LENTILS or peas that have been husked and split are called dal, and that’s
also the name for the soup-like dish they make. In India, dal is served
with the main meal and is often spooned over plain rice or eaten with
Besides being rich in iron and the B vitamins, dal is a main source of
protein in the Vedic diet. The amount of protein in some dals is equal to
or greater than that in meat, and dal reacts synergistically with other
protein-rich foods, such as grains, nuts, and milk products, to increase
the usable protein in the meal by as much as forty percent. For example,
the usable protein of rice (60%) and that of dal (65%) increase to 85
percent when the two are eaten together.
More than sixty varieties of dal grow in India. The four types used in
this book are common varieties available at Asian grocers and most health
food shops. Their characteristics are listed below.
• Mung dal: Small, pale yellow, and rectangular. This dal comes from mung
beans, which are often used for making bean sprouts. Mung dal is easy to
cook and has a mild taste. It is so digestible that it’s recommended for
children, elderly people, and convalescents.
• Urad dal: Small, grayish-white, and rectangular. This dal has twice as
much protein as meat. It’s often used in savories or ground into a powder
and allowed to ferment to make foods light and spongy.
• Channa dal: Larger than mung dal, yellowish, and round. Channa is one of
the smaller members of the chick-pea family and has a rich sweet taste. If
it’s unavailable, you can substitute yellow split peas and get a
good-tasting if not quite authentic dal.
• Toor dal: Larger than channa dal, pale yellow, and round. This dal comes
from what is known in the West as pigeon peas. The split grains are
sometimes coated with a film of oil that should be washed off before
Chick-peas (or garbanzo beans), called kabuli channa in India, are a
wonderful source of protein. They are extremely hard and require soaking
before being used. Cooked chick-peas are usually eaten by themselves in
the morning with a little grated ginger, or accompanied by other dishes
such as upma or khitchri.
In Vedic cooking, a meal without dal in one form or another is rare. There
are dal dishes to suit any meal, from breakfast to late dinner. You can
make dal into soups, thick sauces, stews, fried savories, moist chutneys,
crisp pancakes, sprouted salads, and sweets.
You should wash your dal before using it. And with all dals, except those
packaged especially for supermarkets, you have to pick out the tiny
stones. The best way to do this is to put the dal at the end of a large
cookie sheet or round plate and slowly move all the grains from one side
to the other, a few at a time, carefully picking out any stones or other
foreign matter. To wash the dal, take only as much as you will use right
away, put it into a metal strainer, and lower the strainer into a large
bowl two-thirds full of water. Rub the beans between your hands for about
30 seconds. Then lift the strainer, pour off the water, and fill the bowl
again. Repeat this rubbing and rinsing several times, or until the rinse
water is reasonably clear. Then drain or soak the dal, as the recipe
Dal soup, made thick or thin, depending on the recipe, usually requires
long cooking so that the split grains break up and merge, giving the dal a
smooth texture. Some cooks blend the dal in an electric blender for a few
minutes when it is finished to make it even smoother.
When dal cooks, it forms a thick froth that blocks the passage of steam.
Leave the cover slightly ajar and spoon off most of the froth as it forms,
so that the soup doesn’t rise and spill over. Adding a tablespoon of
butter to the dal will help keep down the froth.
The chaunce (fried seasonings and spices) added to the dal in the last few
minutes of the cooking is what gives dal its punch. Heat a small amount of
ghee or vegetable oil in a ladle or small pan. Then add the spices. When
the spices are browned, pour them into the cooked dal. Watch out! Be ready
to slap the cover on the pot immediately, because the contact of the hot
ghee with the dal creates a mild explosion—one of the delights of Vedic
Tamatar mung dal
Gujarati urad dal
Tamatar toor dal
Jagannatha Puri channe ki
Mithi ghani dal
Channa aur simla mirch
Mili-juli sabji ka soup
Tamatar ka soup