A simple but delicious and spicy urad dal or black lentil dahl is the perfect dish to spice up a weeknight or weekend dinner. Serve with basmati rice and a simple vegetable stir-fry for a nutritious meal that may lead to everyone licking their plates!
In India's multifarious regional cuisines, each ingredient chosen plays an important and intricate role in creating the complexity of any given dish.
Take dal, for instance. There are a thousand and more ways to make a dal, and the diversity of flavor in each dal recipe begins, at the most basic level, with the lentil used.
Most Indian cooks have a half a dozen or so lentils in their pantry, give or take a couple, each with a distinct flavor and texture. But the legumes you'll find featured most commonly in dal recipes (apart from beans) are chana dal (Bengal gram dal), tuvar dal (pigeon peas or yellow split peas), masoor dal (pink lentils), urad dal (black lentils) and moong dal (green gram dal).
While it would be safe to say that Indians everywhere incorporate a variety of lentils into their food, it is also true that certain regions show stronger preferences for certain lentils. For instance:
- In Maharashtra, the state where I grew up, we'd usually make our dals with tuvar dal.
- Bengalis tend to use chana dal more frequently, in recipes like the delicious Cholar Dal.
- Tamilians use moong dal, masoor dal and tuvar dal to vary the flavors and textures in the family of south Indian dals called sambars and kootus, and urad dal in idli and dosa.
- North Indians tend to use urad dal to make Dal Makhani and Maa ki Dal.
The reason specific lentils are used in specific dals is because the lentil you use makes all the difference to the flavor and texture of the dal. So you can't just swap out your tuvar dal in a sambar for urad dal and expect to get a sambar. Or you can't replace the urad in a dal makhani with tuvar and expect a dal makhani. You get my drift?
That said, each dal recipe, no matter what it's called, has some common denominators: most start with boiling the lentils to tenderness (I do this in a pressure cooker although sometimes on the stovetop or in the microwave), and almost any dal incorporates a tempering, or tadka, the process of heating oil and adding a few spices to it, like mustard or cumin seeds or garlic or curry leaves. The flavors from these seeds and herbs seep into the oil and the tempered oil gives the dal its crowning dash of flavor.
For the Spicy Urad Dal or Black Lentil Dal recipe I am sharing with you today I, obviously, used urad dal (also called vigna mungo). This is a lentil with a mildly bitter flavor and a slightly slippery texture that tends to cook up thick -- a quality that makes it a great binding agent in dishes like idlis and dosas.
Think of this urad dal recipe almost as a quickie version of a vegan dal makhani, but just as tasty. The urad dal is combined with herbs and spices like ginger, garlic, cayenne or paprika, and you smooth out all the flavors at the end with a dollop of vegan butter.
I like blending half of the cooked dal before I add it to the pot, because it makes the dal really creamy, which I love. You can skip this step, but why would you?
Ingredients for the dal:
- Urad dal or black lentils
- Cayenne or paprika
- Vegetable oil
- Kasoori methi (dry fenugreek leaves), optional
Tips for making the urad dal recipe
- Urad dal is sold in different forms in Indian stores or online. You have the split white lentil that's most commonly available and used, and this works fine in this recipe. You have urad gota, which is the whole, round lentil, not split, that makes a good substitute. You also have the split lentil with the black skin still on (urad dal chilka), which is the kind I used here. And you have the whole, unsplit lentil with the black skin on. Confused? Yep, but I'll make it simple for you: you can use any of these in this dal recipe and you'll get the same result. Split lentils will cook faster, so if you haven't already bought your lentils, try and buy these. I like using the ones with their skins on.
- Cook the lentils until they are very tender. The best way to do this is in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot, and these will save you some time. But if you don't have either, add all the ingredients in step 1 to a pot, cover the lentils with at least an inch of water, bring to a boil, turn the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for at least 20-30 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Then proceed with the rest of the recipe.
- I add a soupçon of sugar to this recipe, which is a common enough technique when making Indian recipes, because we Indian cooks like to balance out flavors. There's spicy, tangy, salty and bitter (from the dal and kasoori methi) in this recipe, and a teaspoon of sugar adds depth and rounds out the flavors nicely, so use it unless you absolutely will not use sugar.
I serve this dal usually with brown rice (white rice works just as well) and with a simple stir-fry recipe or sabzi.
You can also serve it with roti or vegan naan for an even more special and fabulous meal.
