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Lentils: Tarka Dal

January 17, 2010

Red Lentils

Red Lentils

I made a lentil dinner for my kids and lived to tell about it. Barely.

I love Indian food and rarely make it at home.  It seems so – complicated – for a novice like me.  My husband and I consider it a treat when we go to an Indian restaurant.  And when we treat ourselves, we leave the kids at home.

But tonight I went beyond my hesitations – past the “it’s too complicated”, and past the nagging feeling my kids were going to hold it against me.  Tonight I made Tarka Dal.

Tarka Dal (or spiced butter lentils) is an Indian dish that can be made with red lentils (as opposed to typical brown lentils). No need to pre-soak lentils since they are quick cooking.  Save this dish for when you have more time since there are several spices involved.  But despite the spice variety, this is a simple dish.  Butter, garlic, onions, spices, and lentils.  This lentil recipe is easily made vegan – just use olive oil instead of butter.

How did the family react to Tarka Dal?

  • Husband thought it was “very good, very flavorful”
  • Son said “It’s yummy” (This was after he tried it.  At first he was majorly upset.)
  • Daughter sobbed. “Why are you FORCING me to eat this?”  But to her credit:  she finished what was served to her.
  • I thought it was delicious – creamy, spicy.  A welcome change of dinnertime pace.  Minus the tears.

(In our defense, we never force feed the kids.  They can eat dinner or walk-away. But they know there’s no such thing as “alternative dinner”. We’ve been taken up on the “walk-away” offer in the past.  But rarely.)

You can get the recipe How to Make Tarka Dal from Video Jug.  Be sure to watch the short video so you can learn how to prepare and cook.  Scroll below the video to get a printable recipe.

Tarka Dal

Tarka Dal with Basmati Rice, Naan (bread) and Cucumber Raita (yogurt sauce)

Chef’s notes:

  • In attempt to make this more palatable to children, I cut down on the spices.
    • Used 1 clove of garlic instead of 2
    • Cut onion in larger slices so I could easily pick them out of kids’ servings
    • omitted chili pepper
    • omitted coriander leaves
    • omitted asafoetida (I struck out trying to find it locally)
    • added a small dash of garam masala (instead of 0.25 of teaspoon)
  • Here are some U.S. ingredient conversions for this lentils recipe:
    • 10 2/3 oz. red dal = about 1  1/2  cups (1.5 cups) red dal
    • 850 ml water = little less than 3  3/4 cups  (3.75 cups) water
  • I bought frozen Naan bread in the frozen food section.  Naan is an Indian flat bread.
  • I made Cucumber Raita for a dip (or dal topping).
  • Even though lentils are not beans (they’re legumes), they’re considered “close enough” for Striving Bean.
Tilda Basmati Rice

Tilda Basmati Rice

A special note about the rice:  I bought Tilda Basmati rice at United Noodles grocery store the other day.  It’s delicious and fragrant. The kids loved it.

What do you think?  Have you ever tried a dish like this for your children?  How did they react?

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate permalink
    January 18, 2010 10:20 am

    My mouth is watering!

  2. January 18, 2010 12:55 pm

    That sounds and looks so good. Lentils are so good for you too! Our kids typically like them, but the objection does sound all too familiar. Here is another lentil recipe that I have been meaning to share with you. It is a family favorite, but needs your help- see the “missing link ingredient” note at the bottom. Here is the recipe:

  3. January 18, 2010 6:59 pm

    I’m lucky that my 15 year old loves Indian food. Found a great curry paste yesterday which certainly simplifies the cooking process. I have a great recipe for butter chicken that I got from Cooking Light a while back. Oh, and a vegetarian lentil and potato dish that was fantastic from Mark Bittman’s cookbook.

  4. January 18, 2010 9:49 pm

    Ellen – I’ll have to track down that lentil/potato dish from Bittman – sound great. My little ones are OK with lentils, I think it’s the Indian spices that drove them over the edge.

    Kate – I think you might really like this one!

    Josh – I tweeted your delicious-looking lentil black bean dip… 🙂

  5. January 18, 2010 9:52 pm

    Here’s a link for the lentil and potato dish:

    No pictures, sorry. It was before I got good about pictures!


  6. January 20, 2010 8:28 pm

    I love Indian food, I like making a large batch of curry base with sauteed ginger, garlic, onion, tomatoes and spices, split and cook w/ whatever you have on hand… chickpeas, spinach, eggplants, cooked meat… you can make many varieties of curries all at once ! You can even freeze them for later use, too…

    I love red lentils! Have you made Turkish style soup with this? It’s sooooo yummy! Your kids will love it!

  7. January 20, 2010 11:02 pm

    Ellen and Mari – thank you very much for the links to these Indian delights! 🙂

  8. February 11, 2010 1:03 pm

    This does it. I have to put your blog in my blog roll now.
    Do you ever worry about completely burning out on beans? I thought my focus was narrow. Just beans would kill me.
    I have a cookbook called the Daily Bean. I’m still figuring out whether or not I like it. Most of what I’ve tried have been the dips and the baked goods and let’s just say none of them made it to the blog.

    • February 11, 2010 2:31 pm

      Hi Cindy – we haven’t burned out on beans yet…but we don’t eat them every day, so that must by why! I’ll have to look for the Daily Bean book – might be good recipe fodder for us. Thanks for the blog roll add!

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