Lentils in Bengali & Indian Cooking: Things to Know

Daal or dal is a generic Hindi word for lentil. However, there is a slight difference between dal and lentil. Lentil refers to both cooked and uncooked lentil curry whereas dal refers to only the cooked stuff.

Cooked lentils are pure delights to enjoy as a stand-alone dish or with a staple item such as, rice or roti. They are a rich source of protein and fibre but low in calories. The tiny shells of goodness are cheap, delicious and easy to cook.

Lentil is a basic dish in any Indian cuisine. The varieties whipped up with lentils in Indian cuisines are endless.

It is a must-have dish in any full-course Indian meal. Lentil can be a part of a delicious side-dish or the heart of a wholesome sumptuous meal.

Lentils are used to make anything from soups, stews to curries and even tasty doughnuts. Some lentils are used to prepare sweets.

Even they go into making sumptuous meat curries. In this blog, I will explore the role of lentils in Indian cuisines as much as possible.

Cooking Lentils

Uses of Lentils in Bengali & Indian Cuisines

Bong Cooks:

Phota daal is a simple, smacking recipe in Bengal. Pink lentils are boiled until the water has dried up completely.

Mustard oil and green chillies are added to boiled lentils and served with piping hot rice and mashed potatoes well mixed with mustard oil and green chillies. I bet you will relish every grain of simplicity.

Sabji daal is a nutrition-packed, delicious recipe prepared with moong or pink lentil. A variety of vegetables such as, carrot, cauliflower, potatoes, beans are added to the dish.

Sometimes, pure desi ghee is added at the end of the cooking for enhanced flavour. A bowl of sabji daal, paired with roti or rice, makes a satisfying and satiating meal.

Macher matha diye dal is a signature dish in Bengal. In fact, of all the lentil recipes from Bengal, it is a definite front runner. This traditional recipe is prepared with moong daal and fried heads of fresh catla.

This dish is often a part of the menu served on any auspicious occasion such as, wedding, rice ceremony etc. If you want to impress your guest, this is one of the dishes to go with.

Cholar daal is a hot favourite with the Bongs. Cholar dal r luchi – this combination finds only a few matches in Bongs’ culinary dictionary.

It’s a Bengali tradition to cook both of them on the occasion of Durga Puja, which is a four-day celebration and Saraswati Puja.

Dried red chillies, small pieces of coconut and a host of common and flavoursome spices make the plain daal truly divine. A dollop of ghee and a pinch of asafoetida supply the additional flavours.

Daler patora is a Bengali special item. You can enjoy it with panta bhat at lunch or dinner in summer or with plain rice and daal anytime in the year.

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Lentils (usually pink lentils) are soaked in water for hours and made a paste of. The paste is mixed with chopped onions, garlic, green chillies, salt, common spices and mustard oil.

Sometimes ajwain is added for flavour enhancement. The batter is then cooked well in mustard oil on a flat pan.

Once one side is done, flip it and fry the other side. Usually oil is added from time to time and whenever required.

Tarka is an important addition to many types of lentils. Dry chillies and black mustard seeds are added to hot mustard oil.

As soon as the mustard seeds start spluttering, the mixture is added to cooked daal. Flavour matters and tarka makes the dish flavoursome.

Khichuri or khichdi is integral to Indian cuisine. Lentil is one of the main ingredients to prepare the dish. Bhoger khichuri is dedicated to God on different Pujas.

Khichuri always brings back the nostalgia of our school days when it used to be served along with aloor dum/bandhakopir tarkari, papad and chutney after Saraswati Puja celebration. Those were the days of pure simplicity and full of fun.

In the monsoon, khichuri and ilish mach make a non-separable friendship. The aroma of khichuri and bites off of hilsa make a divine pair, the taste of which is impossible to put into words.

Bhoger khichuri (cooked with moong daal) has a tight and dried texture whereas khichuri prepared with pink lentils are usually runny.

Non-Bong Lentil Curry:

Dal-palak ka shorba lentil and spinach soup is as nutritious as it is delicious.

Prepared with pink lentils and fresh spinach, this soup is a comforting meal and best enjoyed with bread anytime of the year, especially to keep you warm in cold weather.

Rajma daal is a rustic, vegan red kidney bean curry recipe. It is a North Indian dish but popular across India.

Rajma is highly nutritious. It is cooked in a spicy blend of ginger, garlic, tomatoes and chillies and traditionally paired with steamed rice, a pickle and kachumber salad.

South Indian lentil curry is a vegetable stew prepared with tamarind and traditionally served with plain rice, vadas (fritters) or idlis.

Kaali daal is famously called as Ma Ki Daal since it is a nourishing and tasty recipe.

Black lentils are slow cooked with a host of spices and tomatoes and finished with cream for the ultimate richness in the gravy. Traditionally it is served with naan or a vegetable side dish.

Chickpea curry is a classic North Indian culinary treasure with an endless variation across the geographic zone.

The spicy dish is best savoured with bhaturas or puris and definitely a crowd-pleasure, especially on a breakfast table or in a cold evening.

Tadka dal enjoys huge popularity in India. This mildly spicy and heavenly tasty recipe is superb and easy to cook. The dish goes with any kind of Indian flatbread. You can try it with plain rice as well.

