This Chana Dal recipe is simple, yet incredibly flavorful. Inspired by restaurants, it features layers of flavor, a scrumptious texture, and a signature tarka that takes it over the top. Tested to perfection!

Chana Dal in a bowl garnished with sliced green chili, julienned ginger and cilantro.

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Chana Dal

Chana Dal is inherently tasty. Unlike some dals that you have to bolster with flavor, Chana dal can stand on its own with a good tarka.

This recipe, specifically the tarka, is inspired by a local restaurant’s Chana Dal Fry. The owner shared that she boils the dal down with spices and salt, then finishes it off with a tarka of ginger, green chilis, and cilantro. That’s enough to make their dal one of my favorite takeout orders. Every time I open the container, a pleasant, almost floral scent escapes.

To make this dish even more flavorful, I make it with two tarkas – one to develop the base flavor of the dal, and another to elevate it with a restaurant-style finish.

More Dal/Daal Recipes: My go-to Masoor, Whole Masoor, Urad (Maash ki dal)

Chana Dal in a bowl garnished with sliced green chili, julienned ginger and cilantro with naan on the side.

Source and Characteristics

Chana dal, also called Split Chickpeas or Split Yellow Gram, is a type of lentil/legume.

Chana dal comes from Desi Chickpeas, known as Kala (black) Chana or Bengal Gram. To make Chana Dal, Desi Chickpeas are peeled and split into their natural halves.

Desi Chickpeas differ from the common garbanzo beans/chickpeas, called Kabuli Chana or Safed (white) Chana. They’re smaller, more firm, and have a dark, tough outer skin. Despite the difference, the term “Chana” is used to describe both Desi and Regular Chickpeas (e.g. Chana Pulao, Chana Masala).

Close up of Chana Dal topped with tarka in a pot with a wooden spoon.

Ingredients

Base Masala Ingredients

Here’s what you’ll need for the masala:

Chana Dal ingredients
  • Chana dal: Very easy to find at any Indo-Pak grocery store.
    • May Substitute with Yellow Split Peas commonly found in general grocery stores. Yellow Split Peas taste and look similar, though slightly smaller, but they come from peas, not chickpeas. They’re also not as tough, so you’ll need to shorten boil time. If overcooked, yellow split peas tend to disintegrate instead of holding shape like Chana dal.
  • Cumin seeds: May be added to the base masala, tarka, or both. Depending on if you want the flavor melded into the dal or textured and pronounced in the Tarka. Here I’ve kept it in the base for simplicity.
  • Onion, garlic, and ginger: I’ve gone low on aromatics to amplify the the flavor of the dal.
  • Ground Spices: The restaurant owner I spoke with only uses turmeric powder and red chili powder, both of which are dal essentials. I like to enhance it with a little coriander powder and cumin powder.
  • Puréed Vine or Roma tomato: Another tip I learned from the restaurant and promptly adhered to was to use puréed tomatoes. It gives a smoother masala with a tinge of red.

Tarka Ingredients

Ingredients for the final tempering/blooming of aromatics or spices, called tarka or baghaar:

Ingredients for tarka to make Chana Dal
  • Oil: You may be taken aback by the amount of oil in this recipe, but it’s an essential for restaurant-like Chana dal. Feel free to reduce to your preference for the tarka, but it may not give that signature look and flavor.
  • Butter or ghee: Adds extra depth & richness to the Tarka. Omit for vegan.
  • Serrano: According to my husband who grew up with roadside, dhaba-style dal, almost every bite should have flecks of green chili peppers. Native South Asian chilies are not as spicy. I’ve replaced with a still generous, yet subdued amount of Serrano.
  • Dried red chili peppers: Add flavor and beautify the dal. You can use any type of whole dried red chili pepper. Long dried chilies can be found at most grocery stores while Button/Dundicut chilies are only available at Indo-Pak grocery stores.
  • Julienned ginger: Another common characteristic of restaurant-style dal. I like to add to the tarka to slightly mellow out the sharp bite.
  • Cilantro/Coriander Leaves: Like ginger, cilantro is typically added as a garnish. To recreate the restaurant-style tarka, I’ve added it directly to the tarka to soften it while retaining its freshness.
  • Lemon juice: Brightens the dal up with its tart flavor.
  • Garam masala: For rounding out the flavors with an earthy finish.

