Mamta's Kitchen

Arhar Dal-Split Pigeon Peas (Tarka Dal 1)

Arhar Dal Tarka 1

Reeta Kumar

There are many different lentils eaten in India. This particular one is perhaps the most commonly eaten one in northern India. Different dals take slightly different time to cook. Water required and cooking time given here is average. Please note that there are many variants in cooking dals. For example, quality of the lentils, softness of water, whether the dal was soaked beforehand (soaked dals take a little less time to cook), intensity of heat and the efficiency of your pressure cooker. It will get easier for you to guess, as you cook more dals. Try to err towards less time, rather than more. If undercooked, you can cook a dal some more, but you can do very little with an overcooked dal. If you eat lentils regularly, I would recommend buying a pressure cooker. It makes cooking much easier and quicker. Also see Sambhar. Serves 4


  • 200 gm. or 1 cup arhar dal/tuvar dal (split pigeon peas). Amount of dal required per person depends on whether you are serving the dal with roti or with rice. Rice requires more dal.

  • 3 cups water. (use more if not using pressure cooker)

  • Salt to taste (1-1 1/2 tsp.)

  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder

  • 1/2 or 1/4 of lemon

  • OptionalA handful of chopped coriander leaves to all dals as a garnish.

  • For basic tarka:

  • 2-3 tbsp. ghee or sunflower or olive oil. Ghee tastes better but oil is healthier.

  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds (or 1 tsp. mustard seeds and 10-12 curry leaves*)

  • A large pinch of asafoetida or hing powder

  • 2-3 whole red chillies broken up

  • 1/2 tsp. chilli powder

  • For onion and tomato tarka

  • 2-3 tbsp. ghee or sunflower or olive oil. Ghee tastes better but oil is healthier.

  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds

  • 2-4 dry red chillies

  • A large pinch of asafoetida or hing powder

  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped or sliced

  • 1 inch piece ginger root, peeled and shredded/grated

  • 1-2 tomatoes, chopped

  • 1/2 tsp. chilli powder


  1. Wash the dal well and soak in water for 15-30 minutes.

  2. Drain the water off before cooking.

  3. Cooking in Pressure cooker: Place the dal, water, sliced lemon, salt and turmeric in the pressure cooker and bring to boil. Close lid and cook under pressure until you hear hissing sound. Turn the heat down to medium and cook under pressure for 4-5 minutes.

  4. Allow the pressure cooker to cool before opening.

  5. Open the lid and check if the dal is cooked and there is enough water. If too thick, add a little boiling water until it reaches the consistency you desire.

  6. Cooking in a slow cooker: Place washed and drained dal and 2 cups water to 1 cup dal in a slow cooker. Add turmeric and salt. Switch on High for a couple of hours and the leave on automatic or medium option for another 4 hours or so. Slow cookers vary in performance, so keep an eye when you make it first time. If it begins to look thick, add a little water to get the right consistency for you.

  7. Transfer to a serving bowl and temper as below:

  8. Cooking in a pan: Place the dal, 5-6 cups water, salt and turmeric in a pan and bring to boil. Now simmer briskly until tender. If the dal begins to look too thick and dry, you may need to add more water during the cooking process. When ready, it should be soft but not mashed.

  9. Basic, every day tarka or tempering:

  10. Heat ghee or oil in a tarka ladle (this can be bought from an Indian store) or a small pan. Ghee tastes better but oil is fine too.

  11. Add cumin and asafoetida powder and let the seeds start to splutter. *You can use mustard/rai seeds and curry leaves, instead of cumin and asafoetida.

  12. Add whole chillies and chillies powder, stir quickly with a small spoon, add to the cooked dal and cover with a lid immediately. This will infuse the flavours into the dal.

  13. Other variations of Basic tarka or tempering:

  14. After spluttering the cumin/mustard seeds, add a little grated ginger and/or garlic to the hot oil, fry until beginning to turn golden brown. Add chillies and chilli powder. Now add to the dal. Or

  15. After spluttering the cumin/mustard seeds, add one chopped onion, 1 tsp. each of grated ginger and garlic, and fry until browned. Add 1 tsp. curry powder or sambhar powder and 2 chopped tomatoes. Fry a little longer, until oil separates, and add to dal.

  16. Onion and tomato tarka

  17. Heat oil in a pan.

  18. Add cumin seeds and asafoetida/hing. When seeds splutter, add whole red chillies, ginger and chopped onion. Fry until medium brown.

  19. Add chilli powder and tomatoes. Fry until tomatoes are softened.

  20. Pour the dal in and close the lid, to allow the flavours to infuse. After 10 minutes or so, stir it in.

  21. Stir in chopped coriander leaves, if using. Also sprinkle a few on top as a garnish

  22. Serve with Chapatties.

  23. Also see Dal Selection.Overcooked or leftover dal can be added to roti or chapatti dough. This makes delicious rotis and parathas.

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