More vegan dal recipes
- South Indian Cabbage Dal
- One-Pot Garlicky Spinach Dal
- Dhabay ki Daal
- Instant Pot Masoor Dal, Red Lentil Dahl
Love this Spicy Urad Dal? Check out more Indian Vegan Recipes on Holy Cow Vegan!
Spicy Urad Dal
- Instant Pot (or pressure cooker, optional)
- Saute pan (or saucepan)
- 1 cup urad dal (black lentil dal)
- 1 inch ginger root (grated)
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon cayenne (or paprika for less heat)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 10 cloves garlic (minced or grated)
- 3 medium tomatoes (pureed. Canned puree is fine too, use 1 cup)
- 1 to 2 teaspoon garam masala
- 2 tablespoon vegan butter
- 1 tablespoon kasoori methi (optional)
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional, but adds a bit more depth. You won't taste the sugar)
- 2 tablespoon cilantro (chopped)
- Salt to taste
- Cook or pressure-cook the dal along with the ginger, cayenne or paprika and turmeric until tender and mushy. If you want a creamy dal, blend half the cooked dal into a smooth puree and add back to the remaining dal.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan
- Add the garlic and stir quickly for about a minute. Add the tomatoes and cook until the puree darkens, about five minutes.
- Add the cooked urad dal, garam masala powder (use more or less based on your preference and the brand you have) and the kasoori methi (crush it between your fingers as you add it to the pot). Stir to mix.
- Add water or vegetable stock if the dal is too thick. Bring the dal to a boil and simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.
- Add salt to taste. Stir in the vegan butter and add chopped coriander leaves. Turn off the heat.
- Serve hot with rice or rotis.
Vaishali, Thank you sooooo much for such an easy AWESOME recipe. Made this morning and it turned out great. I followed suggestions on adding 1 tsp cumin (I wanted to punch up the flavor just a bit) and next time I think I will put 1 tsp garam masala instead of 2 tsp (each to her own, ha! ha!) I used moong dal because that's what I had and it still was GREAT!! I used 1 cup dried moong dal, 2 tsp oil, and 1 tsp salt, and 4 cups water in my InstaPot. (Added the other ingredients that you said to add to the pot as well). The dal absorbed most/all of the water so no need to drain and my dal was already creamy so no need to blend. I cooked on High for 10 minutes, then natural release for 10 minutes, then quick release. Perfection! 🙂 Again, thank you and keep the awesome recipes coming!!!!!
My absolute favorite dal!
I have made a similar recipe in the past which was tasteless. This recipe is restaurant quality and quick to make. I omitted the butter as it didn’t require it. Blending 1/2 the urad after cooking makes it nice and creamy. I soaked the urad overnight then cooked in Instapot for 20 minutes. I think this way the flavours were picked up into the lentils
I’ve made this quite a few times now and every time it works well and is delicious. I love the flavours. It’s easy to cook. I don’t have fresh kasoori methi so I’ve been using 1/2 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds (I add them early) . I’m sure it would be so much better with fresh leaves but it still works.
Hi Vaishali. Today was the second time I made this dish using your recipe. I had vegetable broth left from my first time and used it today.
I don't like to use a pressure cooker as a few years ago I burned my skin because I did not know how to operate it. I like to use stove-top cooking. Yes takes longer but the food is simmered slowly and I think it tastes better.
The taste and texture were excellent. Everyone in my family liked it and wanted to have seconds. Thank you for an excellent recipe. We love it!!!
Hi, so happy you enjoyed the recipe. Totally fine not to use a pressure cooker, although Instant Pots have made pressure cooking much easier now. 🙂
How long would you cook it in the instant pot?
Hi Agata, 10 minutes of pressure cooking!
This dal is delicious. I ended up cooking it quite a long time, at least an hour, and it just got better and better. I had to double the spices to get the right flavour, but loved the trick with the sugar. This is going to be one of our favourite Indian recipes.
Inge, that's awesome to hear!
Hi! This recipe looks great. Thank you! How long do you recommend cooking the lentils in the pressure cooker?
Hi Nicole, as pressure cookers vary so widely I can't give you an exact time, but you can look at manufacturer instructions. In an Indian style pressure cooker that has a "whistle" or "pressure regulator" I'd cook it for three whistles. In one where it starts to hiss loudly after reaching pressure I'd prob give 10 minutes. In an Instant Pot cook at high pressure for 10 minutes. But best course would be to look at the manufacturer booklet and see what they recommend for your specific cooker.