How to make Chana Dal

Full instructions are in the recipe card, but here are some tips along the way:

Soak Dal

  • Chana Dal is sturdier than most dals and is best pre-soaked. If you don’t pre-soak, boil for longer to compensate.

Boil Dal

  • As I learned from my similar Instant Pot recipe, Chana dal cook times can vary. Draining boiled dal gives you greater control of the texture. You eliminate any risk of the dal getting mushy or pasty. It’s also key in making a restaurant or dhaba-style dal vs a homestyle one.

Instant Pot Boiling Instructions

To boil the Chana dal in an Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker:

  1. Add 1 cup rinsed, unsoaked Chana Dal, 4 cups water, and 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt to the Instant Pot.
  2. Secure the lid and set valve to Sealing. Select the Manual/Pressure Cook setting and set time to 19 minutes on High Pressure.

  3. Once dal is cooked, allow pressure to release for 5 minutes, then manually release any remaining pressure. Drain and proceed with the recipe.
  • Before it’s fully cooked, the dal will go from tough to chalky to al dente. It’s ready to drain when breaks easily, without resistance, when pressed between your fingers.

Make the Masala

For the initial tarka, or base masala:

  • First, brown the onions. Not too much because dhaba-style dals often have some texture of the onions.
Sautéeing onions and cumin seeds in oil in a dutch oven with a rubber spatual.
  • Next, sauté the garlic, ginger, and spices. Deglazing is key here, as it helps prevent the spices from sticking to the pan.
  • Pour in the tomato purée and continue to cook until the oil starts to separate from the masala.
  • Now, add the drained Chana dal and stir-fry it with the masala.
  • Pour in the measured water and bring the dal to a simmer. This helps the dal absorb the masala flavors. If you want a more soupy dal, add another 1/2-1 cup of water at this stage.
  • For a creamier consistency, use a wooden spoon to mash the dal along the edges. Proceed to the Tarka while the dal simmers, lid ajar so it doesn’t cook out the water too rapidly.

Tarka

  • Heat up the oil and butter. Add the green chili (adding it to hot oil takes the bite out of it) and whole red chili peppers, which will swell and release their oils.
  • Add the ginger and cilantro toward the end to enhance their aroma while preserving their freshness. Pour over the simmering dal.
  • Here you want to cook out any excess water. The final dal should, for better or for worse, reveal how much oil you used.
  • Lastly, turn off the heat and sprinkle in lemon juice and garam masala. Serve hot with roti, naan, or paratha.
Chana Dal with tarka on top in a pot with a wooden spoon.

How to serve Chana Dal

I love this dal with roti, paratha, or naan. If you keep it more soupy, it’s also great with basmati rice.

Kachumber Salad or fresh, crunchy vegetables such as sliced onions, carrots, or cucumbers are ideal alongside dal to add crunch and texture. I also love serving this dal with achaar.

Partially eaten bowl of Chana Dal garnished with sliced vegetables, sliced green chili, julienned ginger and cilantro with naan on the side.

Tarka Variations

  • Curry leaves – Often added to Dal Tadka for an herbal, earthy flavor. Add 4-6 small curry leaves to the tarka along with the green chili.
  • Color – Add 1/4-1/2 tsp ground Kashmiri chili powder or red chili pepper along with ginger and cilantro for a tinge of red in the tarka.
  • Finishing – Instead of adding garam masala, finish off with Chaat Masala for a more tangy finish or black pepper for a more pungent flavor.

More Dal Recipes You’ll Love

Chana Dal in a bowl garnished with sliced vegetables, sliced green chili, julienned ginger and cilantro with naan on the side.

Tried this recipe? If you have a minute, please consider leaving a comment telling me how it was! If you’re on Instagram, please tag me so I can see your creations. I truly love hearing from you. Thank you!

