Dried lentils and beans provide the protein core to Indian cooking. Due to their low price, ready availability and convenience, Indian cooks have created thousands of recipes over the years that use lentils and beans in some form. Sometimes they are the main ingredients, other times they are simply added for contrast or to enhance the gravy.

 

Assorted dry lentils

Assorted dry lentils

 

My family didn’t use dried lentils when I grew up so I had to learn, through trial and error, to cook and love them as an adult. To save you the time of doing your own research, I have prepared this guide to cooking dried lentils and beans.


General Lentil Cooking Guide

1. Pick out any debris or stones from the dry lentils. Measure the amount of lentils you need. Place them in a colander and rinse them in cool water for a few minutes.

 

2. Pour two or three times as much water as lentils into a saucepan and add the lentils. Bring to a boil over medium heat. When the water boils, reduce the heat to low and simmer until done. Add more water if needed. The lentils are done when they are tender but not mushy. Drain remaining water.

 

Cooking Tips

  • As a general rule, lentils don’t need to be soaked before cooking but beans do.
  • Do not add any salt when you start cooking the lentils, as it will make them tough. Add it during the last minutes of cooking to add flavor.
  • Skim any scum that appears during cooking.
  • Simmer lentils; do not boil them as they can fall apart and the water may evaporate too quickly.
  • Ensure the lentils are always covered with water during the cooking process.
  • Pre-soaking is not required to cook lentils. It is just an easy way to reduce cooking time.
  • To determine if lentils are fully cooked, squeeze it between your fingers. If it mashes easily, it is done.
  • 1 pound dry lentils = 2½ – 3 cups dry lentils
  • 1 cup dry lentils = 3 cups cooked lentils
  • To make an easy lentil dish, cook some chopped onion, carrot, celery and garlic in a little oil with your favorite spices. Add your cooked lentils and then cook everything together for a few minutes so the flavors blend.
  • Cooked lentils freeze well, so cook an extra batch to save time later.
  • Dry lentils can be stored for many months in an airtight container in your pantry. Six months seems to be the guideline but I do have some that are over a year old that I will continue to use until they are gone. It takes longer to cook older beans.


Characteristics of Lentils and Beans

To help you determine which lentils or beans to use as you create new recipes, I have prepared the following table so you can see some of the characteristics and cooking times each lentil and bean commonly used in Indian cooking.

Type Characteristics Uses Presoak Cook Time
Brown Lentils

-mild earthy flavor

-inexpensive

-available everywhere

-retain shape well

Soups, salads, side and main dishes No 30-45 minutes
Green Lentils / du Puy Lentils / French Lentils

-firm texture, peppery flavor

-retain shape well

-more expensive than others

-less availability in stores

Soups, salads, side and main dishes, pair well with fish, game & meat No 30-45 mintes
Red Lentils (Masoor)

-sweet and nutty flavor

-break up while cooking

Soups, purees and recipes where soft texture is desired No 15-25 minutes
Yellow Lentils

-mild flavor

-become mushy when cooked

Soups, purees, sauces No 15-20 minutes
Orange Lentils -become mushy when cooked Soups, purees, sauces No 15-20 minutes
Black Lentils -mild flavor Side and main dishes No 20-30 minutes
Black Beans

-sweet with a slight mushroom flavor

-soft, delicate texture

Side and main dishes, used as a meat substitute Yes 45-60 minutes
Garbanzo Beans / Chickpeas

-mild, hearty, nut flavor

-good for strong spices

Soups, salads, pasta, main dishes Yes

45-60 minutes

2 hours, if not soaked

Mung Beans / Green Gram -mild, delicate, slightly sweet Soups, salads, side and main dishes No 45-60 minutes
Red Beans

-subtly sweet

-hold shape when cooked

Soups, salads, side and main dishes Yes 60-90 minutes

I hope this information helps you include more healthy lentils and beans in your diet as well as save some money.

 

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I thought my Recipe of the Month for January should feature black-eyed peas since they are commonly eaten in the U.S., primarily in the South, on New Year’s Day as a symbol of prosperity for the new year.

