Sweet and Sour Tadka Daal

This recipe was first published in Ad Lib magazine. Subscribe here


After a number of weekends campaigning in elections; going to conferences and other cross country trips, I was exhausted and used my first free weekend to cook a traditional Indian meal. I started to make a dish I learned in Gujarat and realised I was out of key ingredients. After a bit of substitution I made this dish and it is now my favourite dish. If you can’t find some ingredients at a Supermarket, try an Asian grocery store: curry leaves, black mustard seeds and asafoetida are staples of Indian cuisine. 


  •  250g Red Split Lentils
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1.5 tbsp Tamarind sauce
  • 1.5 tbsp Sugar


For the tadka: 

  • 1 tbsp Sunflower Oil
  • 1 tsp Black mustard seeds
  • 6 Curry Leaves
  • 0.5 tsp Fenugreek seeds
  • 1 Onion
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 0.75 tsp Asafoetida
  • 5 cloves (optional)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
  • 1 tbsp Red Chilli Powder

 Serves: 3

1) Boil the lentils on medium heat. Add turmeric and coriander powder directly into the pot. Leave to cook for 30 minutes. 

2) When the lentils can be crushed between your fingertips it is done. If you prefer a thinner texture blend the lentil mixture and add a little bit of water. Put it back in the pot and take off the heat.

3) In a separate pan prepare the tadka (the flavour). Chop up the onion and leave to cook in the pan on medium heat. Add mustard seeds and curry leaves. Do not wash the curry leaves – the water mixed with oil is a fire hazard. Cover the pan for 3 minutes and allow the mustard seeds to pop.

4) Add the remainder of the seeds – cumin, fenugreek, cloves, cinnamon. Add asafoetida. Be careful – asafoetida is disgusting and stinks if you use too much so use it sparingly. Leave to cook on low to medium heat for 5 minutes

5) Add the tadka to the lentils and mix together. Add red chilli powder and salt

6) Add equal parts sugar and equal parts tamarind sauce. The daal should be sweet and sour with a kick of chilli. Play around with the sugar, tamarind and chilli powder until the taste has the perfect balance of three.


Serve either on its own as a soup or with basmati rice. This also goes very nicely with Bombay Aloo. 

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