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Curries are a playground for spices. Here the chana dhal provides a neutral backdrop to let them play and sing to mellow perfection. 






Skill level

Average: 3.9 (40 votes)

Tadka (tempering) is the process of roasting spices briefly to release their flavour into hot oil. It is poured into dhal just before serving to intensify flavour and create tantalising aromas.


  • 1½ cups (300 g/10½ oz) chana dhal or yellow split peas
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 6 cups (1.5 litres/52 fl oz) water
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 small red chillies, split lengthways
  • 400 g (14 oz) tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp sea salt flakes


  • ½ cup (125 ml/4 fl oz) vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp finely grated ginger
  • 2 small dried red chillies, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 10 curry leaves (optional)
  • 1 small handful coriander (cilantro), torn

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Rinse the chana dhal and put in a large pot with the whole onion, turmeric and water (if you prefer a thick dhal, use 5 cups (1.25 litres/44 fl oz of water). Bring to the boil over medium–high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the peas from lumping. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, skimming occasionally, for about 35 minutes or until the peas are tender and break up under pressure from the back of a spoon.

Remove from the heat and discard the onion. Beat the mixture with a wooden spoon. If you prefer a coarse texture, purée half the mixture in a blender or food processor and mix it with the rest of the of the mixture. Return the dhal to the pot with the cloves, cinnamon stick, chillies, tomatoes and salt. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring now and then to prevent sticking.

For the tadka, heat the oil in a small frying pan and when very hot add the cumin seeds. Fry the seeds for 10 seconds, or until they turn dark brown. Add the onions and fry for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. This is an important step. Browning the onions is what will give the dhal its magnificent aroma and flavour. First, the onions will steam, then they will gradually change to a deep caramel brown. Add the ginger, chillies, garlic and curry leaves, if using (but they do ‘make’ the dish), and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Divide the dhal between warm bowls, top with the tadka, and garnish with coriander and, if liked, extra curry leaves.


Recipe from The Good Carbs Cookbook by Alan Barclay, Philippa Sandall and Kate McGhie (Murdoch Books, pb, $39.99)