Cooking with legumes/pulses. Two dals

Dried peas and beans are not part of the UK staple diet.

About the only thing that comes remotely near that is mushy peas. Invariably Batchelors with those two strange round tablets to chuck in the soaking water overnight.

We had mushy peas with fish and chips, and we had pea and ham soup. I didn’t like the nasty salty ham and I guess by the time you had added the tablets to the peas it was even saltier.

A bit later my mother discovered lentils and made lots of lentil soup. That was ok. But otherwise – pulses? They are for poor people aren’t they?

So when I first decided to cut out meat from my diet, I needed to get that most important protein. After all, westerners can’t live without huge amounts of protein can they? I bought a Rose Elliott cookbook which was the basis of my pulse cooking for ages.

We also bought a pressure cooker. These are obligatory in every home in Spain. Every household has one to my knowledge, because, guess what? Garbanzos (chick peas), lentejas (lentils), and alubia (any sort of other bean!) are standard fare for the main meal of the day.

Not only that, but Spaniards will cheerfully describe their meal of lentils or garbanzos or beans as ‘muy rico’ – delicious. And then go into raptures about it and how and what everyone exactly puts in to make it so delicious.

The only time I have ever heard anyone waxing lyrically in the UK about pea and ham soup has been when there has been far more ham than peas in the soup.

But where I live in Spain, while it’s not very poor area, it’s not a rich one either. Many people make their living from the land, and we all try and eat cheaply. Pulses are filling, nutritional and – tasty.

There is not the same obsession with meat that I saw in the UK. Yesterday I stood in the supermarket in Gib and looked at the stuff bought by the guy behind me. Nearly £11 on two rather puny pieces of prime sirloin steak. My god!! I ring my hands when I pay £4 something for a pack of seitan and consider it a luxury. And next, he put down two even tinier pieces of salmon fillet for £5. They didn’t even look worth buying they were so miniscule.

How many bags of different pulses could I buy from my local shop for that sort of money? And how many meals could I make? Lots is the answer.

I’ve mentioned the Spanish use of chick peas, lentils and beans, and because they use them so often, they are never stale or hard. I am equally lucky here in Gib with a couple of Indian shops which have every pulse and spice under the sun, more or less.

I decided it was time to embark on some of the promising recipes in my fave Indian cookbook – Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Vegetarian Cookery. I bought a whole new load of different goodies to prepare:

Punjabi Five Jewel Creamed Lentils – Panch Ratan Dal

There are five different types of lentil in the recipe and the five spices/seasonings are onion, garlic, coriander, ginger and chillies. Ms Sahni doesn’t include fresh chillies in the recipe as it also includes cayenne but at least tells us we can add some if we like a hot taste. We do and I did.


Yellow split peas – or yellow lentils and Indian yellow split peas
Split white gram beans – urad dal
Split yellow mung beans – moong dal
Red lentils – masar dal

Green chillies

Spice perfumed butter

Cumin seeds
Fresh coriander/cilantro

I’ve not given quantities but basically, add however many of the pulses in whatever proportion you like for a decent meal. Say anywhere between six and ten ounces in total?

I didn’t soak this lot overnight, but I did stick them in the pressure cooker. Next time I would probably soak them for an hour or two and cook normally to retain better texture.

Wash the pulses and cook them with the turmeric. When nearly finished add salt. (This is why I don’t understand the marrowfat peas thing with sodium bicarb tablets – in this and other Indian recipes the salt goes in near the end of the cooking).

Cook onions, garlic, ginger, chillies and toms in frying pan and then add to dal.

For the spice perfumed butter – cook cumin seeds in oil and then add cayenne and paprika. Add to dal and stir slightly. Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve.

And yesterday I tried:

White Gram Beans Laced with Onion Butter

White gram beans – 7oz approx
Cardamom pods – 2 black or 4 green
Bay leaves (2)
(Soya) milk

(half and half milk/water)

Wash, and soak gram beans. Book said for two hours so I soaked for one in boiling water. Worked perfectly well.

Cook with above ingredients for around an hour, or until ready.

Spice perfumed butter

Onion – 1
Garam masala
Black peppercorns – cracked.

OK. I missed out the cloves. Eight seemed vastly excessive and I have a garam masala with lots of cloves in anyway.

Otherwise, fry onion, add garlic, ginger (and cloves), then when ready add garam masala and cracked peppercorns to sizzle for a few seconds, and pour over dal.

I served it with basmati rice and:

Fragrant Tomato-Onion Sauce

Black mustard seeds
Green chillies

Add mustard seeds to hot oil. Put lid on pan as the seeds spatter. When they have calmed down, add asafoetida and cayenne. Then add the onions, and stir until they are wilted. Add remaining ingredients and cook on low heat until of suitably saucy consistency. Turn off heat and let rest for half an hour. Apparently it keeps well in the fridge for a day. Not here it doesn’t – never got anywhere near the fridge.

Worked out great for breakfast too.

Top tips

If you do decide you want to eat more pulses – for whatever reason – do buy a pressure cooker, and buy dried pulses, preferably from a shop that has a quick turnover.

Buying beans in cans and jars means you will often have additives. Dried ones don’t.

Adding dill to beans eg white haricot beans or butter beans aids in cooking and digestibility. And tastes nice too.

2 comments on “Cooking with legumes/pulses. Two dals

  1. Mmm, sounds yummy! Chick peas are one of my favourite foods so they regularly appear on the menu in our house. We use them in curries, salads, you name it!We eat a lot of lentils too. Just finishing up a lovely salad with puy lentils with a lime and mustard dressing, served with avocado and roasted pepper. Heaven!


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