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Basics of Indian Cooking: Dal (Beans and Lentils)

This guide covers the most popular types of lentils and beans used in Indian cooking, including Kala Chana, Mung Dal, and more!

Basics of Indian Cooking- Dal, beans and lentils

What is Dal?

Welcome back to our Basics of Indian Cooking series! Today, we’re delving into the colorful world of dals and lentils. Dals, though often translated as lentils, are actually any split pulses (legumes). A pulse refers to the dry, edible seed of the pod. This includes beans, lentils, peas, and other little seeds in lentils or beans.

So, any split legume is referred to as a dal in Indian culture. These pulses are typically offered in three different ways: whole, split with the skin on, or split with the skin removed.

The benefits of dals are seemingly endless! Dals make a tasty and nutritious addition to any meal as they’re high in protein and low in fat. For example, the combination of dals and rice is considered to be a perfect and complete protein match. If you’re a vegetarian, this can be a huge staple in your diet!

They’re also high in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and are typically gluten-free. And let’s not forget they’re also rich in vitamins and minerals and are extremely heart-healthy. We’re not seeing many cons here!

There are many different types of lentils and beans used in traditional Indian dishes. There’s red, black, green, yellow, white… the list goes on and on! Let’s take a look at some of these colorful and tasty lentils used in everyday Indian cuisine.

Split Bengal Gram

Bowl of Chana Dal

Hindi Name: Chana Dal

What is Chana Dal? Split Bengal Gram, or Chana Dal, are usually purchased split and already deskinned. Basically a really small chickpea, this type of lentil has a nutty flavor and is typically used in dry curries or ground into flour. They can also be used to make flatbreads (Puran Poli), vegetable balls (Koftas), or vegetarian pancakes (Cheelas)! It’s a time-saver, as the lentil cooks fairly quickly and don’t need to be soaked prior to cooking.

Bengal Gram

Bowl of Bengal Gram

Hindi Name: Kala Chana

What is Kala Chana? Bengal gram lentils are widely used for curries! It’s basically a darker variety of chickpeas, often referred to as black chickpeas. Much like chickpeas, they’re high in protein, can help lower cholesterol, and are a heart-healthy option. A lot of times, Kala Chana is cooked in an Instant Pot for faster results.

Whole Red Lentils/Split Red Lentils

Bowl of red lentils

Hindi Name: Masoor Dal

What is Masoor Dal? One of the most common types of lentils is Masoor Dal! You can use whole red lentils or split red lentils for a protein-packed addition to your cooking. They’re best known for their short cooking time and their mild, subtly sweet flavor they bring to your plate. They’re used in aromatic curries, rich soups, hearty salads, and many rice dishes. You can also use them in dips or sauté them up for a quick and healthy snack!

Unlike most other beans, you don’t have to soak red lentils prior to cooking. Whole lentils typically take 15-20 minutes to cook, but split red lentils only take around 5-7 minutes. So easy! A trick of the trade is to salt your lentils after they’re cooked to avoid creating a tough exterior.

Green Gram

Bowl of mung beans

Hindi Name: Mung

What is Mung? Mung beans are small, green beans in the legume family. They’re high in protein, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients! A modern convenience as they cook quickly, mung beans are great in soups, salads, and dips.

You don’t have to soak them before cooking and they can be ready in as little as 20 minutes if you boil them.

Split Green Gram

Bowl of Spilt Mung Beans

Hindi Name: Mung Dal with Skin

What is Mung Dal with Skin? Split mung beans are like the aforementioned, but with the skin left on. Packed with protein and fiber, you can serve them plain or with rice for a rounded-out vegetarian dish.

Split and Skinned Green Gram

Bowl of mung dal

Hindi Name: Mung Dal

What is Mung Dal? Split and skinned mung beans are great in healthy lentil and rice dishes. You can typically buy them this way, which saves time and is more convenient when busy in the kitchen. Still full of protein and fiber, they’re a healthy addition to any meal.

Kidney Beans

Bowl of kidney beans

Hindi Name: Rajma

What is Rajma? Kidney beans are arguably the most widely known type of bean across cultures and are readily available almost anywhere groceries can be found. You can buy them ready to go in a can, or you can buy them dry and soak them. It’s all about personal preference here! If you do choose to soak them, they’ll have to soak for a few hours until they are good and tender.

