Dal Fry – An Authentic South Asian Dish That Will Warm Your Heart And Your Tummy

Dal Fry
Image credits: Kelcie Papp via Unsplash

Few things are as good as a nice comforting meal. Comfort food comes in all forms and shapes. When thinking about traditional and authentic Indian-style cuisine, few things describe it better than aromatic flavors, color and heat. Indus comfort food like dal fry also has dal (lentils as the main ingredient).

If you’re interested in learning how to make this delicious, comfort food for the whole family then read more about this tasty meal. 

What Is Dal Fry? 

“Dal” is a word for lentils, and the term is used throughout the various Indus dialects. Dal is loaded with protein and iron, a tremendous boost, especially on a vegetarian or vegan diet. The dal fry is thus vegan-friendly and great for the main meal served with roti. 

  • Where is it from? – It’s said that dal fry originally has roots from Punjab and Gujarat. Essentially, the dal fry recipe comes from northern India.  
  • There’s no frying involved – Even though the name suggests “frying” there is, in fact, no frying in dal fry. This is excellent if you’re health-conscious and want to reduce the number of fried foods you eat.
  • Dal incorporates lots of good ingredients – You can quickly adapt and change authentic dal fry recipe suggestions to suit your dietary needs. For the most part, dal fry is made from yellow lentils as the main ingredient, mustard seeds, onion, tomato, spices, cumin, chilli powder and oil. 

Traditionally, dal fry is also served with rotis, naan bread, pulao or rice.  

Types of lentils or dal used to make dal fry includes whole or split lentils. Either of those types should work well in the dal fry recipe

Benefits Of Eating Dal Fry

As we’ve mentioned,dal fry is very beneficial because it contains healthy minerals, vitamins and protein. Some of the health benefits may include promoting blood circulation, lowering the risk of developing diabetes as a result of its ability to lower blood sugar levels. Dal also contains calcium and promotes bone health. 

Lentils or dal is also great because it is high in: 

  • Fibre which is important for staying regular and digestion 
  • Low in calories and beneficial for weight loss
  • Vegan-friendly and a high source of protein
  • Quick and easy to cook
  • Tastes great
  • It’s a filling, healthy meal
  • You can pair lentils with many other ingredients

Now For The Easy Dal Fry Recipe

You can achieve a restaurant style dal fry recipe packed with the goodness of your favorite lentils. Eleven though the dal is easy to make, it is still of great quality as you would find in your favorite restaurant. 

What you need:

  • 1 medium onion (chopped)
  • 1 tomato (chopped)
  • Green chillies (medium heat)
  • Curry leaves 
  • 1 pinch hing (asafoetida) 
  • Kasuri methi 
  • Coriander leaves 

In addition to the above ingredients, making the best dal fry calls for some of the most enjoyed and commonly used seasoning in India. For additional seasoning you need some black pepper, mustard seeds, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, garam masala, lemon juice, oil or clarified butter and salt.


  • Thoroughly rinse the lentils 
  • Put the rinsed lentils with a pinch of turmeric into a pressure cooker
  • Set the pressure cooker for 10 minutes and allow it to cook 
  • After the lentils are soft and mushy, give them a mash with a fork or use a potato masher or wired whisk
  • The consistency of the lentils should be smooth and mushy 
  • Next, saute the onion in a pan over medium heated oil
  • Add the mustard seeds and once they crackle, you know it’s ready for the next step
  • Add the cumin seeds 
  • Now add chopped onions about ⅓ cup 
  • Now with the seeds and onions in, saute the onion until it becomes soft and translucent. Lightly browned onion is also fine
  • Nex, add the 1.5 teaspoons of garlic and ginger paste (you can use fresh ginger and garlic) 
  • Allow the garlic and ginger to saute along with the onions and mustard seeds until the raw aroma of the garlic and ginger has softened
  • Add the curry leaves and chillies and mix into the mixture 
  • Let this mixture simmer on low heat
  • Add the powdered spices including hing (if you have) and turmeric
  • Smoked paprika is also perfect for that smokey taste 
  • Add the finely chopped tomatoes
  • Continue to saute until the tomatoes is soft and mixture looks pulpy
  • Next, add more chilli powder and the paprika to smoke it in the flavors
  • Add a pinch of hing, but if you don’t have hing, you can skip
  • Go in with finely chopped tomato (½ cup)
  • The mixture should start to look pulpy and thicken with  the tomato added
  • Allow it to simmer until the onion and tomato looks cooked

Incorporate the dal 

  • For the next step after sauteing the spices, onion and tomato, add the dal. 
  • Mix everything together 
  • Add water as needed but keeping the consistency of the dal 
  • Add salt to taste 
  • Allow the mixture to simmer for 5 minutes or a bit more. Stir to avoid the dal from sticking to the base of the pan
  • Next, add some crushed kasoori methi 
  • Add garam masala (use a teaspoon if it is strong)
  • Allow the mixture to simmer and stir 
  • Turn off the stove’s heat and add some coriander leaves and one teaspoon of lemon juice 
  • Stir again, blending in those flavors

Cooking Dal Fry Without A Pressure Cooker Or Instant Pot

A lot of meals are done much faster with little to no fuss about having to look after a pot on the stove. It makes sense why so many kitchens are using pressure cookers or instant pots for cooking up their family’s favorite meals. 

