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Get Cozy with this Easy Yellow Dal Recipe
Curry is one of the best ways to enjoy plant-based eating. The fragrant spices pair extraordinarily well with creamy coconut, making lentils, split peas and other legumes into an exceptionally satisfying meal.
What is Dal?
Whether you spell it dal or dahl, there is no question that this richly spiced Indian stew deserves a place in your regular meal rotation.
Dal is not a singular dish, but a broad category of creamy, thick soups made with different legumes and flavored with Indian spices, including turmeric, cumin, coriander and ginger.
While red lentils tend to be my go-to ingredient when making dal, it’s not uncommon to find mung bean or split pea dahl on the menu. And today, I’m bringing you one of these variation with this yellow split pea curry.
What Are Yellow Split Peas?
Yellow split peas, not to be confused with yellow lentils, are the dried, peeled and split seeds of ordinary field peas. Yellow split peas are less sweet and starchier than green split peas, making them an excellent candidate for a thick yellow dal recipe.
How to Cook Yellow Split Pea Curry
I am glad you asked. Nothing warms my heart like a little bit of food chemistry and this yellow dal recipe was the equivalent of getting my culinary mind blown.
Do You Need to Soak Yellow Split Peas Before Cooking?
Ask around about cooking with split peas and one of the first things you’ll hear is: they’re a great vegan ingredient because they don’t require soaking before cooking. And while that’s mostly true, there is a trick to this yellow dal recipe that runs counter to this philosophy.
When I was recipe testing this yellow split pea curry recipe, I really struggled with getting the split peas to soften. No matter what I did – soaking or simmering – my yellow split pea curry came out firmer than desired.
Then I remembered something I had read during my last food chemistry binge: adding acid to beans too early in a recipe tightens and toughens the skins, causing them to be firm.
As it turns out, this was the issue with my yellow dal recipe. The original version had me simmering the yellow split peas in coconut milk spiked with sautéed tomato paste. And, while this makes for some incredible flavor, it was also thwarting that creamy consistency that make dal so delicious.
The Key: Pre-Cook Your Yellow Split Peas in an Instant Pot
Neither soaking my split peas nor simmering them ‘til kingdom come seemed to avoid a bad outcome, so I then tried pre-cooking the yellow split peas in my Instant Pot before adding them to the coconut curry broth. And this? This worked like a charm.
Because Instant Pot cooking is so fast and efficient, pre-cooking barely added an additional time. I simply added 2 cups of yellow split peas and 4 cups of water to my Instant Pot and pressure cooked them on high for 5 minutes and a natural release. This took about 20 minutes, including the pre-heat and cool down phases, adding only about 10 minutes to the final recipe.
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can still enjoy this yellow dal recipe. Simply simmer the yellow split peas in water for 30-35 minutes in a covered pot on the stove.
Can You Make Yellow Dal with Split Peas?
Absolutely! As I mention above, split peas are a common ingredient in Indian yellow dal recipes. This simple ingredient swap is the only one, with the rest of the ingredients being common in many curry dishes.
For this yellow split pea curry, I add sautéed onions, tomato paste, yellow curry powder, coconut milk and finish the dish with a garam masala – an Indian spice featuring cinnamon, cardamom, mustard, coriander, cloves and nutmeg.
Yellow Split Pea Curry: Frequently Asked Questions
Can you cook yellow split peas in a slow cooker?
Yes, although I recommend using a pressure cooker or an Instant Pot if you’re looking to get this meal on the table quickly. Yellow split peas take 5 minutes on high. Accounting for the pre-heat time and the natural steam release, yellow split peas can be ready in about 20 minutes using this method.
Is dal the same as yellow split peas?
Kind of. Dal is a broad category of dishes that feature different legumes, but the word dal is also used to refer to split peas, lentils or mung beans as an ingredient in these dishes.
Can you cook split peas in coconut milk?
Most definitely! The combination is divine. I recommend using full-fat, unsweetened coconut milk in your dal recipes.
Can you use yellow split peas instead of red lentils?
Yes! But see my comments above about pre-cooking the yellow split peas. In my experience, yellow split peas are more sensitive to acid (like tomatoes) which causes them to remain firm despite soaking or longer cooking times. Red lentils do not seem to pose the same challenges.
