Instant Pot Dal Tadka (Spiced Lentils)

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This Instant Pot Dal Tadka is creamy, flavorful, and packed with plant-based protein! Yellow lentils combine with fragrant spices for a satisfying meal.

You’ve probably had some variation of Dal (also known as Daal, Dahl and Dhal) at one point in your life – it’s one of the most popular Indian dishes, and is a staple in many households! 

Today I’m going to show you how to make an easy Dal Tadka using your Instant Pot! It’s fragrant, filling, and delicious – perfect for meal prep or a weeknight dinner.

instant pot dal with rice, naan, and raita in white bowl

This recipe is part of my #FromYourBowl monthly series, where I collaborate with another vegan chef and ask them to teach me (and you!) a recipe from their childhood. This month’s guest is Nisha Vora, the creative genius behind Rainbow Plant Life. While she grew up in California, her childhood still consisted of traditional food from the Gujarat region of India, where her family is from.

Nisha smiling while holding bowl of Dal Tadka

Dal Tadka is a popular Indian dish which, roughly translated, means “spiced lentils.”

First, we’ll sauté some aromatics (onion, garlic, ginger, and spicy peppers) with some spices. Then we’ll add in our lentils and water, set our Instant Pot, and (pretty much) forget it! In the meantime, we’ll prepare our “Tadka” by frying some whole spices in oil to bring out their flavor.

(No Instant Pot? No problem 😉 I’ve typed out stovetop instructions for you just underneath the recipe card)

two bowls of dal tadka with rice and raita

Finally, we’ll stir the Tadka into the cooked lentils, and we have our yummy, flavorful Dal! Tal Dadka is traditionally served with rice and naan, but you can choose one or the other too.

As the lentils themselves are pretty spicy, I’d highly recommend serving it with some Vegan Raita as well! Nisha has a recipe for this classic condiment on her blog, which you can view here.

two hands holding bowl of dal tadka with rice, naan, and raita

Also, if you’re looking for more Instant Pot recipes, look no further! Nisha has an entire Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook, which is available for pre-order now. The book itself has an eclectic mix of cozy, healthy, and culturally inspired recipes for all occasions! And while I’m on the subject, don’t forget to check out her YouTube channel and Instagram too 🙂

A Few Final Thoughts:

  • Dal can have a creamy (thick) or runny consistency. Nisha prefers hers to be creamy, but you can add in extra vegetable broth if you’d like yours to be a little thinner!
  • Nisha says you can use any variety of soft lentil for this recipe – red lentils or split peas would be great here!
  • This recipe calls for a lot of spices, but I promise it’s worth it! Use what you have and if you can’t find 1 or 2 ingredients, don’t stress about it 🙂

If you’re looking for more Instant Pot recipes, you’ll also love these Instant Pot Refried Beans and this Instant Pot Penne Puttanesca!

close up photo of bowl of lentil dal with indian spice kit in background

Want to save this Dal Tadka for later? Pin the recipe to your Pinterest boards using the image below. And don’t forget to tag @FromMyBowl + #FromMyBowl when you share on Instagram or Facebook!

This Instant Pot Dal Tadka is creamy, flavorful, and packed with plant-based protein! Yellow lentils combine with fragrant spices for a satisfying meal. #dal #instantpot #vegan #glutenfree | frommybowl.com

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Instant Pot Dal Tadka (Spiced Lentils)

This Instant Pot Dal Tadka is creamy, flavorful, and packed with plant-based protein! Yellow lentils combine with fragrant spices for a satisfying meal.

  • Author: Caitlin Shoemaker
  • Prep Time: 20 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 Minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 4-6 Servings 1x
  • Category: Entree
  • Method: Instant Pot
  • Cuisine: Indian

Ingredients

Scale

For the Dal:

  • 1 cup yellow pigeon peas or yellow lentils
  • 2 tsp refined coconut oil*
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 small serrano pepper, diced and seeds removed
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp Indian red chile powder or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt + more to taste
  • 2 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons water

For the Tadka:

  • 1 1/2 tbsp refined coconut oil*
  • 4 whole curry leaves
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds*
  • 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 large cinnamon stick

For Finishing:

  • 12 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped (optional)

