A Comprehensive Guide to Indian Lentils and Beans

Pulses are a staple in Indian cuisine due to the fact that they are extremely inexpensive and have a very high nutritional content, especially protein.

Not only are there far more pulses than the average person is aware of, but they are also a highly versatile ingredient. With a good stock of pulses in your pantry you can make a plethora of starters, main courses and even desserts – including the dish Dal (an Indian ‘soup’ made of any pulse), Pakoras (Crispy fritters), Dosa, (Crisp savoury pancakes), and sweets such as Moong Dal Halwa. Believe me when I tell you that they are a must-have in any kitchen!

The English word ‘pulse’ incorporates Lentils, Beans and Peas. Although the Hindi word ‘Dal’ is often mistranslated to mean Lentils, actually it refers to pulses – both lentils, beans and peas. Not only that, but the word Dal can refer to a soupy dish made from those pulses. 

So to avoid confusion, let’s go over the types of pulses used in Indian cuisine: 

  • Dhuli Dal: This is the most common variety of lentil that the majority of us are familiar with. They are split and hulled. 
  • Chilka Dal: This lentil is split, but not hulled – meaning it retains the outside skin. 
  • Sabut Dal: These are whole beans which haven’t been split.
  • Other pulses like Chickpeas and Kidney Beans just have simple one word names.

The guide below details the flavour profile of each pulse, what it looks like, how best you can use it, and a link to buy it. There is also a handy Pinterest Infographic at the bottom of this page with a summary of all this information so you can save it for later. I have also included a handy glossary with a list of the Pulse names in English, Hindi and Marathi to ensure stress free shopping and recipe-searching! 

Bengal Split Lentils

Chana Dal (Hindi), Harbaryachi Dal / Chanyachi Dal (Marathi)

Sweet and Nutty.

Chana Dal are made from baby chickpeas which have been dried, split and polished. They are medium in size, yellow, and have a rounded appearance and a glossy texture. They are often confused with Toor Dal as they share similar appearances, but Toor Dal is comparatively more oblong and rougher. 

Chana Dal can be dry-roasted and then ground to make Besan (Chickpea flour). You can then make a variety of dishes from it, including Pakoras, Dhokla, Halwa, Ladoo and more. 

In it’s original form Chana Dal can be boiled to make Dal, a spicy lentil soup. The cooked lentil can also be mixed with jaggery, ghee and spices to make a sweet stuffing for Puranpoli, amongst other things. 

Chana Dal does not require pre-soaking to cook, although soaking for 1 hour can make cooking times faster. Without soaking it should take around 40 minutes to cook fully.

Black Chickpeas

kala chana (Hindi), Harbara (Marathi)

Nutty and Firm.

Black chickpeas are comparatively much smaller and darker than their more common white counterparts. Despite the name they are often an extremely dark reddish brown rather than black. They have a more intense nutty flavour, a slightly firmer texture, and a buttery inside.

Black chickpeas can be used in most dishes where you would use the larger white ones, but the most common dish is Kala Chana Masala, a richly spiced and homely dish similar to Chana Masala. It tastes great served with Rice, Puris, or Kulcha or Naan. You can even use black chickpeas in Chaat and Usal. For an extra dose of nutritional value, use them sprouted

Black chickpeas are available to buy both dried and canned. The canned variety can be used and cooked directly out of the can, but the dried variety will need overnight soaking. 

Black Eyed Beans

lobia / chavli (Hindi), chavali (Marathi)
Close up photo of black eyed beans / chavali / lobia

Savoury, Earthy and Nutty.

Black eyed beans are creamy off-white in colour, with a black mark on the inner curve. They are shiny, smooth and highly polished. Medium in size, they have a mild nutty, earthy taste and a creamy texture once cooked. 

Black eyed beans are a common staple in Indian households. You can make many simple savoury dishes like Punjabi Lobia Masala, Chavali Bhaji, Chavali Usal, or Karamani Sundal. Some lesser known but none-the-less delicious ideas are Chavli Chaat or Chavli Pulao. 

Like most beans, they are available to buy canned and dried. The canned variety can be  added to dishes straight away and don’t require soaking. The dried variety should be soaked for a minimum of 5 hours, or even overnight before cooking.

Black Split Lentils

urad Dhuli (Hindi), udid (Marathi)
Close up photo of white split urad dal lentils

Mild and Creamy.

