Dal: Everyone’s Favorite Indian Comfort Food

When you think of your favorite Indian comfort food, without a question,  Dal instantly comes to mind. After a tiring day, all you need is a plate of dal and chawal (rice) to nourish and soothe your soul. Dal hits the same comfort buttons as soup or mac and cheese.

What is Dal? 
Derived from the Sanskrit word which means “to split”, Dal, also known as lentils, are split pulses. Dal is a deeply spiced soup like dish made from simmering split pulses. 

How is Dal cooked?  
Although there are many colors and varieties of dal, the preparation method is relatively standard: soak, drain, boil and simmer until tender. Once dal is cooked, it is topped with a fried garnish called “tadka” or “baghar”.  Tadka is prepared by heating ghee or oil and tempering spices such as cumin seeds, mustard seeds, asafoetida, turmeric, garam masala, and red chili flakes.  This is followed up by adding garlic, ginger and onions, which are fried for 10 to 15 mins or until the onions have turned golden brown. The tadka is poured over the dal before serving. Dal is cooked in just about every Indian household and is usually eaten with rice and roti (Indian flatbread).

Types of Dal:
If you are a newbie in the kitchen attempting to recreate the recipe of your favorite Indian soul food, differentiating between the types of dals can be cumbersome and overwhelming. Instead of referring to it as “black dal” or “orange dal”, we decided to differentiate and list the  five most commonly used dals in every Indian kitchen. 

1. Moong Dal (Split Hulled Green Mung Bean) 
Moong dal is the easiest to make and cooks in under 30 minutes. This dal is light yellow in color and is made from split green mung beans. Moong dal is one of the most commonly used dals and a household favorite everywhere. Some delicacies made from moong dal include khichdi, dosas, tikkis and kachoris. 

2. Toor Dal (Yellow Pigeon Peas)
Toor Dal is also yellow in color, alternatively known as Arhar dal. This dal is used to make delicious dal fry, where toor dal is first boiled then added to sauteed mixture of tomatoes, onions, spices and herbs. In South Indian cuisine, toor dal is the main ingredient for sambar, a tamarind vegetable stew. Moong dal and toor dal may be the same in color but are definitely different in taste.

3. Lal Masoor Dal (Red Lentils)
Lal Masoor Dal is orangish in color and is also referred to  as red lentils.   Once this dal is cooked, it turns into a golden yellow color. Some recipes with lal masoor include lentil soup, dal palak and dal with mixed sabzi.  When making mixed dal recipes, Masoor and Moong dals are often paired together. We have shared our authentic mixed dal recipe below.

4. Urad Dal (Black Gram Lentils) 
Urad dal with the husk is black in color, whereas when the lentil is split, it becomes creamish in color.  Unlike other dals  which can be cooked without soaking, Urad dal must be soaked overnight before cooking, and the cooking time is also longer. Urad dal is one of the key ingredients in the south Indian delicacy idlis  and dosa. In north India,  Urad dal is the basis for Dal Makhni,  which is a rich, creamy,  spiced stew made on special occasions. 

5. Chana Dal (Split Bengal Gram) 
This dal is bright yellow in color and is one of the thicker lentils, as it is split and husked from black chickpeas.  It has an earthy and nutty taste and  is used in dry curries after being ground into gram flour (besan). Besan serves as a binding agent for pakoras,  vadas and puris and is often used as a substitute for flour. Some dishes made with chana dal include puran poli and vegetable koftas. Chana dal is one of the only lentils that is used to prepare desserts like chana dal halwa and chana dal burfi. 

Besides being delicious, dals are a great source of nutrients. They are loaded with protein, fiber, magnesium, and vitamins in addition to being gluten free and vegan friendly. The dals listed above can be cooked by mixing and matching in any combination. You can shop for them at your local Patel Brothers store. 

Patel Brothers Swad Dals

Looking for an easy to follow and mouth watering dal recipe? Be sure to check out the recipes below from our Youtube channel.

Try our must have Lal Masoor dal also known as Red Lentil curry recipe. This dish is a saucy, hearty, and protein-rich meal option.

Looking for a scrumptious mixed dal recipe? Try our favorite Masoor and Moong dal recipe. 

Try our warm and savory Chana Dal recipe. 

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About the author:

Hira Shaikh is a die-hard Chicagoan residing in Texas. She is an avid foodie and travel enthusiast who also enjoys creating new recipes in the kitchen. Besides her corporate job, her sweet tooth and passion for food lure her to hunt down instagrammable restaurants and cafes to try and critique.

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