Every country has its favourite comfort food, and India is no exception. Dal, a dish made from split lentils or pulses, is incredibly popular across the subcontinent, and every region has a unique way of flavouring and serving it.
Dal is commonly enjoyed as a side for lunch and dinner, pairing well with meat, chicken or as a vegetarian dish with roti or dosa. It’s also incredibly easy to prepare as a vegan meal by swapping ghee for vegetable oil and has grown in popularity in recent years amongst British vegans.
Here are 8 of the best dals on Indian menus for you to try at home.
1. Dal Tadka
Perhaps the best-known dal in the UK is tadka dal, found on restaurant menus up and down the country. This is a simple, creamy dal made with onion, garlic, ginger, chilli and spices.
Tempered spices are added on top of the dal before serving, adding an extra punch of flavour, hence the name dal tadka (tadka means to temper, usually in a tadka pan).
2. Chana Dal
Originating as a North Indian recipe, chana dal is made from split chickpeas and is now a firm household favourite across the country.
The nutty flavours of chana dal are complemented by the inclusion of onions and garlic, fresh ginger, tomato and chillies, alongside heaps of spices. The earthy, bitter taste of methi (fenugreek) adds complexity to the dish, with freshness brought adding torn coriander leaves and a squeeze of lemon before serving.
3. Dal Makhani
Buttery, decadent dal Makhani is made from urad dal (black lentils) and has a distinct smoky flavour.
Originating in New Delhi, this dish has been adapted and modernised from an ancient dal recipe called Urad Ki Dal and is available on most menus around the city.
The combination of fragrant whole spices, slow cooking and the addition of cream (mixed through at the end of the cook) results in a deep, rich-tasting dal that is simply unmatched.
4. Masoor Dal
Masoor Dal is a vibrant, flavourful dish made from red lentils, which are high in protein and cook quickly without needing to soak.
Fry onions and sweet potato before adding minced ginger and garlic, followed by chilli, tomato and spices. The addition of turmeric adds an earthy depth to the dish and imparts a vivid orange colouring.
5. Kali Dal
Kali Dal is made with black lentils and cashew nuts, resulting in a creamy, comforting vegetarian meal enjoyed all over Northern India. As it also uses black lentils, kali dal is most comparable to dal makhani but doesn’t use kidney beans and has its own unique flavour.
Soak the black lentils in water overnight before cooking in a pressure cooker with water and turmeric. Make a paste from onion, garlic, ginger, chilli and tomato, before combining with spices (including asafoetida) and cooking out the masala. Combine with the lentils and season before serving.
6. Amti Dal
Amti dal is a sweet and sour dal that is prepared for big gatherings. Pigeon peas are the base of this dal and have been used extensively in India for 3,500 years. The use of tamarind, chilli and jaggery in this dish provides a sweet, tangy, sour flavour profile that is exceptionally moreish.
Goda masala is traditionally used for this dal but can be substituted for garam masala if not available.
7. Dhaba Dal Fry
A spicy dish that will require a lot of tempering to produce the big flavours associated with this dal. Pigeon peas (arhar/toor dal) are used, which break down quickly into a thick, mushy consistency.
Add lots of fresh garlic and chilli and heaps of dry spices to ensure you end up with a bold tasting dish and serve hot with rice or chapatis.
Maa Ki Dal
A very versatile dal made using black lentils, it can be made spicy or bland depending on your palate. Serve very hot to fully enjoy the flavour combination of ginger, chillies, cumin, coriander and garam masala.
A slow-cooked dal served with butter and coriander leaves, many Punjabi families cook and eat Maa Ki Dal daily. As opposed to the richer dal makhani, which is preferred for special occasions.