These are the split and skinned version of Urad Dal. They are small, oblong in shape and have a creamy off-white colour.  

These lentils are most often used in South Indian dishes. It’s a vital ingredient in the batter of Dosa, Idli and Vada – staples of the South Indian home. To make these, the Urad Dal is soaked and then ground into a fine batter and left to ferment with other ingredients. 

It’s also used as a tempering – fried in oil with other spices at the beginning of a dish. This preparation is used in Aloo Masala (for Dosa), along with many other dishes. Using the lentil in this way adds a delightful crunchy texture to vegetable dishes like this Patta Gobi Sabji.

Split Urad Dal doesn’t require soaking. It can also be boiled like any other lentil to make Dal. 

Black Split Unskinned Lentils

urad Chilka (Hindi), udid (Marathi)
Close up photo of split urad dal / lentils

Rich and Earthy.

Urad Chilka and the split but un-skinned variety. They have a matt black outer skin covering a creamy white interior, with an oblong shape, half rounded, half flat. 

They have a much richer flavour than the split and skinned version, without being as intense as the whole Urad Dal. Like the other varieties of Urad, it has a unique creamy, slightly slimy texture when cooked – but in a good way! 

The most common way to eat this variety of lentil is as a spicy Dal, but you can also use it soaked and ground to make Dosa batters.

Be sure to only soak Urad Chilka for 30 minutes before cooking. Longer soaking will cut down on the cooking time but will cause the husk to be removed, which is not necessary when you want that extra flavour. 

Black Whole Lentils

urad sabut (Hindi), udid (Marathi)
Close up photo of black whole urad beans / dal

Earthy and warming. 

Whole Urad Dal are small, rounded beans with an oval shape and a matt black colour which can sometimes include very dark green and brown beans. They have a small white section on the outside of the bean and are completely white from inside. 

They are the most flavoursome of all the varieties of Urad and the most commonly used for Dal. When cooked they have a distinctive texture which is creamy and slightly slimy, quite unlike any of the other lentils.

The most famous dish to use whole Urad Dal is the Punjabi Dal Makhani, a creamy delicacy cooked with these as well as Red Kidney beans. You can also cook the dal alone as in Maa ki Dal. Whole Urad Dal benefits from long, slow cooking.

Ideally the lentil should be soaked overnight to reduce the cooking time. 

Green Gram Lentil

Moong Dal (Hindi), Mug / Mugachi Dal (Marathi)
Close up photo of yellow moong / mung lentils / dal

Mild and Buttery.

Made from split and skinned moong beans, these lentils are much smaller in size than Chana Dal or Toor Dal, vivid yellow, shiny, and oblong in shape. 

In my opinion they are the most versatile lentil and a great choice to have in your pantry. Of course you can make a standard Dal Fry or Dal Tadka with Moong Dal, but you can get a bit more inventive too!  Moong Dal is used to make the breakfast dish Cheela – a savoury crepe – as well as various Pakora and Vada. It can also be used as a stuffing for snacks like Kachori and Paratha. 

You can even make sweet treats with Moong Dal by mixing it with ghee and sugar. One of the most famous dishes is Moong Dal Halwa, a must try. 

This lentil doesn’t require soaking and cooks down to a nice creamy consistency in a relatively short amount of time. 

Moong Dal is quite a well known lentil so should be relatively easy to find if you live in an Urban city. 

Green Gram Split

Moong Chilka (Hindi), Mug / Mugachi Dal (Marathi)
Close up photo of split moong / mung lentils

Sweet and Soft.

These lentils are split Moong beans with their skin intact. They are white on the inside and with a deep-forest green rounded half. 

This is a less commonly used lentil but nonetheless delicious. You can use it to make many savoury breakfasts such as Moong Dosa or Cheela, both variations of savoury crepes. For something a bit different you can make the savoury Gujarati snack Handvo which is made from mixed lentils, a spicy Paratha stuffing, or even Papad. 

Moong Chilka can also be used to make the traditional Dal just like any other lentil. 

They don’t require any soaking before being cooked. Another benefit is that they don’t take much time to cook and the end result will be thick and creamy as the lentil breaks down into the sauce very easily. 

