Perhaps the best part is that dals are available in different varieties which make it easier to prepare them in different ways each tasting different from the other.
Tur dal/Toor dal/Tuvar dal
Call it any which way, this dal is still the most often used in Indian cuisine. It is split pigeon pea which at a distance looks similar to chana dal but is easier to digest. It has a thick gelatinous consistency and when cooked properly can be mashed to a delicious smoothness. The famous South Indian Sambhar or Gujarati Dal Dhokli is made with this dal. Tuvar dal is an integral part of the South Indian adai as also of Rajasthani panchratni dal.
Chana dal is the split Bengal gram and can be cooked in various ways. In Punjab it is also called chole di dal. The popular ma chole di dal is made with the mixture of chana dal and chilkewali urad dal. It has a slightly sweet and nutty taste and can be made into a variety of dishes. In South India they make dal wada with this dal. It is soaked then coarsely ground, mixed with sliced onions and chopped green chillies, shaped into flat vadas and are deep fried. Absolutely heavenly! On a wet day nothing could satiate you more than a plateful of dal vadas served with a cup of hot filter coffee.
The popular Maharashtrian sweet – puran poli – is made with chana dal. The dal is boiled till soft, cooked with grated jaggery, flavoured with green cardamom powder and nutmeg powder till dry and then ground till smooth. The mixture is then stuffed into refined flour dough, rolled into round rotis and roasted. It is served with dollops of pure ghee and a bowlful of cold milk. Simply superb, an experience you will remember always.
Urad dal (whole and split)
Also called black gram, urad dal, both whole (also called sabut urad) and split, are used to make a variety of dishes. This split dal can be used with the skin or without the skin. The famous dal makhni is made with whole urad and rajma which when cooked with spices and garnished with cream create absolute heaven in your plates. The skinless split dal is an integral ingredient in the famous dosa and idli. In South India each home uses kilos of this dal each month for dosa and idli are eaten practically every other day for breakfast. Soaked urad dal is ground with double the amount of soaked rice and fermented for the batter of dosa or idli. The South Indians also use this dal in tempering various dishes along with mustard seeds and curry leaves.
Heard of the famous Punjabi preparations aloo wadian or wadiwale chawal? Well these wadis are nothing but sundried urad dal dumplings. Ground dal is mixed with a few spices, shaped into round dumplings and sundried till all the moisture evaporates. They can then be stored in airtight containers to use when you feel like cooking up a spicy dish.
Mung dal/Moong dal (whole and split)
Bean sprouts, which are known as a powerhouse of proteins, can be made with a variety of beans but the most popular among them are the sprouts made with whole moong or sabut moong. They are small green beans used extensively not only in India but also in China, Thailand and Japan. They are used in salads or stir fries with lemon juice or vinaigrette.
In India the split moong dal is widely used, with or without skin, to make a number of preparations. Of all the dals, moong dal is the easiest to digest and can be safely given to little babies. Doctors too recommend that the water in which moong dal is cooked could be one of the first food to be introduced when you have to give your baby food other than milk.
Like urad dal, moong dal can be converted into mangodis, which are sundried moong dal dumplings. These can be used in making quite a few dishes.
Moong dal is cooked with rice to make dal khichdi and this too can be fed to little children. In South India they make pongal with this dal and rice and you can find two varieties of pongals there – one shakkarai pongal (which is sweet) and the other venn pongal (which is salty).
This dal is perhaps the least used. In fact it is mostly used in Northern and Western India. While whole, it is greenish-brown and is used to make dishes like masala masoor, masoor biryani and masoor kabab. When it is skinned and split it becomes masoor dal which can be boiled and served with a mild tempering. A unique thing about this dal is that though it is orange in colour when raw, it turns to a light yellow mash when cooked.