In India, Dal fry is a delicious lentil recipe that is made with onions, spices, tomatoes and tur dal. Enjoy this creamy, lightly spiced lentil dish with roti, naan or your favorite steamed rice. I’m sharing three ways to make a dal fry recipe – the pressure cooker on the stovetop method, while the pot and instant casserole method with step-by-step instructions.
What is Dal Fry made of?
In Hindi, “dal” or “dahl” is the generic term for lentils as well as lentil-based recipes. Dal or lentils are a staple in Indian cuisine and are a great source of plant-based protein.
Dal Fry is a dish that is prepared in different ways in many Indian houses with tur dal lentils or pigeon peas.
If you are new to Indian cuisine, you may think that “dal fry” indicates that some ingredients are fried or that the lentils are fried. Let me assure you that we don’t fry anything in a dal fry.
Here’s how we do it. First, the lentils are cooked until tender and soft.
The cooked soft lentils or dal are then mixed with a mixture of spices, onions, tomatoes and sautéed herbs. Then simmer for a few minutes.
In Indian terminology, we often use the word “fry” for “sauté” and therefore the term dal fry. Although technically nothing is fried.
About this recipe
My dal fry recipe gives you lots of restaurant flavors and you’ll love to enjoy it with roast or rice.
Dal fry is usually made with arhar dal, also known as pigeon pea lentils or toovar, tur (yellow lentils).
I like to use an equal mix of masoor dal (pink or orange lentils) and tuvar dal (pigeon pea lentils), but this recipe can be easily made with any lentils.
I usually cook lentils in a pressure cooker, but you can cook them in a pan or Instant Pot if you don’t have a pressure cooker handy. Details given below.
Dal Fry is a popular lentil dish often served in Indian restaurants and should not be confused with the classic Dal Tadka.
What is the difference between Dal Fry and Dal Tadka?
These two lentil recipes are made with different cooking techniques. Although the ingredients are more or less the same, the unique cooking methods involved make a difference in the final flavors and taste.
- In a dal tadka, tur dal is cooked with herbs like garlic or ginger, onions, tomatoes and turmeric. After being mashed a little, a tadka or a tempering mixture (fried in ghee or oil) of spices, herbs and seasonings is added to the dal – then mixed and served.
- For a dal fry, the tur dal is simply cooked plain or with the addition of asafoetida or turmeric – which is then mixed with a sautéed onion-tomato base and again simmered.
Both of these recipes are famous in the Dhabas (highways and roadside restaurants) of India, although the Dhaba Dal served in the Dhabas tastes different from this recipe.
Ingredients you need
I use ingredients readily available in Indian cuisine. If you don’t have these ingredients, buy them online or at an Asian or Indian grocery store.
- Vegetables: For this dal fry recipe, you will need an onion and a tomato, both finely chopped.
- Green peppers: not as hot as jalapeños, but just the right level of spice for the dish.
- Curry Leaves: The subtle flavor of curry leaves is essential in this recipe. But if you don’t have it, then you might just ignore it – even though some flavor profiles won’t be right.
- Asafoetida (hing) powder: If you are using a strong asafoetida, just one pinch is enough. I would really recommend adding a small amount at a time and seasoning to taste. And if you don’t have asafoetida, you can skip it.
- Cilantro Leaves (Cilantro): This simple herb brings a much needed touch of freshness to dal fry.
- Kasuri Methi (Dry Fenugreek Leaves): Bring restaurant style flavors to the dal and impart a nutty aroma. Skip if you don’t have it.
- Additional Seasonings: You will also need several Indian pantry staples, including ginger, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric powder, red chili powder, Garam Masala powder, l oil, lemon juice and salt.
How to make Dal Fry
1. Rinse your lenses with water 3-4 times. I would recommend using ½ cup of tur dal (arhar dal lentils or pigeon peas) or ¼ cup each of tuvar dal and masoor dal (pink or orange lentils).
2. Pour the lentils after rinsing, into a pressure cooker of 2-liter and add a pinch of turmeric powder and 1.5 cups of water.
3. Pressure cook lentils for 9 to 10 minutes over medium heat or until cooked through and completely soft. Once the lentils are cooked, mash them with a spoon or wire whisk, then set aside.
TIP: You can see the consistency of cooked lentils in the photo below. It is important to note that no separate grain should be visible.
Sauté the onions, tomatoes and spices
4. Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil, ghee or unsalted butter in a frying pan or skillet. Add ½ or ¾ teaspoon of black mustard seeds once hot.
5. When you hear the mustard seeds start to crackle, add 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds and fry them with the mustard seeds for several seconds or until they change color. For the cumin seeds, you should hear the same crackle!
6. With the cumin and mustard seeds still in the pan, add ⅓ cup of onions (chopped).
7. Sauté the seed and onion mixture until the onions turn translucent or lightly golden.
8. When the onions are lightly browned, add 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of the ginger-garlic paste and stir to combine. Sauté the mixture for a few seconds or until the raw aroma of the ginger-garlic disappears over low heat.
TIP: Make your own paste by combining 1 inch of ginger with 3-4 medium sized garlic cloves, crushed into a paste in a mortar and pestle.
