How to Cook Dal WITHOUT a Pressure Cooker?

When we moved out from Texas, we had everything packed and shipped (to reach to us 2 weeks later) and forgot to keep a pressure cooker with me.  Since Alok would only pick up the shipment from storage a month later, and since I already had 3 pressure cookers in the cartons, I did not want to purchase another one for the month.  That meant cooking our mixed vegetable dal without a pressure cooker every day.  It reminded me of a reader who once asked me how to cook chickpeas and red kidney beans without a pressure cooker because she forgot to bring one from India.

This post is for those who want to cook lentils, but don't have a pressure cooker, or destroyed one because of excess/less water (yes, I did last month :-/).

Guess what?  Cooking lentils when you don't have a pressure cooker is LESS complicated.  How?
     a) You don't have to worry about too much or too little water destroying the pressure cooker
     b) You don't have to worry about the whistle flying off or spoiling the safety valve
     c) You don't have to worry about keeping track of the number of whistles

But the major disadvantage?  What you get done in 15 minutes in a pressure cooker takes 40 minutes in a pot/pan.  Wasting gas energy/electricity.  For those whose meals consist of dal every day, it's smarter to cook dal fast in a pressure cooker.  You can click here to learn basics of cooking dal in a pressure cooker.

And for cooking dal in a pan, without pressure cooker...

cook lentils without pressure cooker, soak for an hour
1)  rinse dal (1 cup toor dal/arhar dal in this case) as usual and soak in water minimum for an hour or two.

cook dal without pressure cooker - boil dal in a pan
2)  heat double the amount of water in a pot/pan and let dal boil in the water on medium heat.  On medium/high heat if you cover the lid, foam from dal will rise and come out of the pot and make a mess, so avoid covering it unless you want to cook it on low heat.  Let the dal boil/cook in water for about 30 minutes and remove the foam from top.

To cook dal in a pan: mash dal to test if dal is boiled, soft, and ready
3)  test a small amount, mash between fingers to check if it is soft.  If not, boil a little longer.  At this point, you can use it for cooking right away, or let cool and store in refrigerator for 3 days, or freeze in small amounts and store for months, like so:
Freeze pressure cooked or boiled dal in small quantities
freeze pressure cooked or boiled dal in small quantities
Continue to use this boiled, tender dal as explained in the Dal # 2: two-pot mixed vegetable dal recipe.  To add variety every day, I use different vegetables.  Sometimes I skip curry leaves, or dry red chilies, or garlic/ginger pastes, etc.  Whatever works.
stir fry vegetables in pan to make mixed vegetable dal without pressure cooker
stir fry vegetables in pan to make mixed vegetable dal without a pressure cooker

And then mix the boiled (or pressure cooked) dal with the vegetables.
mix the boiled or pressure cooked dal with stir-fried vegetables

And enjoy a different kind of dal every day.   Without worrying about the pressure cooker for the moment.

Spusht | Pyaaz aur Palak ki Dal | Lentils with Onion and Spinach
Lentils Cooked without a Pressure Cooker: Pyaaz aur Palak ki Dal | Lentils with Onion and Spinach

Spusht | Split Pigeon Peas with Tomatoes | Tamatar wali Tuvar Dal
Split Pigeon Peas cooked without pressure cooker: Lentils with Tomatoes | Tamatar ki Dal

Yellow Lentils with Tomato and Spinach | Tamatar Palak ki Dal
Yellow Lentils cooked without a Pressure Cooker: Lentils with Tomato and Spinach | Tamatar Palak ki Daal

But to save your time, money, energy, and gas/electricity - buy a pressure cooker.  ASAP.
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  1. Thanks for a very useful post Nisha.

  2. Lovely post,i cant cook lentils without cooker,very useful post for many of us.

  3. Useful Post. I think even with pressure cooker, its a great ides to cook a lot of dal at once and parcel it in the freezer. I will keep in mind while preparing for post partum times.

    1. Ummm, I'm not so sure if you should eat frozen stuff during those times, Fathima. Better eat healthy and fresh food for yourself and the newborn...

