The best and authentic Indian chana dal recipe that is full of flavor and healthy. Made in restaurant style, it is sure to be a crowd pleaser!
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Chana Dal (Split Chickpea Curry)
There are many ways to make chana dal, but this recipe is guaranteed to be amazing. It tastes exotic and rich, like what you get in restaurants and dhabas.
Unlike most other split lentils, chana dal tastes perfect when cooked with warm and bold spices used in garam masala. This is what makes it a bit distinct.
So, in the first step, the lentils are cooked to a soft texture with these spices and then infused with restaurant style tadka. Basically, seasoning by gently tempering spices in hot oil to extract the aroma and then adding it to the preparation.
Although quite inexpensive, the spices used for this recipe, make this dish suitable for even a festive menu. It is a bit reminiscent of chana masala with hints of the humble dal or daal. And is topped with finely julienned ginger and chili peppers for a nice appeal.
Chana Dal Ingredients
What is Chana Dal? For this recipe we use chana dal or split skinned chickpeas (also known as Bengal gram). It is a firmer lentil, so needs some prep to cook it soft. You could also try adding some masoor or moong dal to enhance the saucy consistency.
Spices: We use cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin seeds, turmeric, chili powder, ground cumin, ground coriander and garam masala. Asafetida is optional (use gluten-free version if needed).
Aromatics: We need bay leaves, dried red chillies, kasuri methi (dry fenugreek leaves), garlic, ginger, onions or shallots. Be sure to use fresh ginger and garlic for amazing Indian dishes.
Tomatoes: Chop these finely to add a nice taste, texture and appearance to the dal.
Cilantro: Definitely an important ingredient for Indian dal.
Ghee/Butter: A dollop of ghee or brown butter drizzled over dal makes a big difference in taste.
Chili Peppers: Traditional recipes use green chilies, but you can substitute with serrano peppers (hot) or jalapeño peppers (milder).
Cooking Oil: I use olive oil, but avocado oil and other oils can be used.
Optional: You can add asafetida with the tadka for an interesting flavor. Kashmiri red chili powder is less pungent than regular red chili powder, and has a darker red color. Smoked paprika can be used for less heat and smoky flavor.
How To Make Chana Dal
- Cook Dal: Soak the split chickpeas in water with a pinch of baking soda and drain. Cook the lentils with bay leaves, whole spices, ginger, garlic and turmeric until soft and mushy. Check recipe notes for instant pot chana dal.
- Restaurant Style Tadka: Heat oil and sauté cumin seeds, dried red chillies, ginger, garlic, onions and tomatoes. Add chilies, turmeric, red chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, garam masala and kasuri methi. Stir and turn off the heat.
- Simmer: Add most of the tempered spice mixture and cilantro to cooked dal. Stir and simmer.
- Tadka Topping: Heat the remaining spice mixture. Add ghee, asafetida (if using) and top it over dal with remaining cilantro, julienned ginger and green chilies.
- Soak dal with a pinch of baking soda before cooking. Drain, rinse and use for cooking. This will ensure that the lentils will cook to perfection.
- If cooked right, some of the lentils should fall apart and create a thick sauce. But if you need to make it more saucy, blend some of the cooked dal using a hand blender. You could also add ¼ cup of masoor or moong dal to the chana dal, as those lentils cook faster and will give a saucy consistency.
- If you prefer, remove the whole spices after the dal is cooked. Or they can be wrapped in muslin cloth like the one used for bouquet garni or a metal mesh cooking infuser.
- The lentils may foam initially while cooking. You can leave the pot uncovered for a while and skim it off. Once it subsides, you can place a lid on the pot or keep it ajar if it continues to boil over.
- Add turmeric after the foam settles down. Otherwise, the yellow foam can create a mess around the pot and stove.
- Apply some oil or ghee around the rim of the cooking pot to stop the water from boiling over. Alternatively, place a wooden spoon over the pot.
- Dal will continue to thicken a little more after cooking, so turn off the heat before it reaches the desired consistency.
- These split chickpeas works very well with warm garam masala spices, meats, chicken and umami flavors. Try using chicken stock to cook the dal instead of water.
Meal Prep & Storage
- Soak the lentils ahead. You can cook it a day or two before. Add the tempering before serving.
- Store leftovers in refrigerator and warm it up, adding some water for desired thickness.
It is best served with rice, pappadum and pickle. Serve some aloo gobi or Indian style roasted okra on the side.
This dal tastes equally good with parathas or naans. Add some fish kebabs or kotlets and kachumber.
And it is a dal recipe that works well for a weekday meal or a party menu.
