A Staple at Our House: Dhal & Rice

Dahl with some tasty homemade Indian pickles.

It’s hard to believe that we have been writing this blog for almost two years and I have yet to post a dahl recipe.  After we introduced the requisite (disgusting) rice cereal and mashed vegetables to (baby) Ria, dahl has been a staple food for her from the get go.  It is the prefect baby food and you can spice it as you like to suit your family’s needs.

Dhal is a dish of pulses (dried lentils, peas or beans) and is an integral part of the cuisine in South Asia.  These pulses are cooked into a stew/soup and are usually served with other dishes and eaten with either Indian flatbreads and/or rice.  For the vegetarians in South Asia, dahl is a tremendous source of protein.

It never ceases to amaze me how much Ria loves this dish – she could eat it almost every day.  What is funny is that almost every other Indian child I know, including myself, growing up was not a fan of dhal.  We were forced to eat it for almost every meal and for many of us it was the bane of our existence.  I have finally overcome my dhal phobia (though there are still certain types, I don’t quite eat) and I am glad Ria does not give me the trouble I used to give my mother when served dhal for dinner.  In fact, Ria goes around telling people “dhal-chawal” (rice & lentils) is her favorite and most people just look at her quizzically because they either don’t know what it is and if they do, they are befuddled that it could be a child’s favorite.

The recipe below is my mother’s and applicable to almost any type of lentil you have.  The tempering of the spices and onions in the hot oil and ghee is the quintessential way of cooking a dhal and I love pouring the hot oil into the dhal and watching the “dramatic” sizzle.  This dish practically cooks itself (set it the lentils to cook with spices and walk away) and is very forgiving.  If I am out of onions for the tempering or feeling lazy (to chop an onion), I just leave them out.  The addition of fennel is not typical but an adjustment my mother has made, so if you don’t have it, you can omit it.  A good one for the slow cooker, but use just 3 cups of water if going the slow cooker route.  You can also add some vegetables (mixed vegetables, chopped spinach) towards the end of the the cooking time for the lentils and make a one pot complete meal.

Channa Dhal

Serves 2 adults and 2 kids


  • 1 cup channa dhal or yellow split peas
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tomato chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fennel powder
  • ½ teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon tumeric powder
  • ¼ teaspoon chilli powder (to taste or omit)
  • salt to taste (add after boiling)

For tempering:

  • 1-2 tablespoons ghee, olive oil, canola oil or a mixture (100% ghee is the best)
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 medium onion or 3 shallots, chopped


1.    In a saucepan add first 7 ingredients and bring to a boil.  Simmer covered for 45-50 minutes till yellow split peas are soft
2.    Mash about 1/3 of the yellow split peas using the back of a big spoon.  Season to taste
3.    Heat 2 tbsp oil in a heavy bottomed skillet and add diced onion and salt to taste
4.    Fry onions till light brown for about 7 – 9 minutes
5.    Add the cumin seeds and fry for another minute
6.    Add cumin and onion mixture to dhal and simmer for 5 minutes.  Check for seasoning and add salt if needed.

Not the best photo in the world but this is how Ria eats her dhal and rice – sometimes with spinach and other random (pinto beans in this case) leftovers mixed in.  It’s often a hodge-podge and rather unattractive, but she loves it.  The yoghurt helps to mellow out the spices.

10 thoughts on “A Staple at Our House: Dhal & Rice

  1. I’m going to try this. Everytime I go to Vik’s (Berkeley), I am tempted to get a huge bag of lentils, but the only trick up my sleave is classic dahl soup. I’m curious if Caleb & Sadie will take to the spices, but I will go light at first. Will let you know how it turns out.

  2. My kids for years would beg for my mother’s kicheree (not sure how to spell it) and tell everyone it was their favorite..not when I made it, mind you! They say it is because “Ba has a secret way with it”

  3. Thanks to you Simran I have started making dahl fairly regularly and am working on mastering it. Luca will sometimes eat a little bit of it, and I’m making sure to get the bambino started asap so this can be part of his repertoire. I’m going to keep on making it and hope my kiddies get into it eventually. Personally, I could happily eat this once a week, especially with some of those yummy Indian pickles! Our family is trying to eat vegetarian a few days a week and this is such a great one for the “go to” list.

  4. Pingback: Recipe Collection: Care Packages and Meals to Deliver to Friends « A Little Yumminess

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