Simple Dal and Homemade Chapati (Indian Flatbread)

March 24, 2014

Homemade Chapati and Simple Dal

My goal with sharing recipes on this blog has always been to focus on simple dishes. I’m happiest making and eating fresh, simple, and (mostly) healthy meals and I like sharing how easy that can be to achieve. There are beautiful blogs out there which will guide you through making complex recipes and which challenge and push boundaries. I don’t think I’m pushing any boundaries here, except to offer a (currently) meat and dairy-free approach to cooking that focuses on whole food, plant-based recipes.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that cooking from scratch has to mean time spent frantically dashing around the kitchen trying to whip up something chef-fy and impressive. I think there’s a chance that rather than encouraging people to cook, the current glut of competitive cooking shows on TV only alienates us normal folk and makes cooking delicious food at home seem impossibly complicated and unachievable.

Dal with fried onions

We don’t spend a huge amount of money on food – we’re on a budget and I like the challenge of making delicious meals without spending a lot. We do buy mostly organic produce although the fact that I don’t eat meat or dairy has shrunk our food spending massively. Organic fruit and vegetables certainly come at a price, but it’s nothing compared to meat and dairy, organic or not.

I also don’t have a huge amount of time to spend cooking most days. If I’m lucky, after work there’s an hour available to make something before it’s so late that only toast is practical. At the weekends, more often than not we prefer to be out in the world, exploring this new city rather than hunkered down.

Homemade Chapati

So, inexpensive, simple, quick, and nutritious are my priorities these days and this dal and homemade chapati fall squarely into those categories. Many people assume you need a full cabinet of spices to make good Indian food but this dish is here to prove that theory wrong.

Dal is an excellent dish to make on a budget, requiring only red lentils, water, turmeric, an onion, and cumin seeds. You can’t really get more thrifty or simple than that and yet it packs an almighty flavour punch. Chapati also requires minimal ingredients to create soft, chewy, earthy-tasting, and perfectly charred breads that are lovely alone but perfect with a little chutney spread on them to scoop up dal. Since they require no rise, they are completely practical for a weeknight dinner too. Being lighter than their cousin, naan bread, I find that I can also eat more of them, which is one distinct bonus in my book.

Homemade Chapati and Simple Dal

Simple Dal
from River Cottage Veg


  • 250g / 1 ⅓ cups red lentils
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • a small bunch of parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro), coarsely chopped


  1. Put the lentils in a saucepan with 800ml (3.5 cups) water and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum, then stir in the turmeric and salt. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for about 15 minutes, whisking vigorously occasionally. The lentils should break down and have the consistency of thick puréed soup. Keep warm in the pan.
  2. When the dal is just about done, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and fry for a couple of minutes, until browned and fragrant. Add the onion and fry quite briskly for 5-10 minutes until golden brown, with some crispy edges.
  3. Tip the onion mixture into the hot lentils in the pan, cover and leave for 5 minutes, then stir them into the dal. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Serve with fresh parsley or cilantro on top and homemade chapati on the side.

Homemade Chapati (Indian Flatbread)
adapted from Saveur

If you can find chapati flour, by all means, use that. It’s a finely milled whole durum wheat flour called atta in Hindi. I used an organic wholemeal flour which turned out really well.


  • 240g / 2 cups organic plain wholemeal flour
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp organic canola oil
  • 250ml / 1 cup water


  1. Whisk together the flour, salt, oil, and water in a bowl until dough forms. Transfer to a work surface and knead until smooth, for about 4 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and let the dough sit for about an hour.
  2. Divide dough into 10 equal pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Using a rolling pin, roll each ball into a 12cm / 5″ round. Try to maintain a circular shape, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
  3. Heat a dry cast-iron skillet or frying pan over high heat. Add a dough round and cook for about a minute before turning once, until cooked through and charred in spots, about 2 minutes.
  4. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining rounds. Serve hot. Makes 10 flatbreads.
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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Rachel March 24, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Oh yum, I think dal is actually one of my favourite foods – the simpler the better.

I agree about simple recipes too, I’m all about sharing recipes that are actually doable (ignore my macaroon posts!).


Kathryn March 24, 2014 at 4:39 pm

The older + more experienced in the kitchen I get, the more I appreciate those simple recipes that yield maximum taste for minimum effort.


Laurie Jesch-Kulseth @ Relishing It March 24, 2014 at 11:24 pm

This looks fab and I know I’d love the heck out of it. I’ve made dal several times, but never chapati. I have to change that! I need to remember to buy River Cottage Veg. You talk about it so often and I fell in love with it when I paged through it once. Take care!


Sher March 26, 2014 at 6:23 pm

mhmm i love indian food, but have never thought to try making it myself! love your food photos.



Tara April 3, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Hi. I’m not sure what I did wrong but my dough was really really wet- I has to add lots more flour to make it into a kneadable dough. Not sure how they’ll turn out -haven’t cooked them yet! Just wondering if anyone had any advice?


Jasmine January 12, 2015 at 4:09 am

Tara – try adding the water very slowly, and mixing with your fingers as you add, until it comes together in a ball. You can also dredge the smaller balls of dough in flour before you roll them.

Just another quick heads up… I *think* that the salt measurement should actually be 1 tsp.


M April 30, 2014 at 3:04 pm

I agree with you and I also began a plant-based diet about 8-9 months ago. I am not perfect with this, but am doing pretty good and lost some extra weight that i did not need to be carrying around. I make daal on a regular basis minus the oil and it’s still great.
It is a challenge to find good plant-based recipes, but even more challenging is finding the non-fat and non-oil recipes, which are key disease causing products!
I remember making your buckwheat pancake recipe and just loved it. Now, I have to make pancakes without milk or eggs. I have to use minimal oil. Have you found any good plant based pancake or recipes that are great?


Lesley August 18, 2014 at 10:42 am

Looks like one tasty dal – think I might have to give it a try.


Venkat Warren March 13, 2015 at 3:00 am

An equally simple dish which is very heart and brain healthy is salmon grilled with turmeric, onions and olive oil . Trh it ; you will love it ! I am a Cardiologist! Cheers. Venkat .


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