I’m not wearing jeans too often these days (related: I don’t own enough sweatpants), but the cliche that something can be as comfortable as an old pair still applies. Especially now, when so much has been turned upside down and it’s almost inconceivable to believe that until just a few weeks ago, most of us were going about what we’d call our normal lives. So, naturally, anything that reminds us “before,” is welcome, especially if it happens to be nourishing and delicious.

That’s where this Mango Dal recipe comes in. My husband and I picked it up in a class with Washington-area culinary instructor Rupen Rao, who has published two slim but charming and reliable cookbooks on Indian food. We have made the dal for years — long before we bought our house and had a kid and, of course, long before the coronavirus pandemic. Making it a few times over the past couple of weeks has brought a priceless taste of normalcy.

Dal is a soupy staple of Indian cuisine, made with a variety of legumes. Lentils and beans are common, but this recipe relies on split pigeon peas, or toor dal (dal can refer to the legumes themselves, too). If all you have is lentils — red or yellow would be particularly nice — use those! Just cook them first according to the package instructions. A typical mix of aromatics and spices, including cumin, garlic, onion and mustard seeds, seasons the dish.

Mango makes a guest appearance in this version, bringing a bright, faintly sweet and slightly tart dimension. In the past, I’ve used canned mango pulp from our local Indian markets. These days, I’ve relied on fresh mango that I blitzed with my immersion blender, which lends more tartness than the canned stuff. Have frozen mango? Let it thaw and puree that. No mango? Heck, the dish would be okay without it in a pinch, too. The original recipe also calls for fresh curry leaves. Add them if you have access (I know some folks grow trees!), but I’ve made them optional, given the limited market trips we’re all taking now.

A dish like this begs for something to scoop or soak it up. Naan is my favorite vehicle, and you can even throw together your own using pretty standard pantry ingredients if you’re looking for an extra touch or didn’t happen to grab any at the store. But, really, any bread works, and rice is another obvious option.

I hope you find as much comfort in this dal as I do, even without the same emotions attached. Here’s to building some new good memories, or at least trying some good new recipes.

Recipe notes: The split pigeon peas must be soaked for 1 hour. The cooked peas can be refrigerated for a few days until you’re ready to use them, and the finished dish can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

If you prefer to leave the mango in pieces, add them to the pot along with the garlic, chiles and curry leaves, if using.

This recipes doubles easily.

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.


  • 1 cup split pigeon peas (toor dal)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons ghee, unsalted butter or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 small dried red chile peppers, torn in half
  • 4 or 5 curry leaves, torn in half (optional)
  • 1/2 medium red or yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • Flesh of 2 large ripe mangoes, pureed with a blender, immersion blender or food processor (1 cup; may substitute canned or frozen mango pulp)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Step 1

Rinse the peas in a strainer or colander under cool running water, swirling constantly. Transfer the peas to a medium bowl and cover with water to soak for 1 hour at room temperature. Drain and transfer to a medium pot, and add the 4 cups of water. Cook until the peas are very soft and the water is almost completely absorbed, 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer the cooked peas to a bowl, and then rinse and dry the pot.

Step 2

Return the pot to the stove and, over medium heat, melt the ghee. Add the mustard seeds and cook until they begin to crackle, 2 to 4 minutes. Add the cumin seeds, garlic, chiles and curry leaves, if using, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Step 3

Add the onion to the pot, and cook, stirring frequently until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Return the cooked peas to the pot, and add the mango puree. Increase the heat to medium-high, bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, letting the dal simmer until the flavors are combined, 3 to 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and serve.

Adapted from Washington culinary instructor and cookbook author Rupen Rao.

Tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here. The nutritional analysis is based on using ghee.

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Calories: 315; Total Fat: 9 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 405 mg; Carbohydrates: 50 g; Dietary Fiber: 9 g; Sugars: 25 g; Protein: 10 g.