Chana dal is a flavorful and comforting dish from North Indian cuisine that's made with split and skinned Bengal gram also known as black or brown chickpeas. The dal is flavored with onion, tomato, and a few Indian spices. It's a vegan and gluten-free recipe, perfect for protein-rich meatless meals.
A few years ago, I watched a documentary about Taj Mahal in which a very interesting story was shared. The story was about the Mughal emperor Shahjahan who built Taj Mahal.
As a lot of us read in our history books, during the last 7-8 years of his life, Shahjahan was house arrested by his cynical son Aurangzeb who then declared himself the emperor.
However what new and interesting I learned from that documentary was that during those years of house arrest, Aurangzeb asked his father to choose one grain, only which he would then be allowed to eat for the rest of his life.
Do you know what Shahjahan chose? He chose chana (Bengal gram). It was a very well thought out decision because in India, chana is used in a lot of different forms and they all taste completely different.
Chana in its whole form and split form is used to make curries like black chickpea curry, chana dal, snacks, and salads. The ground form is used to make chapatis and desserts. So it's not easy to get bored of chana.
Today I am sharing a recipe for chana in its split form– Chana dal. It's one of my favorite dal recipes.
- Ingredients needed
- Ingredient notes and substitute suggestions
- How to make chana dal (step-by-step instructions)?
- How to make chana dal in an instant pot?
- Serving tips
- How to store?
- Can it be frozen?
- How to reheat dal?
- Recipe tips, tricks, and variation suggestions
- Frequently asked questions
- More Indian lentil recipes
To make chana dal masala, you will need the ingredients shown below:
Ingredient notes and substitute suggestions
- Chana dal: It's the split and skinned form of Bengal gram which you can easily find in any Indian grocery store.
- Onion: Try using red onion in Indian recipes to get the best result.
- Tomato: Use a juicy red variety of tomatoes and chop them very finely.
- Fresh cilantro: Most Indian savory dishes taste incomplete without some fresh chopped cilantro on top. However, if you don't like the taste of cilantro, skip it but never replace it with parsley in Indian recipes.
- Whole spices: If you don't have them all, it's ok to skip 1 or 2.
- Red chili powder: I have used Kashmiri red chili powder as it's not very hot and gives a bright red color to the dish. Feel free to use any variety depending on your heat tolerance.
- Turmeric powder: An essential ingredient for a lot of savory Indian recipes, turmeric not only gives a bright yellow color to the dish but also adds a lot of health benefits to it.
- Coriander powder: It's the powdered form of dried coriander seeds. You can buy it from the spice section of an Indian grocery store.
Note: You can also use other spices like dried fenugreek leaves, garam masala, cumin powder, or curry powder to season chana dal.
Difference between Arhar dal (toor dal) and Chana dal
A lot of people, especially those who are new to Indian cooking, get confused between Arhar dal (split pigeon pea) and chana dal (split Bengal gram), as they both are yellow lentils that look quite similar. A few times, while shopping in a hurry, I also picked up the wrong packet of dal.
But, if you look closely, it’s easy to differentiate as chana dal is thicker and mostly slightly bigger than arhar dal. They also taste completely different.
You can clearly see the difference between them in the image below.
I love both of them. On days when I want to eat something light, I make arhar ki dal and if I want to eat something richer and more filling, I go for chana dal.
How to make chana dal (step-by-step instructions)?
Step 1: Wash chana dal and put it in a pressure cooker along with around 3 cups of water, turmeric powder, and some portion of salt that you will be using in the dish (the remaining will be used later with tomatoes). Mix and put on the lid.
Step 2: Cook till 4 whistles on a medium flame. Allow the pressure to get released naturally before opening the lid.
Step 3: Heat oil in a pan. Add dried red chilies, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, black cardamom, cumin seeds, and peppercorns. Saute for a few seconds.
Step 4: Once the spices become fragrant, add chopped garlic and onion. Cook until the onion starts turning golden brown.
Step 5: Add red chili powder, coriander powder, and green chilies. Saute for a few seconds.
Step 6: Add chopped tomatoes and the remaining salt.
Step 7: Cook until the tomatoes turn mushy.
Step 8: Add boiled lentils and chopped ginger.
Steps 9 and 10: If the dal is too thick, add some hot water to get the desired consistency.
Step 11: Cover the pot and cook for another 5-7 minutes.
Step 12: Garnish with chopped cilantro.
Your delicious chana dal fry is ready to be served!
How to make chana dal in an instant pot?
I have used a regular stovetop pressure cooker to make this recipe, you can also make it in an instant pot (electric pressure cooker).
For that skip the part of separately cooking chana first. Start by switching on the instant pot and selecting the saute mode. Then follow the steps till the tomatoes get cooked.
Add washed chana dal and water. Put on the lid and keep the valve in the sealing position. Pressure cook on high pressure (manual) for 15 minutes.
Allow the pressure to get released naturally then remove the lid. Mix everything.
Garnish with chopped cilantro.
Always serve chana dal hot.
