A simple dal fry with Indian bread is the ultimate comfort food. Pigeon pea lentils or toor dal is first tempered with onions, tomatoes and spices in the instant pot, then pressure-cooked to perfection. Vegetarian, gluten-free and delicious!
Sunshine in a bowl: that's what I call this dal fry or Indian lentil soup. Just look at it. Aren't you tempted to dip a piece of bread in this bright yellow dal and eat it? There's nothing more simple and hearty than a bowl of steaming hot dal and bread. It is a staple in North Indian homes across the globe.
If you want a more rounded Indian meal, add a third dish. Vegetable dishes like Bombay potatoes, aloo gobi (cauliflower and potato), bhindi sabzi (stir-fried okra) or beetroot sabzi go very well with dal and roti. Take your pick.
Or have dal fry and jeera rice (cumin rice). I personally love this combo!
Another really delicious instant pot lentil recipe is the ever popular dal makhani. It is very different in taste and texture as compared to dal fry, but you will become a fan, I promise. If you aren't one already, that is. And if you like the idea of a little green goodness in your dal, check out this dal palak. These are lentils cooked with spinach and raw mangoes. Easy and yum!
Why make dal in the instant pot?
In most Indian homes, dal is made in the pressure cooker for the sake of convenience. Although the time taken in both is the same, give or take a few minutes, you don't have to babysit the dal cooking in the instant pot. And that's huge, believe me! If you decide to make it in an open pan, you will have to stir it and watch it almost constantly for 25-30 minutes. You will also have to keep removing the white froth that builds up inevitably with dal every now and then. The minute you turn away, it will boil over and make a mess on your stovetop. Or the water will dry up and the dal will stick to the bottom. Lots of reasons NOT to make it in an open pan, don't you think?
Which lentils should I use for dal fry?
Pigeon pea lentils, also known as toor dal or arhar dal, are generally used for dal fry. But there is no hard and fast rule here. I have made dal fry with red lentils too or with a combination of both. It's really up to you. Use whichever lentils you happen to have at hand.
If you are making this with red lentils, there is no need to soak the lentils. Also, reduce the pressure cooking time to four minutes only with pressure release after five minutes.
What is the difference between dal fry and dal tadka?
Dal fry and dal tadka are almost the same except in the method of tempering. In dal fry, the tempering is done before the dal is cooked. So, while making dal fry, ghee is heated in the instant pot and ingredients like onions, tomatoes and spices are added to the hot ghee. Then the dal and water is poured into this tempering and pressure-cooked for 5 minutes.
In dal tadka, the tempering is done after the dal is cooked. The dal is pressure-cooked first, then a tempering of ghee, onions, tomatoes and spices prepared in a frypan is poured on the dal.
If you want to know more about this cooking method, have a look at my guide: 5 Indian Cooking Techniques. It discusses four other cooking techniques that you may not have heard of!
- pigeon pea lentils (toor dal)
- ghee (corn oil if you're on a vegan diet)
- cumin seeds
- red chilli powder
- turmeric powder
- coriander powder
- sea salt
- herbs - cilantro or parsley (for garnishing)
- green chillies (for garnishing)
- If you want non-spicy lentils, add paprika powder instead of red chilli powder. It will add a pleasing color without the heat.
- To make the dal vegan, substitute ghee with any cooking oil of your choice. I use canola oil sometimes.
- If you like the flavor and fragrance of ghee, add a teaspoon to the hot dal just before garnishing it with the chilli and herbs.
1. Wash and soak the dal in two cups water.
2. Mince the ginger and garlic.
3. Dice the onion.
4. Chop the tomato.
Step 1 - Turn on the instant pot and press the saute button. Wait for the display to show HOT. Add the ghee and cumin seeds.
Step 2 - After a few seconds, add the diced onion. Fry for two minutes or until the onions soften.
Step 3 - Add the ginger, garlic, tomato, powdered spices (red chilli, turmeric and coriander) and salt. Roast this masala for two minutes, adding splashes of water to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cancel the sauté mode.
Step 4 - Add the dal along with the water in which it was soaked. Close the lid, make sure the steam valve is set to sealing, press the pressure cooking button (high) and set the timer to 12 minutes. When the timer beeps, wait for 10 minutes, then release the rest of the steam by turning the steam valve to venting. Open the lid.
