Toor Daal. Pigeon Peas Cooked in Spices

Toor daal comes in many variations in India, as varied as the country itself, and they all taste great. Creamy yellow lentils cooked so tender they fall apart, all seasoned with spices and served over white rice has a taste that is just heaven.  Most Indian restaurants have toor daal on their menu – sometimes they may just call it yellow lentil soup.

Here is a recipe for toor daal my Mom taught me over three decades ago after returning from a visit to Ahmedabad, India. Mom always felt she could never master a delicious toor daal (she was good at making sambhar which is a South Indian toor daal and vegetable soup cooked in spices), but she felt making great tasting toor daal was elusive for her.  Then one day after coming back from a trip to India I remember her excitedly wanting to make toor daal at home from a newly found recipe.

You see, after moving to America in 1978 she went back to India a few years later for a visit and met with her old neighbors and friends. One of her friends lived in Ahmedabad, a city in the state of Gujarat in western India where we lived for 4 years before moving.  In Ahmedabad at her friend’s home she had a toor daal that she fell in love with.  She asked the cook at the residence for the recipe, and the cook happily shared it with my Mom, excited to know that her recipe will be going all the way back to America! My Mom started making toor daal more often at home with this new found recipe and I have to say even today it tastes as delicious as the first time she made it.

Toor Daal
makes 5-6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried toor daal (pigeon peas) cooked until tender.  I use a pressure cooker and cook the lentils with 4 cups water. You can cook the pigeon peas according to your package directions. The lentils should look like the photo below, butter soft and tender.

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  • 1 large onion finely chopped – about 1 – 1/2 cups
  • 2 large tomatoes finely chopped – about 2 cups
  •  1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp asafoetida powder
  • 1 tsp fenugreek powder (my Mom’s original recipe calls for fenugreek seeds, but I find these seeds sometimes taste bitter in the daal)
  • 2 dried red chili
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • Salt
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • Oil
  • 4 tbsp of chopped cilantro
  • Juice of 2 small lemon

Directions:

In a large pot heat 3 tbsp oil. To the oil add mustard seeds and let them pop. Cover the pot to prevent the seeds from popping all over the counter. Once they stop popping, lower the heat, add asafoetida powder and red chilies and stir in oil for 2-3 seconds (Do not burn the spices! Asafoetida powder will become bitter and turn black if you leave it in oil too long). Immediately add onions and sauté until onions are translucent – about 5 minutes.

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Next add fenugreek powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, and turmeric powder and fry in onions for a few seconds.

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Add chopped tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes until tomatoes become tender.

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Now add the cooked toor daal along with the lentil water and stir into the spice mixture. Add 1 cup more water if needed to thin the lentils.

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Add salt to taste and brown sugar and cook through for 5 minutes.

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Turn the stove off.  Add chopped cilantro and lemon juice and stir in. Toor daal is ready.

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For a dash of extra flavor you can also add a tablespoon of ghee at the end.

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Serve toor daal over white rice or quinoa.  I serve it with a side of vegetables such as green beans, potato curry or a cauliflower curry.

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