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the dal-tadka thread

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Dal (lentil) is a staple of North Indian cooking, and its flavor results from the last minute addition of a tadka (aka baghar, aka phoron), spices briefly fried in hot ghee and then added to the dal at the very last minute. Or to be on the safe side, the dal is added to the spices.

I know there are dozens of different possible tadkas, but I haven't found a definitive list, nor some formula to match a tadka ingredient with a particular dal. What are some of your favorite dal/tadka combinations? What are combinations to avoid?

I'll kick it off with some suggestions from a Bengali friend:

1) Masoor dal
Tadka: "panch phoron," whole dried red chilis, sliced garlic

2) Moong dal
Tadka: ginger, jeera (cumin) seeds, garam masala

3) Moong dal
Tadka: hing (asafoetida), jeera (cumin) seeds, ginger, whole dried red chilis

Avoid: adding salt or any raw ingredients to the dal until it is finished cooking.

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  1. The dal makhani recipe I use calls for a tadka of ghee, finely minced onion, cumin seed. Because the one thing dal makhani needs is MORE BUTTER! :)

    1. How about starting with a good dal recipe? I've been trying to make dal like I get at restaurants (kind of soupy, hint of citrus, plenty of cilantro) without much luck. I usually just do cumin seed in ghee for the tarka, sometimes with a whole chile. But I can never taste the chile anyway.