Instructions

  1. Soak the pigeon peas or lentils in cold water for 15 minutes, and then drain them.
  2. Select the Sauté setting on the Instant Pot and let the pot heat up for a few minutes before adding the 2 teaspoons of coconut oil, followed by the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook until the onion is translucent, 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, ginger, and serrano peppers, and cook for 60 to 90 seconds, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.
    Add the turmeric, coriander, garam masala, chile powder (if using), and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir vigorously for 30 seconds until very aromatic. Pour in the 2 tablespoons water and stir to incorporate (this prevents the spices from drying out and burning).
  4. Select the Cancel setting and pour in the water, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the soaked and drained lentils, and stir to combine.
  5. Secure the lid and set the Pressure Release to Sealing. Select the Pressure Cook setting at high pressure and set the cook time to 10 minutes.
  6. Once the 10-minute timer has completed and beeps, allow a natural pressure release for 10 minutes and then switch the Pressure Release knob from Sealing to Venting to release any remaining steam.
  7. While the pot is depressurizing, make the Tadka. Heat a medium skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. Add the 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil and, once shimmering, add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and cinnamon stick. Allow the seeds to start sizzling; then add the curry leaves. Keep stirring or shaking the pan to keep the spices cooking evenly, for a total of 60-90 seconds or until very aromatic. Remove the Tadka from the heat.  
  8. Open the pot and select the Sauté setting and boil the dal for 2-3 minutes to thicken it a bit (if you prefer a thinner dal, then skip this step).
  9. Pour the Tadka over the dal. Stir to combine well. Add the lemon juice and cilantro and taste for seasonings, adding more salt or lemon juice as needed.

Notes

  • Nisha recommends using refined coconut oil in this recipe, as it has no distinct taste to it. You can also use another neutral high-heat cooking oil of your choice
  • For a spicier version, keep the seeds of the serrano pepper in the recipe
  • Black mustard seeds can be substituted with brown mustard seeds

Keywords: Vegan lentil dal, vegan dal, vegan dal tadka, vegan indian food, vegan instant pot recipes, instant pot dal

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Stovetop Instructions: 

  1. Soak the pigeon peas or lentils in cold water for 15 minutes, and then drain them.
  2. Heat the 2 teaspoons of coconut oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. If you’re oil-free, use a nonstick skillet and omit the oil (the salt will make the onions sweat and create enough liquid). Once the pan is hot, add the onions with a pinch of salt, and cook for 4-5 minutes until soft and translucent.
  3. Add the garlic, ginger, and serrano peppers, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Then add the turmeric, coriander, garam masala, chile powder (if using), and the 1 teaspoon kosher salt to coat, and cook for about 30 seconds.
  4. Add in the lentils and 3 cups of water (use 3 ½ cups for a thinner consistency), and stir to combine.
  5. Bring the dal to a boil. Lower the heat and cover the pan with a lid but leave a bit ajar to prevent the dal from boiling over (my lid has a tiny hole on top which helps the dal steam, so I don’t need to keep the lid ajar). Simmer the dal for 45 minutes or until the lentils are fully cooked and soft.
  6. Once the lentils are cooked, give them a stir and adjust the amount of water to your liking. The lentils won’t get as thick and creamy as they will in the Instant Pot, so I sometimes run an immersion blender over them.
  7. While the dal is cooking, make the Tadka. Heat a medium skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. Add the 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil and, once shimmering, add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and cinnamon stick. Allow the seeds to start sizzling; then add the curry leaves. Keep stirring or shaking the pan to keep the spices cooking evenly, for a total of 60-90 seconds or until very aromatic. Remove the Tadka from the heat.  
  8. Pour the tadka over the dal. Stir to combine well. Add the lemon juice and cilantro and taste for seasonings, adding more salt or lemon juice as needed.

 

About the Author

Hey there, I’m Caitlin! I make easy-to-follow, wholesome, and budget-friendly vegan recipes that are mostly gluten-free and refined sugar-free. I’m also an avid yogi, love the great outdoors, am chocolate-obsessed, and enjoy eating almond butter straight off of the spoon.