Do you need to soak yellow split peas before cooking?
No, but see my comments above about pre-cooking yellow split peas. If cooking yellow split peas with tomatoes you may find the yellow split peas unwilling to soften. In my experience, soaking the yellow split peas doesn’t help to avoid this issue, but pre-cooking the yellow split peas does.
How do you cook yellow split peas in Instant Pot?
You can cook yellow split peas in your Instant Pot. Use a 1:2 ratio (dried yellow split peas to water) and cook on high for 5 minutes with a natural release.
Can you make curry with split peas?
You bet! Not only is yellow split pea curry delicious, it’s also a dish you’ll see on my Indian menus.
Do You Love This Yellow Dal Recipe?
Do you love this yellow split pea curry recipe? Be sure to check out my other Indian-inspired blog posts! If you’re into warm and cozy, then my Vegan Curry Lentil Soup is for you! Curious about cooking with curry? Check out my What is Curry blog post.
If you’re looking for easy, tasty ways to warm up this winter, then you need to add this Vegan Curry Lentil Soup to your rotation. It’s a simple soup, packed with healthy vegetables and protein-rich lentils. Sautéed garlic and onions, roasted tomato paste and mildly spicy yellow curry give this vegan soup its depth of flavor.
Plenty of people ask the question – what is curry exactly? These recipes are popular throughout the world, but you’ll most often see Indian recipes and Thai recipes populating your Instagram feed. So, let’s take a crack at answering the question and see if I can’t inspire you with some easy, healthy recipes along the way.
What’s in My Kitchen to this Yellow Dal Recipe Easier?
Want to know what tools and resources I keep on hand to make my vegan cooking even easier? Here’s a short list of what helped me create this blog post and recipe. For the complete list, visit my Shop where you can find the kitchen gadgets I like as well as a list of books that I recommend.
Yellow Dal Recipe
- 2 tbsp liquid coconut oil
- 1 small yellow onion diced
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups yellow split peas precooked, see Recipe Notes
- 1 tbsp garlic minced
- 2 tbsp yellow curry powder see Recipe Notes
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 14 oz can full fat, unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 3 cups baby spinach roughly chopped
- Pre-cook the yellow split peas. See Recipe Notes.
- Heat the coconut oil in a deep-sided saucepan until shimmering. Add the diced onions and salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the onions to cook slowly until browned. About 12-15 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook for 1 additional minute.
- Add the curry powder and cook until fragrant. About 1 minute.
- Add the tomato paste and increase the heat to medium-high. Sauté the tomato paste with the onions and curry powder until it is dark red. About 2 minutes.
- Add the prepped yellow split peas, coconut milk and garam masala. Stir to combine and cook until heated through.
- Add the baby spinach and cook until wilted. About 2 minutes.
- Season with salt & pepper and serve with naan.
- Confused about curry? Aren’t we all? For this recipe, I used a yellow curry powder. To learn more about curry, be sure to check out my What Is Curry? post.
- I get into the food science in my blog post, but I recommend pre-cooking the yellow split peas before adding them to the curry paste. Yellow split peas, like many legumes, don’t interact well with the acidity of tomatoes. Adding acid to legumes too early in a recipe tightens and toughens the skins, causing them to be firm. To avoid this outcome, I pre-cook the yellow split peas in my Instant Pot. I use a 1:2 ratio (yellow split peas: water) and cook them on high for 5 minutes with a natural steam release. If you do not have an Instant Pot, you can pre-cook the yellow split peas on the stove for 30-35 minutes.
About Herbivore’s Kitchen
Herbivore’s Kitchen is a plant-based food blog started by me, a vegan home chef, cookbook author, aspiring food photographer and how-to-be-a-better-food-blogger junkie. You’ll mostly find creative and tasty vegan recipes and detailed deep dives into vegan ingredients (check out my Vegucation section) on my blog. I love knowing as much as I can about the food that I make. I’m also really into running a food blog as a business, so I’ve also got a section of my blog titled: Confessions of a Food Blogger where I get into the nitty gritty on how to build, manage, market and monetize a food blog.