All about the humble Dal

The variety of lentils, uses and recipes to make a delicious curry

A staple ingredient in Indian food; Dal (or Dhal) is commonly used across homes in India. Despite the slight rise in price of pulses over the last year, India is known to consume around 23 million metric ton of pulses in all its varieties. With the country having such a large vegetarian population, it is no surprise that Dal provides the required source of protein in our everyday diet. It is cooked weekly and used in a variety of dishes from a basic simple Maharashtrian ‘Varan’; a humble lentil stew served just with some rice and ghee to a Sindhi Dal Pakwan which can be part of an Indian feast. For me every bowlful of Dal reflects the level of comfort it offers and that feeling of eating something so simple yet spells home cooking.

There are so many types of lentils consumed in India and used in recipes from regions across the subcontinent. A classic Punjabi Dal Makhani can be made essentially using the Whole black gram/ black lentil with the skin on which when cooked gives a creamy texture to the resultant dish. I always get asked what the varieties of lentils are and also what they are used for. With each lentil providing a different texture and flavour to the curry I have compiled a brief list which is a good starting point for those hoping to explore lentils beyond Toor or Channa Dal.

Masoor Dal – An everyday option this red lentil is commonly found in stores and shops everywhere. Masoor dal does not require soaking and also quick to cook so is perfect for a midweek meal where you need to make a tadka dal. You can also look for a variety of the red lentil is also known as whole masoor dal or sabut masoor dal; this is brown in colour with the red lentil encased within. One of my favorite recipes to cook ‘Masoor ki dal’ this brown lentil lends a lovely thick texture.

Urad Dal – A black lentil that is split and skinned to reveal a creamy colored lentil. Commonly used when ground to a fine paste in Idlis/ Dosa batters or the white lentil is used whole in Mash ki dal. Urad dal is also used while tempering spices in southern India with mustard seeds. You can also buy Black Urad dal or Sabut which is a great option for Dal Makhani. Whole black urad dal requires soaking and a slow cooking process to get the best flavour.

Moong Dal – Also known as mung bean dal is a pale yellow variety that is a skinned and split yellow lentil. Its the perfect addition for an everyday creamy dal that cooks really quickly but also is easy to digest for the body. A great source of nutrition and takes really well to spices. This lentil is ideal for khichdi, curries and even used in Indian desserts. Green moong dal is the whole variety also known as sabut moong dal and is commonly used to make tarka dal or pulaos and ground to a coarse paste for savoury pancakes or parathas.

Toor Dal – Yellow split pigeon peas this is my go to dal. Probably because its what my mother always cooked for the family. Toor Dal does not require to be soaked and is great to cook a classic Tadka Dal from Gujarat or Maharashtra

Chana Dal – If you prefer the consistency of dal to be creamy/ thick then using chana dal is ideal. Also known as dried yellow split pea it is used often in Punjabi and Bengali recipes. The trick to cooking chana dal quickly is adding a pinch of baking soda while boiling the dal. It can also be soaked for a few hours prior to cooking or if your like me the best way to cook it quickly is use a pressure cooker.

There are loads more recipes in the vegetarian section of this site for ideas on how to cook Dal and also regional dishes with unique cooking techniques and spices. You can also find recipes for Sindhi Dal Pakwan, Slow cooked Dal Makhani, Tadka Dal and Mutton Dalcha in my book Indian Kitchen. I would love to find out your favorite dal recipes so make sure to leave a comment in the box below!

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