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A lentil daal is any in a range of Indian lentil dishes, most of which are basic lentil stews flavored with aromatic spices and herbs. The word “daal” actually means “split lentil” in most Indian dialects, which makes a dish called “lentil daal” somewhat redundant. It is nonetheless a popular title in most countries outside of India, and the repetition is often used as a means of describing the dish and its ingredients. Lentil daal can be made in many different ways, with many types of lentils.
The lentil is a legume with a naturally high protein content. Eating lentils is usually an inexpensive way of getting significant nutritional benefits. Lentils grow throughout Southern Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and are very popular in many different meals. Daals are usually split-lentil stews made by boiling the legumes in water seasoned with spices, herbs, and vegetables.
Most daal dishes follow a similar recipe, but the ingredients can vary substantially based on region, lentil variety, and the cook’s own preferences. There are usually four main types of lentils used to make daal: green, brown, red, and yellow. Each variety is distinguished by its color, of course, but also by its flavor. Some daal recipes call for mixing lentil varieties, but most stick with just one color.
Cooking with lentils, particularly split lentils, is usually simple. The legumes need only be boiled in water or broth, then left to sit and absorb the liquid. Cooks usually add spices and vegetables to the daal as it boils so that the flavors will infuse. It is possible to eat lentil daal alone as a soup or stew, but this is not traditional. The finished stew is usually served over rice or flat bread.
Nearly all lentil daal recipes are vegetarian, meaning they include no meat. Many Indian religious traditions teach against meat eating, which is a contributing factor. Meat is also expensive in India, as it is in many parts of the world. Most lentil dishes provide an economical way to get nutrients without sacrificing taste.
Lentil daal is a popular dish for vegetarians around the world, as it captures the essence of Indian flavor and cooking style, and is usually filling enough to be a full meal. Vegetarian dishes should be distinguished from vegan dishes, however, particularly where traditional daal preparations are concerned. Vegans do not eat meat or any animal product. Most daal contains clarified butter, known as ghee, which is a dairy product. A vegan hoping to partake of lentil daal would be wise to ask for a complete list of ingredients before eating.