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.

List of topics discussed in the post:

In this post, we’re going to hit on everything you’ll need to know about legumes, beans, lentils and dal used in Indian cooking like:

  1. What is the difference between legumes, lentils, pulses and dal?
  2. How to cook lentils?
  3. Different types of Dals and Lentils used in Indian cooking.
  4. Tips on how to cook lentils
  5. Indian Dal Tarka recipe.

Difference between legumes, lentils, pulses, and dal:

Did you have any idea that there were so many different types of beans?! 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 vegetarian, this can be a huge staple in your diet! They’re also high in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and are typically gluten-free. Let’s not forget they’re also rich in vitamins and minerals and are extremely heart-healthy. We’re not seeing many cons here!

Cooking Lentils:

If this is your first time cooking lentils, there are some tips to keep in mind so that you can make the perfect pot of lentils! First, you should always rinse your lentils before cooking them. This gets off all of the residues that you don’t want them sitting in and cooking in. Next, in order to have the best-tasting lentils, you’ll want to make sure they’re as fresh as possible! If your lentils are feeling too tough in texture, you might have bought old lentils. Make sure you check the expiration date before buying bags of lentils. Another way to avoid this is by buying lentils from bulk bins instead of bags since they’re likely to be replaced more often. 

Once you’re ready to cook your lentils, it’s important to remember that lentils take on whatever flavors you’re cooking them with. That said, they’re relatively bland just as is. Make sure you’re taking advantage of the blank slate they provide you and have fun with experimenting with different flavors! Fast-forwarding to cooking lentils, make sure you’re not boiling them at too high of a rate for too long! Overcooking your lentils can lead to a pile of mush, which nobody wants. If you’re bringing your lentils to a rapid boil, once they are simmering rapidly, reduce the heat and continue to let them simmer. 

Bean, Dal, Lentil, and Pulse Types:

There are many different types of dals 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 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.

Split Bengal Gram Cooking Tips

  • Wash Split Bengal Gram very well  before cooking
  • Depending on your recipe, you can soak Split Bengal Gram for a few hours prior to cooking to speed up the process
  • If you’re cooking in an Instant Pot, you probably won’t have to soak your Split Bengal Gram

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!

Whole Red Lentils/Split Red Lentils Cooking Tips

  • A trick of the trade is to salt your lentils after they’re cooked to avoid creating a tough exterior
  • Since Split Red Lentils are soft, they’re great in soups and curries
  • If you’re cooking directly in the soup, be sure to add in extra liquid to make up for the liquid absorbed by the lentil.

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.

Green Gram Cooking Tips

  • You don’t have to soak them before cooking and they can be ready in as little as 20 minutes if you boil them.
  • If these are soaked, this cuts down the cooking time even more

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 Green Gram Cooking Tips

  • If you’re not using a pressure cooker for these, make sure to soak for a few hours, because the skin makes them tougher
  • If you’re using a pressure cooker, it’s still best to soak for at least 30 minutes to make sure they cook through 

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.

Split and Skinned Green Gram Cooking Tips

  • Since these lentils are split and skinned, it’s easy to overcook them, so take extra care when cooking these to make sure you’re getting them to the right texture
  • If these are soaked, this cuts down the cooking time even more

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.

Kidney Beans Cooking Tips

  • If you have the time, kidney beans can be soaked overnight prior to cooking
  • Soak for at least a few hours if not
  • For a quick soak method, rinse the beans and cover in an inch of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and turn off and let them soak for an hour


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.

Chickpea Cooking Tips

  • While rinsing dry chickpeas, make sure to look for pebbles or debris as they easily blend in and hide
  • Soaking overnight is best for these if you have the time
  • You can use the quick-soak method with these too
  • Rinse the beans and cover in an inch of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and turn off and let them soak for an hour

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.

Yellow Pigeon Peas Cooking Tips

  • These remain perfectly intact while cooking, but can overcook very quickly if you overcook them
  • It’s best to slightly undercook them
  • After cooking, rinse them again to get rid of any foam that happened while cooking

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 Eyed Peas Cooking Tips

  • Always add seasoning after these legumes are cooked through and not before
  • While you don’t have to soak these overnight, it’s always easier to cook if you do
  • Cooking these “low and slow” is the best way to achieve the perfect texture

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.

Black Gram Cooking Tips

  • If you’re using a pressure cooker, you can skip the soaking step with these legumes, but it’s always best to soak overnight
  • Use less water or liquid for a thicker dal
  • Like the others, make sure to rinse these prior to cooking 

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 Black Gram Cooking Tips

  • Soaking these for about a half-hour prior to cooking usually does the trick 
  • If you soak too long, you risk having the skins fall off
  • They should be soft but not mushed when cooked through properly

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!

