A Guide to Indian Dal, Lentils, Beans, and Pulses

Assortment of Dal, Beans, Pulses and Lentils by Indiaphile.info

So many different Indian foods are made with lentils. From kichidi (simple rice and lentils) to soups, flat breads and even some Maggie noodles (think Ramen noodles) are made from lentils. Beans and lentils are a primary source of protein for many vegetarians, and India is full of vegetarians.

When I was a kid, I didn’t like lentils very much. I especially hated cooked mung beans. For some weird reason, I loved snacking on sprouted mung beans but wouldn’t touch them the second they were cooked. My mom used to try to get me to eat mung dal (soup) by calling it “French soup” and trying to convince me I would like it because I liked Western food. As an adult, lentils are more of a comfort food for me and I even like mung dal now.

I know there is a lot of confusion on the difference between lentils, beans and dals. So let me try to clear some of it up. Lentils are legumes that are shaped like a lens (wide in the middle and narrowed at the ends). Beans on the other hand are larger. Mung beans are not lentils and used to belong to the species that we commonly call bean but have been reclassified and so are no longer technically beans. It’s confusing!

The better word for all these little gems is pulse. A pulse is a dry legume that grows in a pod of one to 12 seeds. It includes beans, lentils, peas and other little seeds I commonly (but incorrectly) refer to as lentils or beans.

Indian pulses are usually available in three types: the whole pulse, the split pulse with the skins on, and the split pulse with the skins removed.

Dal is often translated as “lentils” but actually refers to a split version of a number of lentils, peas, chickpeas (chana), kidney beans and so on. If a pulse is split into half, it is a dal. For example, split mung beans are mung dal.

A stew or soup made with any kind of pulses, whole or split, is known as dal. If the whole pulse is cooked into a dry curry or stir fried simply with spices but not much liquid, it’s called kathor in Gujarati. Just remember, wet is dal, dry is kathoor.

Pulses are used to make a wide variety of food in Indian cuisine. Desserts are commonly made with pulses. Pulses are often ground into flour, such as besan (garbanzo bean flour). This flour is used to make a huge variety of foods such as vegetable pakora, khandvi, kadhi, sev, puda and so much more (the list of things you can cook with garbanzo bean flour is literally endless!). Pulses are also soaked and then ground into a paste (often with soaked rice) to make dishes like dosa and idlee. 

Adding pulses to your diet is a great way to eat healthier. They are so full of protein, fiber, iron and so many other nutrients. 

Here are some of the most commonly eaten dals, lentils and pulses in India (India is a huge country with a large variation in diet from place to place. This list is specific to what is most commonly eaten in Gujarati cuisine but also translates to many other parts of India). And if you are interested in adding more lentils to your diet, here is a great list of common non-Indian lentils by Oh My Veggies. Check it out!

  • Mung Beans

    Whole and Split Mung Beans Mug Lentils by Indiaphile.info
    Whole and Split Mung Beans

    Mung beans (also known as green gram, Hindi: moong, Gujarati: mug), are little green seeds that are yellow inside. They have been eaten by Indians for thousands of years. Mung beans are used for both sweet and savory dishes in Indian cooking. They are eaten whole, sprouted, split with the skins on and split with the skins removed. In fact, mung dal (split with the skins removed) is one of the most commonly used lentils in my kitchen.

  • Mung beans with their skins on have a flavor reminiscent of green leafy vegetables but the mung dal with the skins removed has a mild sweet flavor and is often used for desserts as well as making kichidi and mung dal.
  • Urad Dal

    Urad Dal Lentils at Indiaphile.info
    Urad, Urad Dal Chilka (split urad with skin), and Urad Dal (split urad without skin)

    Urad (also known as black gram, black lentil, Hindi: urad, Gujarati: adad), is a little black seed with a white interior. It is very similar to a mung bean in size and shape but tastes entirely different. It has also been eaten in India for thousands of years and is highly prized. Urad has an earthy flavor and an unusual mucousy texture (it’s a good thing!) when it’s cooked. The popular, and amazing, dal makhani is made with urad. Papad (or poppadums) are usually made with urad dal as well.

  • Garbanzo Beans

    Split Chana Dal and Garbanzo Beans by Indiaphile.info
    Chickpea (Channa) – Split Channa, Desi Chana and Kabuli Channa. Kabuli Channa is the familiar Garbanzo bean common in the Mediterranean diet.

