My mom’s toddler-approved chana dal

April 14, 2016 at 11:13 am (Alma's faves, B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Beans, breakfast, Derek's faves, Fall recipes, Indian, Mom’s recipes, Spring recipes, Winter recipes) ()

My mom visited us in January and made us her favorite chana dal recipe for dinner one night. It was a hit, but we ate it all up immediately. So before she left she made us a second, doubled batch and froze it. We defrosted it a few weeks later and again it was a hit with everyone, including my 1-year-old. Since then I’ve been making a quadrupled batch of chana dal every two weeks. We eat it for dinner, freeze some of it, and eat the rest for breakfast a few days later. Then we defrost the frozen portion and have it for a dinner and a breakfast the following week. Sometimes we serve it with yogurt, but often we don’t. My now 14-month-old always eats it happily. When we have it for breakfast, I try to serve it with a piece of vitamin C rich fruit, often a grapefruit, an orange or clementine, or a kiwi. The only problem with the recipe is that it doesn’t have any vegetables in it. I’m curious to try adding some vegetables — maybe a bit of spinach or carrots? In the meantime, if I have leftover roasted or curried cauliflower, I will serve that as a side dish. 

My mom’s recipe calls for 1 cup of chana dal and serves 4. The first time I made it I made a triple batch, but we like it so much and it freezes so well that after that I switched to making a quadrupled batch.


  • 4 cups chana dal
  • 12 cups water
  • 4 Tbsp. oil, divided (My mother uses non-roasted sesame oil, and I usually use olive oil or ghee)
  • 4 tsp. minced ginger (original said “grated ginger”)
  • 4 tsp. minced garlic (original said “grated garlic”)
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (originally 1 tsp. red chili powder)
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 to 2 tsp. fine sea salt (originally 3 tsp. kosher salt, use the much smaller amount if feeding a young toddler)
  • 4 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 4 tsp. garam masala
  • 4 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 4 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 20 curry leaves, torn up
  • cilantro (optional, we often leave this out)


  1. Wash dal in several changes of water until water runs clear.  Soak for at least 30 minutes, then drain. Put dal in a large (6- to 8-quart) heavy-bottomed pot or pressure cooker with the water (12 cups), the turmeric, and the salt.
  2. Bring pot to a boil, turn down to a low rolling boil and cover. Cook until soft, approximately 1.5 hrs, checking occasionally. Fresher beans will cook faster. Older ones will cook slower. Alternatively, bring your pressure cooker up to high pressure and cook for about 10 minutes in a stovetop pressure cooker or 14 in an Instant Pot (see note below), then turn off heat and let the pressure release naturally (which will happen in about 20? minutes).
  3. When the beans are almost done, put 2 Tbsp. of oil in a medium hot cast iron skillet. Add onions and stir. When the onions start to become translucent add the ginger, the garlic, the cayenne powder, the ground coriander, and the garam masala. Stir. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Add the onion-spice mixture to the dal.
  4. Wash skillet, dry and again heat it to medium hot.
  5. Put 2 Tbsp. of oil in the pan. Add the mustard seeds on one side and the cumin seeds on the other. When the mustard seeds begin to pop take the pan off the burner and add the curry leaves. Stir and then immediately add to the dal mixture.
  6. Cook the dal for another 5 minutes while you chop up the fresh coriander / cilantro. Shut off heat, add cilantro leaves, stir and serve.

My Notes:

To make this recipe more quickly, I try to keep minced garlic and ginger in the freezer in 1 tsp. chunks.

Apparently my mother got the recipe from, but changed it a bit to suit her diet (for example, she removed the tomatoes in the original recipe).

Update July 2, 2017

I made half of the above recipe for dinner tonight, along with a mix-vegetable korma and some leftover black rice. Except by the time the korma was done I was running out of steam. So I skipped the onions and ginger entirely, and just added the cumin seeds and mustard seeds to hot oil, then the curry leaves, then some ginger, the ground coriander, and the garam masala. Derek and I thought it was still very tasty, even without the onions and ginger. We left the cayenne out and added it separately. Even without the cayenne 2.5-year-old Alma wasn’t a huge fan. She ate some but then asked for some plain chana dal.

Pressure Cooker Timing

I cooked the chana dal on my stovetop pressure cooker on high pressure for 18 minutes and it was too soft. My Mom thought 5! minutes would be enough, but I think next time I would probably try 10 minutes. (Not sure if I soaked it first.)

This time I soaked the chana dal for about an hour and then cooked it in my Instant Pot on high pressure for 16 minutes, and it was good but probably still a tad too soft. I think next time I will try 14 minutes in the Instant Pot.

1 Comment

  1. austingardener said,

    I have tried adding spinach but it tones down the spices too much. I like to add fresh cilantro when I serve it. Doesn’t that count as a vegetable?

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