Selecting Dal from a menu at an Indian restaurant can be complicated and confusing - Kaali Dal, Dal Makhani, Dal Fry or Yellow Dal Tadka. The choice seems endless. But believe me, it is a lot easier to choose which dal to eat at a restaurant, than shop for it raw at a grocery store.
Ever wondered, which type of lentil or pulses go into making the delicious Yellow Dal Tadka you eat at restaurants? The answer isn’t straightforward. It could be moong, arhar, chana or masoor! And did you know that the Moong dal itself has 3 variants - whole green gram, split green gram, split and skinned green gram!
What exactly are pulses, lentils and beans?
Lentils like masoor, moong, arhar and the like are all a part of the pulses family. Pulses also include chickpeas, dried peas and dried beans like red kidney beans (rajma), black-eyed peas and others.
Fun fact: All pulses are legumes (any plant that grows in pods), but all legumes are not pulses!
Legumes like soybeans, peanuts, fresh peas and fresh beans are not pulses.
Play of Words: Dal is the generic word used to refer to uncooked lentils. It refers to the cooked lentil or lentil curry as well! So, one needs dal to cook dal!
Below is a comprehensive list of pulses commonly used in our favourite Indian dishes:
1. Moong (Cherupayar)
Moong Dal is also known as Green Gram Beans when whole, Split Green Gram when split with the skin on and as Split and Skinned Green Gram when de-skinned (yellow). The Moong Dal is native to India and is the most commonly used dal. The raw dal can be sprouted and either had on its own as a snack or can be used as the main ingredient in soups and salads. The split Moong Dal is commonly used to make dishes like Yellow Dal and Moong dal Cheela while the whole green gram is used to make dishes like the Moong Dal Halwa. Interestingly, Moong Dal is also used to make the Moong Dal Papad or Poppadum that goes amazingly well with Moong Dal Khichdi! Nutrition-wise, Moong dal is full of vitamins and minerals and essential amino acids. It is also rich in antioxidants and helps lower cholesterol, blood sugar and high blood pressure.
2. Lobia (Vanpayar)
Lobia is commonly known as Black-Eyed Beans and is known in India by the names - Chawli, Raungi and Cow Pea. The most commonly made dish out of Lobia is the Black-Eyed Beans Curry or Lobia Masala whereby the Lobia is cooked in a tomato-onion gravy. It is also the key ingredient in the popular Chavli Chi Usal from Maharashtra. Nutritionally, Lobia is a rich source of Vitamin B1 or Thiamine which helps maintain the nervous system of our body and of Vitamin A, which is essential for good eyesight.
3. Masoor (Chuvanna Parippu)
Masoor Dal is also popularly known as Red Lentil or Split Red Lentil. Like Moong Dal, Masoor dal is also commonly used in Indian kitchens and recipes. It can be sprouted and consumed or cooked into a delicious dal. Whole Masoor Dal has a brown exterior, one can discover the red colour of the dal in the unskinned version. Masoor Dal is a high source of dietary fibres and it also is low on glycemic index, making it a good food source for people with high blood sugar levels. Apart from this, Msoor Dal is also a good source of Magnesium and Calcium. Some of the dishes made using Masoor Dal are the Masoor Dal Curry, Masoor Dal Tikki and Masoor Pulao.
4. Toor Dal (Thuvara)
The Toor Dal is also commonly known as Toovar or Arhar dal and as Yellow Split Pigeon Peas in English. Toor Dal is used to make the Dal Tadka in the north and the Bise Bele Bhaath in the south apart from many other delicious recipes like the traditional Dal Dhokli, Kerela Parippu Curry and the Toor Dal Poli. Toor Dal is rich in Iron and Calcium and is a good source of Protein for the human body.
5. Chana (Kadala)
Chana is also known by the names Garbanzo Beans, Chickpeas and Bengal Gram. They are typically found in two different varieties bases their colour and size. The small and dark variety is known as desi chana or Kala chana and the larger and white variety is known as Kabuli chana or chole. Chickpeas or Chana is used to make the famous Punjabi Chole dish also known as Chole Bhatura. The Kala Chana variant is used to make the Kala Chana Dal and the Chana Masala dish which is not only highly nutritious but equally delicious! Chickpeas are also used to make the famous Lebanese dishes - Falafel and Hummus!
6. Rajma (Rajma)
Owing to its unique shape, Rajma is also known as Red Kidney Beans and is used to make the amazing and ever popular north Indian dish of Rajma curry. It is also often used in salads and continental food. Although it isn’t native to India, it is commonly consumed in the country, especially in the Northern belt. Rajma is good for health and credited with lowering the risk of heart diseases.
7. Chana Dal (Kadala Parippu)
The Chana Dal is also known as Split Bengal Gram. Chana Dal is derived from splitting and skinning chickpeas. The Chana Dal is used to make the famous Cholar Dal in Bengal, the Chana Dal Tadka, Masala Dal Vada, Dal Kebabs and in many other recipes. In South India, Chana Dal is used to make many chutneys and even sweet dishes like Payasam. The Split Bengal Gram flour or Besan is derived from Chana Dal. This dal is good for those who have diabetes and high blood pressure and is also a rich source of B-Complex vitamins like vitamin B1, B2, B3 and B9.
8. Urad Dal (Uzhunnu)
Urad Dal, like Moong Dal comes in three different variants - Black Gram Beans, Split Black Gram and Split and Skinned Black Gram. The Urad Dal or the Black Gram is used to make the most famous Dal Makhani and the Dahi Vada! It is also used to make the Urad Dal Papad, Medu Vadas as well as in preparing the Idli or Dosa batter. Urad Dal is packed with Proteins, Fats and Carbohydrates that are good for the body and are also rich in Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium. Urad Dal helps prevent Atherosclerosis and improves blood circulation!
9. Moth Bean
Moth is also known as Matki or Turkish Gram. The sprouted Turkish gram is used to make the traditional Matkichi Usal which is a delicious and aromatic curry from Maharashtra as well as the famous Misal Pav. It is also used to make other delicacies like Punjabi Moth Dal Tadka. Moth beans are a rich source of antioxidants like phenols, carotenoids and flavonoids that help lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
So why wait any longer! I’m sure you have already made up your mind to hit the grocery stores and supermarkets to get all these pulses and are just waiting to try your hand at cooking these super dishes! We know we will!