    2. Ummmm, I'm not so sure you should be lecturing her on her post-partum diet unless you are a licensed physician or nutritionist. I'm sure she wants what is best for her baby.

  4. I never liked pressure cooker but with daal I always take this step!

    1. After all the mess I had to clean, right from the ceiling till the floor, when my pressure cooker's whistle flew because of excess water, I don't seem to like it as much either!

  5. I find dal cooked slowly- especially in a slow cooker, always comes out better than the one cooked in a pressure cooker. I like the idea of freezing the dal and using different tadkas to cook a variety of dals.

    1. Really? I don't even have a slow cooker. Always felt it is such a waste of time and electricity...

    2. I'm a newlywed and new to Indian cooking. Upon reading that dal can be cooked in the slow cooker my ears perked up! Can someone tell me the dal to water ratio as well as heat setting and time, please?

  6. tats a very useful post.. Sometimes i too make like this wen i forget to keep in cooker :)

  7. it really and indeed is very helpful.....Would surely be a saviour for many had such an intriguing factor in it that despite three pressure cookers at home m gona try it and highly recommend it.....with all due respect for energy and the save energy campaigns around....m gona try it...just to be prepared for a situ which may or may not be really required to be faced :)

  8. Oh yeah I have only one pressure cooker but usually it gets engaged with our dishes.but I am in need to prepare variety of dals every day for my much thanks to you...

  9. Wow. Didnt know u could cook dal without a pressure cooker

  10. Wow..nisha..u helped me...i just landed last week to US ..without cooker...this helped a lot..
    JUst a curosity..can dal be prepared in a microwave..?

    1. Hi Milind, I guess you can make this plain dal the same way in a microwave - soak for an hour and boil in twice amount of water in a large microwave-safe bowl for 20-25 minutes stirring once in a while, may be? But I have never done this - I do not put anything in the microwave beyond 10 minutes (health reasons...)

  11. Thanks Nisha..ur right.. I guess better to prepare on heater...which I did..and it was great...tx once again..i might bother u for other dishes.. ;-)

    Have a nice weekend...


  12. It takes unusually long for me to cook on the hob, like more than an hour. Even then, the dal is crunchy. I have no idea how it took you 30-40 min :S Please help?

    1. Which dal do you use? Toor/arhar dal and yellow split skinless moong dal work the best and fastest when boiling in pan and would get done within 30-40 on a medium heat (provided you soak them for an hour beforehand). Chana dal takes longer, and kabuli chana or rajma would take the longest. Hope that helps!
      By the way - I'm wondering if you use a thick bottom pan to boil, because that could be one reason why your dal takes so long to boil and still not get completely done...

  13. I don't own a pressure cooker and have always cooked dal in regular pot on my gas stove top. I had no idea most Indian cooks used a pressure cooker! But then, I don't eat dal anywhere as often as you do since I eat a variety of foods from many cultures and my son isn't that fond of dal. My favourite dal dish is masoor-moong and I make big batches of it and divide it into one serving sizes to freeze for a quick lunch. I don't mind the heat from using the stove as it serves to warm the house in cool weather. And both masoor and moong dal cook very quickly.

    I don't have a rice cooker either but I always soak my rice (1-2 hours) before cooking. Then to cook it, after rinsing in very hot water, I add enough boiling water to the rice in a pot, bring it to a boil (only takes a couple of minutes) and turn off the heat after covering the pot with a lid and heavy mortar to keep steam in. The rice continues to cook and is soft and ready in 15 minutes. Works well with both basmati and sticky rices.


  14. thanks for tips. Actually in southern India dishes like pongal (moong dal + rice + coconut.), bisibela bath(turdal + rice + coconut + speices + veg) are made without cooker- tastes much better .. but takes bit long.

  15. thank you! didn't have a pressure cooker and this post saved my dinner. thanks again

  16. Tried it, works but due to induction stove it cooked much faster..

  17. I mistakenly believed that boiling the lentils on high would cook them faster. Even though I soaked them overnight and have had them on the stove for at least five hours now, they still aren't soft.


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