A dal for the Road with a little bit of History – Dhabha Dal

Before the railways connected India with India itself, there were only roads that were the primary source of transport throughout the length and breadth of the vastness that is India. Imagine living in the olden days where a Horse or a Bullock cart was your mode of transport or worst a palanquin in which you jostled and bumped around till you reached your destination.

1-IMG_6079Sher Shah Suri an Afghan emperor who ruled over the Northern part of India during the 16th century had the foresight to recognize how the landscape of the country he conquered was. He decided to build a road to link the remote locations under his rule for better administration. And hence he built the first highway in India called as “Sadak-e-Azam (‘great road’), which was later renamed as “The Grand Trunk Road” by the British. Since the highway was so long he built Caravansaries or Roadside inns for the weary traveller and his animal to rest and relax before moving towards his destination. The Caravansaries or Dhabha’s as we now call them provided not only much needed rest but also shelter and more importantly food. India has come a long way since the days of the Mughal Empire and the British Raj, but we still have the tradition of the Roadside Dhabha’s for the travellers to relax and have a break.

1-IMG_2154These Dhabha’s are quite famous for their awesome food, appalling hygienic standards and sometimes scary staff. I am not sure if any of the roadside Dhabas in India have ever passed any of health inspection tests. But the food is somehow amazing, and a lot of these Dhabha’s have a huge fan following. The earthiness that one can taste in the food cooked by inexperienced and untrained cooks who, put their heart and soul into the food they make with limited resources and even limited ingredients makes the food magical. It is an experience that is unique to India and is thoroughly enjoyed in the company of friends who enjoy their food as much as you do.

1-IMG_2184The recipe I am sharing today is of “Dhabha Dal” which is a very popular dish served in these Dhabha’s. Eaten with hot Rotis it is one of my favorite Dals that I make often especially when I am having guests over. The layer of Butter floating on top of the Dal makes it look delectable and it is worth all the calories that you scared it has.

Here is the recipe (Serves 6)

For the Dal

1/2 cup Chana Dal

1/2 cup split Black Urad dal

1 tsp Turmeric Powder

Salt to taste

For the Tempering

1 tbsp Ghee (No substitute, you can use Butter instead BUT NO OIL)

1 tsp Cumin seeds

2 -3 cloves of chopped Garlic

2 medium sized Tomatoes finely chopped

2 Green Chillies

1 tsp Red Chilli powder

1/2 tsp Asafoetida (Hing)

For the Garnish

1 1/2 tsp Dry Mango powder (Amchur powder) or Chat masala powder

1 tsp Garam masala powder

Freshly chopped Coriander leaves

A small Dollop of Butter to garnish the Dal


Mix both the dals together and wash them well. Keep them aside for 15 minutes, discard the water again and add 2 – 3 cups water.

Boil the Dal with just Salt & turmeric powder till done. I used a pressure cooker and gave around 10 whistles.

Keep the dal aside and heat the Ghee in a pan. Add the Asafoetida, Cumin seeds, chopped Garlic and Green chillies & red chilli powder and cook for 2 – 3 minutes on a slow flame. Now add the Tomatoes and cook till mushy and done.

Transfer the Dal in this pan and bring to a boil.

Garnish with Dry mango powder and Garam masala, lots of freshly chopped Coriander and Butter.

Serve hot with Rotis or Rice.


Hearty Meals look like these – Chana Dal with Pumpkin

They say beauty needs no ornaments and we all know it is true. Someone who is beautiful doesn’t need expensive clothes, make up or jewellery to look good. They could wear the shabbiest of clothes and still their beauty can outshine someone who is better dressed.

Same goes for good food. Although food also has to be visually appealing, something that is really simple and delicious can taste much better then something you spend hours making and then more time in decorating it.


And this Vegetable dal that I make is something that fits into this category. It is simple, delicious and very healthy but doesn’t look like a fancy restaurant quality dish. I would not serve this when I am hosting an elaborate dinner party, I would serve it when I am cooking for my family. I guess Hearty meals don’t need to look like anything else.


When you look at this dal you would think it is plain and boring. But when you take the first bite and all the delicate, soft flavors hit your taste buds you know you are eating something that is not plain.

My mother made this dal often and my brother and me would dunk big chunks or pao (Indian buns) in it and eat it. It was one of my options when I used to fall sick as it is a very subtle dal with the only masala in it being Cumin powder so you are not hit with something intensely powerful but something soft and easy on your palate. We also use whole Green and Red Chillies so they can be removed easily if you are serving it to kids.  It is a meal in itself and you don’t need to make anything else to go with it.

I love making a huge bowl of this dal and then we eat it over a period of days as it can stay in the fridge easily for 5 – 6 days without getting spoiled. Try it and tell me what you think, I am sure it will become a huge favorite in your house after you have made it once.

Here is the recipe (cooking time 30 – 40 minutes, serves 6 -8)

2 cups Chana Dal

1 small white Onion finely chopped

1 1/2 cup of diced Pumpkin (I leave the skin on)

3 dry Red Chillies

3 Green chillies

1 ½ tsp Turmeric powder

1 tsp Jeera powder (Cumin powder)

1 tsp Cumin seeds

1 tsp Methi seeds (fenugreek seeds)

1 1/2 tsp freshly grated Ginger (do not use store brought ginger, I usually just grate the Ginger on top of the dal)

Salt to taste

1 tbsp Ghee (non-negotiable)

Freshly chopped Green coriander for garnishing

1)    Wash the dal and pressure cook it with around 5 cups water, some Salt and ½ tsp Turmeric powder for 10 minutes or 6 whistles. The dal has to be half cooked. Let the cooker release all steam before you open it. If you are not using a pressure cooker you will have to cook the dal for longer as Chana dal is a bit tough to cook.

2)    While the dal is cooking in a thick bottomed pan heat the Ghee. Add the cumin and methi seeds. Once they start to splutter add the Red and Green chillies and the chopped Onion and sauté for a few minutes till the Onion has turned translucent.

3)    Add the Pumpkin pieces to this. Cover and cook on a medium flame for 7 – 10 minutes.

4)    Now add the dal, rest of the Turmeric powder, Jeera powder and more Salt to taste. Once the dal has come to a boil reduce the heat and grate the Ginger directly on the dal and sprinkle the freshly chopped Coriander and let it cook till the Pumpkin and dal is done.

If the consistency is too thick add ½ cup of hot water to it. Serve it with some plain boiled rice and you will be a very happy person once the meal is done.