Chana Dal- Lentil Soup in the Pakistan Manner

Lentil Soup

There is a tiny panificio on the corner of Via Galvani and Via Mastro Giorgio in Testaccio where they sell wee rose-shaped hollow bread rolls called rosette. If you’re going to pop in to buy their rosette, make sure you go on a Thursday, because on that particular day, they prepare a fresh ciambella; ring-cake, which you buy thick slices of by the gram, warm in your oven for breakfast, slather with yoghurt and wash down with a caffè latte made with your favourite Palombini coffee beans.

Those wee rosette you walk out of the bakery with in your brown paper bag are baked till each roll’s five-petals begin to rise and swell, creating that delicious, chewy crust with a down-like softness on the inside. The rosetta is the perfect vehicle for mopping up those puddles of briny, garlicky sauce from your sauté di vongole veraci; sautéed clams, made with the sweetest clams you bought from your pescivendolo at the Testaccio farmers’ market to go with that bottle of Falanghina.

Lentil Soup

And the rosette are particularly fantastic for sharing with your friends to dunk in the chana dal you make for them when there is no fresh naan from the tandoor available anywhere in Rome. Chanay ki dal is that creamy, spicy soup, laced with ginger and caramelised onions you probably love to pour over fragrant basmati, adding squirts of tart lemon juice; or perhaps you scoop it up with naan, with a side of mango pickle at your grandmother’s home. Or maybe you like to have it in a bowl with a large dollop of Greek yoghurt or crème fraîche on top.

If you are in Rome, just make sure to invite your friends over for a Thursday meal of lentil soup- so you can pick up a few slices of ciambella with your rosette. And if you’re really gracious, you’ll share some slices of ciambella with your friends after dinner with a glass of vin santo.

Lentil Soup

I am sure many of you are wondering why there is no ‘tarka’ or tempering of onions and spices poured onto this dish at the end- this is Saimaa, my darling aunt’s method- she prepares a tomato-onion base and then adds the lentils, as I have done in this post. My Ami’s method is different- she prepares the lentils (without the addition of any onions or tomatoes) and adds the ‘tarka’ at the end (golden-brown onions). Both methods are authentic; it is a matter of preference as to which method you adopt.

Serves 4-6

*2 tbsp corn or any other neutral oil
*½ small onion sliced thinly
*3 small tomatoes, blanched, skins removed and diced
*1 tsp tomato paste (optional)
*¼ tsp turmeric powder (haldi)
*1 tsp salt (or more, to taste)
*½ tsp red chilli pepper  (to taste-or can be omitted altogether if you don’t like spicy soups)
*1½ litre of boiling water (approximately 6 cups)
*400g chana lentils (approximately 2 cups)
*2 1-cm thick slices (a little less than ½-in.) of peeled ginger
*fresh cilantro (or your favourite herb) for garnishing
*paprika or sumac for garnishing (optional)
*olive oil for drizzling
*lemon wedges

Note: If you soak the lentils in cold water overnight or for an hour prior to cooking, you can reduce the cooking time from 1½ to 1 hour.
*Coat bottom of a large pot with oil and place on medium-low heat.
*Add sliced onions and cook for 30 minutes; checking every 10 minutes. Cook till onions wilt and turn golden.
*Add chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, turmeric, salt and chilli pepper and turn flame to medium-high. Sauté for 2-3 minutes till tomatoes look jammy (i.e., their liquid has reduced).
*Add boiling water, lentils and ginger. Reduce heat to low. Stir and cover pot with lid.
*Simmer until lentils are tender- test a grain between your thumb and forefinger- about 1½ hour.
*Remove and discard the ginger slices.
*The proceeding steps are optional; they are for those who want a thicker, soup-like consistency. If you don’t want a soup, but a traditional Pakistani-style Chana Dal, once the lentils are tender, loosen them with a little bit of water till the desired consistency is achieved and taste for salt and red chilli pepper. Serve with fresh, chopped coriander on top.*
*When lentils have cooled, with a teacup or American measuring cup, transfer 1 cup of lentils and process in a blender till smooth and creamy. Loosen with a little bit of water. Pour back into pot. (For those of you who have an immersion blender, you can blend the soup directly in the pot.)
*Slowly add boiling water to soup till desired consistency is achieved. Taste for salt and red chilli pepper.
*Serve with fresh coriander or your favourite herb; a sprinkle of paprika or sumac (optional); a drizzle of very good olive oil and lemon wedges to add tanginess.



  1. I stumbled across your blog a few months ago and have enjoyed reading the stories that accompany the recipes. I’ve been waiting with anticipation for your latest post. Enjoyed the little introduction here, almost felt like I was there with that bread in my mouth: a pleasure. Thanks!

