Lentils are a staple ingredient in Indian cuisine.
Dal makhani, a popular dish.

Dal (also spelled Dahl or Daal, or Dhal) 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, an important part of Indian, Nepali, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi cuisine. It is regularly eaten with rice and vegetables in Southern India, and with both rice and roti (wheat-based flat bread) throughout Northern India and Pakistan. 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.


Etymology of the word Dal

Split Toor dal, a common variety of Dal.

The word dāl derives from the Sanskrit verbal root dal- 'to split'.[1]

Usage in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

In South India, dal is often used to make sambar, a spicy soup of red lentil and vegetables cooked with tamarind, asafoetida and some vegetables. It is eaten with rice and rice dishes. In West India dals are used to make curries to be eaten with rice. Dals are also used to make fermented preparations like Idli, Dosa, in south and coastal India. In East India rice is also the main accompaniment.

Dal preparations can be eaten with rice as well as Indian breads in North India.

Common varieties

Dal tadka
  • Toor dal, i.e. yellow Pigeon peas; available either plain or oily. It is the main ingredient for the South Indian recipe called Sambar.
  • Chana dal, i.e. split Chickpeas without the seedcoat. 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 sub-continent it is very prevalent in the Indian communities of Guyana and Trinidad, and was formerly 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 - small Chickpeas with brown skins. In the US 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, it is an average size chickpea. It grows naturally with the black coat, and it is said to be nuttier in flavor.
  • Lobiya Dal Black-eyed bean.
  • Rajma dal - Kidney beans.
  • Mussyang - dals of various color that are found in various hilly regions of Nepal.

Split and whole pulses

Although dal generally refers to split pulses, whole pulses are known as sabūt dals and split pulses as dhuli dals.[2][citation needed] 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 fiber content.[3] Pulses with their outer hull 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.

Preparing dal

Masoor dal being prepared

Most dal recipes are quite simple to prepare. The standard preparation of dal begins with boiling a variety of dal (or a mix) in water with some turmeric, salt to taste, and then adding a tadka (also known as tarka, chaunk or baghaar) at the end of the cooking process.


Tadka or tarka (also known as chaunk or fodni or baghar or vaghar or thalimpu or popu) is a dal garnishing, consisting of various spices or other flavorings fried in a small amount of oil. The ingredients in the tadka for each variety of dal vary by region and individual tastes.

The raw spices (more commonly cumin seeds, mustard seeds and/or asafoetida; 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 is generally fried for 10 minutes. After the onion turns golden brown, ground spices (like turmeric, coriander powder, red chili powder, garam masala, etc.) are added. The tadka is then poured over the cooked dal.

In some recipes, tomatoes, tamarind, unripe mango, or other ingredients are added while cooking the dal, often to impart a sour flavor. Some preparations call for mashing the cooked dal a bit with a hand masher or spatula.

Pejorative use

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.[4] Some Pakistanis living in rural areas have been nicknamed dal khor,[5] seemingly more often than those living in the urban cities, given the popularity of vegetarianism in the countryside.

See also


  1. ^ Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary accessed online 2007-09-02
  2. ^ Mehta N. (2006), p 12
  3. ^ doi:10.1016/j.lwt.2008.10.007
  4. ^ 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..."
  5. ^ Across the Wagah: An Indian's Sojourn in Pakistan by Maneesha Tikekar, pg. 95

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