India’s Most Common Lentils
Lentils are members of the legume family of vegetables. Because of their high nutritional values, they make a perfect meal with rice as it is the case in India. Do you know that India produces a quarter to half of the total world production of lentils? It’s close to 1.5 million tonnes a year, just behind Canada’s, and most of India’s lentils are consumed locally.
However, going to any of the Indian markets, you can confuse yourself easily with the endless arrays of lentils, varying in sizes and colors. It is good to have a grasp of the most common ones.
The Chaan Daal is the largest Indian lentil, one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world. Yellow in color with a sweet nutty flavor, it is one of the most popular and versatile lentils in the Indian diet. It cooks very quickly, under 10 minutes, after first being soaked in water. In spite of its sweet flavor, this lentil is excellent for diabetics. High in protein and fiber, it has almost no effects on blood sugar.
The Moor Daal is probably the most known to Westerners, also eaten in the Middle East, Africa and the rest of Asia. They are the color of salmon and cooks quickly after soaking in water. Becoming golden when cooked, they turn into a mushy, creamy texture with a warm and earthy taste. They can be mashed and added to other dishes for thickening, such as in soups and meat stews. The lentils are very good for bile reflux and also improve blood circulation.
Moong beans/daal are the beans from which bean sprouts grow. Called green beans with their hulls, they can simmer in boiling stew until soft, with onion, ginger and spices. Without the hulls, they are called moong daal, also easily cooked and can be grounded to a paste to make batter for pancakes. Mixed with rice and spices it can make a breakfast snack called pongal. Particularly high in dietary fiber, it reduces overeating and constipation.
The Urad bean/daal shell is black with a very pungent aroma and a rich earthy flavour, and can make the Punjabi dish Dal Makhani, similar to butter chicken. Without skins, they have a creamy colour with milder flavors. They can make dosas and idlis and can be added to flour to make breads. The daal curry is also made from this lentil.
The Toor daal is a staple of Southern India particularly Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, cultivated for over 3,000 years. They are pale yellow with a slight nutty taste. They can make sambar (a vegetable stew) and rasam soup, grounded into flour to make kandi podi (lentils and spices). They can have an oily coating which should be washed off before cooking. Nutritionally very balanced, they provide a lot of protein, carbohydrates and important amino acids.