Black Lentils (Kali Dal)

There is nothing more comforting or delicious than a nice simmering cup of kali dal.

I cant remember a single Diwali , our Indian festival of lights, that has gone by in our house when we haven’t made Kali dal. There are so many ways to make this dish but I really love the way we make it in my mother’s kitchen!

We don’t put any of the butter and cream that makes this dal so heavy – we use mustard oil instead. Mustard oil is used a lot in Pahari food which is eaten in Himachal Pradesh in India – that’s where both my parents are primarily from.

Here is the recipe for my mother’s kali dal.



Kali Dal

1 cup whole or split black lentils (ma ki daal)

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 large onions sliced thin

3 medium onions finely chopped

1 inch ginger sliced

5 tablespoons of mustard oil (can use any oil)

7 cups water

4 tomatoes pureed with 5-6 cloves of garlic (or 1 1/2  small cans of tomato paste)

Pinch of asafoetida (hing)

2 teaspoons coriander powder (dhaniya)

1 teaspoon dry mango powder (amchur)

1 bunch chopped cilantro


  • Place the lentils in a pressure cooker with 2 tablespoons of mustard oil, turmeric powder, 2 big sliced onions, salt to taste  and 7 cups of water.
  • Pressure cook till tender (about 20 – 30 mins from 1st whistle). Make sure you have plenty of water or else the dal can burn in the pressure cooker. You can also cook it in a large pot – it just takes much longer.
  • When cooked set aside.
  • Heat 3 tablespoons of mustard oil in a separate pan.
  • Add  3-4 bay leaves, a pinch of asafoetida and 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and stir for a minute till the cumin seeds begin to pop.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of sliced ginger and cook for a minute.
  • Then add 3 onions chopped.
  • Fry this for about 10 minutes till the onions begin to brown.
  • Add 2 teaspoons of coriander powder, 3/4 teaspoon of turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon of dry mango powder and  red chili powder to taste.
  • Stir for a minute.
  • Add 3 medium tomatoes (or tomato paste) which have been pureed with 5-6 cloves of garlic.
  • Add salt and cook it for about 15 mins covered.
  • Put the pot of cooked dal which was set aside back on a medium flame.
  • Add the onion and tomato mixture to the black dal and mix it very well.
  • Let this mixture cook on a very slow flame for  30 minutes to an hour.
  • Stir it occasionally.
  • Garnish with cilantro and serve hot with white basmati rice.

Kali dal always tastes better the day after. I usually make mine at least a day ahead and the more you let it simmer on a very slow flame – the better it tastes. This dish also freezes very well so you can make a big pot of it and then freeze the leftovers!


7 thoughts on “Black Lentils (Kali Dal)

  1. We got to eat it too at home with aloo paranthas and the combination worked out superb.The dal was delicious. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  2. Pingback: Pahari Food « The Food Fairy

  3. Pingback: Pahari Food/ Dishes from Himachal Pradesh « The Food Fairy

  4. I had been to himachal recently and fell in love with this dal. When searched I bumped into your page. Had my own speculations whether or not 5 onoins would do good. I’m glad i followed ur recipe exactly. It is mind blowing, truly tasty… Now a south Indian like me can show off this super yummy dal 🙂 thanks so much

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