    Garbanzo Beans (also known as chickpea, Bengal gram, Hindi: channa, Gujarati: channa). Garbanzo beans are found in two forms, the smaller dark skinned beans known as desi channa and the larger white skinned beans known as Kabuli channa. Garbanzo beans are commonly eaten in India in as whole beans, as split lentils and a multitude of dishes are also made with garbanzo bean flour (known as besan). Channa Masala is the most popular dish made with Kabuli channa.
    Channa are slightly nutty in taste. The brown ones are earthier in flavor and tend have a drier texture.

  • Masoor Dal

    Whole Masoor Dal and Split Masoor Dal lentils by Indiaphile.info
    Masoor and Masoor Dal

    Masoor (also known as red lentil, Hindi: masoor, Gujarati: masoor) is a brown skinned lentil that is orange on the inside. Masoor dal has a pleasant earthy flavor and is very common in Northern India. It is commonly used to make dal, soups and stews.

  • Pigeon Pea (Toor Dal)

    Split Pigeon Pea Toor Dal Lentils by Indiaphile.info
    Split Pigeon Peas (Toor Dal)

    Pigeon Pea (also known as tropical green pea, Hindi: toor, Gujarati: tuver), is a beige lentil with a yellow interior. This is the most important pulse in a Gujarati household. The fresh peas are highly prized and used for curries and stuffing in spicy handpies. They have a delicious nutty flavor that is very distinctive. The dried and split peas are a staple in everyday cooking as well. The famous “Gujarati Dal” is made with this pea where the balance between spicy, sweet and sour is most important.

  • Black-Eyed Peas and Azuki

    Black Eyed Peas and Azuki Beans by Indiaphile.info
    Black Eyed Peas and Azuki Beans

    Black-eyed pea (also known as cow pea, Hindi: lobia, Gujarati: chora). Black-eyed peas have a distinctive flavor and are an all around pulse in Indian cuisine. They’re used to make curries, dals, papads and fritters.

  • Azuki bean (also known as red cow pea, Hindi: chori, Gujarati: lal chora). Azuki beans have a sweet nutty flavor and are another all around pulse. They are used very much like black-eyed peas.
  • Other

    Pea (Hindi: matar, Gujarati: vatana). Although split peas are uncommon in Indian cuisine, whole dried peas have a mild earthy flavor and a hearty mouth feel and texture. They are used for one the most beloved street food stews called ragda.

  • Kidney Bean (Hindi: rajma, Gujarati: rajma). Kidney beans have a strong earthy flavor and nice silky texture. They are made into a delicious curry simply called rajma. It is delicious eaten with rice. It is important to note that kidney beans can be toxic if not cooked properly. They must be pre-soaked and boiled for at least 30 minutes to ensure they are safe for eating. Do not cook them in the slow cooker because that multiplies their toxicity.
Bean Stove Top Cook Time Pressure Cooker  or Instant Pot Time Pressure Cooker Whistles Slow Cooker Time Soak Time
Mung, whole 60 to 70 minutes 8 to 10 minutes  5 low 5 to 6 hours 4 hours (optional)
Mung, split with skin  20 minutes  6 to 7 minutes  3  low 3 to 4 hours  optional
Mung, split  20 minutes  6 to 7 minutes  3  low 3 to 4 hours  optional
Urad, whole 60 to 70 minutes  10 to 12 minutes  6  low 5 to 6 hours  4 hours (optional)
Urad, split with skin  30 minutes  8 to 9 minutes  4  low 4 to 5 hours  30 minutes (optional)
Urad, split  30 minutes  8 to 9 minutes  4  low 4 to 5 hours  30 minutes (optional)
Garbanzo, brown 70 to 90 minutes  20 minutes  8  low 8 to 9 hours  8 hours to overnight
Garbanzo, white 70 to 90 minutes  20 minutes  8  low 8 to 9 hours  8 hours to overnight
Garbanzo, split (channa dal) 60 to 70 minutes  15 minutes  7  low 7 to 8 hours  optional
Masoor, whole 40 to 45 minutes  7 to 9 minutes  7  low 7 to 8 hours  optional
Pigeon Pea, whole 70 to 90 minutes  15 to 20 minutes  8  low 8 to 9 hours  8 hours to overnight
Pigeon Pea, split (tuver dal) 30 to 40 minutes  7 to 9 minutes  5  low 5 to 6 hours  30 minutes (optional)
Black-eyed Pea, whole 60 to 70 minutes  15 to 20 minutes  6  low 6 to 7 hours  optional
Black-eyed Pea, split 30 to 40 minutes  8 to 9 minutes  4  low 4 to 5 hours  optional
Adzuki, whole 60 to 70 minutes  15 to 20 minutes  6  low 6 to 7 hours  optional
Pea, whole 60 to 70 minutes  15 to 17 minutes  6  low 6 to 7 hours  8 hours to overnight
 Kidney Beans, whole Boil for 30 minutes then simmer for 30 to 60 more minutes.  12 to 15 minutes  6 Toxic. Do not cook in slow cooker.  8 hours to overnight

