Home Curry The best way to tackle daal, the mainstay of Indian cooking

The best way to tackle daal, the mainstay of Indian cooking

written by Julie Philpot August 13, 2017
Daal with flatbread

I learned my Indian cookery skills straight out of my Punjabi friend’s kitchen. She explained that daal is such a mainstay of her home cooking, so it was one of the first dishes she taught me.

Daal is akin to soup for Indian families and is a regular lunchtime dish served with roti. Its combination of fragrant spices and hearty lentils makes for a very comforting dish. Add some rice and it can be a nutritious and filling main meal too.

One of the secrets is to use two different types of lentils. This gives better flavour and texture. Yellow lentils (channa) have a creamy taste. Green or brown lentils add a nice texture. The great thing is that if you vary the types of lentils, you will get different daal every time you make it.

It’s odd but I never seem to get exactly the same taste even though I use the same recipe.  Friends who I’ve passed the recipe on to have commented likewise.

Lots of daal recipes I’ve seen fry off the onions and garlic and then add all the spices, water and lentils to the pan and simmer until the lentils are cooked, but I was taught to cook the lentils and the masala separately. Doing it that way enables you to skim the foam from the boiling lentil pan before adding the masala sauce.

Here is my recipe. Give it a try. It freezes really well, so feel free to make a larger quantity so you have some on hand for later.




Servings 4
Author Julie Philpot


  • 200 g brown or green lentils (1 cup)
  • 100 g yellow lentils (1/2 cup)
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic finely chopped, or 1/2 tsp powdered garlic
  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger peeled and finely chopped, or 1/4 tsp dried ginger
  • 1 green chilli finely chopped, or 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 300 g tomatoes chopped
  • 1 tspn ground cumin
  • 1 tspn ground coriander
  • 1 tspn ground turmeric
  • 1 tspn salt
  • 1/2 tspn cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tspn ground black pepper
  • fresh coriander to garnish


  1. Cook lentils in boiling water for about 45 minutes until soft, water should be about 1 inch higher than lentils. Top up frequently if lentils start to get dry and skim the foam that develops during cooking.

  2. Meanwhile make masala sauce by heating a tablespoon of rapeseed oil and frying cumin seeds until they ‘fizz’. Then add onion and cook until translucent. 

  3. Add ginger, garlic and green chilli and cook for a further 2 minutes. If using dry garlic, ginger and chilli you only need to cook for 1 minute.

  4. Add all of the spices except garam masala and cook for a minute. 

  5. Add tomatoes. Cover and simmer for about 7 to 10 minutes until it thickens and has a glazed look. 

  6. Add sauce to the cooked lentils along with garam masala and cook for further 5 - 10 minutes.

    Check seasoning, and serve with fresh chopped coriander.

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