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Arhar Daal (Pigeon Peas)

Updated: Oct 14, 2023

We recently returned from our annual camping trip. The kids are really good eaters. They willingly had whatever I cooked. Salmon, Potatoes Au Gratin, Mediterranean Shrimp Pilaf, Vegetarian Chilli. They were super appreciative.

When they got home though, they wanted pizza. I did not. I wanted something gluten free and I was craving Daal, or lentils. Now if you are familiar with Indian food, there are many types of lentils that are cooked regionally and easy to find with a google search. Within that, each family pod has what is their preferred "default" Daal.

In my family, Arhar Daal, or Pigeon Peas was the default. That is was I was in the mood for. Back home from the woods, after a nice warn shower. Something comforting, like (Arhar) Daal!

I quickly washed out some lentils, rinsed it out till the water ran clear, added water and the spices, closed the pressure cooker. I also use the instant pot or a regular pot when I'm cooking a larger quantity. I've shared the cooking times for those in the recipe write up. I have a two person pressure cooker and sometimes, I use that when I don't want to bother with larger quantities.

As I closed the cooker, I realized I had no tomatoes to temper the Daal. I was so excited for the Daal and now... what a bummer.

I did not want to make a trip to the store for tomatoes. There was no leftover pasta sauce that I could substitute. Then it struck me. The Himani effect a.k.a my mom's style of thinking.

When I went to pick up the pizza, I asked them for a small container of marinara sauce. I was so excited that they did not charge me for it.

Thank you Mama's Brick Oven Pizza, South Pasadena!

When I came home, I tempered the Daal with the marinara sauce.

You can use any frying pan, the smaller the better since the quantity for the tempering is small.

The Daal was perfect. I just did not add the pinch of sugar that the recipe traditionally calls for :)

Then it struck me that this is something that I can do take care of myself when I'm traveling especially because we have been renting houses with kitchens more than we we have hotels.

Recently, I've been making it a habit to carry a small "spice kit"with me, just like I would a make up kit.

It has all the basic spices that allows me to make fresh "home made food" Indian food in no time, where ever I go. As I've grown older, I've appreciated giving myself these culinary options without feeling like I'm imposing myself on others.

If you are interested, check out the Mom's Everyday Spice Kit here that is on my spice store. It has the spices and recipes for this Daal and other fun dishes.


  • 1 cup Yellow Pigeon Peas (a.k.a. lentils)

  • ½ teaspoon turmeric

  • 1 ½ teaspoon coriander powder

  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder*

  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt or to taste

  • 6 cups water

Spices for tempering for the Daal

  • 2 tablespoon olive oil or butter

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds

  • 1/8 teaspoon hing (asafoetida powder)

  • 2 dry red chilli

  • ½ cup fresh tomatoes – pureed (or pasta sauce)

  • ½ teaspoon sugar -optional

  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro



  1. Wash the lentils till the water doesn't seems cloudy in the lentils container anymore. I like to used a pasta strainer to strain out the water completely before the next rinse.

  2. Use a regular pot, instant pot or pressure cooker to cook the lentils. In any method, start with placing lentils with turmeric, coriander powder, chilli powder & salt, in water.

USING A POT: Turn onto high and bring to a boil. Once the lentils start boiling, turn heat down and bring to a simmer, cover and crack the lid cover an inch or so. If not, you may find some frothing and overflowing onto the burner which is not a big deal but just messy and this cleanup is avoidable. Cook for about 50 minutes. Stir a couple of times in between. If you find there was too much evaporation with water, then add a cup of water. The main idea is to give the lentils enough water to absorb and expand so they become soft.

USING AN INSTANT POT: Start with placing lentils with turmeric, coriander powder, chilli powder, salt, in water in your instant pot. Set it to 5 minutes on manual or pressure cook mode. Slowly release after time is up.

USING A PRESSURE COOKER: A pressure cooker can also be used – follow directions from manufacturer for your particular instrument. I usually let the lentils cook for about 5 -7 minutes after the pressure builds.

NOTE: Whatever method you are using, if it is your first time, the main thing to know about this lentil is that you want the consistency of the lentils to be not too thick or not too thin. It should be the consistency of hearty pea soup. SO, if it's too thick, add some water and bring to a boil. If it's too watery, bring to a boil and evaporate the water.

3. Once the lentils have reached a hearty consistency, turn off the burner, and get

ready to temper the lentils.


  1. Heat olive oil or butter on medium heat in a saucepan.

  2. Add cumin seeds, hing and dry red chilli and let splutter for 30 seconds.

  3. Add tomato puree and cook for 2-3 minutes till oil leaves side of pan. If using pasta sauce, stir for 30 seconds.

  4. Add the tempering mix into the lentils. Turn on burner and bring to a boil. (It is traditional in Kolkata to add just a bit of sugar. It’s optional. The dish is NOT sweet by any means if you add the sugar. If using pasta sauce, hold off of the sugar.)

  5. Add the cilantro.

  6. Serve with basmati rice or (have a cup of soup with some toast).

Please email me at if anything is unclear or if you have any questions. If you try this recipe and it works for you or made modifications, please leave a comment to let the community know.

Thank you!

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