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Panchratna Dal


Lentils and beans are the mainstay of many high-end markets. With more people adopting vegetarian diets or opting to eat more meat-free meals, lentils and beans provide protein-packed nutrition. I keep a variety of dried lentils and beans on hand to add to soups, salads and as side dishes on their own. I’m really not as knowledgeable about cooking them as I’d like to be but I enjoy experimenting with new recipes.

When I think of recipes for beans Mexican food always comes to mind but for lentils, Indian cuisine reigns supreme. Dal (also spelled dahl) are dried split pulses (lentils, peas and beans) served at all meals. As with beans, there’s great variety in the flavor and texture of cooked lentils. Some keep their shape after cooking making them great to use in salads while others cook down to a melted creaminess. It’s easy to whip up a delicious Indian meal by simply serving homemade dal on basmati rice.

My favorite dal to make is panchratna dal which is made with five types of lentils. Also known as panchmel dal, the name comes from “panch” which is the Hindi/Sanskrit word for five. Panchratna means five jewels and it is fitting that this dal originated in the Rajasthani regions of India, known for its opulent jewels.

To make this dish, you combine a quarter-cup each of five different lentils: usually toor dal, moong dal, channa dal, mascot dal, and black urad dal. Combined with some onion, tomatoes and Indian spices it is as beautiful as it is delicious. Despite my pantry being full of different lentils and spices, I have to confess that I cheat a bit when making this recipe by buying Pride of India brand Indian Bean & Lentil Superfood* which is an organic mix of five kinds of lentils - split mung beans, split chickpea lentils, split matpe beans, split red lentils and split pigeon peas. You can use any combination of five different lentils for this recipe.

If you’re as crazy about Indian food as we are, you might have some frozen curry leaves and perhaps even some of the funky-smelling spice called asafetida. If you do, they are a great addition to the dal but there’s no need to go out and purchase any just for this recipe.


1 1/4 cup dried mixed lentils
3 cups vegetable stock (or water)
1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter)
1 small onion, diced
1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root
15.5 oz. can of petite diced tomatoes
1/2 of a small red chili pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds or powder
3 fresh or frozen curry leaves (optional)
1 teaspoon asafetida powder (optional)
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Pick through the lentils to make sure there aren’t any little stones hiding in the mix. Put them in a medium bowl and cover with cold water by an inch. Let the lentils soak for 45 minutes to 2 hours, checking periodically and adding more water if necessary to keep them covered.

Drain the lentils and transfer them to a medium pot. Add 3 cups of water (or stock) and bring to a boil. If the liquid doesn’t totally cover the lentils, add more water. Cover the pot then simmer the lentils for 45 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, melt the ghee in a medium pan. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until they are soft and beginning to lightly brown. Add the grated ginger and tomatoes and stir to combine. Remove from the heat and stir in the chili pepper.

Generally Indian spices are tempered in a small dry frying pan to release their aromas and intensify their flavors. Feel free to do this with the turmeric, cumin and cardamom but you can also just add them to the sautéed vegetables without tempering if you prefer.

When the lentils are done cooking and are soft, but not mushy, stir in the sautéed vegetables and spices. If you have curry leaves and asafetida on hand, add them as well. Taste your dal and add a bit of salt and pepper if you’d like. Just before serving, stir in the chopped cilantro.

* Pride of India brand Indian Bean & Lentil Superfood is available in many Indian grocers and also online at