These are very popular innNorthern India and are phenomenal even on their own. A versatile bean, you can use them in salads or combine them with meats and vegetables.


Bowl of chickpeas

Hindi Name: Chole

What is Chole? A legume of many names, chickpeas are also known as garbanzo beans, Kabuli Chana, white chickpeas, and Egyptian peas. Chickpeas have a nutty flavor that makes a delicious hummus, a great crunch in salads, or a yummy addition to your rice dish. They’re also used to make curries.

You can buy them in cans or you can buy them dry and soak them and then boil them. Another hard legume, you’ll have to soak for several hours before they’re ready to be cooked.

Yellow Pigeon Peas

Bowl of Toor Dal

Hindi Name: Toor Dal

What is Toor Dal? Yellow pigeon peas are a must-have in west and south India. Rich in protein and folic acid, these peas are used in many dishes across India. They’re typically sold split and skinned. Similar to Chana Dal, yellow pigeon peas can go from store to table rather quickly, as they do not require soaking. These make for a good pairing with amazing rice dishes.

Black Eyed Peas

Bowl of Black Eyed Peas

Hindi Name: Chawli

What is Chawli? Black eyed peas are a relatively soft bean that doesn’t need to be soaked before use. They’re typically used for a variety of curries in Indian culture and can be used similarly to white chickpeas. They can be ready in under 30 minutes if you boil them, and are an overall low-maintenance legume. They really do blend into the perfect curries because of their soft nature.

Black Gram

Hindi Name: Urad Dal

What is Urad Dal? Black gram lentils are about the same size as the mung bean. They’re rich in protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Black gram lentils are widely used in India for papadums, or a thin, crisp seasoned dough that’s fried or cooked with dry heat.

When used whole, it has a distinctly stronger flavor than the split and skinned variety. Black gram is a harder lentil, so it takes a little longer to cook. In this case, soaking is definitely recommended.

Split Black Gram

Hindi Name: Urad Dal with Skin

What is Urad Dal with Skin? Split black gram is when whole black gram is split and the skin is left on. When split, the black lentil as a white interior. Rich in fiber, it can help improve digestion, which also partners with magnesium and potassium to aid in a healthy heart. It is one of the most famous lentils used in the southern part of Asia.

Split and Skinned Black Gram

Hindi Name: Urad Dal

What is Urad Dal? Much like the aforementioned split black gram, this lentil is the same but a skinned version. Different recipes in Indian cuisine call for whole, split, or split and skinned, so it’s important to note the difference when going through a recipe!

Green Peas

Hindi Name: Hari Matar

What is Hari Matar? Green peas are an excellent source of dietary fiber, Vitamin A, iron, folate, thiamin, and Vitamin C. They’re smaller in size and are used in many curries and soups in India. They can also be used in rice dishes.

They are ready to go in under 5 minutes if you buy them in a can, or you can take a little more time and buy them fresh and prepare them that way. The ones shown here are dried green peas which work great with popular Indian street food, chaat.

White Peas

Hindi Name: Safed Matar

What is Safed Matar? Much like green peas, white peas are also bursting with health benefits. White peas look similar to chickpeas but are smaller in size and they typically need to be soaked before they’re prepared. You can also eat them dried!

Turkish/Dew Gram Beans

Bowl of dew gram

Hindi Name: Matki

What is Matki? The Turkish/dew gram beans are an earthy legume with a nutty flavor. Also known as a moth bean, these beans are a great source of protein and calcium, as well as vitamins and minerals. The pods, sprouts, and seeds are commonly used across India and can be cooked or fried.

A popular dish made with these legumes is called Matkichi Usal, which is a hearty curry made with sprouted  Turkish gram.

More Posts About Indian Cooking:

What’s your favorite way to prepare dals/lentils? Let us know in the comments below!

4 Responses to Basics of Indian Cooking: Dal (Beans and Lentils)

  1. Cheryl Kahoe 9 months ago at 10:49 am #

    Thank you for the lesson in cooking Dal and beans…love your food!!! Love your Tika Korma and curry spices. You make the best for home cooks like me

  2. John A Gary 9 months ago at 12:24 pm #

    Thank you for all your work.


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