  2. ines cracco says:

    Shayma, this looks scrumptious! Would love to make this at home, but the chili and ginger make it too ‘spicy’ for my kids (they are very picky about spicy food, don’t take after their mummy at all!)! Do you think I can go without, or will it be too bland? Hope you’re doing well preziosa, I owe you a long e-mail… thank god for your blog, has me coming back and staying in touch everytime! XOXO, Ines

    • @Gaz Thank you for the kind words.

      @Ines Absolutely – you can omit the red chilli pepper and ginger. The ginger is primarily in the recipe because lentils/beans can, ahem ahem, irritate the tummy and cause gas 😉 so the ginger is supposed to take care of that. If you make this without the chilli pepper and ginger you an serve with lots of lemon or with a dollop of crème fraîche or Greek yoghurt on top. Thanks for the lovely words, darling. xo

  3. This looks delicious. I can almost smell the wonderful spices in this hearty stew.BTW- I love the bowls! Simply gorgeous.

  4. @Dahlia Thank you- the bowls are from good ol’ Anthropologie- which I can actually see from my bedroom window- rather dangerous for the pocket.

  5. Beautiful…Absolutely gorgeous photos…I can smell and taste it!! Chana is one of my favourite legumes of all..Though I usually have to make sure I soak them a bit before which takes some time out of the cooking time…

    • @Bahareh Thank you so much. Your tip is wonderful, I shall incorporate it in the recipe- the lentils should be soaked, if time permits. x s

  6. I must also comment on the link for the ciambella..seems delicious !! Can’t wait to make some!

  7. mmmmmm love this chana daal and your bowls! I usually add a tarka, but I’m going to try this way :). The golden onions and cooked tomatoes probably add nice sweetness, will try it soon. Glad to see you back!

  8. Well I can’t help feeling this post is just for me. I don’t usually go to that panificio even though I know it is very good. I think i will walk down this morning, buy some ciambella and think of you. The Chana dal soup looks delicious – not a million miles from the zuppa di ceci they serve in volpetti which goes rather nicely with the mini rosette. I will try. Oh and food52 – fab.

  9. Just noticed where the link leads – you are so lovely. Please come back to visit Rome, we have some ciambella to eat…

  10. Hurrah – another lentil recipe!
    Your Tarka Dal is wonderful, make it often (adding spinach sometimes -probably sacrilege!)
    I can’t wait to make this soup – will get some fresh ginger tomorrow – I have everything else – there’s always one ingredient missing…

    Thanks x c

  11. Is this the one I had? If so, it was delicious!

  12. Hi,

    Been reading your blog over the last week or so…slowly working my way through, and just wanted to say how wonderful it is…the style, photos and recipes are great…I’ve made a chana dal before, but tis looks much better…will definetely be giving this one a go.

    Sara x

  13. What a beautiful dish, Shayma. I love lentils; legumes in general, but lentils are my favorite. I will be trying this dish your aunt’s way. I have a feeling it will be great for a dreary winter’s evening.

  14. Delicious Dal and I want your beautiful bowls!

  15. I love the texture and flavor of chana dal. This looks like a wonderful soup and I can almost taste the flavors through your description and photographs. Like the idea of seasoning with sumac.

  16. Gorgeous and hearty winter food! Love it Shayma. Looks delicious enough to tuck into right now given how miserable the weather is here. I’m all for comfort food this time of the year. M x

  17. I just posted a lentil soup today as well. I admire the dishes you used. Just gorgeous!

  18. I wish I had a big bowl of this waiting for me after skiing today. Gorgeous photos as always, and the ginger and cilantro seal the deal for me.

  19. Shaymalicious! Miss you and hope i get to eat some of ur creations. Mujhe tau kabhi kuchh nahi khilaya!! But i still love you 🙂 Hope all is well,
    love always.

  20. The soup looks so comforting and filling. I make the same with lentils (masoor dal) would like to try this dal for my soup. Lovely clicks.

  21. Saimaa sheikh says:

    Dear Shayma, Read your blog and believe you me, it was a pleasure reading it, as always. I was indeed honoured since you had mentioned my name and the type of lentils I prepare for my family and friends at home. Also I like your masala prawns recipe and hope to make it in the near future, will keep you posted on that. Do take care and Good Luck!

  22. Dearest Shayma: I was JUST looking at my kitchen cabinet piled high with red and yellow lentils–and wondering why I haven’t made dal in so long. Clearly it’s because I was waiting for this recipe! Can’t wait to try it. The five-petaled rosettes sound absolutely divine–though here in NY we’ll settle (happily)for naan.

  23. The ginger and caramelized onions got me sold here. I love Chana Dal. The Bengali way to make it is very different, with little sweet and whole garam masala and coconut. But I make it with ginger garlic now for the hubby now and grown to like it too.. masala chana – dal. The bowls are so extremely beautiful and I am trying to picture the rose breads here.

