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’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.
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
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.
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
Recipes from Cooking with Kurma
by Kurma Dasa
Want to see more recipes? Click here
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