Mung beans or green gram. This dal is one of the most basic in northern India. Small, kidney-shaped, and with a green skin, this dal is available as whole green mung beans with skin on (saabut mung or green mung dal), green split mung beans with skin on (chilkae vaali mung), and yellow skinned and split mung beans (dhulli mung or yellow mung dal). All these are considered easy to digest, especially the skinless yellow variety.
The yellow skinned and split mung beans (dhulli mung) are often ground into a flour that is used to make a variety of savory dishes, treats, and snacks.
MASOOR, MALIKA MASSOOR, OR MASSAR DAL
Lentils. These familiar green-brown discs come in two sizes, with the common American variety being larger then the Indian ones. Both can be used interchangeably. This dal is available as green-brown whole lentils with the skin on (saabut masoor), red whole lentils without the skin, or red skinned and split lentils (dhulli masoor or red masoor dal). Like mung dal, they cook fast and digest easily. In fact, yellow mung and red lentils are often cooked together, because they cook in the same amount of time.
TOOR, TUAR, ARHAR DAL
Pigeon peas or red gram. These pale green whole beans are available more commonly as yellow-gold discs split and without the skin. They are very popular all over India, especially in the southern parts and along the west coast, where they lend themselves to a variety of preparations. Sold primarily in Indian markets as plain or oiled (to prevent infestation, which is more prevalent for this bean than others), both are essentially the same and can be used interchangeably. Like the mung and masoor dals, they are easy to cook and easy on the stomach.
CHANNA, CHOLA DAL
Yellow split chickpeas or split Bengal gram. This dal is very similar in appearance to yellow split peas, but is actually made from black chickpeas. Considered somewhat harder to digest, this dal is always cooked with something carminative (gas-reducing)--ginger, garlic, ground asafoetida, or ajwain seeds.
URAD, MAAS, MAANH DAL
Urad beans or black gram. These small, dull-black beans resemble green mung dal in appearance. They are available as black whole urad beans (saabut urad or black urad dal), as black split urad beans with skin on (chilkae vaali urad or split black urad dal) and as white skinned and split urad beans (dhulli urad or white urad dal). Considered hardest to digest among the dais, this dal takes a long time to soften and to digest and because of its dense nature, and often calls for a lot of spices and flavorings.
Like yellow split and skinned mung beans, skinless white urad beans (urad dal) are often ground into a flour and used to make a variety of savories, treats, and snacks.
MOTH, MUTH DAL
Dew beans. These are a duller and much smaller version of whole green mung beans (saabut mung). They are available primarily in Indian stores. Sold whole and with skin, this dal is popularly used to prepare chaats (snack dishes with savory, tangy, and spicy flavors) and salads, such as Spicy Dew Bean Salad (see Salads), or crunchy savory munchies like dal-muth (pronounced moath), which are hot and spicy chip-like munchies found packaged at Indian markets.
SOOKHAE MUTTAR AND MUTTAR KI DAL
Dried peas and green and yellow split peas. Mutter dal is available whole or split without the skin. The whole ones are simply called dried green peas or sookhae muttar, and are cooked like black-eyed peas (lobia). When split, they are treated more like a dal. Yellow split peas are made from mature green peas (the vegetable) that turn yellow before they are dried and made into a dal.
All these varieties are relatively easy to digest and lend themselves to an array of preparations, but are mostly prepared as chaats (snack dishes with savory, tangy, and spicy flavors), salads, and savory munchies.
Adzuki beans. These reddish-brown beans, slightly bigger than mung beans, are available in Indian and Asian stores, whole with skin on. Often prepared simply with a few spices, this dal cooks similarly to green whole mung beans and is quite easily digested.
Black-eyed peas or cow peas. Not quite as easily digested, lobia must be cooked well and for a long time with carminative (gas-reducing) spices--ginger, garlic, ground asafoetida, or ajwain seeds.
Kidney or red beans. These are available everywhere in supermarkets and Indian markets. There is also another variety called chitree vaalae raajma, which is similar to pinto beans. I also include red beans and Mexican black beans in this category because they cook and taste like raajma, and take on Indian flavors very well. All these beans can be used interchangeably.
Chickpeas, garbanzo beans, or Bengal gram. These come as small or large tan heart-shaped beans or black heart-shaped beans. The tan chickpeas are easily available everywhere--both dried and pre-cooked and canned. The black variety are usually only sold in Indian markets. They are harder to digest than most other beans, but the black variety is considered to be far more nutritious than its tan counterpart. I frequently use canned chickpeas because they are so convenient.
SOYA BEANS BHATMAS
Soy beans. These beans are pale yellow and look like dried yellow peas, although they are not perfectly round. They are commonly grown in the United States, but Americans don't eat them much. They are only gaining in popularity as it becomes more apparent that soy is beneficial to health. Look for them in Indian markets and health food stores, and cook them as you would chickpeas and kidney beans.
From "1,000 Indian Recipes." Copyright 2002 by Neelam Batra. Used with permission of the publisher, Wiley Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.