Dal (also spelled dahl, dhal or daal) (Devanagari दाल, Telugu పప్పు, Banglaদ্দাল) is a preparation of pulses (dried beans) which have been stripped of their outer hulls and split. It also refers to the thick, spicy stew prepared therefrom, a mainstay of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi cuisine.
Although dal generally refers to split pulses, whole pulses are known as saboot dals and split pulses as dhuli dals. . The hulling of a pulse is intended to improve digestibility and palatability, but affects nutrition provided by the dish, reducing dietary fiber content -- as with milling of whole grains into refined grains. Pulses with their outer hull intact are also quite popular in India and Pakistan as the main cuisine. Over 50 different varieties of pulses are known in India and Pakistan.
Most dal recipes are prepared quite simply. The standard preparation of dal begins with boiling a variety of dal (or a mix) in water with some turmeric, salting to taste, and then adding a tadka (also known as tarka, chaunk or baghaar) at the end of the cooking process.
Tadka or tarka (also known as chaunk or baghar) consists of various spices or other flavorings fried in a small amount of oil. The ingredients in the tadka for each variety of dal vary by region and individual tastes, but common tadka combinations include cumin, chilli powder [cayenne powder], and onion or mustard seeds and garlic. In some recipes, ginger, tamarind, unripe mango, or other ingredients are added while cooking the dal, often to impart a sour flavor. Some preparations also call for mashing the cooked dal a bit with a hand masher or suitable rolling pin.
Other common tadka ingredients include asafoetida, fresh or dried chili pods, cilantro, garam masala and cumin seeds. The raw spices are fried for a few seconds in the hot oil first, and then the remaining ingredients are added. The garlic is typically only fried for a minute or two, but the onion is fried for 10 minutes or until browned. The tadka, or spice-infused oil, is poured over the cooked dal and served with bread or over Basmati rice.
All of the beans & pulses listed above can be used with this method to make the variety of different dals eaten across the region.