Gujarati dal: Sweet and sour lentil soup

When we were younger, we would always drown whatever we hated in something we loved—at the time for me, it was ketchup. And I have to confess, I used to drown this Gujarati dal in ketchup. I don’t mean a few teaspoons to add flavor. I mean a few cups so all you can taste is ketchup and all dal taste was masked. My dad still has a chuckle about how utterly gross that must have been…gross indeed.

I still haven’t warmed to Gujarati dal. Something about the texture and the sweet and sourness of it was never to my liking. Given that, I haven’t actually made or had it in over 20 years.  Recently, I was thinking about how much my taste has changed since I was younger (e.g. the idea of drowning anything in ketchup sounds utterly unappetizing) and how maybe I should give the Gujarati dal another shot. At the least, I know my sister-in-law actually loves it, so there was some possibility that it was tastier than I remember.

This is a dish we used to have 3-4 times a week as an accompaniment to our meal so I vaguely do recollect how to make it.  My memory– reflecting the viewpoint of a teenager–was that it was much more complicated to make than it actually is. I made this one evening after work thinking that it would take me forever. I had prepared the Kiwi for a very late dinner, but it turned out to be quick.

You usually have the dal with some sort of vegetable dish and rice and/or rotli. As it was in the middle of the week, we just had it with rice and a quick corn dish I made from leftover corn we had in our fridge. Pretty easy and surprisingly delicious. I even had the dal the next day for lunch as a thick soup with some crusty bread!

I think the thing that converted me more than the evolution of my taste buds is the thickness. When I have had it in the past it is usually watery because it is an accompaniment to an entire meal of bread, vegetables, rice, and yogurt. But we made it the center of the meal and thus it was more of a thick carrot soup consistency. Yum.

I have never seen these lentils in the normal grocery store. I bought mine at an Indian foods shop. The lentils are coated with castor oil. I have heard two explanations for the oil: one, that it preserves the lentils; two, that it keeps bugs at bay. I am not sure which one is correct or if both are correct. However, because of the oil this is often in English referred to as oily lentils. That makes it sound un-delicious so I just refer to it by its proper name: toovar dal or toor dal. In English they are officially called split pigeon peas (not to be confused with split pea lentils).

Toovar dal

You need to wash the dal thoroughly before soaking. You do need to soak it for a period of time so it cooks quicker. I soaked mine before leaving for work in the morning to find it almost soft to the touch on my return home.

The toovar after soaking in water for the day

You don’t have to add fenugreek seeds if you don’t have or want, but I thought they added a nice nutty flavour. The tomato paste gives the lentils a nice color and is supposed to add the sourness to it. But I found I still wanted more tanginess to balance out the sugar so I added the juice of half a lemon.


1 c toovar dal

1 T canola or olive oil

½ t mustard seeds

½ t fenugreek seeds

¼ t ground red chili powder

¼ t turmeric

1 t sugar

1 t salt or to taste

1 T tomato paste

½ t shredded ginger

Lemon juice from half a lemon (approximately 1 ½ T)

½ c chopped cilantro

1 t garam masala if you have

Soak one cup of toovar dal in hot water overnight or for a few hours. Boil lentils in water until thoroughly cooked. I used a pressure cooker here and it cooked very quickly.

In a pot over high heat, put in oil and mustard seeds. Once mustard seeds start popping, add fenugreek seeds. Once fenugreek seeds turn red, add in the boiled lentils with cooking liquid. Add in ground red chili powder, turmeric, sugar, salt, tomato paste and shredded ginger. Add water if you find the mixture too thick. You may want to blend the dal if it is still whole. I like my dal to be the consistency of a thick soup.

Turn heat to medium-low and cook until all the flavors have married. For me it was about 15 more minutes of cooking. Stir regularly throughout. Add the garam masala (if you want) and cilantro, stir.

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5 Responses to Gujarati dal: Sweet and sour lentil soup

  1. Katherine says:

    Ooh, this looks delicious and easy.

  2. Ashmita says:

    I love Gujarati dal (without drowning it in ketchup). Though my mom never makes it, I have been lucky that my grandma makes it. Now, I will make it myself using your receipe when I grow up.

  3. This looks so good. Thanks for sharing this recipe.


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