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What Is Dal Bhat?

Ghee, which is used in making dal bhat.
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  • Written By: Rebecca Cartwright
  • Edited By: S. Pike
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  • Last Modified Date: 31 March 2014
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Dal bhat, lentils and rice, is the national dish of Nepal. Bhat, the rice, is white and simply cooked. Dal is lentils cooked with seasonings into a kind of thick soup or stew. Most of the Nepali people eat dal bhat every day, often twice a day. Other dishes such as vegetable curries are usually served with the rice and lentils, but "dal bhat" is still used to refer to the entire meal.

Bhat is the rice part of dal bhat. Nepali rice is white, and for dal bhat it is boiled or steamed. Written recipes typically call for basmati or long grain white rice. In Nepal, ghee, a type of clarified butter, is often added to the rice. If ghee is not available, butter can be substituted.

Dal refers both to the legumes used in the cooked dish and the dish itself. Although the word is commonly translated to English as “lentils,” dried beans and peas are also considered to be dal and are sometimes mixed with the lentils when cooking dal bhat. The Nepali people distinguish between black dal and yellow dal based on the color of the lentil used.

Typical dal recipes call for soaking the lentil briefly before cooking them. Pressure cooking is also sometimes advised. Lentils cook very quickly, however, and both soaking and pressure cooking are probably most important in Nepal and other high-altitude areas where the cooking takes longer because water boils at a lower temperature.

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Seasonings for dal can vary, but the most common are onions, garlic, turmeric, ginger, chilies or chili powder, and cumin. Some of the seasonings, particularly those that are dry powders, are added to the lentils as they cook. The onions, garlic, chilies and whole spices such as mustard seed are fried in ghee or oil and mixed into the cooked lentils before serving.

In addition to the dal bhat, most meals also includes curried vegetables, called tarkari and achar. The tarkari may as simple as curried spinach, or may include a wide range of items such as potatoes, cabbage, carrots and green beans. Achar is usually translated into English as “pickle” but is a spicy, vegetable-based condiment more closely resembling chutney. The entire meal is usually presented to those eating on individual divided plates with some of each food placed in its own area. At a more elaborate meal a meat dish is served along with the vegetable dishes on the same plate.

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