
Add the garnishes, plus or minus a squeeze of lemon, and your dal is ready.
This dal recipe, unlike most other dal recipes, does not require tempering or a tadka as we already give it kind of a reverse tadka when we add the cooked dal to the onion and tomato mixture. However, you can give it the tadka of your passion. The best food is prepared by the hands of those who are passionate about cooking.
Serve your dal hot and squeeze a lemon over it before serving for an added twist. Sprinkle your dal with love, some chat masala (if you wish), and your dal is ready to be devoured. You can serve it with jeera rice, ghee rice, tadka rice or plain boiled rice if you are a rice lover. Otherwise you can serve it with any of the Indian breads like dosa, roti, idli, naan, paratha or chapati.
Enjoy your dal and the simple pleasures of life.
Hi! I’m Ravi Kumar.
I am a husband, father of 4, board certified neurosurgeon, and a lover of South Indian Food!
I created PaattisKitchen.com to memorialize the most delicious foods on earth. South Indian food is easy to make and hard to mess up. So pull up your sleeves, and come with me as we explore the vibrant spices, colors, aromas, and flavors of South Indian culinary tradition.