Welcome to another Indian Cooking 101 Class (read about my Indian Cooking 101 series here). I am your “professor” Ashley Singh Thomas (I use the title “professor” very loosely here, heh). Today’s post is all about the different types of legumes used in Indian cooking (scroll down to see large photos of each type of dal).
Before we get started, please know these are just some of the legumes used in Indian cooking. I’ll update this post as I continue to add recipes to my blog calling for different legumes.
What is the difference between legumes, pulses, lentils, beans?
Everything I just mentioned falls under the legume family. Pulses are dried seeds (which includes dried lentils and dried beans). So everything you see in this post is considered a pulse and all pulses are considered legumes.
This is just extra information that I’m sharing with you because I know there have to be a few of you who are wondering. No one uses the word pulses in real life though (right?) so feel free to forget this information as I doubt you’ll need it in the “real world.” If you’re like me and want to know everything about anything food related then feel free to read more about pulses here. Okay, back to Indian cooking…
What is Dal?
Dal has two meanings.
- Dal translates to legume/lentil
- Dal is also a lentil-based dish
Let’s use dal in a sentence! So, I might say to my husband, “Roby dear, can you pick up some dal from the Indian grocery store after work so that I can make you dal for dinner tonight?”
Typically I’d be more specific and would ask him to pick up a particular type of dal (like masoor or chana dal). Basically you need dal (lentil) to make dal (lentil soup).
While you can make a dal out of any pulse, typically the word “dal” only shows up in the name of a pulse if it is a split lentil. So for example chana dal = split chickpeas whereas if I am referring to whole chickpeas I would just say chana or chole. I would not say I am making chole dal.
One more interesting thing to know about legumes used in Indian cooking is that the same legume can be used in several different ways: whole, split, with the “skin” on and with the “skin” off. A good example of this are the last three photos of legumes in this blog post which all actually come from the same black legume: whole black lentils (whole urad dal), whole skinless black lentils (whole skinless urad dal), split and skinless black lentils (split and skinless urad dal).
All you really need to know:
I don’t want to be one of those professors who bombards you with material that isn’t ever going to show up on an exam. Let’s prepare you for your real life legume exam – you know, the one you’ll be taking as you cruise through the aisles at your local Indian grocery store.
The ONLY thing you need to take away from this “lesson” is what these legumes look like so that when you go to the store, you can figure out what to buy. And the good thing is that these days a lot of packaging has the English name of the legume listed.
Okay before we get to it I have to plug my book – I have several different types of dal recipes in my cookbook which is available here: Indian Food Under Pressure (apparently I am also one of those professors who uses her own book in class and refers to it often…) 😂
Other Names: Lobia, Cow Pea, Chawli, Raungi
Recipes that call for Black Eyed Peas:
Other Names: Garbanzo Beans, Kabuli Chana, Safed Chana, Chana, Chitte Chole, Chole
Recipes that call for Chickpeas:
Brown Chickpeas (Kala Chana)
Other Names: Bengal Gram, Desi Chickpeas
These brown chickpeas are more nutty in flavor than garbanzo beans.
Recipes that call for Brown Chickpeas:
- Brown Chickpeas in Coconut Curry (Kadala Curry)
- Spiced Brown Chickpeas (Sookha Kala Chana)
- Punjabi Brown Chickpea Curry (Kala Chana)
Split Chickpeas (Chana Dal)
Other Names: Split Bengal Gram, Split Desi Chickpeas
When you split and skin brown chickpeas (the photo above this one), you get chana dal. This yellow lentil is what’s inside brown chickpeas (kala chana). Besan, known as chickpea flour, is made using chana dal whereas chickpea flour in American grocery stores is made using garbanzo beans.
Recipes that call for Split Chickpeas/Chana Dal:
Whole Mung Beans
Other Names: Green Gram, Sabut Moong, Green Moong
Recipes that call for Whole Mung Beans:
Small Yellow Lentils (Moong Dal)
Other names = yellow split mung beans
When you split a whole mung bean (the green lentil photo above this one), you get moong dal. This tiny yellow lentil is what’s inside whole moong (green lentil).