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Taste, health, fun – humble dal packs them all!

A snack, a starter, a soup, a curry, a roti, a sweet – dal is celebrated across India and the world in so many delicious ways, says Kavita Devgan.

brunch Updated: Jan 18, 2014 20:01 IST
Hindustan Times

Manu Chandra, executive chef and partner at Bangalore’s Olive Beach and the man who crafts European-style delicacies for India’s well-heeled, is a big fan of the humble dal. “I have two


of it without fail for dinner,” he says.

“I grew up on


. My grandmother would simply ask ‘do you want peeli khichdi or kaali khichdi’ before she started making it. I think every state, every household has its own version of it.”

Gram for gram

Many thousand kilometres away in Kolkata, food writer Manidipa Mandal agrees. Bengalis eat dal even at breakfast, as stuffed puris like the






. These are accompanied by split gram or

cholar dal

. “If rice is the vehicle of a Bengali feast, lentils are the engine oil. The simplest of balanced meals is dal-bhaat. But cooked together, they become the food of gods, the holiday feast: khichuri,” she says.

In Bihar, they revere a powdered baked gram called


, turning it into a high-energy meal when mixed with water or milk or stuffed into chapatis as



In Rajasthan, where water is scarce and crop yields uncertain, it’s dal, dried, soaked and combined with puri (like a


), that comes to the rescue. “


is probably the state’s most famous delicacy and usually includes

Panchmela dal

,” says Bharti Sanghi of Delhi’s Home Alone Foods. “Rajasthan’s tastiest curries use pulses or gram flour (

gatte ki subzi

) and there are other interesting dishes like

chana dal

fingers called

kalmi bara, dahi bara


kanji pakori


Can you imagine a home-style Punjabi meal without


, or Maharashtra without



puran poli

? Or snack time in Gujarat without dal-based farsan like

dhokla, khandvi, khaman


dal kachori


mathia papad


Even communities with a large repertoire of meaty dishes find room for dal. In Hyderabad, dal lends a divine smoothness to haleem, and the Parsis’ best-known dish is the rich mutton-dal dhansak. And south of the Vindhyas, it’s all about khatti Hyderabadi dal, idlis, dosas, appams and vadas, all made with grams and lentils.

It's unbelievable how much one can do with dals; they are versatile.

Dal around the globe

India holds its dal very close, but it is by no means the only country with lentil and gram dishes. Lentils and pulses were among the first crops domesticated by man, so for the world traveller, this spells good news. Your homesick palate can find solace in a simple boiled dish of pui lentils (masoor dal) or the more elaborate gnocchi pasta with chickpea in Italy. In East Europe, a red lentil soup is nourishing and widely available. Around the Mediterranean and Central Asia, chickpea paste called hummus and falafel patties are an enduring part of the local cuisine. In faraway Japan and Korea, mung beans and lentils show up in pancakes, curries, soups and even savoury jellies. And if you find yourself in Ethiopia, make room for a stew-like dish called kik, or kik wot, which accompanies their national food, a dosa-like bread called injera.

“In Mexico the most common lentils are Spanish brown (pardina) lentils and large yellow ones called macachiados, which are similar to moong dal or pink masoor dal found in India. Lima beans (like rajma) are eaten commonly as stuffing for tortillas,” says Nishant Choubey, executive chef at Delhi’s Dusit Devarana. Across Morocco, red lentil harira soup is a delicious party food and a favourite of just about everyone. Middle Eastern kibbehs and kebabs have dals in them and Mujadarra (quite like our kali khichdi) from Lebanon are known world over. Koshari (a mix of rice, lentils and macaroni with spicy tomato sauce) is Egypt’s national dish. “It is believed to have originated during the time of British colonisation and its name comes from the word



Packed with power

In India, we’re lucky to have such a variety of dals and so many ways to play with them. “Dals are amazingly versatile; in fact it is quite unbelievable how much one can do with them,” says Chandra. Dals make for delicious papads across the country. In Bengal, Mandal says that lentils ground into paste and dried into little flat cones or drops “similar to a Hershey’s kiss” make for a rainy day khichuri accompaniment in the form of bori bhaja, or are crumbled into garnish for a dish of wilted greens or chopped banana blossom, or allowed to soften and boost the protein content of stews with veggies or fish.

Dals are true-blue power foods. They are packed with very good quality protein, have very low fat and are a boon for vegetarians. Although the protein they inherently contain doesn’t completely meet our nutritional requirements (it doesn’t have all of the amino acids), when combined with a cereal like rice, atta or bread they deliver pretty much all the protein you need. Dals also have antioxidants, help boost your immunity, have good amount of blood fortifying iron and heart-saving folate, a lot of fibre (to keeps cholesterol down and digestion smooth), age-retardant vitamin C. An added bonus: they’re super tasty!

