Instant Pot Three Chile Dal takes just 15 minutes to cook, including the fragrant and flavorful tempering oil or tadka that infuses the cooked lentils. I learned to cook my first Indian dishes from a local woman about 7 years ago. Before that, I was completely ignorant about Indian cooking and quite intimidated by all the spices. There are many spices and aromatics used in Indian cooking, but there are several that are commonly and often used, including onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, cardamon seeds, cayenne pepper, dried and fresh chilies, curry leaves and cilantro. I am fortunate to have a large Indian grocery store nearby, so I have access to fresh curry leaves and other Indian spices/ingredients.
When I first tasted dal at an Indian restaurant many years ago, I was intrigued. I did not realize that dal simply means a dish made with dried, split pulses. Often this means lentils, but it can also include peas and beans. For this particular recipe, I used moong dal, which are pink lentils that cook relatively fast compared to other lentils.
There are many different dals, made with a variety of pulses. Some lentils take longer to cook. Beans generally take longer to cook than lentils and are often soaked overnight before cooking. Dals also vary in the use of aromatics. A simple dal might only use just a few aromatics. I prefer more flavorful dals like this Instant Pot Three Chile Dal.
First, the lentils are cooked with water, salt and turmeric. It takes just 7 minutes of cooking time in an Instant Pot, or 20-25 minutes on the stovetop.
Tempering Oil/Tadka For Three Chile Dal
Meanwhile, the aromatics are cooked separately to make a tempering oil or tadka. The tempering oil or tadka is typically scented with a combination of whole spices (e.g., cumin, mustard seeds), aromatics (e.g., onion, garlic, ginger, curry leaves) and chilies. This tempering oil infuses the dal with extra layers of flavors and aromas, which is what really makes the dal really delicious. This method of finishing a dish similar to the way Chinese steamed fish is finished with hot oil poured over aromatics on top of the cooked fish.
Before making the tadka, be sure to have all the ingredients pre-measured and ready to go as the cooking process is very quick. This Three Chile Dale uses garlic, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, dried red chile, cayenne, fresh green chile and curry leaves as flavor agents.
Half the tempering oil is stirred into the cooked dal, with the rest poured on top just before serving.
What results is a fragrant, flavorful lentil stew with a bit of heat. I toned down the heat in this recipe, but feel free to increase the amount of cayenne if you like your dal spicy.
I made this Instant Pot Three Chile Dal while my son was home from college this winter and he loved it. In fact, he asked for the recipe, so I packaged the ingredients for this dal for him to bring back to school so he can make it.
This Instant Pot Three Chile Dal can be prepared on the stove top easily (instructions included below), and is delicious served with steamed rice or Indian flatbread. If you can’t find black mustard seeds or curry leaves, just leave them out. The flavor will be different, but you will still have a delicious vegetarian/vegan meal.
Instant Pot Three Chile Dal
- 1 cup pink lentils masoor dal
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 cups water
- 2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds optional
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 3 whole dried red chilies
- 2 tablespoons fresh green chili seeds removed, minced
- 12 curry leaves frozen, optional
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper add more if you like it spicy
- 3 tablespoons cilantro chopped
- 1/2 lemon juiced
Instant Pot Instructions
Place lentils in Instant Pot along with turmeric, salt and water. Turn steam release handle to "Sealing" position. Select "Bean/Chili" and set time for 7 minutes. Press "Cancel" and let Instant Pot naturally release pressure until float valve drops down and lid unlocks; alternatively, press "Cancel" and let Instant Pot naturally release for 10 minutes; then turn steam release valve to "Venting" until float valve drops down and lid unlocks.
Meanwhile, make Tempering Oil. Have all Tempering Oil ingredients measured out and ready to go. Put oil and mustard seeds in a small pan. Cover pan and listen for mustard seeds popping. Once mustard seeds start popping (~ 1-2minutes), add cumin seeds, cover and let cook 30 seconds. Add dried red chilies, green chili, curry leaves, and garlic, and cook another 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat and add cayenne and a few drops of water to stop the cooking process.
Select "Saute" function on Instant Pot. Stir half the tempering oil, half the cilantro and all the lemon juice into the dal. Simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl, pour rest of tempering oil on top and sprinkle with rest of cilantro.
Stove Top Instructions
Place lentils large saucepan along with turmeric, salt and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until lentils are soft, 20-25 minutes.
Meanwhile, make Tempering Oil. Meanwhile, make Tempering Oil. Have all Tempering Oil ingredients measured out and ready to go. Put oil and mustard seeds in a small pan. Cover pan and listen for mustard seeds popping. Once mustard seeds start popping (~ 1-2minutes), add cumin seeds, cover and let cook 30 seconds. Add dried red chilies, green chili, curry leaves, and garlic, and cook another 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat and add cayenne and a few drops of water to stop the cooking process.
Stir half the tempering oil, half the cilantro and all the lemon juice into the dal. Simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl, pour rest of tempering oil on top and sprinkle with rest of cilantro.
Adapted from Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness