thali time at home

chopping chillies in indiaThali, meaning ‘plate’, could be described as India’s answer to ‘fast food’. Found just about everywhere, from restaurants to roadside dhabas, these delicious dish-of-the-day selections are a fantastic way to enjoy the local specialities.

Originating in southern India, a thali is a round silver plate that is divided into sections, or alternatively contains a set of smaller dishes within. Into each of these compartments you would normally expect to be served dahl (lentils), one dry subji (vegetable) dish, one gravy subji, dahi (yoghurt), sometimes rice and unlimited chapatis (a type of bread). There’s no need to decide on your selection, because order a thali and you’ll receive whatever has been prepared that day. And don’t expect to be given a fork, this is the time to learn to master the art of eating with your hand – right hand only of course!

To enjoy the fun of thali dining at home, here are recipes for three common inclusions, but of course you can add in small serves of your other favourite Indian dishes. And if you don’t have a thali tray, then go traditional and serve on a banana leaf…


For the dahl
150 g yellow lentils, or toor dahl
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 fresh green chillies, finely chopped
2 tsp ginger- garlic paste
2 tsp tomato purée
1 tsp turmeric
300 ml hot water
2 tbsp ghee, optional

For the spiced runner beans
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
pinch asafoetida
1 medium onion, finely chopped
300 g runner beans, finely chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp desiccated coconut

For the onion and mint raita
150 g plain Greek yogurt
1 green chilli, very finely chopped, optional
1 medium onion, finely chopped
handful mint leaves, finely chopped


1. To make the dahl: put the lentils, onion, green chillies, ginger-garlic paste, tomato puree and turmeric powder in a heavy saucepan and pour in the hot water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for around 35 minutes, or until the lentils are very soft and mushy and the onion has almost melted into the dahl.

2. Meanwhile, to prepare the runner beans: heat the oil and add in the mustard seeds. As they start to pop, add the cumin, asafoetida and onion and stir-fry until the onion is soft.

3. Add the runner beans and salt. Pour in a few tablespoons of water and cook uncovered until the beans are tender.

4. To make the onion and mint raita: combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Just before serving, add salt to taste.

5. When the runner beans are done, remove the pan from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and sprinkle with the coconut. Season the dahl to taste with salt and add the ghee if using. Serve hot alongside the spiced runner beans and the raita.

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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Christian Friborg / Reply

I love Indian food. I want to try the authentic dishes though. Maybe it’s time to head on a flight to India real soon!

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