Dal is a staple of all Indian cuisines but there’s so many different types to explore. While you probably have some in your cupboard right now, here’s a breakdown of other types you may not know about and how to use them.
Lentils are a type of legume that come in a variety of colours, including brown, green, red, and black. They are a staple ingredient in many cuisines, including Indian, Pakistani, and Middle Eastern. Lentils are a good source of protein, fibre, and minerals, and are relatively easy to cook. They also contain iron, which helps with red blood cell production. They are an equally good source of folate, which is important for maintaining a healthy heart.
So no matter how you plan to use them here’s a quick guide to how each type of lentil can be made the best.
Most stores have the option to buy in either canned or dried form. The canned versions like canned chickpeas or kidney beans come with an additional convenience factor and though their nutrients aren’t compromised, they sometimes have a higher sodium level from the brine so they should always be drained and thoroughly washed before use.
The most common way to buy lentils in India are the dried versions. They need to be cleaned thoroughly because small stones often find their way into the mix during harvesting. The easiest way to avoid them is to spread the lentils out on a tray and manually remove any foreign objects. Then rinse them a few times in running water until the water is clear. If possible, soaking lentils before cooking helps speed up the process and soaking overnight is the best option. Generally, the ratio of water to lentils is 4:1, so for every cup of lentils, add four cups of water. Adding aromatics like spices, garlic, onion or ginger also helps improve the taste.
The most commonly used lentil in western cooking, brown lentils have an earthy flavour and are a great choice for midweek cooking since they usually take only 20-30 minutes to cook. They also stay firm and hold their shape so can be used for salads and side dishes rather than as a dal dish.
The most familiar dals for Indian cooking are red lentils although they range in colour from yellow to red. They are most often used in soups, stews and curries because they tend to get very soft and break down easily into a liquid form. If they’ve been soaked beforehand, they cook very fast and the speediest way to cook them is in a pressure cooker.
Similarly to brown lentils, green lentils also tend to hold their shape well during the cooking process and have a firm texture even when cooked thoroughly. They take longest to cook and can take anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour to reach the perfect texture. They have a naturally peppery taste making them a great choice for salads.