Give your daily dal a makeover with these delicious recipes

Lentil Hummus

Ingredients cups boiled lentils (urad, moong and chana), 1 spoon Tahini paste (white sesame paste), 2 tbsp olive oil, 3 cloves garlic, peeled, 2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional), Salt and black pepper to taste.


Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Garnish with parsley, chopped olives and serve with chips or add on toast.

by Bharti Sanghi, food expert, Home Alone Foods

Warm lentil cake with rum sauce (fusion recipe)


100 gm roasted black-eyed lentil flour, 3 eggs n 4 gm baking powder, 2 gm baking soda, 30 ml dark rum, 200 gm sugar, 1 cinnamon stick, Salt to taste

Take the lentil flour, add salt, baking powder, baking soda and strain it. Add eggs and sugar. Pour it into a lined cake tin. Bake it at 180 degrees centigrade for 35 minutes.

While it’s baking, reduce the dark rum on a slow fire and add sugar. Add the cinnamon stick for flavour. Serve warm with rum sauce.

Moroccan Chicken Harira Soup


¼ cup chickpeas (soaked overnight, and skinned), ¼ cup whole masoor (washed and soaked), ½ cup chicken thigh meat, cut into small pieces, 1 cup cooked rice, 4 cups chicken stock or water, ½ cup tomato, ¼ cup fresh coriander, chopped 2 heaped tbsp onions, grated 2 tbsp celery, finely chopped, 1 tbsp fresh parsley leaves, ¼ tsp turmeric powder, ½ tsp ginger powder or fresh ginger, ¼ tsp black pepper, ¼ tsp dried thyme, ½ tsp coriander seeds, ¼ tsp cinnamon powder, 3 tbsp oil, 1 tbsp butter, Salt to taste


Heat the oil and butter in a pressure cooker and add the chicken meat to it. Stir it till the meat browns. Add chickpeas, spices, fresh herbs, onions, tomatoes, lentils and stock. Bring to a boil and then cover. Pressure cook for about 15 minutes.

Release pressure and stir in the cooked rice. Simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally till the soup is thick. Season according to taste. The soup should be thick, the meat cooked through and quite aromatic.

Serve hot garnished with some fresh coriander leaves and with a wedge of lemon.

Note: You can do a vegetarian version as well. Also if you feel the need for this dish to be spicy, then a half a tsp of chilli powder in the beginning works well.

Mujjadra (Lebanon) Arab rice and lentil dish, not too different from khichdi, simple, delicious and soul satisfying!


1 cup basmati rice, ½ cup whole masoor dal, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 bay leaf, 2 one-inch pieces of lemon peel, ¼ cup fresh mint, chopped 2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped 1 onion (medium size), 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 cups vegetable stock, Salt and pepper to taste

To serve: yoghurt and melted butter


Soak rinsed rice in salted cold water for about two hours.

Rinse and soak the lentils for 30 minutes. Then drain. Cook them in about 3 cups of water in a small saucepan till they are just about cooked, not mushy. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Drain the rice, shake off any excess water and keep aside. Heat olive oil in a non-stick saucepan and add the lentils to it.

Sauté for a few seconds and then add the rice, mint, coriander, bay leaf and lemon peel. Stir well and cover with the stock. Season with salt and pepper, stir and simmer, covered for about 25 minutes.

In the meantime, heat some olive oil in a pan and sauté the onions till they are caramelised. Keep aside.

When the rice is cooked, gently fluff it with a fork and turn out onto a plate. Drizzle some melted butter over it and cover with the caramelised onions. Serve piping hot with a side of yoghurt.

by chef Manu Chandra, executive chef and partner, Olive Beach, Bangalore

Did you know

The oldest lentils seen date back 13,000 to 9,500 years, and were found in a cave in Greece.
Lentils and pulses were important crops in ancient times, though the size of the seeds were smaller. Seed sizes have slowly increased over the centuries.

Lentils are mentioned in the Bible, in the book of Genesis, in the story of Esau who gave up his birthright for a dish of lentils.

The ancient Greeks enjoyed lentils in soups and in breads. The playwright Aristophanes called it the “sweetest of delicacies”.n Roman writers Juvenal and Martial describe a lentil dish eaten by the poor called conchis in which lentils were cooked with the pods.

Apicius (a 5th century Roman cookbook) has several recipes for lentils.

Jews traditionally serve lentil soup when mourning. The roundness of the lentil represents a complete cycle of life.

From HT Brunch, January 19

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First Published: Jan 18, 2014 13:58 IST