Beans, lentils and pulses are the mainstay of the Indian diet. They provide protein, antioxidants, several important nutrients, and quite a bit of fiber. They are hearty, healthy and delicious! Most often they are prepared with a variety of fresh and dried herbs, spices, seasonings and ghee or other healthy fats and oils, all which add impeccable flavor while aiding in good digestion and the absorption of critical nutrients.
Indian cuisine features three types of pulses – whole, split and split with skin removed. All are vital to Indian food and culture but each have their special uses and place in Indian cuisine. Here, we navigate some common, often confusing questions regarding the broad category of beans, peas, pulses, lentils, legumes and daal.
Q. What exactly is DAAL?
A. Daal (dal / dahl) refers to dried, split lentils, peas and beans. Some daal has the skin removed which makes for easier digestion and less need for soaking, although it is often still recommended – an excellent example is moong daal made from split and skinned green moong daal (green gram). Daal is one of the most important, staple foods of India where the name also refers to soups prepared from split lentils, peas and beans.
Q. What are PULSES?
A. Pulses are the dried seeds of edible plants that belong to the legume family. They grow in pods and come in all sorts of colors, shapes and sizes. Pulses include dried beans, broad beans, peas and chickpeas (garbanzo beans), cow and pigeon peas, lentils, Bambara beans (groundnuts which are enjoyed widely throughout Africa), lupins (legumes), vetches (from the pea family of plants) and all other varieties of legumes that are less recognized and don’t necessarily fall into one of these specific categories.
Q. What are BEANS?
A. Beans are pod-grown seeds that fall into the category of legumes and pulses. Soybeans, black beans, broad beans, peas, daal, etc. are all beans. However, coffee beans, vanilla beans, cocoa beans and castor beans are called “beans”, but refer to different species that don’t belong to the same category as daal, legumes and pulses.
Q. What are LENTILS?
A. Lentils are one type of pulse which belongs to the legume family. They grow primarily in India, Canada and Turkey. Lentil seeds are lens-shaped and include green, black, brown, yellow, red and Puy lentils (from the Puy region of central France). Urad daal is often called ivory white lentils, but it’s not actually not a lentil at all, but rather the creamy-colored, yummy white interior of a small legume called black gram.
Q. What are LEGUMES?
A. “Legumes” is an umbrella term that refers to all of the thousands of various types of beans, peas, lentils and pulses, all of which are categorized as starchy vegetables. Many of the most popular and familiar legumes include:
- Chickpeas/Garbanzo beans
- Dried and fresh beans
- Dried and fresh peas
Q. What are Peas?
A. Peas are one type of legume which is actually a bean. While most beans are wide and come in a variety of colors, peas are usually smaller and rounder and they don’t vary too much in color. Most varieties of peas are green; their stems are usually hollow whereas bean-plant stems are solid.
Q. How can I make daal more digestible?
A. Ayurveda, the ancient healing system of India, teaches us that all pulses tend to be astringent in taste and dry and light in nature. They are best accompanied by a variety of digestive spices (curry, turmeric, black pepper, coriander, cumin, etc.) and ghee. Spices and ghee, along with proper soaking – up to 24 hours in many cases) helps to break down the gas-causing properties of pulses. For easiest digestion, choose more split, skinned daal such as moong daal and urad daal or smaller lentils such as red lentils. Soaking is still suggested for a minimum of an hour. Be sure to discard soaking water – use fresh water for cooking! Daal can easily be paired with white basmati rice or millet and easy-to-digest vegetables such as zucchini, carrots and green beans as opposed, for example, to cabbage, onions, garlic and Brussels sprouts. Remember, cook daal until it’s very tender and easy to squash, smash or mash. Don’t add acidic foods such as tomatoes, tomato sauce or lemon juice until the daal is fully cooked.
Q. What are some of the benefits of eating daal?
A. Daal is an inexpensive source of quality plant protein. It’s low in fat, high in fiber and packed with an assortment of important vitamins, minerals, phyto-chemicals (plant compounds that support health and immunity) and other polyphenols (a fancy word for antioxidants). Daal is versatile and delicious. It’s nourishing, warming and hearty and can be easily prepared with a variety of grains and vegetables. Ayurveda considers daal to be important for every dosha (body type). Vata, Pitta and Kapha can all benefit from daal prepared with different spices and fats. Daal can be also be prepared with meats like chicken or beef, or served with a light salad and/or roti or paratha (Indian breads) depending on your personal preference and taste. The addition of ghee and fresh coriander leaves adds excellent nutrition and helps keep you satisfied, steady and energized.