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Urad Dal

Urad dalIn India, dal is the generic name for raw split legumes, and also for the cooked dishes made from them. The legumes (from the Latin “legere,” to gather) constitute a family of plants that bear several seeds in a pod, a somewhat fleshy fruit that can be eaten as a vegetable before it dries out.

After the grasses, legumes belong to the third-largest family among all flowering plants, and are the second most important to the human diet. Seeds of the legumes are, on the average, twice as rich in protein as grains, and especially well stocked in iron and the B-vitamins.

Legumes have been respected for their nutritional benefits since ancient times. Containing only a trace of fat, they are one of the best sources of fibre. They are also excellent sources of complete carbohydrates, high quality protein, vitamins and minerals.

I consider legumes - dried split pulses, beans and lentils – as some of the most exciting foods available. They can be served in every course of a meal, from appetizer through to dessert, in a dizzying variety of ways. A good example of the versatility of legumes is urad dal.

Whole urad beans, also known as black gram in English, are a close relative of the mung bean. They have a blackish-grey skin with a creamy-white interior. The split beans with their skin removed are used extensively in India, especially in the South, where they are cooked into thick purees and liquid soups, sauces, stews, pillow-soft fried savouries called badas, moist raw chutneys, crispy dosa pancakes, feather-light steamed iddli dumplings, and sprouted salads.

Urad dal takes on a nutty flavour when fried as a seasoning, and it can even be used in preparing a version of jallebis, toothesome confectionery spirals soaking in saffron syrup.

Certain seasonings complement urad dal: ginger root, black pepper, asafetida, red chilies and turmeric, along with fresh coriander, curry leaves and fresh mint. It also has an affinity for leafy greens, tomatoes, radishes, eggplant and yogurt.

For an extensive list of PULSE AND LEGUME terminology in Hindi, Tamil and Kannada, click here.

Here’s a recipe for crisp, urad dal-based and cabbage-laced finger foods. The ingredients are few but the taste is stunning. They are served with fabulous coconut chutney, seasoned with, among other things, fried urad dal.

VadaiSavoury Urad Dal Doughnuts (Vadai)

Dal soaking time: 2 hours
Preparation and cooking time: 45 minutes
Makes 15 – 20 vadais

1 cup split urad dal
1 teaspoon yellow asafetida powder
4 medium-sized green chilies
1 teaspoon salt
a scant ¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup finely chopped cabbage
Finely-chopped leaves from one small bunch coriander
Oil for deep-frying

Wash the dal well in repeated changes of water until the water is clear. Soak the dal in 3 cups cold water for 3 hours.

Drain the dal completely, and place it in a food processor with a metal blade. Add the asafetida, chilies and salt, and process into a thick batter. Transfer the batter to a bowl, add the cabbage and coriander leaves, and mix well.

Whisk the mixture for 1 or 2 minutes to put air into the batter.

Heat 2 or 3 inches of oil to 170 degrees C/340 degrees F in a deep pan or wok. When you are ready to fry, mix the baking soda into the batter. Divide the thick batter into 15 or 20 lumps on a large plate. Take a lump of batter and place it on the palm of your hand. Moisten your other hand with water, and press to flatten the batter into a round patty. Make a hole in the centre of the patty. It should resemble a small doughnut.

Slip the vadai into the hot oil. Repeat quickly, and fry the vadai in 2 or 3 batches, without crowding the pan. When they float to the surface, fry them, turning them to ensure even cooking, for about 4 or 5 minutes, or until they are reddish-brown and crisp. Remove and drain them on paper towels, and serve hot with chutney of your choice, like the one that follows.

CoconutCoconut Chutney
Preparation time: about 10 minutes
Makes about 2½ cups

1½ cups dessicated coconut
1½ cups mild yogurt
½ cup cold water
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons hot green chilies, chopped
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1½ teaspoons split urad dal
10 or 12 fresh curry leaves
¼ teaspoon yellow asafetida powder


Whisk together the coconut, yogurt, water, ginger, chilies, pepper and salt in a bowl. If necessary, add a little more water to form a moist, almost pourable consistency.

Heat the oil in a small pan over moderate heat. When the oil is hot, drop in the mustard seeds, and fry them until they crackle. Add the urad dal, and fry it until it turns golden brown. Drop in the curry leaves - careful – they can crackle violently.

Sprinkle in the asafetida, swirl the pan, and quickly empty the whole pan of fried seasonings into the chutney. Mix well and serve.

Recipes from Cooking with Kurma by Kurma Dasa

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