What dal you use varies depending on what region of India you visit: pigeon peas (Toor dal) and mung beans (Mung dal) are common in the south; yellow split peas (Chana dal) are used in the north. The different types are easy enough to distinguish by color—think of the warm, earthy side of the rainbow, with golden yellows, pale oranges, dusty browns, and grassy greens.
Despite the many colors and varieties, the method is relatively standard: soak them overnight, drain, and simmer until tender. At this point, the dal is a blank canvas for any spicy or aromatic stir-ins, like toasted cumin and coriander seeds, turmeric, ginger, chile oil, or ghee. This is truly a comfort food, in the same vein as split pea soup. Enjoy over hot cooked rice with a simple vegetable side for a filling vegetarian meal.
Our favorite Red Lentil Dal with Carrot Salad and Coriander Flatbreads skips the overnight soak for a budget-friendly weeknight meal.