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What is Dhal?

Amy Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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When dining in an Indian restaurant, most people have seen dhal on the menu. It is a dish made of long-cooked “pulses,” or lentils. These pulses are usually split and hulled and cooked with clarified butter, or ghee, and spices until they make a thick stew.

Dhal is a main dish in India and Pakistan, and certainly one of the most popular. Pulses are inexpensive, which makes the stew common among all classes of people.

The dish is made with the aforementioned pulses, or lentils, and spices such as cumin, cayenne, garlic, and garam masala, and is made with a thick soupy consistency. It is then served with naan (flatbread) or over rice. It can be a side dish or a main dish and is an ethnic food that can be adjusted to the cook’s tastes.

Dhal is often a mainstay in vegetarian diets because it is so versatile and such a good source of protein. It can be cooked with spinach or coconut, with green peppers or cheese. In Indian restaurants that feature a buffet, the dish may be offered with any of these ingredients.

The secret to good dhal is the same as with cooking any bean: long, slow cooking times. It could be made in a slow-cooker or on top of the stove. The dish should be cooked a minimum of three hours, and perhaps six or seven in a slow-cooker. Cooked portions may be frozen and reheated, if the cook wants to make the most of the long cooking time and make batches in bulk. It is cooked like most beans: cooks should add enough water to cover the pulses, turn the heat on low, and start the cooking process. The pulses should be rinsed and sorted, as with other beans, beforehand they are added.

As with other beans, dhal makes its own “gravy,” and this should not be discarded. It is nutritious and is eaten right along with the pulses. Indian lentils may be black, brown, red, yellow, or pink, creating a dish that can be as colorful as it is delicious. The lentils are available at some supermarkets, and often in Asian markets that sell Indian ingredients.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at DelightedCooking. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.
Discussion Comments
By literally45 — On Nov 27, 2012

I can't get ghee where I am right now. Can I replace ghee with regular butter or will that change the flavor of the dhal?

By burcidi — On Nov 26, 2012

@Ivan83-- Yea, they do.

There really are so many types of dhal made of different beans and even those are split into different categories based on color.

For example, for moong dhal, there is green moong and yellow moong. Masoor dhal can be either red or green. Urad dhal also has different varieties.

I don't know how to describe the flavors to you but my favorite dhal is red masoor dal. It's very fragrant and creamy when cooked. They're all good but this is the one I enjoy the most.

By Ivan83 — On Nov 02, 2012

Whenever I go into an ethnic food store I notice how many different varieties of dhal there are. Do they really all taste different?

By ZsaZsa56 — On Nov 01, 2012
I have been a vegetarian for most of my life, so I have learned to seek out Indian restaurants when I want to get a great meal out. Indian culture has a lot of respect for vegetarians and there are dozens of delicious variations of dhal that have no meat at all.

I like to make a simplified version at home that combines lentils, mushrooms, carrots, onions, lots of garlic and curry powder. It is a cheap, simple, and absolutely delicious meal that is also super healthy.

By clippers — On Oct 16, 2012

I have been a vegetarian for almost 20 years so I naturally gravitate towards Indian food. Their's is one of the most vegetarian friendly cuisines in the world and the range of boldly flavored meatless dishes is amazing.

So of course I ave eaten a lot of dhal in my life. It still amazes me what a delicious and versatile dish this is.

By profess — On Oct 16, 2012

I love to get dhal when I go out to eat at an Indian restaurant but I have never tried making it myself. Does anyone have a good simple recipe that I could try?

By donasmrs — On Oct 15, 2012

@ysmina-- My roommate uses a yellow lentil called "urad dal." But you can use any kind of lentil you have at home. I have seen dhal made with red, green and black lentils as well. I think they all taste delicious.

About the spices, I'm not sure if I can remember them all right now but I know she adds a little bit of everything. That includes garam masala, dry curry leaves and dry powdered chili.

By ysmina — On Oct 15, 2012

@donasmrs-- Do you know what kind of lentils and which spices your roommate uses?

I had dhal at a restaurant last week and loved it. I want to make it at home but I have no idea which type of lentils I need to get for it. I have cumin and hot chili pepper at home for spices. What else do I need?

By donasmrs — On Oct 14, 2012

My roommate is Indian and she cooks dhal all the time. It never takes her long to cook dhal though because she always uses a pressure cooker. I think that's what most Indians use.

My roommate always cooks the lentils and chopped onions first in the pressure cooker until they are thick like a stew. Then, in a separate pot she heats ghee and adds various spices to the ghee to fry them. Finally she adds the ghee to the lentils and that's it!

It's a super easy dish and it's ready in less than two hours. We eat this with white rice, very delicious.

Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at DelightedCooking...
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