Indian Dal

Food and Travel, How-To, International Food
on March 1, 2009
Mark Boughton Photography / styling by Teresa Blackburn

Dal (DAHL) is the Hindi word for any of nearly 60 varieties of dried pulses, a category of legume that includes peas, beans and lentils. It also refers to a plethora of Indian dishes.

Pulses are rich in fiber and an excellent plant source of protein. Dal is a mainstay of Indian cuisine, often eaten at every meal, and is particularly important because so many Indians are vegetarians. Religious beliefs compel certain Hindus and Buddhists to abstain from meat. And Jainists adhere to a code of non-violence so earnest that they eschew root vegetables so as not to disturb a worm.

Whether you’re vegetarian or not, dal is Indian comfort food. It can range from soupy to solid and is flavored in countless ways. Mildly seasoned, it counterbalances a fiery curry. Richly spiced, it stands up as the centerpiece of a meal. Split peas and lentils may be cooked without presoaking, but soaking can minimize cooking time. Most dal recipes begin with boiling the dried legume in water along with spices like turmeric, often adding vegetables and ghee (clarified butter) or cream toward the end of cooking. Among the dals most popular on restaurant menus are Channa Dal (made with yellow split peas) and Massor Dal (made with orange lentils). Since dals can be successfully frozen, vegetarians, especially, may want to cook them in quantity and store them for future meals.

—By Jo Marshall