There are probably as many versions of Tomato Dal or Dahl as there are Indian cooks. My version is as easy and quick as this popular and nourishing Indian dish can get, but it's also utterly delicious. Serve with rice or roti for a quick weeknight meal. Vegan, gluten-free, soy-free and nut-free recipe.
A tomato dal is one of those dishes that I throw together when I absolutely don't have time to fuss around in the kitchen but need a tasty and healthful meal on the table in minutes.
But I daresay I am not the only one. Most Indian cooks turn to this easy dal in a rush for many reasons, including:
- It's easy.
- It's healthy.
- It needs ingredients you almost certainly have on hand.
- It's delicious
This is also a luxurious dal, despite its simplicity, with a creamy mouth-feel and a rich depth contributed by the tomatoes, onions, ginger and a few powdered spices.
Tips for making the perfect Tomato Dal:
- Pigeon peas, lentils most commonly used in Indian dals, are traditional here, but you can also use pink lentils which are more widely available in supermarkets in the United States.
- Chop your onions fine and saute them until they are translucent and just starting to brown. That way they'll melt into the dal, which is exactly what you want.
- This is a tomato dal, so the tomatoes are not just another flavor ingredient here, they are the stars. Try and use perfectly ripe tomatoes for the best flavor, and use at least three tomatoes. Chop the tomatoes fine so they, too, like the onions, melt into the dal. You don't want big pieces of tomato floating in it.
- In most Indian dal recipes, you want the dal to break down to a level where it's creamy, and you practically cannot see the lentils or at least their shapes. While the whole lentil can look pretty in some kinds of dal, like this dhaba dal, Indian dals are meant to be creamy. We even have a special contraption to mush up the dal, but a whisk works just as well. To make a long story short, be sure to whisk your well-cooked and tender dal or give it a quick turn in a blender to make it creamy.
What to serve with the Tomato Dal?
All you need to serve it is a bowl of rice and an easy sabzi or vegetable side. My bhindi masala would be perfect here, or you could eat it with Aloo Gobi (or this sheet pan version of cauliflower and potatoes).
Looking for more Indian dal recipes?
- Spicy Urad Dal (Black Lentil Dal)
- Black Eyed Peas Dal with Cilantro and Mint
- One Pot Garlicky Spinach Dal
- Instant Pot Vegan Dal Makhani
- Dal Bukhara
- Vegan Coconut Dal (Low-Carb/Keto Recipe)
- 1 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas, dry)
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- A pinch asafetida (hing)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 sprig curry leaves
- 1 medium onion (diced)
- 1 tablespoon ginger (grated)
- 3 large tomatoes (diced)
- 1 tablespoon coriander powder
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon cayenne (or paprika for less heat)
- 1 tablespoon sambar powder
- 2 tablespoon cilantro
- Salt to taste
- Cook the dal, either in a pressure cooker for three whistles, or you can do this in a saucepan --use enough water to cover the lentils by two inches. Bring to a boil, cover, lower the heat to a simmer and continue cooking 20-40 minutes or until the dal is very tender. Add more water if needed to the pot. when the dal is cooked, whisk to make it creamy or give it a whirl in the blender. Set aside.(If you don't have a cooker that whistles, cook the lentils for 5 minutes after reaching full pressure or follow manufacturer instructions for your pressure cooker. You can also cook for 10 minutes in the Instant Pot.)
- Heat the oil in a saucepan.
- Add the asafetida and cumin seeds. When the cumin sputters, add the curry leaves and onion and saute on a medium flame until the onions turn translucent.
- Add the ginger and stir for a minute.
- Add the tomatoes along with the turmeric, cayenne or paprika, coriander powder and sambar powder and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes turn mushy and start breaking down.
- Add the cooked dal and salt to taste. Bring to a boil and then let it simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes until the flavors have merged. Add water if the dal gets too thick.
- Garnish with cilantro, if desired, and serve piping hot.