Cooking Notes:

  • Before you cook the pulses, sift through them to take out any pebbles or debris. Then rinse them a few times.
  • Pulses taste best when they are cooked slowly. When cooking pulses on the stove top, bring to a boil and lower heat to medium low and let simmer. Start counting the cooking time once the pot has come to a boil and not before. In the case of kidney beans, boil for 30 minutes before lowering heat to simmer.
  • If your pulses are old, they can take double the time to cook. If they haven’t softened in the time indicated, don’t worry. Just cook until soft. Make sure to add more water as needed.
  • When cooking pulses, hold off adding salt or acids (such as lemon or vinegar) until the end, or the they will not soften.
  • Water: If you are cooking on the stovetop or slow cooker, use about 3 to 4 times the water. In the pressure cooker, two times the water will do. Always keep an eye on the stove and add more water if it starts to look dry.
  • Indian pressure cookers are a little different from the ones available in the West. They usually release steam regularly in what is referred to as “whistles.” These whistles are counted to determine cook time. They are not always accurate and can vary from cooker to cooker. So use these whistle counts as a guide and figure out what works best for your cooker.
  • Soaking: In the cases where soaking is optional, if you soak the pulses, it will reduce the cooking time. The cooking time I’ve mentioned is for unsoaked pulses.
  • Slow cookers can be a great, convenient way to prepare pulses, just throw everything in in the morning and when you get home from work your food is ready. But some beans are toxic until they are boiled (for at least 30 minutes), and slow cookers can actually make them more toxic. If you want to use the slow cooker on these beans, boil them for 30 minutes before adding them to the mixture, or use canned beans which are already boiled.
Assortment of Dal, Beans, Pulses and Lentils by Indiaphile.infoAssortment of Dal, Beans, Pulses and Lentils by Indiaphile.info

Leave a Comment on “A Guide to Indian Dal, Lentils, Beans, and Pulses”

  1. This is an incredible resource. I learned so much about the different kinds of “pulse” and the differences between them. Working with beans and lentils has been a little daunting for me in the past so I am bookmarking this post for future reference. Thank you so much!

  2. Brandon @ Kitchen Konfidence

    Thanks for the in-depth guide. I just bookmarked it! I am most familiar with French lentils, but I am open to exploring the ones listed above. So many possibilities :)!

  3. Prem Suhag

    Many Thanks Puja, I am into export of Pulses , where we need to explain our clients the varieties of pulses but how they should make it was issues, which I think you have sorted out. otherwise I was teaching them only how to make “Rajma Chawal”. Thanks a lot for such a blog! Fully agreed to Robin’s Idea to make Desi food court

  4. Elyna Ito

    Just found your website recently and I have to say “What a great resource and information! I really want to expand my palate in Indian cuisine and this chart is helpful for those of use unfamiliar with Indian cooking. I looking forward making your recipes. Thanks..

  5. Thanks for clearing that all up letting me know I eventually got it right. I’m new to Indian cooking and cooking with pulses and have been piecing together little things for over a year and still wasn’t 100% sure about things.
    This is a great page and resource for others out there just staring out and a real time saver, as speaking from a personal perspective it can take a long time to work all this out yourself if you are coming in with zero knowledge like I did a year ago ( I wish I had this page back then!)

  6. Your post is fantastic! Unfortunately, being very new to cooking Indian food, I’m still unsure and maybe you can clarify for me. Are mung beans also referred to as moong dal? 🙂

  7. Thanks Puja, had been the look out for right combination of lentils to be added to my diet and your writeup opens up the possibility of keeping it Indian and still have the trim low glycaemic meals.

  8. Seema Jaggi

    Hi Puja,

    This is great. Do you think you could do a similar guide on Indian chilis for cooking. My kids don’t like too much heat but I want to add flavor where I can.


  9. Shrikant S. Kamble

    Thanks very good information on various dals. If you add proten, minerals and vitamin contents I hope it is better. Similarly also mention vitamins and minerals distroid while cooking and how to retain them.

