Punjabi Dal Fry

Spicy lentils cooked with cumin, garlic, chilli & tomatoes


Dal is one of those dishes that gets most people drooling. From the basic dal recipe to a slow cooked maa ki dal they all have such relevance within communities of India. Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala, Bengal and Punjab are just a few places to explore the sheer varieties of the humble lentil.

No trip to India for me is ever complete without eating at least one meal at a road side Dhabba. These little street stalls sell some of the simplest meals yet with so much flavour. Tandoori dishes are always a good option when ordering along with a hearty chicken or meat curry which I feel has so much flavour given that they slow cook it for hours and of course breads include flaky rotis or naan never goes a miss to accompany gravy dishes. As a staple we always order a portion of Dal Fry and it’s probably the only place I savour the taste. Dal at most dhabbas I’ve visited is creamy, rich and with just a few spices. It is generally cooked on a low heat in a large handi (vessel) over burning coals. The smoky flavour from this technique of cooking lends itself really well to the resultant lentil curry. Served hot and with tandoori roti to scoop up the dal fry is sheer joy. If the Dal is cooked in ghee is of course tastes even better!

Most restaurants also serve Dal Fry as a side and when I’m visiting with family and friends we inevitably order a portion although it’s not something I feel I yearn to eat at restaurants perhaps because I also cook it often at home.

With a view to replicate those flavours from my visits to the dhabba I’m sharing this simple yet delicious recipe for a Punajbi Dal Fry. With flavours of cumin, chilli and garlic it hits the spot in the cold winters. Also it’s January and nothing makes me happier than a bowl of rice with steaming hot dal and maybe some achar/ pickle to go with it.

Unlike an everyday dal recipe where I usually opt for just one variety of lentil in a Dal fry I prefer using two varieties of dals. I normally go with Channa Dal which has a lovely creamy texture when cooked and toor dal which is easy to digested and also a great addition for anyone cooking Dal on a regular basis. To find out more about the variety of lentils make sure to read this along with recipe ideas.


  1. In a heavy bottom saucepan add the lentils along with 1.2 litres of water and bring to a boil. Simmer over a low heat for 45 minutes with the lid partially covering the pan. Stir a few times through cooking making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat off a cool slightly. Using a potato masher or back of a spoon mash the dal roughly.

  2. In a heavy bottom saucepan heat the oil over a medium flame. Add the asafoetida and cumin seeds sizzling for a few seconds. Add the cloves followed by the onions. Fry for 7-8 minutes until softened.

  3. Add the tomatoes and continue to fry for 3 minutes, as they begin to soften mash with the back of the spoon. Add the ginger and green chillies and fry for a minute. Add the turmeric powder, lower the heat and stir well.

  4. Add the cooked dal and mix making sure the spices flavour the dal. Season to taste, add 50 mls more water and simmer over a low heat for 6 minutes with the lid on. Stir half way through cooking making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Turn the heat off and garnish with coriander.punjabi-dal-fry-2

  5. For the tadka heat the oil in a small frying pan add the dried chilli followed by the garlic and fry for a minute. As it begins to fry and change colour add the chilli powder and turn the heat off. Pour this flavours oil over the cooked Dal fry mix well and stick the lid on to let the flavours infuse. Serve warm with roti or rice.