You can cook dal fry without an instant pot or pressure cooker by using the stovetop and a regular pot or cooking device with a lid. Since the dal will cook for a few minutes, it has to be covered. 

  • On the stovetop, heat the pot on medium heat
  • Next, add the oil or ghee (whichever you prefer using)
  • Add your pre-soaked lentils to it
  • Mix the lentils in the pot, covering it with the oil
  • Next, add the water and allow the dal to cook for about 25 minutes, simmering in the heat
  • You should stir the dal while it cooks so that it doesn’t stick to the pot. As it becomes softer, it has the tendency to stick to the pot base
  • Don’t add salt at this time while it cooks on its own, as this could harden the dal and reduce the softening process

If you are using a gas stovetop, put the setting on medium because you don’t want it to cook too rapidly either. Also, if the heat is too high, it risks the dal not going soft. Soak the lentils before you cook them, and this will speed up the cooking time and get it to become really mushy as you would have for dal dishes like dal fry

Dal Fry or Dal Tadka – What’s Different? 

It’s easy to confuse the two dishes because their names are so similar to each other. Still, the process in which these two distinct recipes are made differ as well. 

  • Dal fry – For dal fry, the recipe calls for cooking the dal separately before adding it to simmer briefly with spices like hing and turmeric. 
  • Dal tadka – For the tadka version of dal, the lentils are cooked soft and tempering is later added to the dal without cooking it further. 

Both dishes are served with garnish, roti, naan or steamed rice. 

Once you know how to make dal fry, we’re pretty sure you’ll be able to make it by heart not too long after. The ingredients are minimal and the taste is just too good to pass. 

Quickfire Tips For Making dal Fry 

Tip #1 – Hing is sometimes very pungent and since this is the case, when using stronger hing, rather use a pinch. You want the other flavors to come through the dish without it being masked completely by the asafoetida. 

Tip #2 – Using coriander leaves lifts the flavor of the dal fry,creating fresh dimensions which brings about a nice balance in the dish. 

Tip #3 – The restaurant style dal fry has a key ingredient that creates nutty aromas and flavors. Using kasuri methi is a key ingredient for an elegant upmarket restaurant flair to the homemade dish. 

Tip #4 – Too much spice can spoil the dal’s original flavor. Dal fry is a mildly heated dish and this helps to encapsulate the other flavors especially the dal’s natural flavor.

Tip #5 – When making lentils, soak it a bit before cooking it. Soaking is, especially beneficial for whole lentils because it’s slightly harder than the split type. Soaking time can be overnight or for an hour or two.

Tip #6 – Add the freshness of lemon citrus as this will lift the flavors even more, adding some tang. Use about one teaspoon. 

Possible reasons causing your dal not to soften?

Sometimes when cooking dal, there’s a possibility of the lentils not cooking soft. Lentils don’t take long to cook if they are prepared properly. When preparing your lentils for your dal fry, take note of the following: 

  • Don’t add salt at the beginning of the boiling session. Salt tends to make the outer layer become tough making it less prone to softening. This happens with most legumes. 
  • Soak your dal beforehand, as this will help to speed up the process. 
  • Insufficient water in the cooker while cooking the dal and this slows down the time to cook the dal through and it may cook unevenly too. 
  • If you’re using a pressure cooker, the machine might be leaking steam and thus not distributing enough heat throughout the dal. 
  • The dal might not be fresh. When cooking old dal, this could also result in the lentils not being able to cook soft. 


How can I rectify dal that is fried too much?

In terms of softness, the dal should be very soft creating an almost mushy texture. When you fry it, it shouldn’t matter unless it burns to the pan. Soft dal is fine to work with when making your dal fry.

Which dal should I use to cook dal fry?

Most people prefer using pigeon pea lentils or masoor and some prefer using a 50% mix of both.

What goes well with dal fry?

You can enjoy your dal fry over rice, with roti or with naan bread. You can even have it as is without the extra starch.

How many calories are there in dal fry?

The estimated calories in dal fry is 245kcal. Hence it is low in calories and excellent if you’re looking to manage your weight. Dal fry meals are healthy and contain lots of fiber too.

Conclusion To Dal Fry As a Healthy Dish  

There’s no doubt that dal fry is a beneficial meal and following the best dal fry recipe will demonstrate just how good and healthy this meal is. Another good thing about making dal fry is that you can tweak it to your taste preference and you can also have it as a main meal, or as a starter, depending on the quantity you’re having in the dish. 

Have you made dal fry before? If so, share your experience with us. If this is your first time making this delicious Indus recipe, then let us know how you managed.