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Comments

    1. It’s called a masala dabba or a tiffin carrier! I’m not sure if you would be able to find them at H-Mart, but an Indian grocer might carry them, or you can purchase online. I have a beautiful brass one from Diaspora Co now 🙂

  1. I just wanted to say that I’ve made this countless times, and it’s my favorite vegan dish to make at home. It’s just so good. Better in a slow cooker/instant pot, but also good on the stove top. But I would follow the tip mentioned and use an immersion blender if making on the stove top. And the cilantro and lime are a must for my family! Also, sometimes we add a stick of cinnamon and a bay leaf, and it add even more depth of flavor. Thank you for sharing this fantastic recipe!!

    1. Thank you so much for the review, Sandra! I’m glad to hear that this is a family favorite 🙂

  2. Absolutely delicious! Very flavourful and easy to digest. I live very rurally and unfortunately did not have any curry leaves or black mustard seed for the Tadka. I improvised with what I had in stock and used coriander seed with cumin seed instead. The modification added a delightful flavour to the dish. Thank you for the wonderful recipe, it is much appreciated. I will be making this a regular dinner item!

  3. I did not have all the ingredients on hand and had to substitute or do without a couple things, but this recipe it AMAZING!
    I can’t imagine how good it will be when I have all the correct ingredients!!!

  4. Curry leaves grow readily in the tropics. Mine is a little bush, in the shade of a large robusta coffee tree, and it always has lots of fresh leaves that actually smell like curry. When picked they wilt and lose aroma almost immediately so fresh is the way to go. I think it would be possible to grow as an indoor plant in temperate areas.

    1. It should freeze alright! Haven’t tried with this particular recipe but traditionally most curries freeze fine!

  5. Hey! Great recipe girls. Just made it and it’s mostly delicious – just got a bit of a bitter aftertaste. Any idea of what I might have done wrong or is that normal? (I didn’t make any subs except for jalapeno because we don’t have Serrano)
    Also it’s basically mush and no lentil texture remains – is that correct?

    Thanks 🙂

    1. Yes, the final texture should be rather smooth! The bitter aftertaste could be overcooking the spices, but I’m not too sure on that

    1. 2 tablespoons mixed in after the spices (after 30 seconds of cooking to make the spices aromatic), then on to step 4 when you select cancel on the instant pot and add the 2 3/4 cups of water.

  6. Wow, the flavor here is amazing, and it’s so simple! I couldn’t find curry leaves for the life of me so I unfortunately made it without them, but it was still delicious, and hopefully I can find them next time! I also used red lentils, thanks to the confirmation in the video, and just kept watch for cook time. My Indian-food-loving (but non-vegan) partner also loved this meal, but he felt it needed more of a hearty protein component. Of course I reminded him about the power of lentils but his concern was more that texturally it just felt like eating a bunch of grains, and he’s not totally wrong. I’m wondering if anyone here has tried it with an extra protein layer like tofu or tempeh? I’m thinking some crispy chickpeas, perhaps sauteed with the tadka, could go well and offer that texture variation, but I’m very open to other ideas!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Curry leaves can be difficult to find but totally worth it if you are able to get a hold of them. Some people have had luck online or at international grocery stores.

  7. I made this for my family the other day and they’re OBSESSED! I accidentally bought like 5 cups of lentils but honestly, that’s great because I loooove this dish it’s so yummy and satisfying. 10/10 🙂

    1. Well it sounds like you’re all set to make it 5 more times! Thank you so much, glad that your family liked it!

  8. Very flavorful and yummy. Not sure why the sauce in the middle is white in the photo tho, mine turned out clear, just melted coconut oil. Would make again????

    1. In fact, if you watch the YouTube video that the Blog author did with Ms. Nisha, you’ll see that what is in the photos in the middle of the rice/dal bowl is a vegan “raita”… which is normally a quick mix of cucumber, yogurt, and onion – in it’s simplest form. Not sure what they used for yogurt in the vegan version… but maybe that’s why that part of the recipe isn’t included? ????
      p.s. the flavors in this dal are wonderful and we’ve made it many times this year.

    1. Curry powder is a blend of all kinds of spices where as curry leaves have a really particular flavor profile. Try checking some local Asian grocery stores if you have some, or you can also find the curry leaves on Amazon!

  9. This looks INCREDIBLE. Where do you get curry leaves in the US? I’ve only found them on Amazon but they usually have very mixed reviews.

    1. If you’re unable to find it locally, maybe at an Asian supermarket, it can be found on Amazon!