Dish looks great but I live in Split, Croatia and would like to know how and where to buy mungo dal, toor dal, urad dal? Hope to receive your kg nd reply, with kindedt regards, Marij
Hi Marija, I don't know much about Croatia, but if you have an Indian community nearby you will likely have a grocery store where you can source these ingredients. They are also easily available online in many countries, although I am not sure about Croatia. Sorry I can't be much help, but if another reader has a better answer we'd love to hear.
Made this tonight and absolutely loved it! Added in a tsp of ground coriander and ground cumin plus a handful of chopped tomatoes with the puree. Really good recipe. I could only get whole urad lentils so soaked overnight and they took an hour to cook but seriously worth the effort. Great flavours - thank you!
Thanks for this recipe. I had a few challenges and wanted your opinion. Firstly - I used whole urud dahl with the skins removed (white whole) which I cooked in the pressure cooker. I think they overcooked so when I blended it just became like a thick soup consistency. Should the Dahl have some granularity to it still?
Also the colour came out yellow and not this creamy brown colour - is that because I didn't use the Dahl with the skin on? Or is it to do with the tomatoes or spices?
Dave Big Chief
I think "canned puree" might mean different things in each country. I think it is a cup of sieved tomatoes. Puree is double concentrated in the UK so it would be 1/4 cup with 2/3 cup water...
Other than that -- the recipe is pretty spot on. Maybe consider 1 tsp each of cumin and coriander powder... also depending on the garam masala I would consider 1 tsp max, if it is pretty fresh and good quality.
This is excellent. I followed the recipe exactly and it turned out better than what I've had at any restaurant. Thank You!
I've made this about four times so far and I love it! Really beautiful depth of flavor, most of which comes from the lentil cooking process, and it's super easy. I puree about half the lentils and it gives it a great texture. I have urad gota (the unsplit), so I have to soak my lentils for 2-4 hours; I've found that if I don't soak beforehand, the lentils will be a little al dente no matter how long I cook them.
For those of you asking how much water to use: the instructions given here are correct, you don't need an exact measurement, they just need to be covered with an inch or two of water. To control the amount of liquid in the dish, I just reserve the cooking water and use that to thin the dish before I move on to thinning with water or stock
Hi there Liv,
My urad dhal is white and have an electric cooker. In her recipe she just says to cook it on her pressure cooker.,.surely I need to rinse it a few times before soaking for at least 30mins..?
I have saved this recipe for ages. Finally got all the ingredients and am doing it for tonight. Do I need to soak the rad. I ended up with unsplit beans. Thanks !
I love the many flavours of this beautiful dal. Thank you for the delicious recipe!
Hi Vaishali! Thank you for the recipe. I want to try it. Do you need to soak the urad Dal before putting it in the pressure cooker?
Thank you for the recipe! The dal are in the instant pot currently. I’m using dried kasoori methi for the first time. I see about half fine stems and half leaves. Should I try to pick some of the stems out or leave? Do you ever grind the kasoori methi? Thank you, I love your site!
You don't have to grid it in a blender, just crush between your fingers! The stems are fine so long as they aren't woody. Hope you enjoy the dal! 🙂
How long to pressure Cook?
I would like to cook this dish, but can you tell how much water for one 1 cup of lentils and how long you cook in pressure cooker and if you have to settings , should I use the low or high. Thanks in advance.
Dave Big Chief
I cook this regularly and use 1 cup of black dahl with 3 cups water and cooks for 40 mins on high, unsoaked with slow release... then stir to get really creamy. You could probably do it in 25 mins, if you want the lentils to have more of a bite.
I love it !
Thank you for sharing
So happy you liked it! 🙂
I also would like to know how much water for one 1 cup of lentils and how long you cook in pressure cooker. If so, what settings? Low or high? Can I use honey or stevia or maple syrup instead of sugar.
Also, do I soak them first and for how long if so.
Thanks in advance.
How long do you usually soak your urad dal?
I don't soak it if I am pressure cooking. But for quicker cooking you can soak overnight.
How do you 'cook' a dal? I've never cooked it before! And I am wanting to try this recipe! Thanks!
You boil it on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker or IP until it's tender.
Amazing! Thank you so much for sharing and being so awesome!
I made this and it was absolutely delicious. The Dahl has a lovely buttery texture and wonderfully flavoured. I will definitely be making again. My partner is from Gujarat and highly praised this Dahl.