Chana Dal in a bowl garnished with sliced vegetables, sliced green chili, julienned ginger and cilantro with naan on the side.
5 (1 rating)

Chana Dal (Easy, Restaurant-Style)

This Chana Dal recipe is simple, yet incredibly flavorful. Inspired by restaurants, it features layers of flavor, a scrumptious texture, and a signature tarka that takes it over the top. Tested to perfection!

Watch the Video

Ingredients 

To Boil Chana Dal:

  • 1 cup (~190 g) Chana Dal (Split Desi Chickpeas), washed and rinsed several times, then soaked for at least 1 hour, up to 24 hours – Note 1
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt

For the Masala:

  • 2-3 tbsp neutral oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 small (~130 g) yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
  • 3/4 inch piece ginger, finely chopped or crushed
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder or cayenne, sub Kashmiri chili powder for low heat
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 ripe (~150 g) vine or Roma tomato, puréed in a food processor
  • 1 cup water

For the Tarka:

  • 4 tbsp neutral oil
  • 2 tbsp salted butter or ghee, or a blend of both
  • 2 small Serrano green chili peppers, thinly sliced diagonally
  • 5 whole dried red chili peppers, such as button chili peppers (dundicut)
  • 2 tbsp julienned ginger
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, leaves and thin stems, finely chopped
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala

Instructions 

Boil Chana Dal:

  • Fill a medium pot halfway with water (~8-9 cups) and cover to bring to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, drain the chana dal and add to the boiling water along with the salt. Allow to come to a boil again, using a slotted spoon to remove any scum that rises to the surface. Cover with the lid ajar to prevent it from overflowing. Reduce the heat to medium and boil for 35 minutes, or until the dal is cooked fully but holds shape (it should break easily, without resistance, when pressed between your fingers). Drain and set aside.

Prepare Masala:

  • Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the cumin seeds (they’ll immediately start to sizzle) and onions. Sauté, stirring often, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with 2 tbsp of water.
  • Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another 2 minutes, until aromatic. The onions will have deepened in color. Deglaze again if it starts to stick to the pan.
  • Reduce the heat to low, add the ground spice powders (coriander, red chili, turmeric, cumin), and salt. Stir for 1 minute to bloom the spices.
  • Add the puréed tomato and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook for 3 minutes, until the tomatoes have reduced and the oil starts to release. Add the drained chana dal and stir-fry it with the masala for a minute. Pour in the measured water and bring the dal to a simmer.
  • Reduce the heat to medium. Allow the dal to simmer, covered with the lid ajar, for 8-10 minutes to develop flavor. For a creamier texture, use a wooden spoon to mash the dal along the edges. Reduce the heat to low so that it gently simmers while you prepare the Tarka.

Prepare Tarka:

  • Heat oil and butter/ghee in a small frying pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the green chili peppers and dried chili peppers and sizzle for 15 seconds. Do not allow them to darken. Sprinkle in the ginger and cilantro and allow the leaves to wilt slightly. Pour this tarka all over the simmering dal. Continue to simmer on low heat for 2 minutes, until no longer watery but still moist. The oil rise to the surface.
  • Turn off the heat and sprinkle in lemon juice and garam masala. Serve hot with roti, naan, paratha, or rice.

Notes

Note 1: May Substitute with Yellow Split Peas commonly found in general grocery stores. Yellow Split Peas taste and look similar, though slightly smaller, but they come from peas, not chickpeas. They’re also not as tough, so you’ll need to shorten boil time. If overcooked, yellow split peas tend to disintegrate while Chana Dal retains its shape.
Note 2: To make this dal soupier (more homestyle), add an extra 1/2-1 cup of water in Step 4 of Preparing the Masala. Also mash it down more with a wooden spoon to make it creamier.
Note for Instant Pot: See post for how to boil the Chana Dal in the Instant Pot.
Calories: 412kcal, Carbohydrates: 34g, Protein: 8g, Fat: 29g, Saturated Fat: 6g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g, Monounsaturated Fat: 16g, Trans Fat: 0.2g, Cholesterol: 15mg, Sodium: 2383mg, Potassium: 146mg, Fiber: 12g, Sugar: 3g, Vitamin A: 648IU, Vitamin C: 7mg, Calcium: 107mg, Iron: 3mg