Note: The dal will be cooked perfectly at twelve minutes with steam release after ten minutes. However, if it is too thick, press the sauté button again, add a fourth cup water to the pot and mash the dal lightly with the back of a spoon. Let it simmer for five minutes. Cancel the sauté mode and take it out in a bowl. Finally, garnish with the green chillis and green leaves. Serve hot with naan bread or white rice.
How to make dal and rice together in the instant pot
If you want to save time and get going, make the dal and rice at the same time in the instant pot with the pot-in-pot method (PIP). PIP just means cooking two things at once in the instant pot. This is how to do it -
Step 5 - Place a trivet in the inner pot right after you've added the soaked lentils in step 4 above.
Step 6 - Wash one cup white rice and add one and a fourth cups water to it in a stainless steel container or bowl. Place this bowl on the trivet. Close the lid, make sure the steam valve is set to sealing, press the pressure cooking button (high) and set the timer to 10 minutes.
Step 7 - When the timer beeps, wait for 10 minutes, then release the rest of the steam by turning the steam valve to venting. Open the lid. Both the dal and rice will be cooked perfectly in the same amount of time!
Step 8 - Remove the container of rice carefully using the handles of the trivet and place it on a tray. It is going to have some dal and liquid stuck to the bottom, so don't place it directly on the countertop.
Note: The dal is cooked but it might be a little thick. Turn the instant pot to sauté again, add one-fourth cup water to the pot and mash the dal lightly with the back of a spoon. Let it simmer for five minutes, then cancel sauté and take it out in a bowl. Garnish with green chillies and parsley or cilantro. Serve hot with the rice.
If you want to make the rice separately, here's a cumin rice recipe that tastes yum with this dal.
More dal recipes
- Maash ki daal - A vegan dal that has a slightly thick texture unlike other lentils. It has a nutty, warm and savory taste that goes very well with Indian breads like naan or tandoori roti.
- Whole masoor dal - This is mostly a hands-off recipe made with whole brown lentils. A tempering of ghee, onions, garlic, and cumin makes it very tasty.
- Chana dal - A nutritious vegan dal that does not need to be soaked ahead. Serve it with a helping of rice and salad.
Dal Fry (Spiced Lentils)
- 6-quart Instant Pot Duo
- 1 cup pigeon pea lentils toor dal
- 2 teaspoon ghee or cooking oil
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 small onion
- 1 small tomato
- ½ inch piece ginger
- 4 cloves garlic
- ½ teaspoon red chilli powder
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon coriander powder
- salt to taste
- 2 sprigs fresh herbs - cilantro or parsley for garnishing
- 1-2 green chillies for garnishing
- Wash and soak the dal in 2 cups water.
- Mince the ginger and garlic.
- Dice the onion.
- Chop the tomato.
- Turn on the instant pot and press the saute button. Wait for the display to show HOT. Add the ghee and cumin seeds.
- After a few seconds, add the diced onion. Fry for 2 minutes or until the onions soften.
- Add the ginger, garlic, tomato, powdered spices (red chilli, turmeric and coriander) and salt. Roast this masala for 2 minutes, adding splashes of water to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cancel the sauté mode.
- Add the lentils along with the water in which they were soaked. Close the lid, make sure the steam valve is set to sealing, press the pressure cooking button (high) and set the timer to 12 minutes. When the timer beeps, wait for 10 minutes, then release the rest of the steam by turning the steam valve to venting. Open the lid.
- If the lentils are too thick, add ¼ cup water and mash with the back of a spoon. Press the sauté button again and simmer for 5 minutes so that the lentils get incorporated into the liquid.
- Take the dal out in a bowl and garnish with parsley or cilantro. Serve hot with naan or white rice.
- If you want a vegan dal fry, use a neutral cooking oil of your choice instead of ghee.
- For a non-spicy dal, substitute the red chilli powder with paprika.
- If you don't have pigeon pea lentils, make this dal with red lentils. In this case, wash the lentils but don't soak them, reduce the pressure cooking time to 4 minutes, and release pressure after 5 minutes.
- Look at the body of the post to cook the dal and rice together in the instant pot.