Monday, January 30, 2012

Three Dal :: Meatless Masala Monday

This dal, or Indian lentil stew, is made of a mix of three different dal, or lentils. Yes, the word dal refers to both the lentil, stripped of its outer hull and split, and the spicy stew made from these lentils.

Traditionally dal is served over rice (and sometimes with roti) but honestly I prefer eating a bowlful of dal by itself. Dal is low in fat and high in protein, making it an ideal source of protein for a balanced vegetarian diet.

The three dal is infused with garlic, ginger, and green chile, finished with cumin and coriander scented oil with curry leaves, and topped with freshly squeezed lemon juice. If you don't have curry leaves, you can add fresh cilantro. Another variation of three dal is to add onions and chopped tomato.

For three dal, I like to use a combination of toor dal (split yellow pigeon pea), chana dal (Bengal gram dal), and masoor dal (split red lentil). Bengal gram dal looks similar to pigeon pea, but it is more similar to chick peas and doesn't boil down to a mush. Truth be told you can use any combination of the above mentioned dals and moong dal (yellow moong) and udad dal (white gram).

If you are familiar with dal, you might want to skip ahead to the recipe. For those of you new to dal, below is brief note about the different types of dal- there are many!

Top row, left to right: Chana dal, moong dal, urad dal, masoor dal
Middle row, left to right: rajma, whole moong, whole urad, whole masoor
Bottom row, left to right: whole vatana, toor dal
Dal, or split, hulled lentils
Chana dal... yellow, the outer skin of kala chana removed and the inside split
Moong dal... yellow, the inside of whole moong, split
Urad dal.. white, the inside of whole urad, split
Masoor dal... red lentils, the inside of whole masoor, split
Toor dal... yellow pigeon peas (oily or plain), split

Whole lentils (i.e., outer hull not removed)
Rajma...dark red kidney beans
Moong... dark green, whole moong is excellent for sprouting; also available as split but with skin
Urad... black whole, also available as split but with skin
Masoor...brown whole lentils
Vatana... green or white peas
(not pictured) Kala chana... small dark brown chick peas
(not pictured) Kabuli chana... chick peas used for chole

If you live an area with an Indian grocery store, you can easily find any of these dals at a relatively low price. I've seen the dals at Whole Foods as well. Otherwise, I've been told that Amazon, Kaluystan's, Bob's Red Mill have many of the Indian lentils available for sale online.

Three Dal
1/3 toor dal
1/3 chana or moong dal
1/3 masoor or udad dal
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 lemon juiced, or to taste

For tempering
2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
pinch of asofetida
2 dried red chilis
3 garlic cloves, minced
1" ginger, peeled and minced
1 green chile, seeded, diced
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red cayenne pepper, to taste
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
optional 8-10 curry leaves

Wash dal. Pressure cook dal with 2 cups water for 10 to 15 minutes until cooked. Once the pressure is released, open the pressure cooker and stir the dal. Add more water if necessary.

In a medium skillet, heat 2 tbsp oil until shimmering. Add the mustard seeds and cook over moderate heat until the seeds start to pop.

Quickly add the cumin seeds, dried red chili, and asofetida, cook about 30 seconds.

Add ginger, garlic, and green chili, cook about 30 seconds, stirring frequently. Do not overcook the garlic or let it brown.

Add turmeric, red cayenne pepper, ground cumin, and ground coriander to the oil, cooking until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add curry leaves, if using, and turn off heat.

Pour the oil spice mixture over the dal, scraping everything out of the skillet. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes until flavors meld together. Season dal with salt and lemon juice to taste.

  1. If you wish to use onion, add onion to the oil before adding the ginger, garlic, and green chile. Saute the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Then add ginger, garlic, and green chile and follow recipe as above.
  2. You can add tomato just after you add the garlic, ginger, and green chile and cook for 2-3 minutes until broken down. Continue recipe as above.


  1. What a wonderful meatless meal. This looks so healthy and flavorful and delicious. Thank you for sharing, sweet friend! I hope you are having a great start to your week.

    1. Thanks, Monet! Dal really is a wonderful dish. Hope you are well!!

  2. So if three dal tastes amazing, then four dal must taste much better, and if four dal tastes much better then five dal must taste much much better, and ......... So if n dal tastes much better than n-1 dal, then n+1 dal must taste much better than n dal. Therefore, as n goes to infinity happiness maximized :)

    1. I love love love this logic! I think we should organize a tasting comparing the incremental gain in taste as n increases.


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