Dal Bhat Tarkari: The Soul of Nepalese Cuisine

In the magnificent Himalayan nation of Nepal, where culture and cuisine intertwine seamlessly, one dish resonates powerfully across all regional and social boundaries—Dal Bhat Tarkari. This humble yet flavorful meal is not merely a culinary tradition; it is a way of life, a testament to the country’s agricultural heritage, and an expression of its rich diversity. It paints a picture of Nepal’s vibrant food culture—one that beautifully weaves together the threads of taste, nutrition, and local produce.

The name “Dal Bhat Tarkari” might sound like a singular dish, but it is, in fact, a harmonious assembly of three main components: “Dal” or lentil soup, “Bhat” or steamed rice, and “Tarkari” or vegetable curry. Each component has a unique role, the Dal offering a protein-packed comfort, the Bhat providing essential carbohydrates, and the Tarkari lending a medley of colors, flavors, and vital nutrients.

Dal: A Comforting Embrace

The Dal, the first component of this trinity, is the nutritional backbone of the meal. Dal is a lentil soup, cooked until the lentils are tender and comforting. This lentil soup can be prepared from a variety of lentils, such as red lentils (Masoor), split pigeon peas (Toor), black lentils (Urad), or yellow lentils (Moong). Each type of lentil imparts its unique texture and flavor to the Dal, making it a versatile dish.

Cooking the Dal is an art in itself, balancing the lentils’ inherent flavor with the perfect blend of spices. Often, the cooked Dal is tempered with ghee or oil heated with cumin seeds, garlic, and sometimes a pinch of asafoetida. This practice, known as ‘Tadka’ or ‘Jhaneko’ in Nepali, enhances the taste of the Dal and is sure to tantalize your taste buds.

Bhat: The Starchy Canvas

The second component of this dish is the Bhat or steamed rice. Often overshadowed by its more flavorful counterparts, the Bhat is the silent provider of essential carbohydrates, energy for the hard-working people of this rugged land. Nepalese prefer the short-grain variety of rice known as “Chamal,” which, when cooked, transforms into soft, slightly sticky grains. These grains absorb the flavors of the Dal and Tarkari perfectly, making each mouthful an exquisite experience.

Tarkari: A Cornucopia of Flavors

Completing the trinity is the Tarkari or vegetable curry. It is here that the magic of seasonal vegetables unfolds. Tarkari brings color, variety, and a symphony of flavors to the Dal Bhat meal. Whether it’s the warmth of potato curry in the cold winters, the freshness of okra in the summers, or the comfort of pumpkin curry in the autumn, Tarkari is a culinary testament to the seasons.

The preparation of Tarkari involves sautéing the vegetables with a melange of spices—turmeric, cumin, coriander, and chili, among others. This colorful medley is then simmered in a tomato-based sauce, resulting in a hearty, flavorful curry that pairs excellently with the Dal and Bhat.

As we continue to explore the richness of Nepalese cuisine, let’s delve into the practical aspects and learn to prepare a hearty meal of Dal Bhat Tarkari. Despite its seeming simplicity, this dish’s beauty lies in its balance of flavors and the comforting satisfaction it brings.

Dal Bhat Tarkari
Image credit: foodpanda

Dal Bhat Tarkari – Ingredients

For Dal (Lentil Soup):

1 cup lentils (Toor Dal or Red lentils)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida (optional)
2-3 dried red chilies

For Bhat (Rice):

1 cup short-grain rice (like Jasmine)
2 cups water
Salt to taste

For Tarkari (Vegetable Curry):

2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 large carrot, sliced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 cup of chopped spinach
Salt to taste
1 cup of tomato puree


Preparing the Dal: Rinse the lentils thoroughly under cold water until the water runs clear. In a pot, combine the lentils, 3 cups of water, turmeric, and salt. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and let it simmer until the lentils are cooked and tender.

In a small pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, and when they start to sizzle, add the minced garlic, asafoetida, and dried red chilies. Cook for a minute until the garlic turns golden. Pour this tempering over the cooked lentils and stir. Your Dal is ready!

Preparing the Bhat: Rinely rinse the rice under cold water until the water runs clear. In a pot, bring water to a boil. Add the rice and salt, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and let it simmer until the rice is cooked and the water is completely absorbed. Fluff the rice with a fork before serving.

Preparing the Tarkari: Heat oil in a large pan. Add the cumin seeds, and when they start to sizzle, add the chopped onions and garlic. Sauté until the onions turn translucent.

Add the turmeric, cumin, coriander, and chili powder to the pan, stirring well. Cook for a minute until the spices are well blended with the onions.

Add the potatoes, carrots, bell pepper, and spinach to the pan. Stir well to coat the vegetables with the spices. Sauté for a few minutes before adding the tomato puree and salt. Cover the pan and let it simmer until the vegetables are tender and the curry is thick.

Your Tarkari is now ready!

To serve, scoop a mound of rice onto a plate, ladle the Dal next to it, and spoon some Tarkari on the side. Remember, the joy of Dal Bhat Tarkari lies in mixing the components together, so don’t be shy to mix up your plate. Enjoy this comforting Nepalese dish that is sure to transport you to the heart of the Himalayas!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.