A Taste of India: Tarka Dahl


The food of India has become a commodity which is desired all over the globe, but in Southampton you don’t just have to rely on Manzil’s to experience it. In Hindi, the word dahl is used to refer not only to dried, split pulses (such as lentils, beans or peas), but is also used to describe this thick stew which is an important part of South Asian cuisine.

This is a super easy recipe for Tarka Dahl, which is cheap, healthy and really filling (providing an excellent stomach lining before a night in the Palace of Dreams), so get it bubbling in your kitchen.


400g red lentils

2 tsps cumin seeds

50g butter

2 tsps turmeric

1 small red onion

2 cloves garlic

1 green chilli

1 tsp garam masala

4cm piece of fresh ginger

3 tomatoes

A handful of freshly chopped coriander to garnish


  • Put the lentils in a pan and pour in enough cold water to rise two inches above the level of the lentils. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat until they are simmering (use a slotted spoon to take off any foam created). Add the turmeric and half the butter into the pan; cover and leave to cook.
  • Meanwhile, place the cumin seeds in a frying pan and fry without oil over a medium heat until their smell is released (no more than a few of minutes). Turn out the heat and place in a bowl.
  • Chop the garlic, onion, chillies and tomatoes finely. Peel and grate the ginger.
  • Melt the second half of the butter in the same frying pan and gently fry these ingredients. Once the garlic is starting to brown a little, add in the toasted cumin seeds and the garam masala, and then take them off the heat.
  • Stir the lentils; if they are cooked then they will have the thickness of cooked porridge oats. Add a dash more water if they are a little too thick for your liking, and then mix in the other fried ingredients.
  • Serve on a bed of rice, topped with chopped coriander (best bought from International Foods store in Portswood).


When I arrived in India, one of my biggest interests was the food. However, although Indian food is famed for its amazing taste, it also carries a reputation for making us weak-stomached travellers ill. If you happened to ask them, my friends would tell you that I don’t have the best track record with tummy bugs (a couple of times resulting in a bill for my insurance company), which may be down to the fact that I usually throw caution to the wind when getting to know a new culture’s food. This meant that when I headed out to India, just about everyone gave me a hug and told me to enjoy the infamous ‘Delhi belly.’ However, due to all this hype about the fact that I was apparently guaranteed to get sick, I made a vow that I would restrain myself, and keep my stomach healthy.

To my own shock, I actually succeeded and returned fit as a fiddle, full of inspiration to make dishes like the one detailed above. However, I can’t say that my lack of illness was down to luck, but probably had more to do with a few easy things I did which kept the ‘Dehli belly’ away from my belly. I avoided certain food types which are particularly prone to contamination, such as salads and uncooked fruit and vegetables ;street food unless it was well cooked in front of me and served on something clean and hot; and any kind of buffet style food which had been sitting in the warm Indian sun for who knew how long. I also steered well clear of drinking tap water (even using bottled water to brush my teeth) and didn’t take ice in my drinks because more than likely the pre-frozen water did not come from a sealed bottle.

Having the right vaccinations before I left also had an important part to play I’m sure, many of which protected against diseases which are picked up through the consumption of contaminated food and water. For travellers going to low income areas in India, bugs are sometimes impossible to avoid, so having vaccinations against things like Typhoid and Hepatitis A are essential. If, once you’ve eaten this dahl, you feel like you just have to get on a plane to try Indian food at its original source, head to the doctors 4-6 weeks before you go and dose up on the jabs you need in order to stay healthy. It’s totally worth the effort of these precautions because you’ll be able to keep eating food like this, instead of dining on fresh air until you’ve recovered!

If you want more information on how to look after your health in India or anywhere else, head to www.travelhealthpro.org.uk (a trustable resource endorsed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office). They have loads more helpful advice about what to do before, during and after travel when it comes to eating; just look for the Food and Water Hygiene section.  You can research anything else you want to know about your destination at www.gov.uk/foreign-travel -advice, or ensure you have covered all the pre-travel preparation at www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo.


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