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Dal, beans, lentils (Recipe: Punjab five jewels) {vegetarian, gluten-free}


In Alan Davidson's The Oxford Companion to Food, dal fills a third of a page between Dagestan and damson.

Open any Indian cookbook, however, and you'll see that dal (or dhal) fills much more than a third of a page; it's one of the mainstays of both northern and southern Indian cooking, an important source of protein served at almost every meal.

Dal — literally, "split beans" — refers to both the ingredient and the dish that results from cooking it. In the broader sense, dal refers to all hulled, split pulses: beans, peas and lentils. (Whole pulses are called grams.) Some of the more popular dal include:

  • Channa dal, split chickpeas (yellow)
  • Tur (or toor, or toovar) dal, pigeon peas (orange)
  • Moong dal, mung beans (cream or yellow)
  • Urd (or urad) dal, lentil-like beans (black or, when skinless, white)
  • Masoor dal, lentils (red or salmon pink)
  • Muth (or moth) dal, beans (brownish green with yellow interior)
  • Muttar (or matar) dal, peas (green or white)

In North India, dal is served thick and hearty, like a stew; in the south, generally it's thin and soupy. Though the term dal is somewhat generic, each type offers a different flavor and texture, and requires a different cooking time and method. Some need to be presoaked; some cook without salt; all benefit from being cooked in soft water.

Seasonings make dal come alive; try some classic combinations, or create your own using turmeric, mustard seeds, chile peppers or red pepper flakes, asafoetida, onions, scallions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, garam masala, or curry. I keep my favorite Indian spices in a masala dabba.

There are, according to The Oxford Companion to Food, at least 60 kinds of dishes made from dal, some traditional and others a bit more innovative, pairing pulses with butternut squash, spinach, pasta, okra, chorizo, green beans, tomatoes — even sugar with cashews, for a sweet dessert. And while dal often likes to nestle in a bowl, it's happy if you form it into patties, balls, and squares, too.

Punjab five jewels

From Favorite Indian Food, by Diane Seed, this recipe, a delicious dal sampler, traditionally uses five different types of dal, but may be made with any combination of lentils and dried beans, or with any one type of dal. Yes, it looks like a long list of ingredients, but the dish comes together quite easily. Serves 6.


1/4 cup mung beans (moong dal)
1/4 cup white gram beans (urad dal)
1/4 cup pink lentils (masoor dal)
1/4 cup yellow lentils (toovar dal)
1/4 cup yellow split peas (channa dal)
1 large onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/4 piece fresh gingerroot, grated or minced
2 fresh hot green chile peppers, minced
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp butter
2 peeled, chopped tomatoes
1 tsp garam masala
3 oz plain yogurt
2 Tbsp chopped fresh coriander


In a mortar and pestle, combine the onion, garlic, ginger and seeded chile peppers; pound until the fibers break down. Heat the oil and cook the paste for 5 minutes. Stir in the dal and when they are coated with the mixture, pour in 2 quarts of water. Bring to the boil, and stir in the turmeric, coriander powder, and cayenne. Simmer until the dal are cooked and half the liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle with the ground cumin and salt to taste.

In another pan, melt the butter and add the tomatoes, garam masala and yogurt. Cook for approximately 10 minutes, then pour over the dal mixture and garnish with fresh coriander.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

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This looks like a terrific dal recipe -- I love lentils and cook with them fairly often. Channa dal are my favorites. Thanks for giving me another way to put them to use!

:-) Genie

This was a brilliant post Lydia. I really enjoyed it. And that recipe sounds brilliant.

I love dahl, I love all kinds of beans and this is one of my favorites but I've never tried to make it at home. I usually end up using white beans, red beans or lentils because it's what I know to work with. Gonna try your recipe soon. :)

I've had something similar to your recipe (at least It sounds similar) and it was wonderful.
The first time I saw red lentils was right after we moved to Ireland in a jar like yours.
I thought they were so pretty I went right out and bought some - no clue what to do with them, though. I'm learning....

I love how different dal tastes with such small adjustments, grounding too. I make mine similar to you...occasionally I throw in coconut milk/basil too!

I'm very much a lentil guy, but I've had very little experience with dal recipes. My sister-in-law is quite good with Indian cuisine, and tried to teach me a bit before they relocated. It's probably time to revisit.

One of my favorite things to eat, but I haven't cooked lentils much in this way. Need to work on it.

