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.
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.