This matar dal recipe combines a delicious selection of whole spices and dried yellow split peas to create a flavourful and easy dal that's packed with protein. Tempered spices are added to beautifully tender split peas to create a next level yellow split pea dal. The total time cooking might be an hour, but there's only 15 minutes of effort required and a few very simple steps. Great with homemade roti.
🌟 Why this recipe works
Whole spices, big flavours – we pack in a load of whole spices to this yellow split pea dal recipe. That's because they offer the big flavours. It's a great mix of whole spices, including cumin seeds (jeera), fenugreek (methi), fennel (saunf) and nigella (kalonji).
Shop-bought ground spices are are convenient but don't always offer the best flavour. Don't get us wrong, they're convenient and we use them often. However, they lose freshness and flavour from the point that they're ground and therefore whole spices offer the best flavours for this recipe.
Easy to make – Indian food can sometimes seem complicated to make because of the list of spices or cooking techniques. But trust us, this matar dal recipe couldn't be much easier. Simmer the yellow split peas, fry the aromatics and then combine them – that's it!
We'll walk you through it so you'll end up with the most perfect yellow split pea dal and hopefully a new favourite. Red lentil curry is another option that's easy to make but doesn't need whole spices!
Good for meal prepping – this recipe is great for batch cooking and meal prepping. It reheats well and can be stored either in the fridge or it can be frozen. Just reheat in the microwave for a couple of minutes, or in a saucepan with a splash of water to loosen it up. Yellow split peas naturally absorb water so you may need to add a few tablespoons of water when reheating.
Great for most diets – this matar dal is great for vegetarian, vegan and gluten free diets as it comes. It can easily be made oil free too – the onion and spices can be cooked in a little water rather than fried in oil. In fact, maany vegan Indian recipes are inclusive for many diets. Take a look at our favourite Indian vegan dishes for more inspiration.
🇮🇳 What is matar dal?
Matar dal, or motor dal, is a yellow split pea dal dish originating in India. It's especially popular in Bengali cuisine and is quite a runny dish. It has more in common with a soup than curries with thick gravies or sauces. If you've ever ordered a tarka dal from your local curry house, this yellow split pea dal will be a similar runny consistency.
The yellow split peas are boiled until soft. Separately the onions are fried until soft, the spices are tempered and garlic and ginger is added. This process of tempering creates a tadka that is poured into the cooked yellow split pea mix – basically a delicious spice mix fried in oil.
This tempering technique is commonly used in Indian cooking and helps to release the essential oils from the spices and enhance the flavour.
The mix of whole spices that are used for this yellow split pea dal is known as panch phoron, panch phodan or pancha phutana. This literally means "five spices" and generally consists of equal parts of cumin, black mustard, fenugreek, nigella and fennel seeds.
We've gone a bit heavier on the cumin seeds as this was the best flavour for us when recipe testing.
Alternatively, we also recommend our red lentil dhal.
📋 Ingredient notes
Matar dal – there are many types of dal used in Indian cooking, and dal is actually the name for lentils or split pulses, as well as a type of dish. Matar dal is yellow split peas, which are very similar in look and texture to chana dal, which is dried split chickpeas. They're very easy to find in the pulses and lentils section of the supermarket or from specialist Indian markets.
Spices – cumin, black mustard, fenugreek, nigella and fennel seeds make up the panch phoron that is mentioned above, which is the mix of whole spices that will make this yellow split pea dal extra special. As well as the whole spices, this recipe calls for turmeric and curry leaves during the cooking process. It's then finished with garam masala to season it at the end.
Garam masala – did you know the garam masala is often used as a seasoning in Indian cooking, rather than being fried and cooked in the dish with the rest of the spices?
It's a technique that we've used in quite a few of our vegan curry recipes like this tofu korma. Trust us on this one and give it a go – add the garam masala and the salt right at the end of the cooking process when seasoning.
Onion – always the starting point for most curries to create the best flavour. Don't scrimp when cooking the onion, keep it frying for as long as you can! Just like in our seitan curry and our delicious jackfruit curry.
Check out the recipe card at the bottom of this article for exact measurements to make this yellow split pea dal recipe.
🔪 Yellow split pea dal step-by-step instructions
This is a step-by-step overview with photos for making matar dal. The full recipe, along with measurements and detailed instructions can be found in the recipe card at the bottom of the page.
1. Start by thoroughly rinsing the yellow split peas to remove any dirt.
2. Add the rinsed yellow split peas to a large saucepan along with 8 cups of water, bring to a boil and reduce to a high simmer (without a lid).
3. Continue to simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until really tender. As foam forms on top of the pan, just scoop it out with a spoon and rinse it down the drain.
