A very large percentage of the population of India is vegetarian. The vegetarians get their dietary protein basically from the huge variety of pulses known as dal, that are grown in our country. Some of the popular varieties are
- Masur Dal – Popularly known as red lentils in the western world, masur dal is a part of the daily diet in most households across the country. It is normally husked and split before being sold. It is boiled with turmeric powder and salt till it is cooked and then in Eastern India, tempered with onion seeds and green chilies, in Southern India mustard seeds, curry leaves and dry red chilies, in Western and Northern India with sliced onion, ginger and garlic, before being served with rice. The unhusked whole lentil called Malka Masur is made into a dry curry in Western India and had as an accompaniment with roti or paratha.
- Moong Dal - A green colored gram, Moong is available both husked and unhusked, The husked variety is often dry roasted before being boiled with turmeric and salt in many Bengali homes. Cooked with peas or diced coconut moong dal is a popular item in a festive menu at Bengali homes. Tempering with ghee and garam masala after cooking is a must. Western and Northern states add a pinch of asafoetida giving this dal a distinctive flavor.
- Arahar or Tuvar Dal – Also known as red gram, this variety of pulse is the basic dal used in the South Indian Sambar and Rasam, the Parsi Dhansak, the Maharashtrian Amti as well as the Punjabi Dal Fry.
- Channa Dal – The split Bengal gram is known as channa dal in most of India and as chholar dal in Bengal. Tempered with whole jeera (cumin seeds) and garam masala it is a very popular accompaniment with the fluffy maida (refined flour) luchis that the Bengalis make. In fact many street food vendors in Eastern India sell it with parathas at breakfast. It is also cooked with fish head in the eastern part of the country or with pieces of goat meat in the western parts.
- Urud Dal – The famous Dal Makhani available in any reputed Indian restaurant the world over has this black colored lentil as its base. People from the state of Punjab are extremely fond of urud dal and often combine it with other beans like rajmah (red kidney beans) or lobia (cow pea).
Dals do not necessarily have to be a liquid and an accompaniment to a cereal. They are often ground to powder and used to thicken gravies like the yoghurt based kadhi. They are cooked and dried, made into stuffing for parathas and kachoris. They lend themselves very well to both savory snacks as well as sweets. Hugely popular snacks from Western India called dhokla and khandvi are made of split Bengal gram, the chakli or murukku from the Southern states, of split black gram. And who can resist the dal based sweetmeats that hail from Rajasthan be it the laddoo, the barfi or the jalebi?
Truly in any Indian home there is always a DAL moment!