A Family Recipe for Masala Dal

Photo courtesy of Tulika Narayan.

You often see dal on the menu of many Indian restaurants, but most of the time it’s a different type of dal than what most families would eat on a day-to-day basis. Most restaurant dal is similar to a dal makhani, which is made with a different type of lentil and is heavier and more filling than most homemade dal. Masala dal is a much lighter type of dal that is a staple in many Indian households, including mine. Most families have different variations on this dish, but this is my family’s favorite way of preparing it. The recipe includes tadka, which is a mixture of spices cooked in fat—in this case, ghee. You can eat the dish with rice or roti or just on its own. It tastes best with a squeeze of lime and some cilantro but it’s also delicious without. 


For the tadka:

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 whole red chili 
  • 1 large clove of garlic sliced
  • 1 pinch asafoetida (optional)

For the dal:

  • 1 small onion diced (about 4 tbsp)
  • 1 tsp ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 green chili finely chopped
  • 1 diced tomato
  • 1 cup yellow moong dal (yellow split mung beans), soaked for 1 hour
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 tsps ghee (clarified butter)

Optional toppings:

  • Juice of half a lime
  • Cilantro


  1. Add 4 cups of water and boil the lentils with salt and turmeric. Set aside.
  2. In a frying pan, heat the oil and then add in the onions. Fry until almost golden brown.
  3. Add ginger and garlic and fry for two to three minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes and fry until fully incorporated.
  5. Add the green chili and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
  6. Add the dal.
  7. Mix the dal and let it come to a simmer.
  8. In a tadka pan (small pan), heat up the ghee.
  9. When the ghee is hot, add the red chili and cumin.
  10. Once aromatic, add the garlic.
  11. When the garlic is golden, add the asafoetida, if you are using it.
  12. Pour the tadka from the small pan into the dal, and cover immediately.
  13. Add lime juice and cilantro to garnish.
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