The humble dal is one dish from Indian cuisine with which most Indians share a special connection. A portion of this delicious and healthy food features in everyone’s meal — from toddlers to teenagers and adults. The modest dal, with its surplus protein and great nutritious content, is enough to satisfy anyone's appetite.
Dal has been a staple of India's culinary culture for generations, appearing in nearly every meal of the day. There are so many varieties of regional dal recipes that you could make a different dal every day and not repeat your meal for months. Apart from soups and stews, dal is also used to make chutneys, Indian-style pancakes, salads, desserts, and sprouted and/or ground into flour.
Masoor, tur, urad, moong and chana dal are among the most prevalent dals that are used across India, but each state also has its own favourite pick. Each of these dals is prepared differently in different parts of the country. While they all have an earthy creaminess in common, the aromatic tempering of spices used in each is what gives them their distinct flavours. While South Indians use tur dal as the main ingredient in sambar, Maharashtrians prefer amti dal, and Gujaratis swear by khati meeti dal. Each dish has its own flavour, aroma and taste.
Dals are an essential component of most Indian thalis, and they can include everything from vegetables to meat. There are a plethora of them, from the most basic — like the simple tadka dal seen on most restaurant menus — to the sumptuous — like the extraordinary smoky dal makhani. But Indians appreciate all versions of this mellow meal for its basic yet very comforting taste.
Take things up a notch in your kitchen and tantalise your taste buds with these unique dal recipes from different parts of India.
Tips to remember when you’re preparing a dal recipe at home
- Soak the lentils in water for about six hours or overnight to soften the dal. This will reduce the cooking time.
- Dals or lentils are vegan and gluten-free. However, traditional dal recipes use ghee which is not vegan. When tempering the dal, you can use oil instead of ghee to make it vegan.
- Dal is traditionally served with rice or roti (chapati) and a dry vegetable on the side. Eating it with pickles and papad is also very popular.
- You can change the dal’s consistency to your preference by adding less or more water. If you prefer a thinner consistency, add a little extra water. But be careful not to add too much as the flavours will be diminished and the dal won’t taste as good if it’s too thin or runny. Continue to check and, if necessary, add more water.
- Ghee enhances the flavour of dal fry. However, it can also be made with oil or butter. Sunflower, safflower, peanut, mustard or coconut oil are good options. Note that mustard and coconut oil will impart their flavour and taste to the lentils, so adjust accordingly.
- Dals are usually garnished liberally with cilantro and roasted curry leaves to give them a special freshness
Different types of dal recipes from North India
This dish is called "Karayal or Karail" in Uttar Pradesh. It's made with a split white lentil paste that's deep-fried into vadas and then cooked in a gravy of onion, ginger, garlic and spice powders. Following that, they are soaked or gently cooked in a mild spicy curry.
This simple yet nourishing dish was traditionally prepared during the monsoon or summer months when vegetables were scarce. While there is no shortage of vegetables in the market these days, this dal recipe is a good option when you’re short on time for grocery shopping. It's a very easy and filling meal that goes well with rice or roti. Here's the Dal karail recipe to make this delicious classic at home.
Dal tadka is an Indian lentil meal that is soothing, savoury, and filling. In Hindi, the word 'dal' refers to lentils, and 'tadka' refers to tempering. So, dal tadka means lentils that have been finished with a tempering. It’s so easy to prepare this dal recipe at home that with just one bite, you'll agree that cooking restaurant-like food at home is easier than you thought.
Dal tadka is a popular Indian dish in which cooked spicy lentils are topped with a tempering of ghee/oil and spices. It can be prepared by combining a variety of dals which are boiled and then mixed with cumin, asafetida, onion, tomato, ginger, garlic and green chillies, and a variety of spice powders. The dal’s flavour is further enhanced by adding lemon juice, freshly chopped coriander and butter or ghee.