 

Black-eyed peas are high in very protein and fiber as well as being fat free at an extremely low price. Since black-eyed peas do not require overnight soaking, a lot of advance planning is not required to make this dish. I just soaked the beans for an hour to reduce the cooking time. Peas from a can may be used in a pinch if you wish to save even more time. The flavor of the dried peas is far superior without any of the tinny taste from the can.

 

Since any type of lentil, bean or pea, including black-eyed peas, blends well with Indian spices, I thought I would make my Black-Eyed Pea Masala as Recipe of the Month.  This Indian recipe takes about 45 minutes to cook, from start to finish, so it is a perfect dish to make for lunch on a cold winter afternoon with your family.

 

Black-eyed Pea Masala is a delicious vegetarian recipe for the new year.

Black-eyed Pea Masala is a delicious vegetarian recipe for the new year.

 

Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.

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Lentils are one of the most important ingredients in Indian cooking for their health benefits and low cost. In fact, India is the world’s largest consumer of lentils in the world. This may be due to the fact that at least one dish containing lentil is served at every meal and the high percentage of vegetarians who live there. It is a good thing that India is also the world’s largest producer of these tiny gems.

 

Lentils in India

Lentil dishes are eaten all across India daily and appear on the menu as either a side dish or a main course. Having loved lentils for many years, I was stunned to learn that they are even served with breakfast! In South India, lentils are can simply be eaten with rice, and often eaten with chapati (a round wheat bread like a tortilla). After long days at work when my husband is too tired to cook anything that requires more than two steps, I have noticed that he seems to enjoy a simple dal and chapatti meal. Afterward, he seems calmer than when he arrived at home. I suspect that Indians consider lentils, in any form, to be comfort food.

 

Assorted dry lentils

Assorted dry lentils

 

Lentils are incorporated into every menu group in Indian cuisine. Some of the most popular recipes with lentils are:
 


Since the variety of options for this important source of protein in a highly vegetarians nation, it should not be a surprise to learn that there are literally hundreds and hundreds of recipe options available for lentils.

 

Characteristics of Lentils

Many varieties of lentils are available to keep the menu varied; each one is as different in its characteristics: color, size, texture and cooking speed. Lentils come in different colors from green, to red, to black and even orange. They vary in size as well. For example, French green lentils are tiny while chickpeas are rather large. Different varieties of red lentils vary in size. The small red beans are used in many Indian recipes including Chokapu Payar while the large ones are found in dishes such as in American chili. The small red beans take a long time to cook while the orange lentils are speedy. From firm and meaty chickpeas to smooth and creamy orange lentils, each has its own unique texture and purpose in Indian cuisine.

 

Forms of Lentils

Lentils are available whole (with the skin), whole without the skin, or split.  The term dal is used as the name of many lentil dishes as well as the term for lentils that have been skinned and split. Lentils ground to a powder are used instead of flour instead of wheat. Besan (North India) or kadala podi (Kerala) is ground Bengal gram dal and is used in the batter coating for Bondas and Bjajia as well as a binding ingredient to hold various cutlets together. Many sprouted lentils are available in stores for the health conscious individual.

 

Storage

The best way to store lentils is to keep them in airtight containers. They will keep for many, many months until they are used.

 

Check out my Lentils page for more information on the different varieties of lentils in Indian cuisine.

 

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Sprouts have been popular on well-planned salad bars for decades. I love to add both alfalfa sprouts and bean sprouts to my salads and have munched on them since I was a kid.

 

These crispy little treats are popular ingredients in Indian cooking. As a matter of fact, lentils are easy to sprout at home and cook into a healthy and delicious dish. Let me tell you how simple it is to grow sprouts for a tasty snack or a dish.
 

Sprouted mung beans for Indian recipes.

Sprouted mung beans for Indian recipes.

