Dal – A fancy word to describe the ever-so-dal-icious and protein-packed lentils. Dal is both a dish and an ingredient. Many South Asians living abroad find comfort and a sense of home in lentils – a popular dish, whose recipes differ from household to household and even person to person.
The variety of lentils that stare at you when you visit an Indian grocery store is truly fascinating. And I always end up picking a new variety I have not tried. My pantry now contains over 15 different lentils! The varieties of meals you can prepare with lentils are delicious, nutritious, and instantly gratifying .
“Dal” aka “lentils” is prepared in countless different ways, and many recipes are region-specific. Dal preparation varies greatly depending on the area, from the spiciness and tang of the sambar in Tamil Nadu to the creaminess and opulence of the dal makhani in Delhi.
What are Lentils?
Here is a quick overview of the different types of lentils:
- Dal is often translates to “lentils” but actually refers to a split version of a varieties of lentils, peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, etc. Dal in Sanskrit, an ancient Indo-Aryan language, means “to split.” If a pulse is split into half, it is dal. For example, split mung beans are called Mung Dal.
- As a part of the legume family, the dried seed is referred to as “lentils”. They are basically dried legumes that contain one to twelve seeds in a pod, pictured below.
- Lentils are a great source of protein, folate, fiber, iron, vitamin B, zinc, potassium and manganese.
- India not only consumes roughly half of the world’s lentils, they are also the world’s second-largest lentil producer.
- Lentils are a fantastic source of protein that when combined with rice forms a complete essential protein and are adaptable enough to be utilized in a variety of cuisines.
- Indian lentils are usually available in three types: the whole pulse, the split pulse with the skin on, and the split pulse with the skin removed.
- Sprouts is made from dried legumes. Sprouts are more nutrient-dense with excellent flavors, texture and colors. Sprouts can germinate from variety of seeds such as mung bean sprouts (my favorite), fenugreek sprouts, broccoli sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, and rose colored radish sprouts etc.
Lentils are one of the oldest crops to be domesticated, lentils were a staple in the diets of ancient Rome and Egypt. There is proof that 13,000 years ago, early hunter-gatherers foraged for a type of wild lentil. Moreover, traces of lentils were discovered in 8000 B.C.-era archaeological sites in Northern Syria along the Euphrates River.
Lentils are now grown globally because of their earthy, delicate nutty flavor, which complements a variety of dishes. Canada and India are the two countries that produce the most lentils around the world.
I usually cook with lentils at least 3-4 times a week. I use lentils or legumes to prepare variety of appetizers, stews, rice based dish, soups & salads that incorporate sprouts. Surprisingly lentils can also be used to make delicious Indian dessert – Moong or Mung Dal Halwa, another one of family favorite dish!
TYPES OF LENTILS
1. Red Lentils and Split Red Lentils
Though smaller in size than other legumes, these red lentils are nutritional champions. Similar to the mung beans, the whole red lentils can be sprouted and then used in curries, soups, rice dishes, and breakfast bowls.
You can sauté them with some salt and pepper for a protein-packed breakfast or snack. The best part about the whole masoor is that they are easily available in all grocery stores and make for hearty brown lentil curry.
Split red lentils cook very fast, in under 5 minutes in Instapot to make dal. I love using them along with other lentils and I also throw in other veggies such as spinach for added nutrition. Red lentils are also perfect for making Indian savory pancakes called Dal Chilla – gluten-free and vegan flatbreads for breakfast or to serve with curries.
2. Black Eyed Peas or California Blackeye
No we are not talking about the music group “Black Eyed Peas” but beans with the same name. Although I wouldn’t mind talking about Fergie but let us stick to the topic and discuss Fergie in another post. These peas are actually beans and are a subspecies of cowpeas.
These beans have an earthy, slightly sweet flavor but firm texture. They are consumed all around the world but in America they are mostly associated with South of America. Black eyed peas symbolize wealth because according to folklore they saved the south from famine.
According to another folklore black eyed peas can bring you prosperity in the upcoming year, if you eat it on New Year’s Day. Black eyed peas can be soaked for at least 6-8 hours and then cooked into delicious curries. These are excellent source of fibre and folic acid and contain around 14 grams of protein per cup.
3. Green Gram, Split Green Gram and Split- Skinned Green Gram
The green gram is an annual vine with yellow flowers and fuzzy brown pods. This is predominantly consumed in South Asia, South East Asia, and the Middle East. The tiny green gram beans or mung beans are highly recognized for their nutritive value. They contain about 55%-65% carbohydrate and ar rich in protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.
It is composed of about 20%-50% protein of total dry weight, among which globulin (60%) and albumin (25%) are the primary storage proteins. In fact mung bean is considered to be a substantive source of dietary proteins. These super tasty whole beans can be sprouted and then used in curries, soups, or salads. Raw sprouted mung beans taste delicious as a snack. These “Whole Green Gram” also come in Split green gram and Split/ skinned green gram variety.
4. Yellow Pigeon Peas
Yellow pigeon peas are commonly consumed in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Pigeon peas contain high levels of protein and the important amino acids methionine, lysine, and tryptophan. These are used as both a food crop and a forage crop.
This is a very common lentil used in northern, western and southern part of India. When cooked, these hulled, split beans disintegrate easily, making them the perfect thickener for curries, soups, and stews.
My favorite version of this recipe comes from Maharashtra, a state in the western peninsular region of India. This dish is called “Varan” that literally translates to dal and is in fact a recipe my dear friend “N”, cooked for me for lunch almost 13 years back. Frankly, I have never tasted anything better than that!!
