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Restaurant Style Tarka Dhal Recipe

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Tarka dhal is so easy to make! Here’s how…

I don’t know about you but I can’t go out for a curry without ordering a nice side of tarka dhal. It’s the perfect mild accompaniment for a curry.

Tarka dhal is also nice added to curries such as dhansaks.

To make this tarka dhal recipe, I use Massoor dhal (split small red lentils). Red lentils are available in most supermarkets though you will find them cheaper at Asian markets.

Massoor dhal, unlike other lentils only needs to be washed and rinsed under cold water. I do let mine soak in fresh water for about a half hour while I prepare the other ingredients but it isn’t really necessary.

tarka dhal

Getting this recipe right…

So many people have said to me that they just can’t get their tarka dhal to taste as good as it does in curry houses.

This recipe will get the results you’re looking for. 

I’m afraid, however that the secret to that amazing tarka dhal flavour is ghee and lots of it.

About this recipe.

This recipe is from my cookbook ‘The Curry Guy Bible’ where I suggest using about 3 tbsp of ghee. Hey, it’s a cookbook and people don’t like finding recipes that are too fatty these days.

The thing is, the chefs at good curry houses know that people love ghee. They use a lot more than 3 tablespoons of the stuff!

So for the blog, I have made it like I have seen in made hundreds of times. You can use the amount of ghee suggested in the recipe or use one heck of a lot more as I do in the photos below.

That ghee is what makes a good tarka dhal, great!

I recently streamed a live video of me making this tarka dhal recipe. Look and see how easy it is and please be sure to subscribe to my Youtube channel for more live videos.

Ingredient substitutes…

You might like to try this recipe using different lentils or a combination of different lentils. Some lentils require a longer cooking time so be sure to read the label.

At curry houses, they normally use red split lentils as I have here because they cook to perfection so quickly.

I often make this dhal with a combination of moong, chana and massoor lentils. This takes more time and although very nice, it is just as good with plain old red lentils. 

Following are step by step photographed instructions on cooking tarka dhal. 

Simmering lentils

Simmer the lentils until soft. Skim off any foam that rises to the top.

melting ghee

While the lentils are simmering, go ahead and melt the ghee over medium-high heat.

Adding whole spices to the pan

When melted, add the whole spices and curry leaves.

Stirring chopped onions

Stir in the chopped onions and fry for about 5 minutes until soft and lightly browned.

Adding garlic to the pan

Now add the garlic and fry for another minute in the ghee.

Adding ground spices to the pan

Add the ground spices and stir into the ghee.

finished tarka

Your tarka is ready.

pouring tarka over the dhal

Pour most of the tarka over the dhal, leaving a little to garnish.

Here are more curry house curry favourites you might like to try!

Chicken Korma
Chicken Madras
Chicken Dhansak
Lamb Rogan Josh
Lamb Vindaloo
Chicken Chilli Garlic
Chicken Patia
Lamb Bhuna

finished tarka dhal

Amazing. Try this recipe with lots of ghee. You won’t be sorry.

Spoon with dhal on it.

Dig in!

If you like this tarka dal recipe, you might like to try some of the Indian Vegetarian favourites.

Dum Aloo
Pakistani Chickpea Biryani
Punjabi Saag Curry
Punjabi Rajma
Butternut Squash Curry
Sri Lankan Green Beans Curry
Aloo Gobi
Saag Paneer
Onion Pakora Curry
Chana Saag Curry
Potato Curry
Mushroom Curry
Masala Corn
Gobi Manchurian
Bombay Potatoes
Masala Dosa
Saag Aloo
Tandoori Hummus
Masoor Dal
Dal Makhani
Chana Dal
Homemade Poppadoms From Scratch
Green Bean Thoran
Cabbage Thoran

Have you tried this tarka dal recipe?

If yes, please give it a star rating in the recipe card below and leave a comment. I love receiving your feedback and I’m sure other readers of my blog do too. Thank you.

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Yield: 4 - 6

A Fantastic Tarka Dhal Recipe

tarka dal
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour


  • 250g Massoor dhal – rinsed with water
  • 3 tablespoon ghee (or more) see above.
  • 10 fresh curry leaves (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 x cinnamon stick
  • 1 onion - finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Pour about 400ml of water over your lentils in a sauces pan and simmer over medium high heat until tender. Remove any foam that forms on the top. Cooking the lentils should take about 25 minutes.
  2. While your lentils are cooking, melt the ghee in a frying pan and add the curry leaves, cumin seeds and cinnamon stick.
  3. Stir in the chopped onion and fry for about 5 minutes until browned.
  4. Add the chopped garlic, garam masala and turmeric and stir it into the hot ghee..
  5. Pour the most of the ghee mixture (the tarka) over the lentils and stir it all in. Leave some to garnish.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with the remaining tarka.

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tarka dhal


Sunday 20th of August 2023

Delicious! Worked well even with standard spreadable butter (no ghee available) and no fresh curry leaves. So give it a go anyway everyone it was excellent.

Dan Toombs

Monday 21st of August 2023

Thank you, good to hear it worked even without ghee and curry leaves. Dan


Thursday 28th of January 2021

Just made your tarka dhal, after watching your video.I found it searching for a recipe randomly on line. And I'm so happy I stumbled on this. It was absolutely delicious. You seem to have been around for a while... but then i dont get much time for cooking. I just wanted to say thank you. I really enjoyed making it and eating it was even better. I might even invest in your book, Hoping to try another of your currys soon. Thanks again. Fiona

Dan Toombs

Monday 1st of February 2021

Thanks very much and I am really glad you enjoyed the video. Dan

Lotus Food Gallery

Thursday 11th of October 2018

wow amazing recipe

Dan Toombs

Thursday 18th of October 2018

Thank you. :-)


Thursday 5th of July 2018

HI Dan,

Do you know if the dhal freezes well? Was hoping to freeze portion's ready for dhansaks.


Dan Toombs

Thursday 17th of January 2019

Hi Lindsay

Sure does. I freeze leftover dhal all the time.

Thanks, Dan

Steve Ashdown

Sunday 25th of March 2018

Hi Dan. Nice recipe this. I am no way a veggie, but combined this with a home made tomato chutney, cheese and onion dosa. Made a fantastic meal. Keep up the good work mate. Cheers Steve.

Dan Toombs

Monday 30th of April 2018

Thank you very much Steve.


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