Never a Dal Day

Dal pretty much the core of Indian food. One could argue that it is more imporant that even rice, since many areas of India are wheat-centered. Dal is eaten everyday by pretty much all of India in some form or the other. Dals are pulses (dried food crops of of the legume family), and come either with or without skin. The skins make a considerable difference to the taste, so different recipes call for skinned or unskinned dal. It is also the generic name for the many kinds of soupy dishes made from one or more of those pulses. Just to confuse things, only the soupy dishes are called 'dal' - other things made with the same stuff are not.

I'm eventually going to write an introduction to the dals - and there are a surprising variety of varieties. People get confused by which dal is what - even Indians. Identifying the dals by sight is not simple; that is traditionally the first test of a Bengali housewife (and it seems both my aunts failed). Luckily, they recovered so when I landed at my aunt's a few days ago the first thing I slurped down was arhar dal - thats the one in the picture below. Try not to confuse it with three other dals that look nearly exactly the same.

Arhar (or toor) dal is among the commonest of dals. The skinless split pigeon pea is a legume that housewives have been trying their art on for thousands of years. In addition to being cheap and widely available, arhar dal is easily digested and forms a nice thick dal base that goes well with lots of different kinds of tempering. My aunt made me a simple dal from it with cumin seeds and ginger that's common in Bengali households. Here's the recipe for it.

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