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.
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 South Indian 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 South Indian 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.
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.
Although dal generally refers to split pulses, whole pulses are known as sabūt 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.