Indian Essentials: About Indian Lentils

Lentils and pulses, called dal in Indian cooking, are high in proteins and an excellent food for vegetarian diets. They are an integral part of any Indian cuisine. There is a wide range and they are eaten daily in Indian homes in some form or other. Dal is also the name of the dish itself – a thickish puree eaten with rice or Indian breads.

Most Indian lentils can be purchased in four different ways –

  • whole, skinned/husked (“washed”) lentils
  • whole, not husked/skin left on
  • split in half, not husked
  • slit in half, husked

Each variation (split or whole, husked or not) gives the lentil a different flavour profile.

Lentils with the skin on need to be soaked overnight, while the ones with the skin off often don’t need to be soaked as long and many can be cooked straight away. Split lentils also cook quicker than whole lentils.

The split lentils are called Dal (Dhal, Dahl), eg Mung Dal is the split mung bean.


Use of Lentils in the North and South

There are different varieties of lentils used in different parts of India. South India uses Channa Dal (split chick pea lentils), Urad Dal (split black lentils) and Mung Dal (split green lentils). In the North, Whole Urad (whole black lentils), Rajmah (red kidney beans) and Channa (whole, small chick peas) are frequently used. Toor (Toovar or Arhar), often referred to as red lentils, is the most commonly used lentil throughout India and forms part of the first solid diet for babies.

Cooking Lentils

In general, when cooking lentils, add a pinch of turmeric which gives the lentils an excellent colour and also acts as an excellent antioxidant. Add a small amount of ghee or vegetable oil (0.5 tspn for 1.5 cups lentils) which gives the lentils a shine or glaze. As a rich source of proteins, a diet high in lentils is can cause flatulence, which is countered by the addition of spices which act as anti-flatulents. The turmeric also helps with this.


Feel free to browse recipes from our Retro Recipes series. You might also like our Spice information here. Or you might like to browse our Indian Essentials series here. Check out our easy Dal recipes here and here.

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