Split and Skinned Black Gram Cooking Tips

  • These take less time to soak through since there’s no tough exterior to cook through
  • If you’re using a pressure cooker, soaking for about 10 minutes will do the trick
  • If you’re not using a pressure cooker, you’re going to want to soak for at least  thirty minutes to an hour

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.

Bengal Gram Cooking Tips

  • Soak these for at least 5-6 hours or overnight
  • If you add soda bicarb to the water, they’ll cook softer at a faster rateIf you don’t have a pressure cooker, boiling them for a few hours before cooking could help lessen the overall cook time

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.

Green Peas Cooking Tips

  • When cooking these, make sure to check the liquid state while cooking. If there is too much, you’ll probably need to cook until it’s cooked through
  • Of course, if purchasing canned green peas, you won’t need to soak as they’re already soft

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!

White Peas Cooking Tips

  • Most prefer to cook these in a pressure cooker so that they cook more evenly
  • Soak white peas overnight or for at least 12 hours for best results

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.

Turkish/Dew Gram Beans Cooking Tips

  • Soaking and cooking these beans makes the proteins more easily digestible
  • Soak Turkish/Dew Gram Beans overnight or for at least 8-10 hours
  • These usually take under one hour to cook, so make sure you don’t overcook

Basic Indian Dal Tarka Recipe:

Now that we have learnt all about Indian dals and lentils, how about we work on a simple, easy and super quick recipe for an Indian lentil soup or Dal Tarka. Cook along with Sukhi!

If you’re wondering which spices can accompany your lentil dish, you can check out our series on Indian Spices Part I and Indian Spices Part II for some ideas. 

More Posts About Indian Cooking:

5 Common Indian Spices You Should Have in Your Pantry

5 Whole Indian Spices You Should Be Using

Indian Food 101: Your Guide to an Indian Restaurant Menu

The Ultimate Guide to Chicken Tikka Masala (Origins, Ingredients & More!)

What is Curry? Your Comprehensive Curry Guide

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

21 responses to Basics of Indian Cooking: Dal (Beans and Lentils)

  • 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

  • […] Chana Masala, also known as chole masala, or chholay, is a popular chickpea dish that originated in India. The type of chickpea used for this dish is called chana or kala chana. There are many health benefits of chickpeas, which we talk about in our guide of dals and lentils. […]

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  • “Excellent blog you have got here.. It’s difficult to find
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  • Thank you so much for this page! I have a bunch of unlabeled lentils and beans in my pantry from my mom. I also have a bunch of recipes that use the Hindi name for the dal. This page has helped me figure out what I have. I’ve shared it with some friends as well 🙂

  • Kidney beans (Rajma dal) in the raw, that is un-cooked state is toxic! Eating a few raw beans may cause symptoms of poisoning. All this to emphasize that, kidney beans, & all its varieties, need to be thoroughly boiled (when I state boiled, means bubbling boiling & not your weak simmering!) for at least 30 to 45 minutes to neutralise the toxin in the beans. Indian pressure cooker method would call for a minimum of 15 minutes by-the-clock cooking over medium heat & no un-scientific ‘cooking-by-whistles’ please!

  • I am enjoying learning more about one of my favorite cuisines. Thank you, In your video on Dal Tarka there is wonderful music in the background. I would love to purchase this music, can you identify it for me?

    • Thanks for taking the time and sending your feedback… means the world to us!
      Let me get back to you on the music.

  • I was lucky enough to work in an atmosphere where there were many people from different countries so was exposed to many different dishes. I have been chasing down a recipe for a sprouted green lentil salad. I am wondering if you could give me any insight as to a reasonable recipe. I have looked everywhere and cannot find anything close.

    The man who brought it was from Pakistan and his mother had made it.

  • This was SO delicious!! I followed your exact recipe and I don’t think it was too thick at all. It was nice and creamy and the flavors were great! My husband ate two bowlfuls and wanted more. We had plenty for leftovers. Thanks–this is a keeper!

  • I have not included it in the past. I am just starting to add it to a recipes going forward. But since you asked, I did the analysis on this recipe and added it ;). Please let me know if that helps.
    Ashley Jones

  • This is the best indoor chicken I’ve ever made, and I used boxed, frozen chicken breasts. Can’t wait to try this out with fresh ones… maybe post up some ideas for side dishes? ?
    Holly Hooper

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