Tadka is the most iconic dhaba dish of Kolkata with a history as elusive as its recipe. Tadka, or “Torka” is basically the Punjabi ma ki dal or kaali dal recipe that has been heavily modified to cater to the famously discerning Bengali palate. Before the torka was invented in 1970s (most likely) a meal of just dal and roti was inconceivable in Bengal because Bengali food has a traditionally developed multi-course tradition that is comparable in structure to the modern service à la russe style of French cuisine in which food is served course-wise rather than all at once. Even a very humble Bengali meal requires a serving of mashed potatoes and subzi, if not fish, along with dal and rice. So, to appease a Bengali clientele, dhabas transformed the simple homestyle dal into a rich, robust and extremely flavorful side dish, often made with crispy egg bits and minced mutton, and Bengalis have been fascinated ever since. The Kolkata dhaba style tadka, which is not available in any other state in India, was a nod to the culinary legacy of Calcutta while sticking to the traditional, hearty flavors and techniques of Punjabi cuisine.
In addition to being the most delicious dal ever, the biggest attraction of torka is that it is inexpensive and sustainable Indian food. However, its appeal is not limited to highway truck joints. It is indeed the egalitarian nature of this dish that has earned “torka ruti” the respect of one of the most loved meals in the city.
How to make Kolkata dhaba style dal tadka?
I have skipped eggs or meat in this recipe because I like my torka plain, but you can totally add keema or eggs if you like. I like to serve torka with pickled onions and achaar. It goes great with naan, kulcha, tandoori or plain roti.
- 3 tbsp oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 tbsp chopped garlic
- 1 tbsp chopped ginger
- 2 green chilies, chopped
- 1 large tomato, chopped
- 1/2 cup whole moong dal
- 1/2 cup whole urad dal
- 1/2 cup split gram dal
- 1/2 cup musoor dal
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- 1 tbsp cumin powder
- 1 tbsp garam masala powder
- salt to taste
- 1 tbsp kasoori methi, crumbled
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp desi ghee
- 2 tbsp chopped coriander/cilantro leaves
- Mix all the pulses/dal and soak them overnight. Next, boil them until well done. You can use a pressure cooker, but the cooking time will vary depending on the cooker. Drain the excess water and set the dal aside.
- Heat oil in (preferably) a cast iron skillet.
- Add onions and continue to cook until translucent, stirring occasionally.
- Add ginger, garlic and chilies and cook until fragrant.
- Now add the chopped tomatoes and cook until soft.
- Add the boiled lentils (no water).
- Sprinkle chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, garam masala powder and salt and continue to cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until oil separates.
- Sprinkle kasoori methi.
- Add butter, ghee, and chopped coriander leaves and remove from heat.