Easy Trini Dhal Recipe

Dhal is a classic side dish for lunch in Trinidad and Tobago. My mom made dhal, rice and a side everyday for years.

This basic recipe is simple and easy to make and you only need seven ingredients.

Oh and if you’re interested, check out these recipes for more Trini lunch ideas.

trinidad dhal closeup

What is in this Trini dhal recipe

For this recipe, you will need:

  • dried yellow split peas (dhal)
  • turmeric powder
  • salt
  • water
  • oil
  • whole geera (whole cumin)
  • garlic

You can add a number of other ingredients too like:

  • onion
  • pepper
  • Caribbean green seasoning
  • geera powder (cumin powder)
  • fresh herbs like chadon beni
  • carrots

Dhal is versatile enough to act as a side dish and a soup. With dhal soup, you can add so many more veggies and dumplings too. Dhal and dumpling taste great!

How to make Trinidad dhal

There are two ways to soften yellow split peas:

  • boiling until tender – this takes about 40 minutes
  • pressure cook the dhal – this takes 10 minutes

Let’s talk about both ways.

Boil dhal until tender

Step 1A: Wash the peas thoroughly and add it to a pot of boiling water on medium heat.

Step 2A: Stir to prevent any of the peas from sticking to the bottom. After five minutes, you will see froth developing on the water surface. This happens due to the starchy content in the dhal. Skim the froth off and stir again.

skim froth off dhal

Step 3A: Add salt and turmeric and allow to boil until the dhal is completely tender. You should repeat skimming the froth every five minutes or so. And you may need to add more water to the pot – it doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold water.

Step 4A: Anywhere during this time, you can add your other ingredients like onion, carrots, pepper and other seasonings. It’ll take about 30 minutes to 40 minutes for the dhal to soften.

softened yellow split peas

Step 5A: Once soft, use a traditional wooden dhal ghotni or immersion blender to blend the dhal.

use dhal ghoutni to blend dhal

From here, you can jump to the ‘chunkay’ section.

Or pressure cook dhal

If you want to speed up your cook time, be sure to pressure cook the dhal.

Step 1B: Add the water, washed yellow split peas, salt and turmeric to the pressure cooker. If you want to add the additional ingredients like onion, pepper, seasonings and so on, do it at this time.

pressure cook dhal

Step 2B: Place the cooker on high heat on a medium stove burner.

Step 3B: Cover the cooker and wait until steam starts to spew out of the top. When this happens, place the heavy weight on the lid and turn the heat on low.

Step 4B: Leave to cook for 10 minutes.

Step 5B: Turn the stove off and leave the cooker to depressurize naturally (or place a spoon under the weight to release the steam – don’t get burn!). Once completely depressurized, remove the cover. The dhal should be completely cooked and have an already blended texture.

From here, it’s time to chunkay the dhal.

Chunkay the dhal

What does chunkay mean?

Chunkay is an old Hindi word meaning heating oil, spices and garlic and adding it to food.

Step 6: Add sliced garlic and whole geera (cumin) seeds to vegetable oil and cook until the garlic slices turn black or almost black.

frying garlic and whole geera in oil
burnt garlic for chunkaying

Step 7: Add the hot oil carefully to the dhal. It sputters a lot so be very careful.

I most often use a ladle to heat the oil and, once or twice, the oil has caught fire. It’s often quite small and taking the stove off quickly causes the fire to disappear. But, don’t ever add the ladle with fire to your dhal – it’ll flare up and behave like adding water to a grease fire. If you’re worried about that, use a small pot to heat your garlic slices and geera (cumin).

Once the oil is added to the dhal, give it a quick stir. That’s it! Your dhal is done.

As the dhal cools, it’ll become thicker and less runny. If you prefer it a little runny, add more water when boiling or to the pressure cooker.

dhal featured image

What to serve with Trini-style dhal

Dhal and rice is a classic Trini lunch. You can serve it with any vegetable side to create a delicious well-balanced vegan lunch. Or add some curried or stewed meats for a wonderful Indian-inspired meal. Check out are my curry chicken and curry duck recipes too.

Besides a simple salad, vegetarian sides like tomato choka, baigan (eggplant) choka, aloo (potato) choka, curry bodi (long beans) and aloo are great options.

Stew chicken, or stew fish are also tasty pairings with dhal and rice.

Dhal is so versatile.  

How healthy is dhal

Per 100 grams of dhal, you will find close to 20% of your daily protein requirement. This makes it a good source of protein for vegans.

The same 100 grams provides over 30% of your required fiber. And there are also low levels (under 10%) of potassium, magnesium and iron.

All nutrition data listed is courtesy the USDA food database.

Dhal recipe

dhal featured image

Trini Dhal (with & without pressure cooker)

Print Recipe
Dhal is a tasty yellow split peas side dish or soup that is easy to make with few ingredients. It is so versatile and goes well with curries, stews, and more.
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Caribbean, Indian
Keyword dhal
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Cook time with pressure cooker 12 mins
Servings 4
Calories 204
Author We Trini Food


  • Pressure cooker (optional)


  • 1 cup yellow split peas (dhal)
  • 3-6 cups water
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • tsp salt
  • 2 cloves garlic (sliced)
  • 1 tsp whole geera (cumin) seeds
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • pepper (optional)
  • onion (optional)
  • green seasoning (optional)


  • Wash yellow split peas thoroughly and remove any bad peas.

Without Pressure Cooker (45 minutes)

  • Add 3 cups of boiling water to a pot on medium heat.
  • Add washed split peas and stir.
  • Skim off froth after five minutes.
  • Mix in turmeric powder, salt and optional ingredients like onion, pepper, and seasoning.
  • Stir occasionally and skim off froth often.
  • Add additional 3 cups of water if necessary.
  • Cook until the peas are tender.
  • Blend the peas (with dhal ghotni or immersion blender).
  • Heat oil in a small pot or ladle.
  • Add garlic slices and whole cumin to the oil.
  • Cook until the garlic slices become black or almost black.
  • Pour the heated oil onto the dhal.
  • Stir and serve hot.

With Pressure cooker (12 minutes)

  • Place pressure cooker on medium burner on high heat.
  • Add 3 cups of boiling water, washed split peas, turmeric, salt, and optional ingredients to the cooker.
  • Stir.
  • Cover the cooker.
  • Place weight on the lid when steam escapes through the top.
  • Lower the heat and leave to cook for 10 minutes.
  • Turn off heat after 10 minutes.
  • Depressurize the cooker completely.
  • Open the cooker and stir the dhal (if not completely cooked, pressure again, cook for 2 – 3 more minutes and depressurize again).
  • Heat oil in a small pot or ladle.
  • Add garlic slices and whole cumin to the oil.
  • Cook until the garlic slices become black or almost black.
  • Pour the heated oil into the pressure cooker.
  • Stir and serve hot.

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