It can be served with any Indian flatbread like roti or paratha. The dal also pairs well with rice. You can serve it with plain basmati rice or any other Indian rice dish like jeera rice or curried rice.
To make a complete Indian homecooked style meal, also serve a vegetable dish like aloo gobhi, bhindi masala, aloo baingan, or aloo shimla mirch on the side when serving chana dal with rice or roti. Also, include an Indian salad like kachumber salad or Indian onion salad to the meal. Non-vegans may also add raita like cucumber raita, potato raita, or beetroot raita.
You can also enjoy a bowl of this dal as a flavorful protein-rich vegan soup. If you want, you can blend it before serving it as a soup.
How to store?
To store, transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate for 2-3 days. It will be fine.
You can also store the plain cooked dal and flavor it fresh, with sauteed onion, tomato, and spices before serving.
Can it be frozen?
Yes, this dal freezes well. To freeze, allow reaching room temperature then transfer to freezer-safe containers and freeze for up to 3 months.
How to reheat dal?
You can reheat any dal using a microwave as well as on the stovetop. If reheating frozen dal in a microwave, de-freeze it first.
Dal tends to get thicker if left for long. To adjust the consistency of dal, add some boiling water to it, and then either microwave it for a few minutes or transfer to a cooking pot and then cook it for a few minutes on the stovetop.
In the microwave, you need to stir the dal once or twice in between the reheating time.
Recipe tips, tricks, and variation suggestions
- Spices get burned very fast so don't leave them unattended in the cooking pot. Also, make sure the oil is not too hot when you add the spices.
- The number of whistles required to cook in a pressure cooker may vary depending upon a lot of factors like the capacity of the pressure cooker you are using, the altitude of the place where you are cooking, the quality of ingredients, etc. So, start with 3 whistles on a medium flame and check. If required, cook longer.
- I have used a lot of spices to temper this dal, if you don't have all those spices, it's ok to skip 1 or 2 of them. You can also add some other Indian spices of your choice.
- In India, people don't mind whole spices in their curries and they just move them to a side while eating. If you don't want to do that, remove the big whole spices once the dish is cooked.
- The recipe that I have shared here is the way chana dal is usually cooked in North India. If you want to make it South Indian style instead of adding all the whole spices that I have used, use only black mustard seeds, curry leaves, and asafoetida to temper the dal.
- Slightly mash some cooked dal with a ladle and then cook for another 2-3 minutes for a nice creamy texture of the dish.
- To make the dal even more delicious, add some fresh lime or lemon juice, very finely chopped ginger, and fresh cilantro, once the dish is ready.
Frequently asked questions
Chana dal is the split and skinned form of Bengal gram whereas kala chana is Bengal gram in its whole form.
It's not mandatory to soak chana dal before cooking but if you do that the cooking time will shorten.
Yes, it can be cooked in a regular pot too but then the cooking time will increase. If you are planning to cook chana dal in a regular pot, soak it in water for at least 4 hours.
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- Pressure cooker/ Cooking pot
- 1 cup chana dal
- 1 medium-sized red onion finely chopped
- 1 medium-sized tomato finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
- ½ inch piece of ginger finely chopped
- 1-2 green chilies finely chopped
- 1-2 dried red chilies adjust to taste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 black cardamom
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- 3-4 black peppercorns
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ tablespoon coriander powder
- ½ teaspoon red chili powder adjust to taste
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
- Salt to taste
- 1 tablespoon any neutral flavored cooking oil of choice
- 3 cups water or as required to get the desired consistency
- Chopped cilantro for garnishing
- Wash chana dal and put it in a pressure cooker along with around 3 cups of water, turmeric powder, and some salt (add only a portion of the total salt you will be using in this dish, the remaining salt will be added later with tomatoes). Mix and put on the lid. Cook till 4 whistles on a medium flame. Allow the pressure to get released naturally before opening the lid.
- Heat oil in a pan. Add dried red chilies, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, black cardamom, cumin seeds, and peppercorns. Saute for a few seconds.
- Once the spices become fragrant, add chopped garlic and onion. Cook until the onion starts turning golden brown.
- Add red chili powder, coriander powder, and green chilies. Saute for a few seconds,
- Next, add tomatoes and the remaining salt. Cook until the tomatoes turn mushy.
- Once the tomatoes are nicely cooked, add boiled lentils and chopped ginger. If the dal is too thick, add some hot water to get the desired consistency. Cover the pot and cook for another 5-7 minutes.
- Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve hot with roti or rice.
- Soaking chana dal is not mandatory but if you do, cooking time will decrease.
- Adding all the whole spices is not mandatory, you may skip 1-2 spices if you don't have them all.
- You can make chana dal in a regular cooking pot too. But if doing that, cook it for a longer period i.e. at least 1 hour or until the dal gets nicely cooked. Also, soak the dal for a minimum of 4 hours if cooking in a regular pot.
- Non-vegans may also use ghee as a cooking medium to make dal.
- More easy recipe tips and tricks are shared in the post above, please follow them to make this recipe.