December Dal – Part 4, Toor Dal

The fourth part of my December Dal series focuses on cajanus cajan, a legume commonly known as toor dal, toovar, thuvar, arhar, frijol de arbol and pigeon pea (quite a few more are listed at ecoport). Toor dal is relatively large (average diameter about 8 mm) compared to other split legumes used in Indian cooking. Photographs and other information about this legume can be found at Tropical Forages, at Wikipedia, and in the references listed in the ILDIS. Some interesting facts from these pages include

  • The plant is a 1-4 m tall shrub with woody stems
  • Over 90% of the world’s crop is grown in India
  • The plant is very drought tolerant, and can survive a 6 month dry season
  • The plants and its seeds are used as human food, animal forage, and fuel

I used toor dal to make a winter soup that contains two contrasting vegetables: sweet butternut squash and assertive kale. These vegetables sit in a broth thickened by well-cooked toor dal and flavored with a classic Indian blend of spices.

Golden Dal with Gold and Green Vegetables – Toor Dal with Squash and Kale


The dal

1 cup toor dal
6 cups water
1 T. vegetable oil or ghee
3/4 t. turmeric
1 dried bay leaf
1 hot green chili
1 T. grated ginger

1 t. brown mustard seeds
2 t. cumin seeds
1 t. fenugreek seeds
2 dry red chilies
1 T. sugar or jaggery

2 cups cubed butternut squash
1 bunch of kale (or mustard greens), washed and chopped coarsely

Salt to taste
Chopped cilantro to garnish

(Unit conversion page)

Most of the ingredients

Cooking the dal
Pick through the dal for stones, sticks and other unacceptable items. Rinse the dal thoroughly, drain, and put into a large pot. Add the 6 cups of water, 1 T. oil, bay leaf, green chili, ginger, and turmeric to the pot containing the dal. Bring to a boil (be careful that it doesn’t boil over), then reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover the pot and cook until the dal are tender (30-40 minutes). Add 1 t. salt or more to taste. Reduce heat to very low.

Prepare the Vegetables
After peeling the squash and cutting it into small cube-ish pieces, there are several options for cooking it. I prefer to roast squash to bring out its sweetness: preheat the oven to 450 F; toss the squash with oil, salt and pepper; spread onto a baking sheet; bake for 10-20 minutes (the time depends on the size of the pieces), turning once or twice. Alternatively, you could steam or microwave the squash pieces.

Similarly, for the kale, several methods are available: steaming, boiling, microwaving, or sauteing.

For both vegetables, they should be cooked to your preferred doneness, since they will be added to the broth at the end (as opposed to a long soak in the broth).

Tempering and Finishing
Heat some vegetable oil or ghee in a small skillet over medium heat. Have a pot lid handy in case the mustard seeds start to scatter and splatter. When it is hot, add the mustard seeds, cumin, fenugreek, and dried chili, cook for about 30 seconds, then add the sugar. Cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds, or until the sugar carmelizes. Pour the spiced oil over the dal and stir. Add the cooked squash and stir.

Ladle some of the spiced dal and squash mixture into a bowl and top with a large spoonful of the cooked kale. Serve along with a bowl of chopped cilantro and some rice or bread.

tags :: food : food+drink : recipes


  1. Am impressed. Despite being Indian, and in charge of my kitchen, I still get my dals mixed up…will be following ur posts closely! Happy 2006 — The timid cook!

  2. I spent a few months in Ethiopia a couple of years ago and became somewhat familiar with Ethiopian cuisine. I wonder if this is the same lentil that is often served there? (they have a variety of lentils they used themselves) Similar color that I had seen there. I get so confused by the great variety of lentils and I mix up which are used in which dishes from which places!!

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