Plain Dhal, as referred by South African Indian’s, is a Simple, Nutritious and an Old-School Lentil Dish. Also referred to as Tarka/ Tadka Dhal, it is very popular among the Indian Communities worldwide.

I often get asked, WHAT WAS THE 1ST PROPER MEAL YOU LEARNT TO COOK?  And my answer, is PLAIN DHAL.  Now this is apart from the regular breakfast fry ups and sandwich making, a Cooked meal from scratch that many ensure is in their recipe archive.  I had learnt this from watching my grans, mum and aunts.  Then one day, it was my elder sister and my turn to give it a try, all under close supervision from our beloved late mum.  My eldest sister was 13 years and I, 11years.  

Plain Dhal is a staple in many a South African Indian Home.  It is SUPER EASY to prepare, with simple ingredients and spices.  The economical factor that makes up this wholesome meal, makes it so popular, that one can have a batch made up and even stored in the freezer, for busy days.  In South Africa, we commonly use Yellow Split-Peas to make up Plain dhal, which can be found in the lentil aisles of leading supermarkets or at any Indian Spice stores. 

Plain Dhal is basically Split peas that are boiled until Mushy, and topped with a TEMPERING.  This tempering is what is referred to as TARKA/TADKA in the Indian Subcontinent.  The Tarka is made up of quickly frying onions, and whole spices which is then topped onto the Plain Dhal to finish off.  It is from this Tempering stage that the entire Plain Dhal gets it’s uniquely delicious Flavour. 

Personally, I prefer my plain dhal without any whole and mushy lentils, so I opt to blitz it until a smooth consistency is achieved.  This dish can me enjoyed with rice or breads, together with a side of fried spiced potatoes, masala fried fish or any other protein your family enjoys.  Pair it with a simple carrot salad, or atchaars (pickles) like lime or carrot/mango, and this simple meal is fit for a king. 

There are a few tricks I learnt along the way, and then Instant Pot came to the rescue.  I will share the old conventional way to make this on the stove top, as well as how I make this plain dhal, using the instant pot.


Let’s Get Cooking lovelies

Love Marriam

Plain Dhal AKA Tarka/Tadka Dhal

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Also called Dholl (In South Africa), spelt either as Dhal/dal/daal.

AUTHOR Foodeva Marsay (@foodeva_marsay)


2 Cups Yellow Split Peas (Or 500 gram packet)

1 onion, sliced

1 tomato, chopped

1/2 teaspoon Turmeric Powder

1/2 teaspoon Chilli Powder

2 teaspoon Salt (or to taste)

1/4 teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda

Whole Green Chillies (according to preference) 

Pinch of Hing (asafetida) – optional

2-3 tablespoon of Fresh chopped Coriander leaves to garnish 


1/4 cup Vegetable oil

1-2 tablespoon ghee/butter

1 small onion 

1 teaspoon Whole Cumin Seeds

1/2 teaspoon Whole Mustard Seeds

2 garlic cloves thinly sliced/chopped/crushed

1-2 sprigs curry leaves

Red or Green chillies (optional)


~ Clean, Rinse and Soak the Yellow split peas in Hot or Boiling water for an hour or more.

~ Add the Soaked Yellow Spilt Peas, topped with fresh boiling water, to a large enough, deep pot, and bring to a boil on the stove top,

~ Add in the bicarbonate of soda, stir and let boil.

~ During the 1st boil or 2, Skim away the Frothy foam from boiling dhal.

~ Pour in about 1 and 1/2 – 2 litres of boiled water. Now add in the sliced onions, tumeric, chilli powder, tomato, salt.  Mix through and let the Yellow spilt peas boil on medium heat, and until soft and mushy.

~ Take care as the boiling lentils can boil and rise rapidly, causing spillage on the stove top.  When the Dhal has almost reached desired soft texture, add in the green chillies, and Hing if using. 

~ At this stage you may opt to blitz the Dhal for a smoother texture.

~ NOTE- AT this Stage, You can also opt to freeze the prepared dhal above, into portions as required. When needed, Then bring back to room temperature, and prepare the Tempering to be added.

~ Add in Fresh chopped Coriander, lower heat and prepare the TEMPERING (TARKA/TADKA)



~ Clean, Rinse and soak the yellow split peas, in the inner pot, top with boiling water and let stand for 10 minutes.  Add to this the bicarbonate of soda.

~ After 10 minutes, add the inner pot to the instant-pot, and set to sauté function.  

~ Let the lentils come to a gentle boil for 5 minutes, without the lid added on.  You will notice the scum/foam surface, skim this off. 

~ Switch off the Instant-Pot, and carefully remove the inner pot and rinse out the lentils.

~ Add the lentils back to inner pot, place it into the Instant-Pot and top with hot/boiling water to cover the lentil.

~ To the Instant-pot, add in the sliced onions, tomato, turmeric, chilli powder, green chilli, salt (not all, you can adjust when done) and Hing if using. 

~ Stir this all though well, and Close the Instant-pot with lid.

~ Set the Instant-pot to pressure cook setting, on high for 10-15 minutes.

~ When Done and Pressure release has been achieved, carefully open top the lid. 

~ The Plain Dhal should be all mushy, and may further break up the lentils when stirred.  At this stage you can blitz the dhal for an ultra smooth texture. 

~ NOTE- AT this Stage, You can also opt to freeze the prepared dhal above, into portions as required. When needed, Then bring back to room temperature, and prepare the Tempering to be added.

~ Now prepare the TEMPERING, I prefer the Stove-top tempering, and add to the boiled Dhal.


~ Heat the Oil and ghee/butter in a small pan

~ When hot, add in the whole Cumin and mustard seeds, they should sizzle/splutter

~ Follow by adding the thinly sliced onions, and curry leaves

~ allow to fry on medium heat, until onion begins to brown lightly.

~ Now ad the garlic, taking care not to burn the garlic.

~ Add chillies if using more at this stage.

~ The onions should be lightly golden and Tempering is fragrant, quickly pour it over the Prepared Boiled Plain Dhal, in pot (either the stove top version or Instant-pot version)

~ Close with the pot lid and let simmer on low heat, until the flavours have all inter-mingled.  

~ Check if salt seasoning is correct, adjust accordingly.  



  •   Why add bicarb to your lentils?  This little trick helps the lentils to soften and cook quicker.  It is also known to help break down gas causing sugars in lentils, and generally gas we experience after eating lentils or beans.  YES you can use bicarb in Beans as well.  Take care not to add too much, as it can alter the taste of your food.
  •   Add a good Pinch or 2 of Cumin and Coriander powder to finish off the dhal at the end.  This further adds to the overall flavour.  It is optional.
  •   If the dhal is too watery, you may need to boil a little longer. 
  •   As the final Plain dhal dish cools, it will become VERY THICK.  This is the Lentils that settle to the bottom, and liquid used surfaces.  DO NOT be disappointed, it will be perfect as you gently re-heat the dhal.
  •   If upon re-heating the dhal is still too thick, gradually add water to thin it out.

Give these other dishes, that pair well with plain dhal, a try too.



*Kindly share as posted, ©*

Plain Dhal ready to be Enjoyed


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