Many different Indian recipes are made with lentils, pulses or beans.
Lentils, pulses and beans have always been an essential component of Indian cuisine, in the same way as meat and potatoes have been in Western cultures. Indians have been living on a predominantly vegetarian diet for thousands of years, and so the required intake of protein and essential minerals has been filled by these plant-based sources. With high levels of fibre (soluble and insoluble), protein, iron, B-vitamins, folic acid, calcium, and potassium, they are an undeniably excellent substitute!
Just to give an idea of the food value of lentils and pulses, here is an example of the nutritional profile of lentils. Whole red lentils, per 100g dry:
Dried beans, peas and lentils are all low in fat and good sources of protein, fiber, iron, calcium and essential minerals.
Considered a part of the legume family, and with good reason. Legume refers to the pod or seed of a plant, or any other edible part of a plant. Lentils grow in pods that have one or two small lentil seeds, often round or heart-shaped in nature, and come in a variety of colours.
Lentils contain high levels of fibre. With regular consumption, you will enjoy a number of health benefits including lower cholesterol, stabilized blood sugar, reduced risk of heart disease, improved digestion, and increased energy. They are low in calories (one cup cooked lentils contains only about 230 calories) and contain virtually no fat. In addition, they leave you feeling full and satisfied, which is an added benefit for those trying to lose weight. Examples of some common lentils are urad, a small black bean (beluga) native to India; masar, a familiar lentil that is pink on the inside and is often used in daal; and moong, a green pea-like lentil that is often mashed down and used as paste for a variety of sweet and savoury dishes.
When it comes to Indian cooking, lentils (daal) are a hearty part of most every meal, and are often served as a side dish. Yellow, red, black and green lentils lend their flavour to a variety of dishes and can be paired with naan or over rice for a healthy addition to any meal, or a meal in and of itself.
Pulses & Beans
Also considered a part of the legume family, but are most often known as the “grain legume”. Their crops are grown annually and are identifiable by the pods they grow in, which can contain anywhere from one to twelve seeds on average. Whereas lentil seeds stay about the same in shape – oval, round or heart-shaped – there is no rhyme or reason to pulses and beans. They can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The word “pulse” refers to crops that are harvested for the dry seeds only and nothing else.
You may be more familiar with pulses/beans than lentils simply because we include more of them in our regular diet. Some commonly used varieties include pinto beans, navy beans, dried peas, kidney beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, lima beans, black beans and fava beans, and they all pack a nutritional punch. Even though they are small and unassuming, they can provide sufficient amounts of protein in relation to meat dishes, but with the added benefit of fibre. Pulses and lentils are gluten-free and are a great addition to a vegetarian diet.
It may seem like an unlikely after-meal treat, but pulses/beans and lentils are often ground into flour and used in Indian desserts or to make savoury dishes such as pakoras, which are fried snacks usually made with two or more vegetables. The list seems almost limitless as to what pulses and lentils can be used for. They are great on their own, as part of a soup, or when made into a flour-based product.
Trying It Out For Yourself
Now that you have learned a little bit more about lentils and pulses/beans and their health benefits, there’s no better time to start adding these to your diet. If you would like to incorporate these foods into your cooking, here are a few recipes: Quinoa Lentil Salad, Santa Fe Salad, Brown Wild Rice Lentil Salad.
Indian food is great if you are a vegetarian, as most of it focuses on plant-based ingredients. You can add meat to some dishes if you would prefer a richer version, or incorporate tofu or paneer (unripened cheese) with the vegetables themselves. Cooking with lentils and pulses is a healthy and flavourful way to expand your vegetarian meal choices.
For Indian recipes incorporating lentils and beans get our Free Recipe ebook with an Indian spices guide.