Green Gram Whole / Moong Beans

SAbut moong dal (Hindi), Mug (Marathi)
Close up photo of whole moong / mung beans

Beany, Sweet and Nutty.

Moong beans are small, rounded and oval shaped. They havee a light forest green colour with the occasional white mark along their sides. They are glossy and shiny. 

Moong beans can be cooked just like split lentils into a Dal. Gujarati Mug is delicious with notes of tanginess. 

However, moong beans really come into their own when sprouted. Sprouting increases the nutrition of beans as well as making them easier for us to digest, so it’s a great option. The sprouted beans can be used in Stir Fries like Marathi Usal, cooked in a Konkan style Amti, or combined with Moth Beans to make a delicious street food dish (and a personal favourite!) called Misal Pav. 

Whether you want to cook Moong Beans as a Dal or you want to sprout them, they’ll require soaking. Soak overnight and moong beans will be cooked in just 10 minutes or can be put to sprout

Pigeon Pea Lentils

Tuvar Dal / Arhar Dal (Hindi), Toor Dal (Marathi)
Close up photo of Split Pigeon Peas, Toor Dal

Mild, Gently Sweet and Nutty 

Toor Dal is one of the larger lentils, with a deep yellow colour and oblong shape. They are often confused with Chana Dal as they are both a very similar colour and size, but Toor Dal tends to be much less round and with a rougher texture. 

The most famous Dal dishes are usually made with Toor Dal, including Dal Tadka and the South Indian Sambar. It tastes excellent when combined with leafy greens like Spinach, Dill or Methi. 

In Gujarat, a variety of the dessert Puranpoli is made using Toor Dal rather than Chana Dal. 

Despite the popularity of Toor Dal in India, it remains a relatively unknown lentil in England. It doesn’t require soaking before use although it will decrease the cooking time. Without soaking, Toor Dal will cook in around 40 minutes to a nice creamy texture. 

Red Kidney Beans

Rajma (Hindi & Marathi)
Close up image of red kidney beans, rajma

Flavoursome and Meaty. 

Red Kidney Beans are medium in size, with a gently curved body and a deep red colour. They have small white spots on the curving side and are quite distinctive from other beans. 

These beans are often used in Vegetarian Burgers as the texture is quite ‘meaty’. You’ll also often see them utilised a lot in traditional Mexican and South American cuisines. 

In India, Red Kidney Beans are often prepared in a simple home-style gravy and served with Rice. One of the most famous dishes is Punjabi Rajma Chawal, along with Dal Makhani, which uses the kidney beans to give a rich and creamy texture. 

Like most beans, you can buy them dried or canned. The dried beans will need soaking for a minimum of 5 hours or preferably overnight before cooking.

Red Split Lentils

Masoor Dal (Hindi), Masurachi Dal (Marathi)
Close up photo of red split lentils, masoor dal

Mild and Earthy.

Masoor Dal is a small, thin lentil with a vivid orange colour and a very rounded shape. Unlike Toor Dal and Chana Dal which have a firmer texture, Masoor Dal easily melts away and disintegrates  into your dish.

This lentil is the perfect choice for a quick and easy meal option. The lentils don’t require any pre-soaking and cook very quickly, becoming soft in no time. 

It’s a great choice for the classic dish Dal, and also makes great stuffed Parathas as well as the comforting Dal-Rice combination dish Khichdi. 

Perhaps because of the fast cooking time and ease of preparing these lentils, you’ll probably find them quite easily at your local grocery store. 

White Chickpeas

[Kabuli] Chana / Chole(Hindi), Harbhara (Marathi)
White chickpeas / garbanzo beans / chana

Nutty, Earthy and Creamy. 

White chickpeas can vary in size depending on where they’re from. Desi Chana tend to be smaller then their European cousins, but all varieties are rounded with a slight point on top and beige in colour. 

They are often used in savoury dishes as a stand alone ingredient or combined with other vegetables. The most widely known dish is Chana Masala or Chole, commonly eaten with Kulcha, Puri or Bhatura. Other variations include Chana Aloo, Methi Chole and Chana Saag. On top of that, chickpeas are widely used in Chaat dishes like Samosa Chaat. You can even use chickpeas as the main ingredient of Pulao or Biryani.

Chickpeas are commonly available in canned form, which is great for convenience as they are ready to use from the tin. Alternatively you can also buy them dried, which some say has a better flavour. These will need overnight soaking. 

