Daal demystified



lrm_export_20161004_0923031Daal is a staple in India and a primary source of protein in a vegetarian diet. It is such an integral part of Indian cuisine that you will find it in almost all regional cuisines of India.

Yes, India has regional cuisines that are very difficult to categorize because they are not just limited by state boundaries or communities, sometimes they are a fusion of a cuisine that was born due to influence of migrations, invasions or the availability of local ingredients. As daal is such an important part of daily diet,it is also served  as an offering to gods and in such occasions, onions and garlic are prohibited from being used in the food. And hence religious factors have contributed to the recipes.

Lets look at what qualifies as a daal as per the dictionary:”a sauce made from lentils and spices, usually served with rice” which would be more apt than the oxford definition “a dish of creamy lentils cooked with onion, garlic, and spices.” because not every daal may have onions and garlic.

So basically a daal is a soupy broth with combinations of pulses+spices+aromatics+veggies+fats

You can used veggies Or spices Or oils Or aromatics Or all of them at once.

How is it made?In a pressure cooker

Any prep? Yes pulses must be soaked and sprouted.

Lets look at what are some of the pulses used to make daal:


When an Indian meal consists of daal it can include any type of daal like

Tur daal Split pigeon peas and skinned(yellow in color)
Arhar daal Split pigeon peas and skinned(orange in color and differs in flavor from the yellow variety)
Masoor daal Red/Pink lentil
Lobia daal black eyed beans, cow peas
Mung daal green gram split and skinned
Chana daal bengal gram spilt and skinned
Kali daal Split Black gram not skinned
Kulith Horse gram


So if you want to make some daal you can make it any of these that you have readily available.

Next question is what can be used to flavor a daal?

Well the best part is that you can let your imagination run wild here. But lets look at some basic set formulae that are used.


Oils impart unique flavor to the daal that cant be disputed. Based on the regions where the daal is being made;  locally available oils like coconut oil,peanut oil,mustard oil,ghee etc have been used. But if you want to take a safe bet always go with ghee. Daal and ghee make a heavenly pair.


Spices and their combinations can be  pretty daunting to some to the extent of being a deterrent. But most of Indian cooking’s beauty is in its simplicity.

Varan for example is a staple in a Maharashtrian meal.It is tur daal, flavored with lemon juice and cumin.

Tove is another Konkani cuisine staple which is flavored with just asafoetida,red chilly,mustard and coconut oil/ghee tempering which shows that daal can be a simple 3-4 ingredient recipes that can be made easily.

There are also some classic tempering/tadka spices mixes that can be used as a cheat sheet:

If it’s the south of India you will see the tempering mainly consist of: dried Red chilly,mustard, asafoetida,curry leaves

PanchPhoran is another tempering used in Assam,Orissa,Bengal,Nepal that uses fennel seeds,mustard,onion seeds,fenugreek seeds and cumin

Masalas:Masala powders are also used to flavor daals while you are simmering them. This helps add flavor and an appealing aroma to the daal just before it is served. Using these is optional.

Garam masala , kala goda masala or custom spice mixes are also used.

Sometimes adding a bit of sourness to the daal is preferred and souring agents like kokum, tamarind paste,dried mango powder(amchur) maybe used. Using these is optional.

A pinch of turmeric is almost always added as a norm.



These mainly consist of onions,scallions,bell peppers,celery,ginger,garlic,green chillies,tomatoes in cuisines worldwide.

In indian cuisine,onions,tomatoes,green chillies and ginger are commonly used in the making of daals.


Vegetables that work wonderfully with daal are: all leafy vegetables.-since fenugreek leaves,spinach,colacasia leaves being the common ones. Other combinations one might see are moringa fruit/drumsticks,carrots,mixed vegetables,winter vegetables etc


  • A fresh squeeze of lemon can add freshness and zing to the daal and pairs quite well with tur daal
  • Peanuts,cashews maybe added as well either in tempering or during pressure cooking phase
  • Freshly chopped coriander,ginger,caramelised onions,finely chopped green chillies are some toppings that add a fun dimension and flavoring to the daal.

Prep: Wash the pulses and soak them in water that is 2 inches above the pulses in an open container.The period of time that pulses need soaking depends on the pulse bieng used.

Not only is it enough if you soak them, it is best to let them to sprout before you cook them.

Pressure cooker is a much favored equipment when it comes to making daal. Why not cook it openly you say? Well one can, but the best results are almost always guaranteed with a pressure cooker. Using the same logic as applied by @seriouseats here in this link: http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/01/ask-the-food-lab-can-i-make-stock-in-a-pressure-cooker-slow-cooker.html I would not be faulted if I explained it this way:

Daal usually may take anywhere from 7 to 14 whistles based on its quality. Using a pressure cooker helps minimize time ,save resources .It also helps because we are cooking the daal at a high temperature over a long time at a constant high pressure that is not possible to be achieved in an open utensil as once the boiling point of water is reached,on further heating there will be no change in temperature of the liquid but only an increase in the rate at which water turns into vapour. This method of cooking is similar to making a stock where we add in the main ingredients and the aromatics into the pressure cooker and let it cook away.

Since daal by itself does not have enough flavor,by adding aromatics and spices into the water and pressure cooking it lets these plant tissues to break and spill their contents and infuse flavor into the liquid much before the daal itself which takes longer to get cooked and helps infuse those flavors and aromas into the daal as it absorbs the liquids.

Another way to infuse flavor into the daal is by using the tempering technique. Here oil/ghee is heated and then spices are added to it. When the spices crackle due to the heat, they release their aromatic compounds. As these compounds are volatile and can easily escape into the air, the presence of enough oil to coat them instead lets all these flavors to be captured into the oil. This is the same as process of infusion in which chilly oil, garlic oils are made but heat has been used as a catalyst to speeden the process.


Indian cuisine is very largely influenced by Ayurveda which is something that must be covered extensively but not enough is written about it. Every spice or ingredient added in traditional recipes has a purpose and it might not just be for its flavors or textures. Same is the case in daals.

Now if you consume daals regularly,sometimes, twice a day you will possibly suffer some flatulence. Thus if you observe the spices used in  tempering consist of cumin,asafoetida which are known to help in reducing flatulence. Ginger and garlic too are known to aid in digestion.

Turmeric which is always added as a norm in Indian cuisine is known for its benefits in gastro intestinal treatments, also as an anti coagulant,anti depressant,cholesterol regulator which are other benefits you will be enjoying.

Lets look at some of the fats used in tempering. I have seen coconut oil and ghee mainly used for tempering. Fats with low smoking point release toxic compounds once the smoking point is reached whereas the tempering needs the fats to be heated at high temperature to capture the aromatic compounds released by the spices.Hence by choosing coconut oil, ghee we are avoiding toxicity and achieving the perfect infused oils at the same time as they have a higher smoking point compared to ollive oil etc

Why soak?

Soaking helps remove the outer coating of oligosaccharides which are difficult to digest by your stomach and small intestine and end up being broken by large intestine instead which produces gas.

It also helps remove phytic acid which binds with zinc,magnesium,calcium,iron etc which makes it hard for the body to absorb these nutrients.

Why sprout? Apart from above benefits, when the seed germinates , it produces Vitamic C .

Also the composition of the grain itself changes such that the vitamin B, B2, B5, B6, carotene levels increase which are beneficial for the human body as excerpted from @nourishinggourmet here: http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com/2008/12/sprouting-grains-2.html


So next time you enjoy a bowl of daal you know the magic that is at work while you enjoy the delicious feast!