Lentils: What’s the Deal with Dal?

Pantry Staple Lentils | Maple and Marigold

Millions of us grew up eating dal or lentils on the Indian subcontinent. Lentils are such a huge part of the staple Indian diet that no meal is complete without them. But when you eat something everyday, how do you make it interesting? I wondered aloud while writing this post. And pat came the reply,

“By making it with love…and adding some ghee.

And that is dal in a nutshell. This most humble of ingredients is the bowl full of goodness I turn to when I want home-cooked food. There are no frills to dal, no pretensions. This is simple food, widely available, eaten by millions of people everyday. While ingredients like chicken, eggs or paneer are reserved for special occasions, dal is ubiquitous. There are even a couple of Hindi idioms venerating the humility of dal.

Sure, every once in a while I am tempted to make a fancy lentil soup. And lentil burgers are all the rage right now. But lentils shine just as easily in their simplicity. A bowl of steaming hot dal, tempered with cumin and onions sauteed in ghee and a touch of browned garlic. Combine it with a plate of rice, dry roasted papad on the side and you have the ultimate comfort food.

Get Your Protein

Lentils are available in a cornucopia of colours, shapes and sizes in most supermarkets and grocery stores; as dry lentils or canned. You can even find them pre-cooked in the refrigerated section. Perhaps it’s because they are so widely available that they are sometimes taken for granted. But lentils are a nutritional powerhouse. Just a 1/2 cup will give you 9 grams of protein. No wonder they are such a popular source of plant-based protein. The best part? This is one pantry staple that can last for ages – especially in their dry form. In fact every time my family comes back from a trip, the first meal is always dal – because it’s light on the tummy AND I don’t have to stop for groceries on the way back from the airport.

But wait, not only are lentils good for us, they are good for the planet! Lentils can grow in most soil types and actually improve the soil quality as they grow. That’s why farmers often plant them on a rotational basis, as they increase the yield of the following crop. How’s that for a giving tree? And even though lentils are widely consumed in the Indian subcontinent, Canada is the largest producer of lentils globally.

Indian Lentil Soup - Moong Dal With Zucchini, burnt garlic and crisp onions | Fall Comfort Food | Vegetarian | #CANRecipe | #MeatlessMonday | | High Protein | Quick and Easy Weeknight Dinner

Love Those Lentils…But Dal Everyday?

I admit I had my challenges with lentils as a child. It wasn’t my favorite food. Something about eating them everyday, even with all the variety, can be a bit boring. But as I grew up, I fell in love with lentils in a whole new way. I love adding leftover dal to my salads for a wholesome lunch. And that little container of yellow dal that always gets left behind in the refrigerator? Try diluting it to soup consistency and have it with a slice of your favorite crusty bread. I remember my mom even added leftover lentils to her dough to make dal paranthas. For an additional protein punch, try sprouting whole green lentils at home. You can cook them in stir fries or have them raw in salads.

Puneeta has some great lentil recipes:

Moong Dal – Easy Lentil Recipe
Red Lentil Fritters
Instant Pot Dal Makhani

How do you like your lentils? Do you buy them in the dry form or as canned goods? Share your favorite lentil recipe her or on Facebook.

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About Puneeta

Author, Educator, Speaker

Puneeta is a writer, food advocate and guide for those who seek earth-friendly, delicious solutions that work for real life.

Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma, Food Writer, Climate Advocate, New cookbook - Good Food, Healthy Planet - out April 2024
Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma
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