Tarka Dhal (Red Lentil Curry)

Here is how to make tarka dhal. This recipe is incredibly comforting and healthy that’s rich in spice, flavor, and fiber, and low in fat and calories.

This is an ideal Indian meal prep recipe because it’s straightforward to batch cook and store in the fridge for the week ahead.

What is Tarka Dhal?

Tarka dhal is a popular Indian dish made of red lentils, garam masala, onions, garlic, tomatoes, turmeric, and other spices.

It’s particularly popular in North India but every Indian city has its own variation and uniqueness to this dish.

Tarka dhal is often served with fresh rice or roti which can be incredibly comforting for lunch or dinner.

What’s the difference between Dhal and Tarka Dhal?

Tarka is essentially the fried onion, garlic, and spices that are added to the cooked lentils once tempered. Whereas dhal is a dish made of slow-cooked lentils.

Therefore, tarka dhal has plenty of flavor, spice and taste.

fresh tarka dhal in a bowl

Tarka Dhal Recipe

Tasty, healthy and comforting tarka dhal recipe that is ideal for weekly rotation and meal prep. Simply cook the lentils and add the flavorsome tarka at the end.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Course Dinner, Lunch, Meal Prep
Cuisine Indian
Servings4 servings
Calories (per serving)118.78 kcal





Prep and boil lentils

  • Rinse the lentils in water for 30 minutes and drain water.
    rinsing red lentils
  • Add the lentils, turmeric powder, and a pinch of salt to the saucepan and simmer over medium-high heat for 30 minutes. 
  • Cover and stir occasionally until they are tender.

Cook Tarka

  • In a saucepan over medium-high, add ghee, dried red chilli, cumin seeds and fennel seeds. Allow it to cook for several minutes.
  • Add the onion, garlic, and ginger. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, garam malsala, and salt. Continue to cook for 5 minutes.
  • Once cooked, pour the tarka into the saucepan with the lentils and stir.
  • Allow it to cook for medium-high heat for 10 minutes.
  • Garnish wiht cilantro and serve with your preferred side dish such as rice or fresh roti.


1. Start with soaking the lentils for at least 30 minutes to an hour to reduce the cooking time and help them soften more easily.
2. Rinse the lentils thoroughly before cooking to remove any excess starch or debris.
3. Use a pressure cooker or an instant pot to cook the lentils to save time and intensify the flavors.
4. Toast the whole spices and heat the oil in a pan before adding the onions and garlic to enhance the aroma and depth of flavors.
5. Use fresh ingredients such as ginger, green chilies, and tomatoes for a tangy and zesty taste.
6. Add a pinch of turmeric powder, cumin powder, and coriander powder to enhance the color and aroma of the lentils.
7. Stir the lentils constantly while cooking to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pot or burning.
8. Finish the dhal with a drizzle of ghee, a squeeze of lime, and a handful of chopped cilantro for a burst of aromatic and tangy flavors.
9. Serve the dhal hot with steamed rice, naan bread or chapatis for a wholesome and filling meal.
10. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days or freeze for up to a month. Reheat gently on the stove or in the microwave for a quick and satisfying meal any time.


Serving: 1servingCalories: 118.78kcalCarbohydrates: 15.68gProtein: 5.37gFat: 4.42gSaturated Fat: 2.39gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.3gMonounsaturated Fat: 1.25gCholesterol: 9.6mgSodium: 600.14mgPotassium: 333.26mgFiber: 5.16gSugar: 2.94gVitamin A: 300.75IUVitamin B1: 0.11mgVitamin B2: 0.06mgVitamin B3: 0.82mgVitamin B5: 0.37mgVitamin B6: 0.2mgVitamin C: 8.27mgVitamin E: 0.27mgVitamin K: 3.6µgCalcium: 42.95mgCopper: 0.21mgFolate: 93.05µgIron: 2.36mgManganese: 0.44mgMagnesium: 31.31mgPhosphorus: 109.18mgSelenium: 1.91µgZinc: 0.81mgNet Carbohydrates: 10.52g
Read more nutritional information values.

Data source: USDA

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How to reheat Tarka Dhal?

Microwave3 minutes (remove and stir halfway)
Saucepan5 minutes on medium heat

Tarka Dhal Storage Instructions

How long to refrigerate tarka dhal?3 to 4 days
How long to freeze tarka dhal?4 to 6 months

Recipe Variations

1. Spicy Tarka Dhal – Add in more chili powder, crushed red pepper flakes, or fresh chilies to the recipe to give it a fiery kick.

2. Creamy Tarka Dhal – Blend the cooked dhal mixture in a blender or using an immersion blender to create a smooth and creamy texture.

3. Coconut Tarka Dhal – Substitute some or all of the water with coconut milk to add a rich and creamy coconut flavor to the dish.

4. Lentil and Spinach Tarka Dhal – Add in chopped spinach or other leafy greens to the dhal for an extra boost of nutrients.

5. Tomato Tarka Dhal – Use canned or fresh diced tomatoes in the recipe to add a tangy and slightly sweet flavor.

6. Lemon Tarka Dhal – Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top of the dish for a bright and zesty flavor.

7. Sweet Potato Tarka Dhal – Add in diced sweet potatoes during the cooking process to give this dish a hearty and flavorful twist.

8. Meaty Tarka Dhal – Add in cooked ground beef, lamb, or chicken to the recipe to create a more substantial meal.

What To Serve With

1. Rice: Tarka Dhal is usually served with steamed Basmati rice. You can add some spices like cumin or bay leaves to the rice to enhance the flavors.

2. Naan Bread: Soft and fluffy naan bread is a classic accompaniment to any curry. You can make it at home or buy it from a local Indian restaurant.

3. Raita: This cool and refreshing yogurt dip is the perfect side dish for spicy curries like Tarka Dhal. You can add chopped cucumber, tomatoes, and mint to give it more flavor.

4. Pickles: Indian pickles like mango, lime or mixed vegetables add an extra zing to your meal. They are usually served in small bowls as a condiment to complement the flavors of Tarka Dhal.

5. Papadum: This crispy Indian snack is made from lentil flour and is a popular appetizer. You can buy it from grocery stores or make it at home and serve it along with Tarka Dhal.

6. Salad: A simple salad of greens, tomatoes, and onions dressed with lemon and salt is a refreshing complement to the spicy flavors of Tarka Dhal.

7. Chutney: Tamarind or mint chutney adds a tangy and sweet flavor to your meal. You can serve it on the side along with Tarka Dhal.

8. Lassi: This creamy and frothy yogurt drink is a nice way to balance the heat of spicy curry. You can add fruits like mango or strawberry to make it more flavorful.

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