Intro to Indian Cooking: Lentils

Source:  JustinC

Source: JustinC

So last time in Intro to Indian Cooking I posted about the main spices used in Indian cuisine. The other essential part of Indian cooking lies in the dhaals (lentils) which are used in almost everything in many different ways.

Lentils are a type of legume and are the result of bean or pea pod seeds being removed from the pods and dried. You'll find lentils in either their whole, hulled or split form. Dhaals are quite long lasting and can be kept in your pantry for up to three months. My mom always has jars and jars of dhaals in the pantry as its a staple in our house, not only as Indians but as vegetarians. They're a great source of protein and can be made in so many different ways.

Here's a quick primer on the lentils primarily used in Indian cooking: 

Channa dhaal: This yellow lentil is the skinned and split version of dark brown chickpeas (kala channa) and is used widely in South Indian cooking. Channa daal can be fried in oil, for crunchiness, or ground into gram flour to make batter. Keep in mind that though Channa dhaal may look like skinned and split yellow peas, it is not the same thing. 

Masoor dhaal: In its whole shape these lentils are flat and shaped like a disc, ranging from a light red to light brown color. These daals are actually commonly used in the U.S. in lentil soups and as a result, it's easier to find in grocery stores. When Masoor dhaal is skinned and split it is a bright orange color and they turn yellow when cooked. 

Moong dhaal: Moong dhaal in its whole form looks like dark green ovals. It can be cooked in many ways and is often sprouted and used in salads or as a simple snack. When skinned and split Moong daal is yellow. It is widely used as a health food and in Chinese cuisine. I have to say this is one of my favorite dhaals (especially in its cooked form). 

Toor dhaal:  These are also called yellow pigeon peas and can be found in oily or plain versions. The oil is used to increase shelf life but really isn't that necessary as the oil is usually washed off when cleaning and sifting the lentils. Toor daal resembles channa but is slightly smaller and also like with Channa daal, Toor daal is also different from split yellow peas. It is also the main ingredient in Sambhar, a popular South Indian dish. 

Urud dhaal: These lentils when whole are called black gram and when skinned and split, they're white in color. Dosa and uttapam batter, as well as Daal Makhani , are made from Urad daal. It's also fried  in oil to add flavor to dishes.