Nepal-style black lentil soup


my finished version of Nepali black dal, or kali maas ko da, with fried jimbu and a touch of timur spice

In my previous home town of Madison, Wisconsin, we had a surprising number of Nepali restaurants per capita. That isn’t to say I understand “authentic” Nepali food better than anyone else, but at least there was some exposure to uniquely flavored dals, momos, and chutneys. Now we live in the much larger metropolitan region of Philadelphia, and I am unaware of any Nepali restaurants here (at least calling themselves “Nepali” and serving Nepali-style food). We do however, have a store that sells lots of Nepali food items, that I’ve previously reported on.

Those very uniquely Nepali flavors come from a handful of key ingredients that are quite unlike those of other culinary traditions of South Asia. Cured mustard greens and the Sichuan peppercorn-like timur are items that have perhaps closer affinities to Chinese food traditions.

Another unique ingredient, jimbu जिम्बु, pairs very nicely with black lentils, and is a traditional ingredient in Nepali black lentil dal. It is kind of hard to explain the flavor that this grassy onion imparts to the dish, but it seems to unlock the umami somehow. You can learn more about this spice and much more about Nepali ingredients and food culture at the excellent blog by Jyoti Pathak at Taste of Nepal. There you can also find a recipe for black dal, which, along with a recipe in the Association of Nepalis in the America’s The Nepal Cookbook were sources that I based my version below on.

Most recipes that I found online used split black dal or urad dal (again, see Taste of Nepal for a great introduction to this ingredient as well), but I used the whole polished black dal instead–the same kind I used for the prior Dal Makhani recipe.


Recipe: Black lentil soup with jimbu – Kali maas ko dal मास को दाल

For the boil:

1.5 cups black dal, split or whole
4-5 cups water
1 Tbsp ginger, minced
1/2 tsp tumeric
pinch of timur
salt to taste
1 Tbsp ghee

For the fried seasonings:

dried chiles
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp chopped ginger
generous pinch jimbu
generous pinch asofetida
2 Tblsp ghee

The general method is similar to other lentil soup preparations, where boiled beans or lentils meet a spiced fried oil mixture for final seasoning. In this case, the black lentils are boiled until fully cooked (up to an hour) with the ingredients listed above. Taste and adjust for saltiness, and finally top the soup off with the fried goodies in the second step. Mix well and serve.

I like my dals a little thicker, so I like to mash some of the lentils to make for a thicker sauce.


Lentils boiling with some ghee, timur spice, tumeric, ginger, asofetida, and salt. NOTE: salt will help break down the beans, so it should be included in this earlier step


items to include in the fried oil for the final step: jimbu, broken dried chiles, asofetida powder (aka hing), garlic, ginger


Frying that stuff before dumping it into the soup


Eat the dal with rice. This is a protein-rich low calorie food, great for all meals (I find).

About David Dettmann

Food obsessed and frequently nostalgic.
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6 Responses to Nepal-style black lentil soup

  1. Pingback: Fenugreek, a delicious herb/vegetable | Asian Markets of Philadelphia

  2. bryanajparry says:

    Hey there, I love the recipe. I learnt how to make this from legitimate Nepalese chefs who worked in Nepalese restaurants here in the UK. The did all of the above, but left out the timur, jimbu, and hing — because they don’t seem to be easy to find here. But none-the-less, crazy tasty. I make it all the time now. The only thing I do differently, is I stay away from ghee, no matter how delicious it is, on health grounds, and use things like sunflower oil or olive oil instead.

    I’m gonna make this tomorrow but for the first time using hing — I’ll let you know how it tastes different.

    In any news, anyone know where I can get timur or jimbu in the UK? Perhaps can I order from overseas and they can ship the ingredients…?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jean Clare Smith, MD, MPH says:

      Olive oil is not the oil to use in Nepali or Indian cooking – just wrong flavor. Ghee is not bad for you…. check out more recent research. Safflower or sunflower oil ok, but will miss flavor components important to this dal. (iving in Nepal and India >10 yrs, and cooking South Asian food for 40+ yrs)

      Liked by 1 person

      • bryanajparry says:

        Hi there, Jean, thank you for your comment. I do, however, cook South Asian food all the time myself, and therefore have ghee, peanut oil and coconut oil in my fridge and cupboard at this very moment, always do! But we can’t be precious about cooking traditions; we have to be able to adapt to local tastes, preferences and produce. 🙂


  3. Pingback: Gundruk: an essential food staple and flavor in Nepali cooking | Asian Markets of Philadelphia

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