  1. Rinse one cup of mung beans (or other lentil) to remove any debris. Put them in a large bowl and cover them completely with cool water. Soak them overnight.
  2. The next morning, pour out the water and rinse the beans several times until the water is fresh.
  3. Dampen a piece of cheesecloth or a thin kitchen towel. Wring out any excess water then place the dal on top of it. Tie the ends of the towel together and place the bundle in a large bowl. Put the bowl in a dark place for 2 to 3 days. During the winter I place it in the oven.
  4. Sprinkle a little water over the towel 2 or 3 times every day. After the third day, the sprouts should be about ½ to ¾ inch tall.
  5. Refrigerate until you are ready to use them.

 

Eating sprouts is popular around the world because nutrients and antioxidants may be concentrated in the tiny low calorie plants. 100 grams (about 3½ ounces) have:

 

100 grams 30 calories
Fat 0g
Carbs 6g
Fiber 2g
Protein 3g

 

 

Apparently the experts have not concluded the discussion on this. Some lentils may have bacteria in them naturally and eating them raw may lead to illness. Cooking will kill any bacteria and make them safe.

 

In India, mung beans are the most popular but some like fenugreek sprouts. They appear in savory as well as sweet recipes in both North India and South India. I avoid fenugreek sprouts because they are too bitter to eat. Technically, any lentil or seed can be sprouted and eaten. For example, broccoli, wheat grass, clover, alfalfa, garbanzos, etc. are common.

 

Check out my Spicy Sprout Salad for an healthy vegetarian Indian salad. It is perfect as the main item for lunch and as a side dish for dinner on a hot evening. This recipe is very easy and quick to make. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does.

 

Indian recipe for Spicy Sprout Salad  with mung beans.

Indian recipe for Spicy Sprout Salad with mung beans.

 

 

Mung beans are also called green gram, mung dal and moong dal. Whatever they are called, they make a tasty yet healthy snack!

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Delicious Sambar, a South Indian Vegetarian dish, with lentils and vegetables.

Delicious Sambar, a South Indian Vegetarian dish, with lentils and vegetables.

In reviewing the monthly south Indian recipes that I have posted to date, I was really surprised that I had not yet posted one of my favorite, traditional South Indian vegetarian recipes. This month I am going to fix this omission and post my recipe for Sambar, a healthy lentil stew that is eaten almost daily in Madras and Kerala.

 

Sambar is often served as part of a thali meal in Madras which is a vegetarian meal that is served on a flat stainless steel plate with about 10 different vegetarian dishes served in small bowls (khaturis). Check out my blog entry What is a Thali Meal and How it is Served? for more details. It is also served with plain rice, idli or dosa and pappads for a simple but healthy meal at lunch or dinner.

 

Many Indian restaurants claim to serve Sambar but, unfortunately, they don’t know how to make it. It is thin and watery with no taste. I would call it vegetable soup with some lentils and a pinch of spices. I would understand if it were a north Indian restaurant but many south Indian restaurants make a very poor Sambar as well.

 

My recipe makes a thick lentil stew loaded with flavor (not spicy hot) and vegetables. For variety, I add a handful of red pearl onions or okra to the pot. Since the secret to this recipe is the Sambar Podi (powder) I have included it as well. 

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The Indian recipes included in this month’s spotlight are some of my favorites: Kadala Masala Curry with Puttu made with brown rice and Iddichakka (Small Unripe Jackfruit) Upperi.  I tend to like simple foods that are healthy and not difficult to prepare on a week night. Even though they are all vegetarian, they are high in protein, fiber and nutrients.

Kadala Masala, Puttu and Jackfruit Upperi

Kadala Masala, Puttu and Jackfruit Upperi


The curry is easy to make once the chickpeas are soaked overnight.  The chickpeas take about 30 minutes to cook through; during this time you prepare the curry into which you will add the chickpeas.  While the curry cooks, you can focus on making the puttus.  They are a lot of fun to make especially if you have help from young assistant chefs in your home.  Layering the rice flour and grated coconut is a task that you can delegate.  Once the puttus are created, it takes about 5 to 10 minutes for a stack of them to steam through.  My recipe will make 2 stacks or enough to feed a family of 4.  I paired the Iddichakka Upperi with this because its light texture balances the rich curry.

The great thing about these dishes is that they keep and are just as tasty the next day.  I hope you enjoy these recipes.  My family and I will be enjoying them tonight for dinner.

Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.


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