Easy to make, full of flavour, vegan & naturally gluten-free my Tarka Dhal recipe has extra nutrition from added spinach. Quick enough for a midweek meal it can be served as a main or a side dish accompaniment to your weekend curry feast! Wholesome, nutritious and filling too.
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If you are looking into incorporating more plant based foods into your diet then cooking some vegetarian and vegan curries and dhals is the perfect way to start. They are the sort of meals that won’t make you miss meat in the slightest. They are not only wholesome and nutritious in themselves but are also perfect carriers for some extra green goodness.
What is dhal?
Dhal (also spelled dal, daal or dahl) refers to dried split pulses (lentils, peas, beans) as opposed to whole pulses. It is also a name of a dish that uses these split pulses prepared to either thin or thick soup-like consistency. [source: Larousse Gastronomique*]
One of the great things about dhal is that it doesn’t take long to cook and split pulses don’t require pre-soaking either hence their popularity. Split pulses are usually cooked with some sort of liquid (water or stock) that they absorb until tender.
What is tarka in Tarka Dhal?
Tarka refers to the way of seasoning with hot oil flavoured with whole spices, chillies, ginger etc., which is then added to the dishes like dhals at the end or sometimes at the beginning of cooking. It is also referred to as tempering of spices in the hot oil. [source:Wikipedia]
In some authentic tarka dhals you can see this tempered oil with spices, chillies etc. sitting on top of cooked lentils or other split pulses. To ensure that my dhal is beautifully flavoured all the way through and as I don’t add any flavourings when cooking my split chickpeas, I went on to mix my tarka with the chickpeas all the way through . As far as I’m concerned, that’s the way to go!
Chana Dal (Split Yellow Chickpeas)
My split pulses of choice are Split Yellow Chickpeas also known as Chana Dal. You can get them at any supermarket. It’s worth checking out the World Foods sections of your supermarket where you are most likely to get bigger and cheaper bags of any legumes you want rather than looking at branded or supermarket own products.
What can you substitute chana dal with?
Chana Dal (split chickpeas) can be easily substituted with yellow split peas. To be honest, most of us westerners wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. For a long time I was convinced that chana dal is the same as yellow split peas. Well, I was wrong but let’s not dwell on that.
Few helpful tips when making Tarka Dhal with Spinach
- Make sure you give your split chickpeas a good rinse before cooking until the water runs really clear. The best way to do it is to pop then on a large sieve* and rinse under the tap. This way you will get rid of any dust and unwanted debris.
- Don’t add salt to the water when cooking your split chickpeas as it will make them tough. To be honest, I have not experienced it myself but I’ve read this advice a lot so there must be something to it.
- Feel free to use tinned chopped tomatoes in place of fresh ones if you don’t have any to hand. I would still puree them with garlic into a pulp in your food processor unless you want chunkier tarka of course.
- I’ve added spinach to my dhal as this is the only way my kids will eat it so I add it to whatever I can. Feel free to leave it out or if you don’t have fresh spinach to hand you can easily substitute it with frozen one (defrost it first as per the instructions on the packaging) or even with some kale leaves (no stalks).
- My Tarka Dhal recipe doesn’t include any chillies (see below: What can you serve with Tarka Dhal?) but you can add them at the same stage as your onion, ginger and cumin seeds for that fresh chilli heat. The amount of chillies and what type to use is up to you!
What can you serve with Tarka Dhal?
My Tarka Dhal with Spinach is definitely filling enough to be served as a main meal when accompanied by some rice. I love to serve it with my easy turmeric rice as on the photos or easy Indian spiced basmati rice. I also like to serve my homemade cucumber raita alongside it. Little drizzle of this beautifully cooling sauce goes so well with this dhal (especially if you are quite generous with your chilli sauce).
That brings me to another accompaniment to Tarka Dhal which is Sriracha sauce. As you might have noticed my recipe doesn’t call for any chillies. The reason being, it is supposed to be a mild family curry. My kids can handle some amount of spice, however, I find it much easier to simply use my favourite Sriracha sauce* to adjust the heat once plated. You can of course use any hot chilli sauce you like or if you are not catering for chilli wimps or kids, add some chopped chillis when frying your tarka with onion, ginger and cumin seeds.
Other than that the choice of extra accompaniments to your dhal is quite vast. You can serve it with naan bread, chapatis, poppadums and any pickles and chutneys that take your fancy.
Can you reheat Tarka Dhal?