4. Around 15 minutes before the end of the simmering time, pop the oil into a frying pan and bring up to medium heat. Add the sliced onion and gently fry for 10 minutes until it has softened and is starting to brown.
5. Turn the frying pan up to medium-high heat and add the spices, finely chopped garlic, ginger and chilli. Fry for 5 minutes until fragrant.
6. The yellow split peas should now be cooked and the tempered spices are ready. Add 1-2 cups of water to the saucepan with the split peas and stir – start with 1 cup and optionally adda little more to achieve a soupier consistency. Bring to a gentle simmer.
7. Pour the contents of the frying pan into the saucepan and stir well. Simmer for 10 minutes.
👩🍳 Expert tips
Season at the end – lentils and other pulses don't soften as much during cooking if salt is added early on in the cooking process. So if they're salted before they're cooked they will take ages to cook. Don't ask us to explain the science, it's something to do with the denaturing of proteins, but trust us – we've tested it and it's true.
So don't be tempted to season the matar dal too early. That's because the yellow split peas won't soften as much and one of the keys to a good matar dal is really soft yellow split peas that start to break down.
Consistency – traditionally a yellow split pea dal is more soupy in consistency, with a quite thin gravy. But we're big believers in cooking dishes to your own personal tastes, so if a thicker dal is more your thing, add less water at the end of the recipe.
8 cups of water is still necessary to boil the yellow split peas, but when it comes to loosening up the gravy at the end, start with 1 cup of water and add more if needed. We tend to add 2 cups of water when making this recipe.
Grind, if you like – while this yellow split pea dal recipe calls for whole spices to maximise the flavour, if preferred, the spices can be ground. If this is your preference, we'd recommend grinding the spices just prior to cooking, then following the recipe as normal.
No need to drain – the yellow split pea dal is first cooked in just water. There's no need to drain them once they are cooked. Most of the water will either get absorbed or cooked off, so it won't need draining. In fact, more water will be added before it's finished!
No, soaking yellow split peas isn't necessary. However, they definitely should be rinsed thoroughly before use to remove any dirt. Also. it's important to give them a quick check to make sure no stones have made it into the packet.
Anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes depending on the desired consistency. For this yellow split pea dal the yellow split peas need to cook for 45 minutes separately and a further 15 minutes with the spices, which results in an extremely soft texture.
You can make anything from soups, to hummus, and even nut roasts using yellow split peas. Our personal favourite is making matar dal, a yellow split pea dal recipe packed full of flavour.
🍛 Serving suggestions
🇮🇳 More Indian recipes to try
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- 2 cups dried yellow split peas
- 9-10 cups water
- 0.25 cup oil – vegetable, groundnut or rapeseed (canola)
- 1 onion – thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 0.5 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 0.5 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 0.5 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 0.5 nigella seeds
- 0.5 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 5 curry leaves
- 1-2 fresh green finger chillies – sliced
- 1 tablespoon garlic – minced
- 0.5 tablespoon ginger – minced
- 0.5 teaspoon garam masala
- 1.5 teaspoon Salt – to taste
- Start by thoroughly rinsing the yellow split peas to remove any dirt.2 cups dried yellow split peas
- Add the rinsed yellow split peas to a large saucepan along with 8 cups of water, bring to a boil and reduce to a high simmer (without a lid). Continue to simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until really tender. As foam forms on top of the pan, just scoop it out with a spoon and rinse it down the drain.9-10 cups water
- Around 15 minutes before the end of the simmering time, pop the oil into a frying pan and bring up to medium heat. Add the sliced onion and gently fry for 10 minutes until it has softened and is starting to brown.0.25 cup oil, 1 onion
- Turn the frying pan up to medium-high heat and add all of the whole spices, curry leaves, turmeric powder, garlic, ginger and chilli. Fry for 5 minutes until fragrant.1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 0.5 teaspoon black mustard seeds, 0.5 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, 0.5 teaspoon fennel seeds, 0.5 nigella seeds, 0.5 teaspoon turmeric powder, 5 curry leaves, 1 tablespoon garlic, 0.5 tablespoon ginger, 1-2 fresh green finger chillies
- The yellow split peas should now be cooked and the tempered spices are ready. Add 1-2 cups of water to the saucepan with the split peas and stir – start with 1 cup and optionally add a little more to achieve a soupier consistency. Bring to a gentle simmer.
- Pour the contents of the frying pan into the saucepan and stir well. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Season with salt and garam masala. Serve with naan bread, fresh coriander and/or pilau rice.0.5 teaspoon garam masala, 1.5 teaspoon Salt
- Don't season the lentils before they're fully cooked, as it will massively prolong the cook time.
- Freeze for up to 3 months, keeps in the refrigerator for 3 days.