Masala daal – the name drops a heavy hint of spiciness. This tasty dish goes best with chapatis or plain boiled rice. Serve salad and a veg curry and you have a complete and comforting vegan meal.

Sooki moong ki daal is, unlike many lentil dishes, does not have a soupy texture. On the contrary, it is dry. Serve it hot with freshly made chapatis or parathas. Throw in your favourite pickles; you will remember the taste forever.

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Shahi daal – the name gives out a royal flavour. However, for the real flavour and taste, you must give it a try.

This soupy consistency is whipped up by cooking five different types of lentils. It is usually served with naan and a salad but plain boiled rice won’t spoil the charm.

Lentil and Meat:

Daal gosht is a delicious and popular dish prepared with spice-marinated cubed lamb, a host of herbs and plain lentils.

This is a North Indian cuisine. The one-pot dish is a very satisfying meal for your lunch or dinner. Enjoy it with naan and a green salad.

Haleeem is a delicious and nutritious dish. It is prepared with small pieces of meat (chicken or mutton), a variety of lentils, broken wheat, yoghurt, garlic-ginger paste, tomatoes and a box of flavoursome spices.

The dish is slow cooked with lentil paste, spices and other ingredients in a handi for hours. This recipe is an amazing and savoury amalgamation of meat, lentils and exotic herbs.

Though prepared throughout the year, this delicacy is daily cooked during the month-long fast (roja) for the Muslims and served for seheri (meal taken before fasting).

It is a perfect dish for a large gathering and usually served with rice or naan.

Breakfast and Snacks:

Many Indians and even non-Indians go crazy for South Indian dishes. One of the most popular dishes from South India is dosa.

Do you know lentils are used in making the dish? Both chana daal and urad daal are soaked overnight and made a thick batter of.

Dahi Vada has its origin in North India. This easy-to-make and yummy dish is served as an accompaniment to other vegetable or meat dishes on a special occasion or as a weekend special.

Spicy lentil doughnuts are heavily coated with yogurt and topped with red chilli flakes, chutney, sev bhaja and chaat masala. It seems tricky to make but actually takes not much time to prepare.

Moong daal ki chilla is a savoury pancake served as a filling breakfast and a comforting accompaniment to any gravy dish. The perfect soaking time for the lentils is the key to making the dish tempting and divine.

Moong dal ki vada fritters are hot-off-the-fire items served with spicy, tangy mint-coriander chutney. For the super soft and tasty fritters, you should soak moong dal overnight.

Sweets:

Cholar daler halua is a superb delicious dessert. Boiled chana daal is added to plenty of pure desi ghee and constantly stirred on low flame until the raw flavour of the daal goes away.

Sometimes milk is added to make it super soft but it’s optional. Once the daal changes its colour and texture, raisins and cashew nuts are added. Cardamom powder makes it flavoursome.

It is a must-prepare dish on the occasion of Shab-e-baraat in many Bengali Muslim households.

Moong dal ka halwa is another unusual dish prepared with lentils. The recipe remains the same that you follow for making chana dal ka halwa.

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Spread moong dal ka halwa on a ghee-greased tray and cut into cubes when it is still hot. It is famously called moong daal ki barfi.

You can decorate the top of the barfis with silver tabak (also called vark or warq) and chopped cashew nuts and pistachios for a more tempting look.

Dal makhani is probably one of the most popular dishes from Punjabi cuisines. This dish soaks in the goodness and flavours of whole black lentils and rajma. The dish is decorated with dollops of cream and coriander leaves. The creamy daal is royally enjoyed with plain or tandoori paratha.

What Are the Best Recipes of Lentil?

I love phota daal (steamed dal). When I get tired and don’t feel like cooking, the plain boiled rice, phota daal, mashed potatoes, sliced onions and green chillies fill my tummy and save my time.

Ma ki daal – how one can ignore it since the dish reminds me of my mom who took great effort to cook a variety of dishes to fill our hungry tummies in the healthiest way.

I still remember the flavours that only a mother can infuse into what she makes for her children.

Daler patora with steamed rice and plain masoor daal (boiled red lentil) is a simple but savoury combination that tops the list of my favourites.

Of all vegetable lentil dishes, daal makhani and Bengali style cholar daal are my top favourites. For snacks, I will go for lentil fritters any day, rainy or chilly.

Haleem is something that I am ready to enjoy almost every day. Exaggeration, you might think. But honestly speaking, it is a wholesome meal and extremely delicious.

The small chunks of meat in the thick gravy of yoghurt, sliced tomatoes, ginger-garlic paste and mashed lentils (a variety of them is used), spiced by the flavoured spices and finished with fresh coriander leaves transport me to heaven.

I have a sweet tooth. So, it’s no wonder that I love chole dal ka halwa, moong dal ka halwa and moong daal ki barfi.

I keep trying new dishes in my kitchens. So, in future, I may add more to the list of my best lentil dishes.

What is your best lentil dish?

Questions & Answers:

Is Lentil Tasty?

Lentil is not only tasty but nourishing as well. Actually, the taste of the lentil depends on the way you cook it. the Masala and the other ingredients actually make it much more tasty and wonderful at the same time.

How Do You Know When Lentil is Cooked?

Lentil is crunchy but when cooked, it becomes tender.

What Goes Well with Lentil?

Both rice and any kind of Indian flatbread go well with most of the lentil dishes. But if you ask me, I usually prefer roti or naan with most of them.

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