If you have ever taken a road trip in India and haven't eaten dal fry at one of the thatched-roof restaurants called dhabas by the roadside on a highway, your journey is incomplete. Travelers stop at these local food joints to stretch and relax, and enjoy the simple pleasures of dal-roti or dal-chawal.
Travelers unwind for a bit and settle on charpoys to enjoy simple freshly made dhaba food. Unleavened flat breads or rotis made on hot a tandoor are drenched in thick luscious yellow lentils (tur and yellow moong) and savored with tangy raw onions and some pickle or a piquant green chili. Some travelers choose to relish it with plain steam rice and crunchy papad. This is no food of royalty nor the usual ghar ki dal (dal made at home). It's somewhere in between both, bringing the richness of a double tadka (tempering) to no-frills boiled pulses.
I love creating the dhaba style tadka for my dals at home occasionally. This happens especially on days when nostalgia hits me hard, and I crave for that smoky ghee tempering on the already onion tempered dal! You can easily replace ghee with oil to make it completely vegan.
The face of dhabas has changed with time, transforming many of them, from typical dusty trucker joints to convenient clean restaurants. The modern dhabas continue to serve the traditional dal roti, dal chawal, parathas and lassi in addition to many other foods. This change is also a reflection of how food habits have changed with the growth of the Indian middle-class, the most popular customers of dhabas.
How can I recreate the dhaba style tadka at home?
Dhabas in their simplistic definition are restaurants. And, batch cooking is the norm. Lentils
are boiled in a big chunk and tossed over a hot sizzling masala of onions, ginger and garlic. When we order a bowl of dal fry at a dhaba, ladles of this dal are poured into the serving dish and a fresh tempering of dry red chilies and garlic is done on top. This is the key to recreate that magic at home - double tadka!
Tur dal is best for making dal fry. However, it's not slimy in texture when boiled. The dal fry at dhabas is thick, and that texture is achieve by adding yellow moong or red masoor to the tur dal.
Adding too much salt to pulses hinders their boiling process. Always add a small quantity of salt, and add more later when you temper the dal.
You needn't use any complicated spices in dal fry. Keep it simple. Dry red chilies, asafoetida and garlic with ghee or oil are sufficient to create the buttery spicy aroma of the dhaba style dal fry.
For boiling the dal: 5 parts tur dal (Pigeon Pea), 1 part yellow moong dal (Yellow Split Gram), 1 tsp sliced ginger, 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp red chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the first tadka (tempering): 1 tbsp neutral oil, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds,1 medium onion chopped, 1 tsp minced ginger, 1 tsp minced garlic, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp red chili powder, salt to taste
For the second tadka (tempering): 1 tsp ghee (or oil for vegan option), 3-4 garlic cloves sliced, 2-3 whole Kashmiri (or any other) red chili, 1/4 tsp asafoetida, a pinch of red chili powder, 1/2 tsp kasoori methi (optional)
Coriander leaves for garnishing
Boil the dal:
In a pressure cooker or instant pot, add the ingredients listed under boiling.
Cook the dal until soft and tender.
Do the first tempering:
Place a pan or wok on medium heat, and add 1 tbsp oil.
Once the oil is heated, add the cumin seeds and let them crackle.
Add the minced ginger and garlic and sauté for a bit.
Next add the onions, sauté for about a minute, and then add turmeric and red chili powder.
Continue sautéing the onions until light brown, and then add the boiled dal.
Add salt to taste, mix everything and let it simmer uncovered for about 2 minutes.
Pour the dal into the serving dish.
Do the second tempering:
Place a tadka pan (or use any smaller pan if you don't have a tadka pan) on medium to high heat, and add 1 tsp of ghee or oil for vegan option.
Add the garlic cloves, and after a few seconds, add the red whole Kashmiri chilies.
Add asafoetida and then add kasoori methi.
Let everything crackle and be sizzling hot.
Pour the tempering over the dal.
Garnish with coriander leaves.
Cut a few cucumbers, tomatoes and onions for the side salad! Enjoy the hot dal fry with rice or roti.
If you make this recipe and like it, please drop in your comments. You can also tag me on Instagram. I'd love to hear from you!