  24. I think most of my idea about Rome stems from your posts and it sounds like a very great place to be. I don’t really like chana dal as much as other dals (too heavy for me) but my husband loves it!

  25. This is quite an interesting and fun soup you have here. Lentils are always such a great comfort food! Great work.

  26. Shayma, lovely to see a blogpost….and such a gorgeous recipe, love the sound + look of Chana Dal! Also, adore rosettes….and sauté di vongole veraci……oh my! Beautiful post, thank you for sharing xx

  27. First time visitor to your blog. What beautiful pictures you take and interesting modifications to the traditional dishes. Plan to visit regularly and browse more.
    Happy writing.

  28. Shayma, I’m definitely trying this. I remember that you’ve posted another dhal recipe sometime last year so I’m going to go through your archive to search for it.

  29. gourmand says:

    I am late in commenting. This recipe is one more hit. Channa Daal looks divine, tastes wonderful and makes up for all the needed proteins. I love the way you weave your stories…there is always a crescendo in your stories which fires the appetite. Just looking at your marvelous photos makes me into a veritable food junkie!!

    Gourmand turning into a glutton.

  30. @Bahareh The ciambella is a real treat, look at Rachel Eats’ website, I have the link to the recipe in my post. x s

    @Nadia Thank you so much. I find that people sometimes get a bit intimidated (ahem, grossed out, tee hee) from the ‘tarka’; ie the tempering with oil, so caramelising also takes care of that issue. x s

    @Rach This post was definitely written with you in mind. I hope we can have a ciambella together in Testaccio when I am back in Rome. x s

    @Clare Adding spinach is not sacrilegious at all- it is lovely. Thanks for the kind words. x s

    @Su-Lin No, this one is different- the one I made for you is this one.

    @Sara Thank you so much for visiting my blog.

    @Magda Thank you- it is definitely a lovely dish for the winter- but in Pakistan eat it all year- it is such simple, comfort food.

    @Sara Thank you so much.

    @mustardseed Thank you- I find sumac always adds a tart kick to dishes- I like it on salad, too.

    @Maunika Thank you, my lovely. x s

    @Kirsten Thank you, shall check out your lentil recipe.

    @Oui, Chef Thanks, Steve. How about we get the whole family together- my lentil soup, followed by one of your beautiful pastry creations?

    @Faisal Baig Thank you- well, you have to come and visit us in Toronto, I’ll make you any dish you like. Miss you, too.

    @Sanjeeta You are very kind, thank you.

    @Saimaa And I am honoured to be your niece. x s

    @Lorraine Naan would be lovely with this, of course- though my most favourite bread to have with it is chapati, which I don’t know how to make, tee hee. x s

    @Soma It sounds lovely with coconut milk- wish we used that in Pakistan, but it is not as easy to find there (of course one can buy the imported stuff…). x s

    @Kulsum Everyone has a favourite dal, and I suppose chanay ki dal is not your fave 🙂 I hope you and the husband make it to Rome one day. When you plan to go, let me know and I’ll share all my fave tips with you. x s

    @A Brown Table Thank you so much.

    @Imen Thank you, lovely lady. x s

    @DN Thank you for being a first time visitor- most appreciated.

    @Chocolate and Cookies
    Thank you- here is the link to the other dal recipe.

    @Gourmand ‘Gourmand turning into a glutton’- lovely phrase. Thank you, as always, for supporting me. Love, s

  31. Hello,

    Just want to thankyou for this easy and tasty recipe! My mum is abroad to Pakistan for a wedding so its me and dad and bro at home so I needed an easy and delicious recipe and I found it!

    Thankyou soo much x

  32. This is very similar to how my mum makes it, and I love it! I saw you on BBC Good Food India this week! Congrats on the feature!

  33. I am making this tonight and will be adding it to the weekly menu plan I publish every Monday and linking back to your page. Thanks for the FABULOUS recipe — my kitchen smells *amazing* and the bite I snuck is wonderful!

  34. Dear shayma,

    Love your blog and the great recipes from different countries and cultures. I had one question about this recipe (and some other ones as well). Do you never add garam masala or fenegreek at the end? My mother used to this, and I was wondering if there was a particular reason why you didn’t? (also not e.g. in the chicken recipe ‘Murghi ki Salaan’)

    • Hi Ansa, Thank you for visiting my site and for your kind words. There is no particular reason other than that fact that my mother doesn’t like to add these two ingredients, and I tend to mimic her cookery style. She believes that too many spices can potentially ruin the flavour of a dish. All my best and Happy New Year, Shayma

  35. I came to your blog about 6 months ago. I love your Dahl recipe and other recipes, they have been life saver’s to me in my new relationship. I have been able to craft meals that have won over my husband! Thank you for sharing this information and for being a positive cooking influence!

  36. Hi there to all, the contents existing at this web site are actually awesome for people experience,
    well, keep up the good work fellows.

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