Toor dhal (lentil dhal)

The typical Gujarati meal is made up of four elements: Dhal, bhatt, shak, rotli. Yes I’ve missed out an ‘and’ but this is how it’s said: “I’m having dhal, bhatt, shak, rotli“. Bhatt is rice, rotli is chappatis. As we are a small family, I rarely make all four. Normally we just have shak and bhatt which means we have half a meal but tot was at nursery today so I had time to go the whole hog and have all four! Normally, the shak and rotli is eaten first with accompaniments like raita, chutneys, poppadoms and salad. Then you finish off with bhatt and dhal.

When mum was in hospital she mistakenly ate someone else’s dhal. When I visited her, she said she knew that it wasn’t my cooking immediately. I think it was a compliment and really hope you enjoy making and eating this version.


Oily toor dhalIngredients for dhal

  • 200g oily toor dhal
  • 3 pints water
  • 3tbs groundnut oil
  • 1 tsp rye/methi (mustard and fenugreek seeds)
  • 1 tsp jeera (cumin seeds)
  • pinch of hing (asafoetida) – optional
  • 10g ginger – grated
  • 2 green chillies – sliced lengthways
  • 8 lawing (cloves)
  • 1 stick taj (cinnamon)
  • 2 tsp nimak (salt) or to taste
  • 1 tsp murcha (red chilli powder)
  • 1/2 tsp hurder (turmeric)
  • 2 tsp gaur (jaggery/molasses) – 3 tsp sugar can be substituted
  • 5 kokum (mangosteen flower)
  • 8 limra (curry leaves)
  • 160g very ripe red tomatoes – chopped finely (half a can of tomatoes can be substituted but doesn’t have the same depth of flavour)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Coriander to garnish


  • Wash the dhal to clean off the oil. This will take about 6 changes of water at least. Then boil with the water for about 25 minutes in a pressure cooker. If you don’t have one, then boil in a pan – keep an eye on the water and top up as needed. The dhal should be completely cooked through
  • Liquidise the dhal with the water it was cooked in


First you make the vagar and then you add that to the boiled dhal. Ensure the room is well ventilated for the vagar as it can be quite pungent and make your eyes sting.

  • In a large pot, warm the oil over a medium heat
  • Put in the bay leaves and wait for them to sizzle
  • Add the rye/methi and jeera seeds and wait for them to sizzle and pop
  • Add the tiniest pinch of asafoetida
  • Add the ginger and chilies and cook for about 30 seconds
  • Add the salt, turmeric, chili powder, cloves and cinnamon. Stir and cook for 1 minute
  • Stir in the gaur or sugar. Let it dissolve
  • Now turn down the heat a little and add the tomatoes and cook for a few minutes
  • Keep cooking until it’s all very mushy / tomatoes have reduced down
  • Pour the liquidised cooked dhal into the vagar, then add the curry leaves, mangosteen and lemon juice
  • Bring to a boil and then turn to a bubbling simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes.
  • Stir occasionally to stop it sticking to the pot. Taste to ensure there is enough salt for your tastes. If there is not enough, add more. If there is too much, counteract the salt with a few drops of lemon juice
  • Personally, I like a thicker dhal so reduce mine quite a bit but it’s entirely up to you. Turn off the dhal when you are happy with the consistency
  • Garnish with coriander. Don’t miss this out unless you are allergic to it as dhal with coriander is not as tasty.
  • Serve with the shak, rotli and bhatt.

NOTE: there are lots of ingredients in the dhal which can get in the way when eating so you may want to do what my aunty does and strain it through a sieve.

NOTE 2: This dhal will thicken overnight so don’t be alarmed. It will be delicious.

NOTE 3: it is not uncommon to find groundnuts in the dhal. The roasted nuts are added at the stage when the vagar is mixed with the dhal so that the flavour is combined well


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