Absolutely! If you’re left with any leftovers you can put them in the lidded container you normally use for your leftovers and store in the fridge for 2-3 days. Make sure you only reheat it once though so if you only want a little bit of what’s left make sure you take out only what you want instead of reheating the entire thing.
You can reheat your dhal in a saucepan with a splash of water to adjust consistency as it will thicken substantially once cooled. Alternatively, pop it in the microwave and reheat until piping hot.
Can you freeze Tarka Dhal?
The answer is yes! Tarka Dhal freezes really well so if you’d like to make double batch of this recipe and freeze some for later you most certainly can!
Once cooked, make sure you cool your dhal first. Once cooled, transfer it to freezer safe bag or lidded container and pop in the freezer where it will last for up to 3 months.
To defrost simply take it out of the freezer and put in the fridge to defrost nice and slow overnight. Reheat as per instructions above.
How to make tarka dhal?
Cooking split chickpeas (chana dal)
Start with rinsing your chana dhal until water runs clear.
Put it in the pan with 900ml/4 cups of water, stir well and put on the medium heat.
Bring it boil and make sure to remove as much of the scum that will form on the surface as possible.
Lower the heat and simmer partly covered for 30-40 minutes or until most of the water has been absorbed and your split peas are tender but not mushy. Set aside.
While your split chickpeas are cooking prepare your tarka.
Put 2 tablespoon of oil in the large frying pan or shallow casseroled dish and add chopped onion, ginger and cumin seeds.
Fry them gently until softened and aromatic 5-7 minutes.
Puree tomatoes and garlic together in a food processor or using your hand blender and add to the onion and ginger mixture in a pan following by spices and water. Give everything a good mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Simmer for approx. 10 minutes stirring ocassionally.
Add fresh spinach and mix it in until it wilts.
Add cooked split chickpeas and give everything a good stir.
Add as much chopped fresh coriander/cilantro as you want and enjoy!
Tarka Dhal with Spinach (Vegan)
- 250 g chana dal (split chickpeas) rinsed well
- 900 ml water
- 3-4 tomatoes see notes
- 2-3 garlic cloves (depending o the size) peeled and minced
- 2 tbsp rapeseed/olive oil
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- small piece of fresh ginger (11g) peeled and finely chopped
- 1 tbsp (heaped) cumin seeds
- 1.5 tsp ground turmeric
- 1.5 tsp garam masala
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- salt & pepper to taste
- 100 ml water
- 100 g fresh baby spinach optional (see notes)
- large handful of fresh coriander
- Your favourite Sriracha sauce to serve see notes
- Start with rinsing your chana dal (split chickpeas) until water runs clear.
- Put it in the pan with 900ml/4 cups of water, stir it well and put on the medium heat.
- Bring it boil and make sure to remove as much of the scum that will form on the surface as possible.
- Lower the heat and simmer partly covered for 30-40 minutes or until most of the water has been absorbed and your split peas are tender but not mushy. Set aside.
- While your split peas are cooking prepare your tarka.
- Put 2 tablespoon of oil in the large frying pan or shallow casseroled dish and add chopped onion, ginger and cumin seeds.
- Fry them gently until softened and aromatic 5-7 minutes.
- Puree tomatoes and garlic together in a food processor or using your hand blender and add to the onion and ginger mixture in a pan following by spices and water. Give everything a good mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Simmer for approx. 10 minutes stirring ocassionally.
- Add fresh spinach and mix it in until it wilts.
- Add cooked split chickpeas and give everything a good stir.
- Add as much chopped fresh coriander/cilantro as you want and enjoy!
- Nutritional information is approximate, per serving (based on 4 servings) and should be treated as a guideline only.
- This recipe will yield 4 main servings or 6 servings as a side.
- The time to prepare the recipe is 50 minutes providing you prepare your tarka as your split chickpeas are cooking.
- You can substitute a tin of chopped tomatoes for fresh ones. Make sure you still puree them together with garlic to smooth consistency.
- Feel free to use frozen spinach instead. Make sure you cook it first as per instructions on the packaging. Drain it well and stir it in at the very end of cooking.
- My Tarka Dhal recipe doesn't include any chillies. This is intentional as all our meals are always eaten by my two boys who are not than keen on spicy food. To rectify that I always have my favourite sriracha sauce on hand to add some heat to my and hubby's portions once on our plates! This way everybody's happy!
- Store in the fridge for 2-3 days.
- Freezer friendly for up to 3 months.
If you like my Tarka Dhal recipe you might also like:
For more vegan family friendly recipes try these:
Vegetarian Sausage Rolls (with instructions to make them vegan)
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