Toovar Dal

toovar dal
Photo: Jake Stangel
Prep Time:
35 mins
Total Time:
1 hr 50 mins

Also known as dali saar, this recipe originally hails from the Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins of Coastal Kannada and comes to us via Madhur Jaffrey. Saar means "juice" or "juice-like," so this dal tends to be very thin, and is meant to be eaten with rice. The cooking talents of brides used to be judged by their ability to make a simple dali saar.


  • 1 cup plain or oily toovar dal, picked over

  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric

  • Kosher salt

  • 2 tablespoons olive or peanut oil

  • Generous pinch of ground asafetida (available at Indian markets or

  • 1 teaspoon whole black or brown mustard seeds

  • 1 to 3 fresh hot green chiles, such as bird's-eye, Indian long, or serrano, cut in half lengthwise (leaving stem ends intact)

  • 1 dried hot red chile

  • 3 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half lengthwise

  • 10 to 12 fresh curry leaves (available at Indian markets or, lightly crushed


  1. Place dal in a bowl; cover with water. If using oily dal, rub with hands to remove oil; if plain, just wash it. Pour out water. Repeat 5 or 6 times, or until water is mostly clear. Cover with water one more time; let soak 30 minutes.

  2. Drain dal and transfer to a medium saucepan; add 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, skimming foam. Stir in turmeric. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Mash with a potato masher. Stir in 3/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste), then about 1 cup water, until desired consistency is reached. Cook over medium-low heat 5 minutes more.

  3. Heat oil in a very small pan over medium-high; add asafetida. A few seconds later, add mustard seeds. As soon as they pop -- a matter of seconds -- add both chiles and garlic. Stir until garlic turns light brown on both sides. Add curry leaves (take care, as mixture will splatter) and stir once, then immediately tip contents of pan over dal. Cover to entrap aromas. Stir before serving. Toovar dal can be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 3 days; reheat gently before serving.

Cook's Notes

Oily toovar dal, which has been cleaned and oil-rinsed to preserve freshness, can be found at Indian groceries or This recipe doubles and even triples easily, and it's well worth doing so, as you'll want to have this around for more than one meal. In step 3, the spices should be in the oil just long enough to start popping and become fragrant: Too long and they'll burn, so have everything on hand ahead of time.

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