  10. Thank you for this! My husband is allergic to lentils, peas, and kidney beans, but not to chick peas or mung beans. I was pretty sure that Urad Dal wasn’t a “true lentil,” but your list clarifies things further; i.e., that “lentil” is a loose translation of “dal” and refers to the lens-like shape and NOT necessarily the species. If you have room on a later chart, the Latin names of the various pulses might prove quite helpful for those trying to avoid particular species. Thanks again from BC, Canada, where indian pulses and spices are very readily available.

  11. HI , My name is Karuna, m newly married and my mother in law is great cook but learning from her its difficult as every indian household has different ways of cooking. So I m new to cooking and specially Dal is difficult.. firstly to identify which dal is what called in gujrati is so different.. your articles is actually very helpful for new bahu in kitchen like me.. Thanks alot for you post.

  12. This is amazing..I asked my husband to bring Moong Daal and her got Toor, which was something very new for me, so I searched and after disappointed from Wikipedia, found this little but very comprehensive information…Good work!! Will visit your page over and over, have added in my fav.

  13. Shrikant S. Kamble

    Tanks for giving valuable information’s on cooking.

    I have a doughty that some times you mention Lentils as beans or pulses, some times Lentils as Masoor dal, if Masoor is Lentils then don’t use the word Lentils at all. If Lentils is different, please give photograph and explain about Lentils.

  14. Your website about beans/legumes, dal, etc., is great. There is one big problem, I want to live in India now that I am retired, but I find it too expensive to travel there from the Philippines, originally from the USA. I like lentils, mung and all other legumes. Your fotografs are great and make a person hungry.

  15. I was looking to find info on how Pigeon Peas the are green turn to Yellow when dried. It led me to this article. Very informative, but yet it doesn’t answer my question. Please reply if anyone knows.

  16. Thank you Puja for this.. I’ve taken a photo of the cooking times for all the daals.. Extremely simple and informative.. I’ve been wondering about all these dals for years and slowly branching out to try new ones.. Given a great new boost of confidence. Thank you again

  17. Cheryl

    Thank you for your thorough explanation of the dals! I’ve always wondered about the cooking times. Would it be possible for you to add the stove-top cooking times since so few of us in the U.S. have pressure cookers (us non-Indians anyways).

  18. Abhay Bansal

    Hey Puja! I find this quite informative. Thanks for sharing.

    In the article, you have mentioned “Pulses are also soaked and then ground into a paste (often with soaked rice) to make dishes like dosa and idlee”. I assume that you are referring to wet grinding of the soaked pulses and soaked rice together to make a paste. Is it possible to create the same paste by using ground pulses’ powder and ground rice powder?

  19. Juveriya

    Great post!! I am allergic to lentils and chickpeas, and I can only have “pulses” like mung and urad. But after reading this post I am beginning to think maybe I can try pigeon pea also, since you wrote that its a pulse, or did I misread it? I will also try Black Eyed Peas and Azuki Beans as the shape of them are not round like normal lentils which I cant have. Thanks again!!! This is by far the best guide I have seen on lentils 😀

  20. Toni Bondurant

    I just found your site and wanted to thank you for such an enlightening post. I was looking for a recipe on rava upma and just happened along your blog. Looking forward to exploring it more. Thanks!

  21. I came here trying to figure out the Indian name for what are marketed in America as “yellow lentils.” I think it’s tuver dal? If true, it might be worth a reference in this post; I can’t easily find another place that does the translation.

  22. Excellent write up, I need to enhance the content i have truly.

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  23. Alan R

    The comment on age of the dried pulses and cooking time is critical. For western cooks that may make Indian food as well as non-Indian food, using these items may result in half a package of an item to sit in a larder for months after purchase. So the comment on cooking times and the need for soaking is probably most relevant for open packages. It does raise a couple of questions about, “how old is old?” for items that are described both in terms of storage in warehouses and retail stores as well as our larder. I’m now somewhat convinced that most dried items are older than we think and take longer than we think as well.

  24. Daniel

    I really appreciate the time and research taken to make this informative website. Being newly diagnosed with type II diabetes, I am sure this will help me to improve my diet.

  25. Diane

    Thanks so much for posting this. You answered so many of my questions. Whenever I go to an Indian or Oriental market I’m like a kid in a toy store. Everything looks so wonderful. I buy buy buy and get home and don’t know half of what I have or what to do with it. This article helps a lot.

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