The Most Basic Dal Recipe (And Most Comforting)

Lentils? Check. Water? Check. Spice? Just a few. That’s all you need for this home-style basic dal recipe, a dish so simple it practically cooks itself. This is pure lentil comfort, ready to warm your belly and show that sometimes, less is more!

Home-style dal in a white bowl with rice and dal in another bowl.

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Dal is both an ingredient and a staple dish in Indian cuisine. This dal recipe is quick and easy, perfect for busy weeknights. It pairs well with various accompaniments like rice, roti, or crusty bread. It can be enjoyed as a main course or a side dish.

Ingredients

Ingredients to make home-style dal placed on a white surface.

Toor Dal: Also called pigeon pea or arhar, this is the main ingredient. However, this recipe words for yellow lentils and red lentils.

Spices: I am using mustard seeds, cumin seeds, hing, and turmeric powder.

See the recipe card for the complete list of ingredients and quantities.

Step-by-step instructions

Toor dal, water and turmeric in Instant Pot.

Step 1: Wash the lentils thoroughly and drain all the water. Add it to the inner pot of the Instant Pot along with 6 cups of water and turmeric powder. Give it a quick stir.

Whisking cooked dal.

Step 2: Pressure cook for 12 minutes. Let the pressure come down naturally for 10 minutes, then quickly release the remaining pressure. Open the lid and add salt. Whisk the dal well until it is smooth.

Tempering in a small pan.

Step 3: Heat ghee and mustard seeds in a separate frying pan. Once they splutter, add cumin seeds, hing, dried red chili, and curry leaves. Saute for 10 seconds, then turn off the heat.

Tempering poured on cooked dal in the Instant Pot.

Step 4: Set the Instant Pot back in saute mode. Add the prepared tempering and mix well. Simmer for 1-2 minutes, then cancel saute mode.

Cilantro and lemon juice garnish on the dal in Instant Pot.

Step 5: Add lemon juice and cilantro.

Expert Tips

  • Before cooking, rinse the lentils under cold water until the water runs clear. This removes any dust or debris and helps them cook evenly.
  • I am using a 1:3 lentil-to-water ratio in my recipe. This gives me a slightly thick dal. Add more water for a soupier dal. Also, keep in mind that the dal thickens as it cools down.
  • Add the salt only after pressure cooking the dal. Adding it initially will affect how the lentils soften.
  • Whisk the cooked dal until it is smooth to achieve a creamy consistency of the dal. Traditionally, a wooden whisk called mathni is used; however, a regular wire whisk can also be used.
  • I am using ghee to make the tempering for the dal; however, it can be replaced with oil to make this dish vegan.

What to serve with dal

Pair this comforting dal with steamed rice for a classic combination that brings out the wholesome flavors. Warm roti or chapati makes an excellent accompaniment, offering a delightful contrast in textures.

Serve the dal over quinoa or couscous as an alternative to rice. A side of sliced cucumbers provides a refreshing crunch that complements the warmth of the dal.

Storage Tips

Cool the cooked dal before storing it in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to five days or freeze for 2-3 months. Reheat in a saucepan, adding some water to adjust the consistency as the stored dal tends to thicken.

Recipe FAQs

What type of lentils can I use?

In my recipe, I have used toor dal, also known as pigeon pea lentils, which have a nutty flavor and a hearty texture. Its natural creaminess makes it a popular option for dal preparations. Other lentils that are perfect for this recipe are red lentils (masoor dal) for a smoother consistency or split yellow lentils (moong dal) for a lighter flavor.

Can I make this without a pressure cooker?

Absolutely! Just simmer the lentils in a covered pot for 35-40 minutes or until tender. Add more water if needed to maintain the desired consistency.

How do I prevent the dal from becoming too thick?

Use a 1:3 dal-to-water ratio for a slightly thick consistency. Add more hot water if you prefer a soupier dal, and remember that the dal thickens as it cools.

A bowl of rice topped with dal with a spoon placed in the bowl.

If you tried this Simple Dal Recipe or any other recipe on my website, please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it went in the 📝 comments below.

Yellow dal in a white bowl placed on a white surface.

The Most Basic Dal (And Most Comforting)

Lentils? Check. Water? Check. Spice? Just a pinch. That's all you need for this home-style basic dal, a dish so simple it practically cooks itself.
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Indian
Servings: 6
Author: Shilpa Kerur

Ingredients

  • cups toor dal (pigeon pea/arhar dal)
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 1-1½ tsp salt adjust as per taste
  • 2 tbsp ghee
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp hing (asafetida)
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 2-3 dried red chili
  • 1 sprig curry leaves
  • 1 lemon juiced
  • ¼ cup cilantro finely chopped
  • 6 cups water see notes

Instructions

  • Wash the dal thoroughly and drain all the water. Add it to the inner pot of the Instant Pot along with 6 cups of water and turmeric powder. Give it a quick stir.
  • Secure the IP lid and pressure cook for 12 minutes. Let the pressure come down naturally for 10 minutes, then do a quick release of the remaining pressure.
  • Open the lid and add salt. Whisk the dal well until it is smooth.
  • In a separate frying pan, heat ghee and add mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add cumin seeds, hing, dried red chili, and curry leaves. Saute for 10 seconds and turn off the heat.
  • Set the Instant Pot back in saute mode. Add the prepared tempering and give it a good mix. Simmer for 1-2 minutes., then cancel saute mode.
  • Add lemon juice and cilantro. Serve with rice.

Notes

Before cooking, rinse the lentils under cold water until the water runs clear. This removes any dust or debris and helps them cook evenly.
I am using a 1:3 dal-to-water ratio in my recipe. This gives me a slightly thick dal. Add more water for a soupier dal. Also, keep in mind that the dal thickens as it cools down.
Add the salt only after pressure cooking the dal. Adding it initially will affect how the lentils soften. Also, whisk the cooked dal until it is smooth to achieve a creamy consistency of the dal.

Nutrition

Calories: 174kcal | Carbohydrates: 24g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 13mg | Sodium: 629mg | Potassium: 41mg | Fiber: 7g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 74IU | Vitamin C: 17mg | Calcium: 41mg | Iron: 1mg
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Creamy home-style dal in a white bowl with rice in the background.

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