Genie, I'm always looking for new ways to explore the dal world. Lookng forward to "sharing" the gardening season with you!

Meeta, I often look to your blog for new ideas and inspiration.

Christine, I love cooking with lentils of all colors -- maybe I'm too lazy to presoak.....!

Katie, I too am learning. I never remember eating pulses of any kind when I was growing up. Just not in my mother's culinary repertoire.

Callipygia, coconut milk and basil sounds kind of Thai-yummy.

TW, same here, I'm really feeling my way with dal, one dish at a time. I've had these red lentils in my pantry for ages, perhaps to make one or two dishes, but I'm determined to use them more often.

Kalyn, one of the things I love about food blogs is that there is so much good Indian cooking going on, and so many recipes to share.

I love eating this specially with the spices you have in your recipe. Also love it with butter naan.

Lydia, this brings me back to shopping at the Willy Street Co-op in Madison. All of this was very exotic to me then, and I bought every kind of bean and lentil imaginable and experimented with them.

To me, this will always be warm-weather food! I used to cook to the beat of the reggae band next door and the Hare Krishnas on the corner.

Those were good days! Thanks for the reminder.

I eat lentil quite often, but a bit lost when it comes to other dhal varieties. Your post is really helpful, thank you!

I love lentils and beans and always feel there's a meal on hand if you remember to soak them (beans) first! The Punjab Five Jewels sounds wonderful! You really are compiling a must-have pantry list!

I've got several sacks of different dahl in my cupboards, and find them tasty, easy vegan fare. But I'm a bit puzzled why many recipes which will feature one particular pulse will have just a tablespoon or two of another added as well. Is it for completing protein, an enhancement of flavor, or some particular ritual of Indian cooking. Does any one know?

A great post. As a typically ignorant English man I often find myself rather lost with Indian food terms, so find it very pleasing when I come across a post like this one. It will help me a lot in the future!

Wow, I should try your dal recipe soon! We make dal very often at home but I never thought about mixing all these kinds of beans! It sounds delicious & so tasty!

Veron, butter naan sounds delicious. I'm partial to garlic naan, too.

Mimi, love the image of reggae and the Hare Krishnas chanting on the corner! Takes me back to the old food co-op days, too.

Anh, I'm the same way. Love the lentils, don't always know what to do with the split peas and beans. I'm still learning.

Freya, forgetting to presoak beans is pretty much the norm around here!

Susan, I'm throwing your question out to all Pantry readers, as I don't know the answer (but I'm hoping someone out there does).

Scott, I love to eat Indian food but have yet to become knowledgeable or confident about cooking it. I'm learning, one dish at a time.

Valentina, this is a truly luxurious dish with the many types of dal. What are some of the ways you prepare dal at home?

I love dal and this looks sensational. Boy am I hungry!

I love to make dal since it's an easy and healthy vegetarian dish. Thanks for the idea of mixing the many beans and peas. I'll try that next time.

whoa! dal overload! 5 different kinds?! I've only seen 3 at my store... i'm going to have to scour now. i always keep the red or pink variety on hand. lentils are so easy

Christine, me too!

Susan, we have vegetarians in our family (though Ted and I are not), so I'm always looking for substantial vegetarian main dishes.

Connie, when I lived in Boston I used to shop at the Indian grocery on River St. in Central Square, which has a fabulous selection of very fresh dal.

That looks so fabulous. Lydia! I'm so thrilled to see the beautiful dals being showcased here in the perfect pantry :) The Punjabi dal looks fabulous.

omg Lydia! that sounds amazing! and is a perfect way to continue on with my lentil obsession!

Nupur, the first place I look for ideas about cooking with dal is your blog. I am learning so much about Indian cooking!

Ann, you have a lentil obsession?! I love that!

Yes, I would have to say that I consider myself to have a lentil obsession. They are after all the only "bean" than can be thought of, cooked and eaten within an hour! They will go with just anything. Now, more and more varieties are becoming easier to buy. I just happen to really enjoy them in anything I've come across.

Tanna, lentils are the best, I completely agree! Today I was in the small grocery in my town, and saw these red dal -- I was surprised and delighted.

I love your blog. Such a pleasure to look at things like this. Lentils can be so pretty. And, of course, they taste great too!

Sher, thank you so much. I love your blog, too.

This looks SO good! Love your blog, full of great ideas

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