Guide to Indian Dals

by | May 9, 2023 | Indian Cooking, Uncategorised | 0 comments

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In Indian cuisine, legumes have played a vital role as a primary source of plant-based protein for centuries. Their widespread use is deeply rooted in the cultural and religious beliefs of the country, where a significant portion of the population follows a vegetarian diet.

India is known for its diverse religious practices, with Hinduism being the dominant religion, followed by Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Many of these faiths advocate for a vegetarian lifestyle, with some even prescribing specific dietary practices. For instance, the Hindu and Jain communities emphasize ahimsa or non-violence, which extends to their dietary choices, leading to a strong preference for plant-based foods.

Legumes, including lentils, beans, and peas, have become a staple in Indian households due to their affordability, accessibility, and nutritional value. They are an essential component of a well-balanced vegetarian diet, providing ample protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The incorporation of legumes into everyday meals has given rise to an incredible variety of regional Indian dishes, ranging from the popular Dal Makhani and Chana Masala to lesser-known delights like Sindhi Sai Bhaji and Rajasthani Panchmel Dal.

The combination of legumes with grains, such as rice or wheat, further enhances their nutritional value, as it creates a complete protein with all the essential amino acids. This practice is seen across various Indian dishes, like the classic pairing of rice and lentil-based khichdi, or the popular street food dish, chole bhature, which features spiced chickpeas served with deep-fried bread.

Dals are pulses, lentils, beans, and peas that have been split and often skinned, making them easy to cook and digest. In this blog post, I’ll take you through the different types and names of Indian dals and their common substitutes.

Different Types and Names of Indian Dals:

Black Eyed Peas – Raungi, Chawli, Lobhia: These are small, cream-colored beans with a black ‘eye’ at the center. They are commonly used in Indian curries and stews.

Black Gram Lentils, Split and Skinned – Urad Dal: These are small, black-skinned lentils that have been split and skinned, resulting in a creamy white interior. Urad dal is a key ingredient in the popular South Indian dish, dosa.

Black Gram Whole – Sabut Urad: These are whole, black-skinned lentils that resemble black mung beans. They are used in a variety of dishes, including dals and soups.

Chickpeas, Brown (Bengal Gram) – Kala Chana: These are small, brown chickpeas that are used in various Indian dishes, including curries, salads, and snacks.

Chickpeas, Green – Cholia / Hara Chana: Green chickpeas are fresh, immature chickpeas that are used in Indian cuisine as a seasonal ingredient.

Chickpeas, Split – Chana Dal: Split Bengal gram is used in various Indian dishes, including soups, stews, and snacks.

Chickpeas, White – Kabuli Chana, Safed Chana, Chole: These are large, white chickpeas used in the popular North Indian dish, Chole Bhature.

Kidney Beans, Red – Rajma: These are large, red beans used in the popular North Indian dish, Rajma Masala.

Lentils, Brown (Whole) – Sabut Masoor: These are whole, brown lentils that are commonly used in Indian dals and soups.

Lentils, Red/Orange/Pink (Split Brown Lentils) – Masoor Dal: These are split brown lentils that have a reddish-orange color when cooked. They are commonly used in Indian dals.

Lentils, Yellow Petite – Mung Dal: These are split mung beans, also known as petite yellow lentils. They are used in various Indian dishes, including dals and soups.

Mung Beans (Green Gram Whole) – Hare Moong: These are whole, green mung beans that are commonly used in Indian cuisine for various dishes, including dals and soups.

Pigeon Peas, Split – Arhar, Tuvar, Toor: These are split pigeon peas that are used in various Indian dishes, including dals and stews.

Yellow Split Peas – These are similar to split pigeon peas and can be used interchangeably in Indian cuisine.

Common Substitutes

  • Split chickpeas (Chana Dal), split pigeon peas (Toor Dal), and split peas can be used interchangeably.
  • Red lentils (Masoor Dal) can be used instead of petite yellow lentils (Mung Dal).
  • Mung beans and lentils
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Nutritional Value of Dal

Each type of dal has its unique nutritional profile, which contributes to a well-balanced diet. Let’s explore the nutritional value of some of the commonly used dals in Indian cuisine:

Black Eyed Peas (Raungi, Chawli, Lobhia): Rich in fiber, iron, and potassium, black-eyed peas help regulate blood sugar levels, support healthy digestion, and maintain blood pressure. They are also a good source of plant-based protein.