This zesty stew is a treat for many Indian food enthusiasts and best enjoyed with butter naan, tandoori roti, steamed basmati or jeera rice. Here’s a dal tadka recipe by Ajay Chopra.
The Mughals were aristocrats with refined tastes. Their love of culture and art has been well documented. Above all, their appetite for good food has had a significant impact on India's regional cuisines. However, Shah Jahan's son Aurangzeb did not believe in luxury, pomp or show, so the extravagance of Mughal cuisine only lasted until Shah Jahan's reign.
When Aurangzeb imprisoned Shah Jahan in Agra Fort, he allowed his father to choose only one ingredient for his meals. Shah Jahan picked chickpeas as it could be reinvented and prepared in a variety of ways. Hence, 'Shahjahani dal' was born and is now among North Indian cuisine's trademark dishes.
It is prepared by cooking boiled and mashed chickpeas in a creamy sauce. Aromatic herbs and spices are added to enhance their flavour. Coconut milk is often added to make it creamier. It is usually served with steaming hot rice or paratha. Check out the Shahjahani Dal recipe to try it at home.
Dal makhani, a Punjabi staple meal, is a favourite dal recipe for many and can be easily prepared at home. The dal makhani recipe was first developed by Sardar Singh and has since become a classic in Indian cuisine.
It is a hearty lentil meal cooked with whole black urad dal (black lentils) and rajma (red kidney beans). It is thickened by slow cooking on a low flame for hours. Cream, butter and ghee are also used in this dal recipe. The rich, spicy and creamy dal is a particular favourite for the menus of special events like weddings and gatherings. Laden with butter, it is served with naan, paratha or rice. Here’s a recipe to prepare dal makhni at home.
Different types of dal recipes from South India
In addition to its magnificent natural beauty, Kerala is noted for its diverse food culture, which includes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. They're hearty, flavourful and packed with a variety of regional spices.
Kadala curry, a popular meal from Kerala, is a gravy-based dish made with boiled black chana (black chickpeas). The flavourful mix of spices and grated coconut distinguishes it from the traditional kala chana sabzi. Boiled black chana, coconut, red chilli, coriander, mustard seeds and onion are some of the ingredients required for this dal recipe.
Puttu is a mandatory companion with kadala. Puttu, which means "portioned" in Malayalam, is a steamed cylindrical rice flour-based meal that can be sweet or salty. Rice flour, coconut, water and salt are the main ingredients of puttu. A sweet filling is also used in some recipes. Ragi flour, tapioca flour and cornflour often replace rice flour in some puttu recipes. Here’s how you can prepare the amazing puttu kadala recipe at home.
Brahmi dal fry
Brahmi Dal Fry or Vallarai Paruppu Kootu is made using Brahmi leaves, a popular Ayurvedic ingredient known for its many benefits related to health and wellness. Brahmi leaves are often called ‘brain tonic’ locally because of their benefits to the brain and memory.
Brahmi dal fry is prepared using moong dal and Brahmi. It is simple to prepare and goes well with rice or roti. It's very delicious and healthy. Here’s a recipe for Brahmi dal fry to try at home.
Among the different types of dal recipes found in various parts of India, dal chawal is one that is prepared in every household.
The British prefer to call it lentil soup and rice, but in India, it’s known as Dal Chawal. It is prepared in almost every home, whether it’s the icy areas of Kashmir or in God's own country Kerala. Dal Chawal is one of the simplest dal recipes and is the perfect comfort food. It can be served for lunch or dinner, and on some days when you're in a rush, you can even have it for breakfast. It's a bowl of bliss completed with a fine blend of spices and a spoonful of ghee.
There are a variety of ways to make dal, but the result is always the same. Most households prefer arhar or tur dal but it can also be prepared with a mixture of dals or lentils. You can also make a side dish like aloo sabzi to complete your meal. Some people also prefer a salad of sliced onions, tomatoes and cucumber with dal chawal. Here is a simple dal chawal recipe to try at home.