I would buy a book all about dals with the whys and why nots and with accessible ingredients. I would also love a book or section about spices - which to use when; what ratios are best; when making a quick dal, are there different spice sets that could be chose for dominant flavors. A book of recipes does not give the reader the information to make their own choices so your added information is appreciated. I cook without oil so was glad to see the quiche crust and it is cooling now.
Really nice recipe. Tastes like the wedding day but without the ghee and cream. I used cold pressed corn oil as it's got a buttery feel.
I would love to know your crockpot method! Do you do the tomatoes on the side and stir them in at some point?
This is my favorite dal recipe....I make it all the time...really spicy for me not too spicy for everyone else. I'm not Indian but I love cooking the food. I make this in a crock pot sometimes and it comes out like a rich delicious chili. The ghee at the end is really the crowning touch that makes this fabulous.
My comment below was meant as a reply, oops
Raja, that is one incredible meal. Love the seasoned rice. And some lime juice at the end sounds great. Thanks for your feedback.
I tried the recipe yesterday and loved it! Thank you for posting it, I will certainly add it to my repertoire!
I combined it with seasoned rice (first fried ground Cardamon, Black Cardamon & Turmeric, then added the Basmati,salt and, a couple of minuntes later, the rice) and Bhindi Masala. Again, my wife and I loved it.
Since I am not vegan, I used ordinary butter. Also, I used the Urad Dal I had - which was the white, peeled variety. Finally, I held off somewhat on the garlic and used 4 instead of 10 cloves (to keep the Pitta under control).
Next time I might add some lime juice, too, to add a little freshness, but in sum: a great recipe!
I know I commented with questions earlier but I couldn't wait for a response and I went with it! I soaked my dal first (dry 1 cup) and then I drained them and added the dal and 2.5 cups to my pressure cooker. Once the dal and the other goodies (plus a green chili) were up to pressure I cooked them for 10 minutes and then let the pressure release naturally. It turned out perfect! I also added a pinch of hing and a few cumin seeds to the hot oil before sauteeing the garlic. I ate this with a side of tomatoey southern greens and some leftover brown rice.
How much water do you use when you cook the urad dal in your pressure cooker? And do you soak the dal first?
I tried it and it has come out so delicious . I mmake it once a week ..
Came by your site via Nupur's -- and I am glad to do so! Spicy urad dal looks delicious 🙂
Vaishali- I tried your spicy urad dal last night and we enjoyed it very much! The texture is definitely different from what we are used to- I liked it.
I'm glad urad dal is now part of my pantry 🙂
This dish is new to me..Looks delicious.
Always short of recipes with urad dal.Lovely dal.hearty and delicious
that looks yum! i never buy the black urad daal. will give it a try. it should be more nutritious.
Nice curry.. looks really healthy. 🙂
Urad dal is just for tadkas and idli batter in my kitchen...but this dal sounds super yumm.
This is a family favourite and you are right ... the skin does give it a different flavour. Lovely with hot rotis. 🙂
This dhal has been on my to do list for the longest time now, your perfect dal makes me want to make it soon !
Never tried curry with urad dal, healthy curry !
Never made with urad dal but the curry looks so tempting!
Mints, thanks. I can imagine it would be delicious with onion and kokum. Will look forward to seeing your recipe when you get around to posting it.
Superchef, Parita: Thanks, ladies.
Nupur, Thanks. I used the split urad dal with the black skin on, which I found at the Indian grocery store here. I think the skin adds a bit more earthiness to the flavor. Hope you will try and like it 🙂
That dal looks rich and inviting!
Let me get this straight though- is this whole urad (with the black skin on) or is it the white urad dal, meaning split urad with the skin removed?
I'd love to try your recipe but I want to be sure I'm using the right thing.
I dont usually cook much with urad dal, looking at this dal i must start using it, looks delicious!!
not really a fan of urad dal..but anything spicy, i like it!!
This daal is my husband's specialty. He makes it with onion and kokum. I have been meaning to post it for so long ... someday 🙂
But I will definitely make this one soon. I like to slurp daals just like that. This will be perfect for that.
I felt it needed salt so I added. We'll see how it tastes tomorrow. I used the black urad Dal. Used coconut sugar.
You do need salt. Add in according to your taste.
Hi why does this happen every time. I cook the whole black urid dhall and I always get hard stones left ie whole pieces left.
What I do is wash in cold water put in pressure cooker to cook slow for 45 minutes?