Black Gram (Urad Dal): Packed with protein, iron, and calcium, black gram supports muscle growth, bone health, and energy production. It also contains a good amount of fiber, which aids digestion and helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

Chickpeas (Kala Chana, Kabuli Chana): High in protein, fiber, and several essential vitamins and minerals, chickpeas contribute to heart health, weight management, and blood sugar control. They also provide a decent amount of iron, which supports energy production and prevents anemia.

Kidney Beans (Rajma): Rich in protein and fiber, kidney beans promote satiety and aid in weight management. They also contain essential minerals like potassium, magnesium, and iron, which support heart health and energy production.

Lentils (Masoor Dal, Mung Dal): Lentils are an excellent source of plant-based protein, fiber, and essential nutrients like iron, potassium, and folate. They help maintain blood sugar levels, support heart health, and boost energy production.

Pigeon Peas (Arhar, Tuvar, Toor): Pigeon peas are packed with protein, fiber, and essential nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and iron. They support healthy digestion, blood sugar control, and energy production.

Incorporating a variety of dals into your diet can provide a wide range of health benefits, thanks to their impressive nutritional profile

Preparation and Cooking Methods for Dals

Dals, or legumes, are versatile ingredients that can be prepared and cooked in various ways to create delicious and nutritious dishes. To ensure that you get the best flavor and texture from your dals, follow these preparation and cooking methods:

Soaking: Soaking dals helps to soften them, reduce cooking time, and improve their digestibility. Whole legumes, like chickpeas and kidney beans, generally require longer soaking times (6-8 hours or overnight) than split dals (1-3 hours). After soaking, rinse the dals thoroughly to remove any impurities and surface starch.

Cooking: Dals can be cooked using different methods, such as boiling, pressure cooking, or slow cooking. The cooking method and time will depend on the type of dal and the desired consistency.

Boiling: Place the soaked and rinsed dals in a pot with enough water to cover them by about 1-2 inches. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the dals are tender. Cooking times will vary, so check the dals periodically to ensure they don’t overcook.

Pressure cooking: A pressure cooker is a popular method for cooking dals, as it significantly reduces cooking time. Place the soaked and rinsed dals in the pressure cooker with the required amount of water (refer to the manufacturer’s instructions). Cook the dals according to the specified time for the type of dal you’re using.

Slow cooking: A slow cooker is ideal for cooking dals, as it allows the flavors to develop over time. Place the soaked and rinsed dals in the slow cooker with enough water to cover them. Cook on low heat for 6-8 hours, or until the dals are tender and creamy.

Seasoning: The secret to flavorful dal dishes is the combination of spices and aromatics used during cooking. Common ingredients include onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, and garam masala. To enhance the flavor, heat oil or ghee in a pan and fry the spices and aromatics before adding them to the cooked dals. This process, known as “tadka” or “tempering,” releases the essential oils in the spices and creates a rich, fragrant base for your dal dish.

Finishing touches: Once your dal is cooked and seasoned, you can add various ingredients to enhance its flavor, texture, and nutritional value. Consider adding leafy greens, such as spinach or kale, for an extra boost of vitamins and minerals. You can also add a splash of lemon juice or tamarind for tanginess, or a dollop of yogurt or coconut milk for creaminess.

Experiment with different types of dals, cooking methods, and seasonings to create a variety of delicious and nutritious dishes. And don’t forget to explore our cooking classes, where you’ll learn how to prepare and cook dals, as well as other flavourful Indian dishes. Follow us on social media for more tips, recipes, and class updates!

Discover the rich flavors of Indian legumes by trying our delicious Sri Lankan Dahl recipe, a delightful culinary experience that will leave you craving more. And if you’re interested in learning how to cook a variety of legume-based dishes, don’t miss our upcoming cooking classes, which often feature mouth-watering legume recipes from different regions of India. Join us and master the art of preparing healthy, protein-packed vegetarian meals that will impress your friends and family. Sign up for our cooking classes today and unlock the secrets of Indian legume cuisine!

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