Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dals and Lentils - A primer ( பருப்பு வகைகள்)

In most homes in India dals/lentils are the main stay of any meal. The lentils are cooked in various delicious ways to suit several different tastes and palette. To learn to cook a simple dal recipe is to know half the trades of Indian cooking. The rest just comes. That is how my cooking journey started. As a side for rice or bread, sometimes as soup or as a meal by itself they are versatile and lend themselves to several tasty meals. With a knowledge of a few spices and the art of tempering you are in for a treat.

If you are familiar with Indian cooking you already know what I am talking about.

This post is aimed at those readers who are not as familiar with Indian cooking and the different lentils that are used but would like to incorporate more into their everyday meals. I have had co-workers, friends, moms of DDs and many more people ask me about cooking lentils but when I throw out names like toor, moong,channa, urad dal etc., their eyes glaze over and I feel guilty thinking I have perhaps put an end to their interest.

The lentils that I use most often in my cooking are:
  1. Toor Dal - Pigeon Peas - Thuvaram paruppu - used for making plain dal, sambhar or chutney
  2. Moong Dal - Green Gram - Paasi Paruppu - used for making plain dal, rice and dal rice, idli sambhar
  3. Urad Dal - Black Gram - Ulundhu - used for seasoning and making idli
  4. Channa Dal - Bengal Gram - Kadala Parupu - used in combination with a variety of vegetables
  5. Masoor Dal - Red Lentil - Masur Paruppu - used the same way as toor dal (popular in the North India)

Toor Dal
Toor Dal - Pigeon Peas
Toor Dal is the one that I use most often to make just plain dal or sambhar. They are also used for making thick chutneys and also the main ingredient in Dal rice (arisi paruppu saatham).
Swiss Chard Sambhar
Hotel Style Sambhar
Paruppu Chutney
Dal Rice

Rasam - Mullagitawny soup

Split Green Moong Dal

Split Yellow Moong Dal

Whole Moong Dal

Moong Dal - Green Gram
Green Gram dal has a green husk which is used whole but is more popular in its split form with either husk removed when it is yellow or with the husk still on. The dal is dry roasted before it is used for cooking. This dal can be used to make sambhar, chutneys and also dal rice.
Uppu Paruppu
Quick Sambhar
Khichdi - Dal Rice the North Indian way

Split Urad Dal
Urad Dal - Black Gram
Black gram dal while it can be cooked just like you would Toor or Moong I do no use it for making dal to eat with rice. The black gram that I use are usually white the black husk being removed. I use the split black gram primarily as seasoning while making stir fried vegetables (poriyal), curries, etc., . The whole husked black gram I use for making idlis.
Poriyal (can be made with any vegetable)
Idli batter

Channa Dal

Black Whole Channa
Channa Dal - Bengal Gram
Channa is the Hindi word chickpeas. Channa dal is the split garbanzo bean not the white/cream beans the black or brown ones. The black ones are more popular in the South of India. I do not cook black gram dal to mush like I would the other dals. Instead I cook them to just about done while they still maintain their shape and add them to curries and stir fries for added protein.
To an unfamiliar eye confusing between Toor and Channa is easy. While toor is thin channa is slightly thicker. Once cooked the channa dal yields dal that is thicker and cannot be made to a sambhar. I have used and bought channa dal thinking it is toor till I learned to differentiate between the two.
Stir Fry - Cabbage with Channa Dal
Keerai Kootu - coming up soon

Whole Masoor with specks of the orange split masoor
Massor Dal - Red Lentils
Masoor Dal when husked and split becomes red lentils. I have not used this dal much, in fact never come across it till I came here to the US. While the whole masoor can be used similar to puy lentils, the split ones can be used just like toor dal to make sambhar and other dal recipes. Masoor dal cooks much faster than the other dals and hence can be mashed up to be used in breads.
Dal Paratha
3 Beans Soup with Collard Greens
Cooking Dal and Lentils
Cooking the lentils or dal is a breeze if you use a pressure cooker. If you do not, not to worry. You just need to plan for a longer cooking time.
Wash the lentils to remove dust and other impurities in a couple of changes of water. If using pressure cooker, add the dal, 2-3 times the water depending on how mushy or not you need the cooked dal to be. Add a pinch of turmeric, a drop of oil and let it cook for 3 whistles.

If using the stove top, bring the water to a boil, add turmeric powder and oil and then add the washed dal. Cover with a lid and reduce the heat to medium. The dal should be cooked in 20-25 minutes. Stir occasionally and make sure the water has not evaporated before the dal has completely cooked.
Do not add salt to the dal while cooking it. This will slow down the cooking process.

Which dal to choose? This is the toughest question of them all. The type of dal you choose depends on what you are going to make with it. If it is making sambhar you'd opt for toor dal because that is what has been used for a long time to make sambhar. If you were to make just plain dal which is cooked dal seasoned with onions, green chillies, coriander leaves, mustard and curry leaves your choice can be either toor dal or moong dal. If you want the dal to have some body and crunch when added to a vegetable stir fry you'd opt for channa dal. One advice I'd give is to explore the various lentils and dals and then settle on one you like the most. They are all tasty and unique in their own way.


  1. When i was home i remember we had some kind of dal almost every day, now i think aobut it, it could be also it was cheaper to have these than other things . I remember mom biuing kilos of variety of these dals in the begning of the month for a whole month.

  2. I learnt to use ... and eat ... all kinds of dal from my in laws house. :-)


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