5. Red Kidney Beans
This kidney shaped bean are thought to have originated in Peru. These are my favorite beans to cook and eat, since they hold their shape during cooking and do not turn into mush. They are the most ideal beans to cook with especially with recipes that require slow simmering.
It is essential to pre-soak and boil these types of beans before consuming as it contains relatively high amounts of phytohemagglutinin. The beans are poisonous if not cooked properly, the secret is to not cook them in the same water they were pre-soaked or rinsed in. Use fresh water when boiling red kidney beans.
These are frequently used in chili con carne – a dish from northern Mexico or Southern Texas. Southern Louisiana also uses red kidney beans to make the traditional Monday Creole cuisine of red beans and rice.
Additionally, you can use it for sweet treats like habichuelas con dulce (sweet cream of beans). It is referred to as rajma in Indian cuisine. Here is a popular recipe of “Rajma Chawal” from Indian subcontinent made with red kidney beans – A hug in a Bowl!
6. Adzuki Beans or Red mung beans
These beans are also known as Azuki beans, aduki beans, or red mung beans. These are small legumes that have a nutty, sweet flavor. In addition to being rich in B vitamins and other nutrients, adzuki beans are also very high in dietary fiber, potassium, folate, magnesium, and manganese.
East Asian countries harvest azuki beans, which are widely used in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cuisine. These are are commonly known for being used in red bean paste. I soak these and make them into a curry with sautéed onions, tomatoes, ginger, and garlic.
These are super flavorful and packed with nutrition like all of the others. This bean is consumed in vegetarian curries, soups, stews and in salads.
7. Yellow or Green Split Peas
Although split peas resemble lentils they actually are dried field peas. Both lentils and split peas belong to the legume family. The pea’s outer skin is peeled off after drying, and the pea is then cut in half. On the other hand, lentils are little annual plants whose pods contain their seeds.
Split peas are a great source of plant based protein. They come in yellow or green variety – green split peas are sweeter and less starchy than the milder, delicate yellow split peas. Split peas don’t require soaking before cooking, and therefore are a delicious and nutritious way of adding fiber, protein, and other nutrients to your meals.
Approximately 115 calories, 8 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fiber are found in 1/2 cup of cooked split peas. Additionally, they are low in fat and a good source of potassium, iron, and folate too. When split peas are fully cooked, they give a wonderfully creamy texture. It is not to be confused with green peas or garden peas.
Split peas is used for more than just pea soup. It is blended into dips, made into curries, served as appetizer or snack, added to various soups, served as a side dish, sprinkled over salads, or even included into burgers or meatloaf.
8. Brown Gram or Brown Chickpea
Just like garbanzo beans, these tiny brown, dried and shriveled globules called Kala Chana are widely popular in India. India produces 76% of the world’s total chickpeas, so no wonder this yummy legume is a mainstay in Indian cuisine.It is also known as bengal gram and Egyptian pea.
Brown gram is rich in nutrients like protein, fiber, and carbs. It is a fantastic source of minerals like manganese, phosphorus, iron, and copper as well as vitamins like B6, C, folate, niacin, thiamin, and riboflavin. The abundance of nutrients in Kala Chana helps regulate diabetes, increase muscle growth, and improves the health of the hair, skin, and nails.
Brown gram is not only served as a main course in the form of curries or soups but is also used as a healthy snack, ingredient in a burger patty, as a part of trail mix in roasted form.
9. Black Gram Beans, Split Black Gram and Split-Skinned Black Gram
These small black bean is similar in size to the mung beans and is extensively cultivated in South Asia. It is called Urad dal in Hindi and has a very earthy flavor when cooked.
Other tropical regions, including the Caribbean, Fiji, Mauritius, Myanmar, and Africa, also use black gram in their cuisine. It contains high levels of protein, potassium, calcium, iron, niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin.
This smooth, cylindrical oval shaped beans is used throughout India. You might have consumed black gram in the form of Idli, dosa, vada, papadums, khichdi, dal vada, dahi bhalla, maa ki dal, or dal makhani. If not, pick a menu from any Indian restaurant to give it a try!!
10. Turkish-Dew Gram
This light brownish, earthy legume with a nutty flavor is called Turkish gram, moth dal or dew bean. The popularity of these gram beans is due to their high protein and calcium content. Additionally, the Turkish-Dew Gram Beans are a good source of vitamins and minerals.
Moth beans are sprouted before cooking in India, particularly in the state of Maharashtra, to make a spicy stew called Usal. It is also used to make breakfast. Its seeds are crushed into flour to make bhujia, another traditional tea-time snack. It is available both in the split and de-skinned variety.
a quick guide to the names OF COMMON LENTILS in English and Hindi
Below is the list of commonly used lentils in India, with their corresponding english names:
|Chilkewali masoor dal
|Split red lentils
|Masoor dhuli dal
|Black eyed peas
|Chawli or Lobia or California blackeye
|Moong or mung dal
|Split green gram
|Chilkewali moong dal
|Split-skinned green gram
|Moong dhuli dal
|Yellow pigeon peas
|Toor or Toovar dal
|Red kidney beans
|Chori or Red mung beans
|Yellow or Green split peas
|Hari or peeli matar dal
|Brown gram or brown chickpea
|Split bengal gram
|Split black gram
|Chilkewali urad dal
|Split-skinned black gram
|Urad dhuli dal
|Turkish dew gram
|Moth dal or Matki
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