9. Finally, add 10 to 12 curry leaves, 2 to 3 dry red peppers and 1 to 2 green peppers. Stir to combine with the ginger-garlic paste mixture.
TIP: you can skip the curry leaves if you don’t have any! I always like to add curry leaves because they add such a nice flavor to the dish.
10. Mix well over low heat, stirring to combine flavors.
11. Add all the spice powders and mix well again!
- ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon of red pepper or cayenne powder or smoked paprika (For a slight smoky flavor)
- 1 to 2 pinches of asafoetida, or hing (Skip if you don’t have it.)
12. After mixing well, add about ⅓ to ½ cup of finely chopped tomatoes.
13. Stir together once more and continue to sauté until the tomatoes become soft and plump. Also, the oil should start to leave the masala mixture, indicating that the onion-tomato base mixture is fully cooked.
Adding cooked Dal
14. Add your lentil puree to the onion and tomato masala mixture sautéed in the pan or pan.
15. Combine and mix well everything with the rest of the masala mixture.
16. Pour 1 to 1.5 cups of water. By adding more or less water, you can adjust the consistency of the dal fry.
17. Mix and stir well to obtain a smooth, even consistency.
18. Season with salt. Mix again.
Make Dal Fry
19. Simmer 5 to 6 minutes over low to medium heat. Stir occasionally so that the lentils don’t settle at the bottom of the pan.
20. Add and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of crushed kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves) and ¼ to ½ teaspoon of garam masala powder.
TIP 1: You can replace the kasoori methi with a pinch of fenugreek seed powder. If you haven’t either, just skip this step.
TIP 2: If you are using homemade or strong garam masala, add ¼ teaspoon.
21. Stir and simmer for 1 minute.
22. Turn off the heat and add 2 tablespoons of chopped coriander leaves. At this step, you can also add ½ to 1 teaspoon of lemon juice for a little more freshness and flavor.
23. Stir just one last time.
Garnish and serve
Serve the dal fry hot with paratha, roti, jeera rice or plain steamed basmati rice with lime / lemon slices, onion-tomato raita, papad or mango pickle or salad onion or kachumber.
You can also garnish with a little more cilantro leaves before serving.
What to serve with Dal Fry
- Roti is a popular round flatbread in India and a staple bread served with lentils or curries. Mild roti tastes great with a very hot dal.
- Naan, a sourdough flatbread made in some Asian countries, isn’t as much of an Indian household staple as roti, but it’s still a deliciously smooth and slightly chewy side option.
- Steamed rice always goes very well with dal fry recipes and you can prepare it in the pressure cooker to save time.
- Jeera Rice, which is a simple yet delicious cumin flavored rice, is a fabulous option to serve with dal fries.
Cook the lentils in a saucepan
- First, rinse and soak the lentils for 30 minutes to an hour. Soaking helps lentils cook faster. Later, drain all the water with a colander or sieve.
- In a saucepan, take the soaked lentils and 2 to 2.5 cups of water. Add 1 teaspoon of oil. Cover and cook the lentils over medium-low to medium heat. If the water foams too much, cook by removing the lid. It may take 30 to 45 minutes for the lenses to soften and become soft. Keep control and if necessary add a little more water.
- Then follow the recipe instructions detailed in the step-by-step guide above for frying dal with your cooked lentils.
Instant Dal Fry
In the Instant Pot, you just need to cook everything together. Although the dal fry made in the Instant Pot tastes different from that made on the stovetop. Follow the steps below to make instant fries.
Saute in the IP
- Frying Spices: Press the Sauté button on your IP. Let the screen display warm. Add ghee or oil to the steel insert. First, to the hot oil or melted ghee, add the mustard seeds and let them crackle. Then add the cumin seeds and also, let them crackle.
- Sauté the herbs: Then add the chopped onions and sauté until they soften. Add the ginger and garlic paste and for a few seconds, sauté it. Stir in the curry leaves, dry red peppers and green red peppers. Sauté again for a few seconds.
- Cooking tomatoes and spices: Add chopped tomatoes and sauté until softened. Stir in the turmeric powder, red pepper powder and asafoetida.
Pressure cooking in IP
- Adding Lentils: Add the rinsed lentils with 1.5 cups of water. Deglaze by removing the pieces of ingredients stuck to the bottom of the steel insert. Season with salt if needed.
- Pressure cooking: attach the lid of your IP and position the steam release handle on the gasket. Press the pressure cook button to set the time to 15 minutes at high pressure. Cooking lentils can take 10 to 15 minutes depending on their age and quality. For a dal fry, the lentils must be well softened.
- Hold: When you hear the beep after pressure cooking, wait 10 minutes, then quickly release the pressure.
Simmer dal fry further
- Dal consistency: lightly mash the cooked dal. If you find that the dal has become thick, add a little hot water to dilute it and lighten it. If the dal is thin to your liking, press the Sauté button and simmer for a few minutes.
- Final touch: Finally add the coriander leaves, garam masala powder and kasuri methi. Mix and turn off your IP. Serve hot or warm.