Split chickpeas are packed with protein, fiber, folic acid, manganese, phosphorus, iron and phytochemicals. This dal recipe is vegetarian and makes a complete meal with brown rice.
As a good source of soluble fiber, lentils support lower cholesterol levels. And regular consumption of lentils may help with lowering the risk of heart disease and obesity.
This split chickpea curry is gluten free (without the optional asafetida), vegetarian, egg free, nut free and soy free.
- Vegan and Dairy Free: Skip ghee and use coconut oil or vegetable oil.
- Rich Flavor: Ghee drizzled on the top makes the dal taste even more fantastic. If you don’t have ghee, make your own brown butter, following our baklava recipe post.
- Other Vegetables: Add chopped bell peppers, zucchini or spinach to give it a different taste and flavor.
- For a hint of tangy taste, add ½ to 1 teaspoon of dry mango powder or squeeze some lemon juice on top.
More Lentil Recipes
- Harira (Moroccan Chickpea & Lentil Soup)
- Adas Polo (Persian Lentil Rice)
- Kale Quinoa Lentil Salad
- Koshari (Egyptian National Dish)
★ DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? PLEASE COMMENT AND GIVE IT A STAR RATING BELOW!
Chana Dal (Restaurant Style)
Restaurant Style Tadka (Tempering)
- 2½ tablespoons olive oil or ghee
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 dried red chilies
- 2 inch ginger half finely grated, half finely julienned
- 4 cloves garlic finely grated
- 1 large onion or 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 2 tomatoes finely chopped
- 2 green chilies thinly sliced, divided, remove seeds for less heat
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder see note
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon kasuri methi dry fenugreek leaves
- 1 tablespoon ghee
- ¼ teaspoon asafetida optional
- 2 tablespoons cilantro
- Rinse the lentils well until the water is clear and drain. Soak chana dal with ½ teaspoon baking soda for 1 hour, rinse and drain. Tip: Quick method — soak in hot water for ½ hour.
- In a medium cooking pot, take the drained chana dal, bayleaves, whole spices (see note), sliced garlic, ginger, turmeric, water and bring it to a boil.
- Lower the heat and cook it for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. (Instant pot method in notes.) Add salt to taste and continue to cook until most lentils start breaking down, become a bit mushy and turn into a thick-sauce like consistency. You should be able to mash dal easily.
- Cook the dal until it reaches a consistency that is thinner than what is desired, because it will thicken further after cooking. Tip: Check notes for more tips.
Restaurant Style Tadka
- Heat oil or ghee in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Place your palm three inches above the oil and when it is hot enough, add cumin seeds.
- When the seeds start to splutter, add dried red chillies. Sauté a little bit and then add grated ginger and garlic.
- Sauté few minutes and add chopped onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and cook until softened.
- Then add 1 green chili, turmeric, ¾ teaspoon chili powder, ground coriander, ground cumin, garam masala and kasuri methi. Stir and turn off the heat. Don’t let the spices burn.
- Add ⅔ of the tempered spice mixture, and half the cilantro to the cooked dal. Stir and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Transfer chana dal to a serving dish.
- Warm up remaining ⅓ tempered spice mixture. Add ghee, asafetida (if using), ¼ teaspoon chili powder, julienned ginger and 1 sliced green chili. Stir and cook 1 minute. Top it on dal with remaining cilantro. Serve hot with steamed rice.
- Chana Dal: To make it more saucy, blend some of the cooked dal. You could also add ¼ cup of masoor or moong dal to the chana dal, as those lentils cook faster and will give a saucy consistency.
- Whole Spices: If you prefer, remove the whole spices after the dal is cooked. Or they can be wrapped in muslin cloth like the one used for bouquet garni or a metal mesh cooking infuser.
- Kashmiri Chili Powder: It is less pungent than regular red chili powder, and has a darker red color. Smoked paprika can be used for less heat and smoky flavor.
- Lentil Foam: The lentils may foam while cooking. If that happens, leave the pot uncovered for a while and skim it off. Once it subsides, you can place a lid on the pot or keep it ajar if it continues to boil over. Add turmeric after the foam settles down.
- Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker: Cook it under pressure for 10 to 12 minutes (about 8 whistles). Let the pressure release naturally. The lentils should be soft and easy to mash.
- Ghee is available at most supermarkets. Or you can make it at home. Check out the notes section of chickpea cookies recipe.
- Chana dal is available at Indian grocery stores, major American grocery stores or online. Buy fresh stock from stores with a quicker turnover.
- Nutrition facts are approximate and do not include any added salt.