Whole Moth Beans

Moth (Hindi), Matki (Marathi)
Close up photo of whole moth beans / dal / turkish lentils

Rich and Nutty.

Moth Beans (otherwise known as Turkish Gram) are small, oblong shaped beans which come in shades of brown. 

They are sometimes mistaken for the similar looking Horse Gram (Kulthi Dal in Hindi). Horse Gram is a lot less common and can be distinguished  by having a far greater range of colours. They are not interchangeable. 

They are commonly used across India, but most famously in Maharashtra, where is the birthplace of the popular dish Matki Usal. Moth beans are also a vital component of the Marathi street-food dish Misal Pav. Both of these dishes use sprouted moth beans, which is a great way to use them as it increases the nutritional value. 

You can also use Moth Beans whole by cooking them into a Dal, or grind them and use the flour for Bhujia.

Soak the Moth beans overnight before use whether you want to cook them as  Dal or sprout them. 

Please note that all the links above are Amazon affiliate links. This means that I receive a small commission for every purchase made through these links, at no extra cost to yourself. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. Are Yellow Split Peas the same as Chana Dal or Toor Dal? 

    No, yellow split peas are a different lentil altogether. They are called Matar Dal in Hindi. I haven’t included them on the list as they aren’t commonly used in India. There is a lot of misconception that these three lentils are the same, and I even see recipes online stating this – probably because the English name is very similar to the appearance of both Chana Dal and Toor Dal, which are both yellow and split! 

    Yellow Split Peas are often suggested as an alternative to Chana Dal in areas where the later is not accessible. I would not recommend this if possible. They have a different taste and different cooking times as well. 

  2. How long do lentils last? Do they go bad?

    Lentils last for years! Because they are dried, if stored properly they are very unlikely to go bad. Keep them in an airtight container so no moisture contaminates them and you should be fine. The only cravat is that the older lentils get, the longer they take to cook. You can offset this by soaking them before cooking and allowing more time to cook. 

  3. How can I stop stomach troubles and gas after eating pulses?

    This is a common issue for people who aren’t used to eating large quantities of pulses. Soaking both lentils and beans makes them easier for the body to digest, so you can try soaking even the lentils which don’t require it for just 30 minutes prior to cooking. Additionally, add a pinch of hing (asafoetida) to your lentils  while they are cooking or to the tadka you pour on top. This will also help. 
  4. Is it Dal, Dahl, Dhal or Daal? 

    We prefer the spelling ‘Dal’ because thats the most commonly accepted spelling and best describes the actual pronunciation of the word. With most Indian dishes you’ll find a lot of spelling variations in English, which can make it hard to know if each word is referring to the same dish or they’re all different things. In this case, all these spellings are referring to the same thing.

    So why is it that there are so many spellings? Well, India has 23 official languages and almost 2000 unofficial languages. All these languages have different words for the same thing! On top of this, the Indian languages don’t use the Roman Alphabet like we do. Most of the North Indian languages use the Devanagari script/alphabet, which has around 50 major letters compared to our 23. It’s impossible to use our Roman Alphabet to spell Indian words because we simply don’t have the right phonetics. That’s why you have so many different, inconsistent variations. 

An infographic guide to Indian lentils, beans and pulses

Glossary of Names in English, Hindi and Marathi

    English Hindi Marathi
    Bengal Split Lentils Chana Dal Harbaryachi Dal, Chanyachi dal
    Black Chickpeas Kala Chana Harbhara
    Black Eyed Beans Lobia, Chavli Chavali
    Black Split Lentils Urad Dal Udid
    Black Skinned Lentils Urad Dhuli Udid
    Black Whole Lentils Urad Sabut Udid
    Green Split Lentils Moong Chilka Mugachi Dal
    Green Whole Lentils Moong, Mung Mug
    Pulses Dal Dal
    Pigeon Pea Lentils, Split Toor Dal, Tuvar Dal, Arhar Dal Turichi Dal
    Red Kidney Beans Rajma Rajma
    Red Split Lentils Masoor Dal Masurachi Dal
    White Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans) Chana, Kabuli Chana, Chole Harbhara
    Whole Moth Beans Moth Dal, Matki Matki
    Yellow Split Lentils Moong Dal Mug

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