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Lentils are a staple ingredient in South Asian cuisine. Clockwise from upper right: split red lentils, common green whole lentils, and Le Puy lentils both with their outer coats visible
|Main ingredient(s)||Lentils, peas or beans|
Dal or paripu (Nepali दाल daal; Hindi दाल dāl; Bengali ডাল dāl; Kannada ಬೇಳೆ bēḷe; Malayalam പരിപ്പ് parippu; Marathi डाळ ḍāḷ; Tamil பருப்பு paruppu; Telugu పప్పు pappu or dāl; Urdu دال) is a preparation of pulses (dried lentils, peas or beans) which have been stripped of their outer hulls and split. It also refers to the thick stew prepared from these pulses, an important part of Indian, Nepali, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, West Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine. It is regularly eaten with rice in southern India, and with both rice and roti (wheat-based flat bread) throughout northern India and Pakistan as well as Bangladesh, East India, and Nepal where Dal Baht (literally: dal and rice) is the staple food for much of the population. Dal is a ready source of proteins for a balanced diet containing little or no meat. Sri Lankan cooking of dal resembles that of southern Indian dishes.
Usage in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka
Dal preparations can be eaten with rice, as well as Indian breads in North India. In India, it is eaten with rice and with a wheat flatbread called roti. The manner in which it is cooked and presented varies by region. In South India, dal is primarily used to make the dish called sambar.
Dal has an exceptional nutritional profile. It provides an excellent source of protein, particularly for those adopting vegetarian diets or diets which do not contain much meat. It is typically around 25% protein by weight, giving it a comparable protein content to meats. It is also high in carbohydrates whilst being virtually fat-free. It is also rich in the B vitamins thiamine and folic acid, as well as several minerals, notably iron and zinc.
- Toor dal, i.e. yellow pigeon peas, is available either plain or oily. It is the main ingredient for the Tamil Nadu(a south Indian State) recipe called sambar. In Karnataka it is called togari bele. It is also known as Arhar dal.
- Chana dal is produced by removing the outer layer of kala chana (black chickpeas) and then splitting the kernel. Although machines can do this, it can also be done at home by soaking the whole chickpeas and removing the loose skins by rubbing.
- Yellow split peas, while not commonly used on the Indian subcontinent, are very prevalent in the Indian communities of Fiji Islands, Guyana and Trinidad, and are popular amongst Indians in the United States. There, it is referred to generically as dal and is the most popular dal, although masoor dal and toor dal are also used. It is prepared similarly to dals found in India, but also may be used in a variety of other recipes.
- Kala chana are small chickpeas with brown skins. In the U.S. and Canada, it is known as Desi chickpea and the variety most used is called 'Myles'. It is very disease resistant.
- Kabuli dal, known for its black coat, is an average-sized chickpea. It grows naturally with the black coat, and it is said to be nuttier in flavour.
- Mung dal by far the most popular in Bangladesh, is also known as mung bean.
- Urad dal, sometimes referred to as "black gram", is the main ingredient of the Tamil Nadu(South Indian state) dishes idli and dosa. It is also one of the main ingredients of East Indian (oriya and Bengali or Assamese) pitha. The Punjabi version is dal makhani. In Karnataka, it is called uddina bele. It is rich in protein.
- Mussyang is from dals of various colours found in various hilly regions of Nepal.
- Panchratna Dal is actually a dal mixture made by combining five varieties of dals (hence the name Panchratna - meaning five 'panch' jewels 'ratna'). It is the combination of the five different dals cooked together that gives the final dish its unique flavour.
Split and whole pulses
Although dal generally refers to split pulses, whole pulses are known as sabit dal and split pulses as dhuli dal. The hulling of a pulse is intended to improve digestibility and palatability, but as with milling of whole grains into refined grains, affects the nutrition provided by the dish, reducing dietary fibre content. Pulses with their outer hulls intact are also quite popular in India and Pakistan as the main cuisine. Over 50 different varieties of pulses are known in India and Pakistan.
Most dal recipes are quite simple to prepare. The standard preparation begins with boiling a variety of dal (or a mix) in water with some turmeric, salt to taste, and then adding a fried garnish at the end of the cooking process. In some recipes, tomatoes, tamarind, unripe mango, or other ingredients are added while cooking the dal, often to impart a sour flavour.
The fried garnish for dal goes by many names, including chaunk and tadka. The ingredients in the chaunk for each variety of dal vary by region and individual tastes. The raw spices (more commonly cumin seeds, mustard seeds, asafoetida, and sometimes fenugreek seeds and dried red chili pepper) are first fried for a few seconds in the hot oil on medium/low heat. This is generally followed by ginger, garlic, and onion, which are generally fried for 10 minutes. After the onion turns golden brown, ground spices (turmeric, coriander, red chili powder, garam masala, etc.) are added. The chaunk is then poured over the cooked dal.
The word dal can at times be used in a disparaging fashion as some use the label Dal Khor (literally "dal eater" in Persian) in a belittling manner toward Pakistanis or those from the Indian Subcontinent. Some Pakistanis living in rural areas have been nicknamed dal khor seemingly more often than those living in the urban cities given the popularity of vegetarianism in the countryside.
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- Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary accessed online 2007-09-02
- Mehta N. (2006), p 12
- Dangerous Harvest: Drug Plants and the Transformation of Indigenous Landscapes by Michael K. Steinberg, Joseph, pg. 135. Note: "A Pashtun will refer to a Punjabi in a derogatory manner by calling him a dal eater..."
- Across the Wagah: An Indian's Sojourn in Pakistan by Maneesha Tikekar, pg. 95
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