How many variations of your favourite bowl of comfort food have you tried?
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The humble dal can easily be called India’s favourite comfort food. In every region of the country, dal preparations have an earthiness that satiates a hungry soul like nothing else. While the types of lentil and fragrant tempering in each recipe gives dal a distinctly unique flavour, it’s the cooking technique and the other regional additions that help it stand out. Here’s a lowdown on the different types of dal dishes:

Aamti
This sweet, tangy and spicy dal made using tur dal and tempered with mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves, fresh coconut, chilli powder, turmeric powder, asafoetida, jaggery, kokum , garam masala and then seasoned with a special aamti powder (or goda masala—A blend of poppy seeds, red chillies, desiccated coconut and dagadphool or black stone flower). Different versions of the Aamti can be made with a varieties of lentils—when made using chana dal (Bengal gram), it is called Katachi Aamti, and when with red lentils, it’s called Masoor Aamti. This Maharashtrian style dal is best served with some plain steamed rice and a dollop of ghee.

Sambar
Contrary to common belief, Sambar (watch this to make Sambar at home) is not a South Indian dish and is said to have originated in the kitchen of the Thanjavur Marathas’ ruler Sambhaji and named after him. An everyday affair in almost all South Indian homes, this dal is packed with the goodness of tur dal (some recipes suggest using masoor or red lentils, or a mix of dals) and an assortment of veggies. While each of the south Indian states boasts of their own secret sambar powder recipe, the uniqueness of each style of sambar also depends on the souring agents in use. 

Dal Makhni
Also known as ‘maa ki daal,’ this rich dal dish is said to have originated from Punjab, and is made mainly using urad daal, rajma (kidney beans), butter and cream. Best relished with naan, tandoori roti, or steamed rice, this dish can either be enjoyed at the comfort of your home (give this dal makhani recipe a try), or/and at any dhaba or North-Indian restaurants.  

Gujarati Dal
Made with a distinct blend of masalas, vegetables and starring tur dal, what sets this Gujarati dal recipe apart is the use of peanuts that help add a bit of texture and crunchiness to this stew. Unlike other dals, the consistency of this dal is quite watery and has a distinct but mild sweet and sour taste. While the sweetness is courtesy of jaggery, the sourness comes from the use of kokum.

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Dal Amritsari
This dal is a regular on the menus of highway dhabas. Typically made from two lentils—whole black gram and chana dal—it’s the simplicity of this dish that makes it a favourite choice to be served at langars. Made using tomatoes, onions and some simple Punjabi spices, this yummy dal is best relished with rice, naan or some butter rotis

Dal Lucknowi or Sultani Dal
It is but natural for the humble dal to get a shahi or royal makeover especially when cooked in the land of the nawabs. Dal Lucknowi is very similar to dal tadka ( a tempering of cumin seeds, garlic, asafoetida and red chillies), the difference being the addition of milk in the former. Milk is a rather unusual ingredient but it adds richness. 

Panchmel or Panchratna Dal
Paanch translates to five; this dal recipe has five types of lentils—moong, chana, tur, masoor and urad dal. The lentils aside, the added bonus is the smokiness of the dal, which comes from the ghee used for tempering the spices. In the Rajasthani version, Panchmel dal is often served as a part of dal-baati-choorma. On the other side of the country, in Kolkata, this dal recipe features panch phoron.

Cholar Dal
Native to West Bengal, Cholar Dal is a celebratory lentil dish. Prepared using chana dal, it is tempered with ghee and whole garam masala and for additional flavour, coconut chips are added. This basic no onion no garlic, thick lentil soup goes very well with hot luchis.

Sindhi Teen Dal
Sindhis are great purveyors of flavour and spice and this is expressed in their cuisine. However, when it comes to dal, they like to keep it simple—chana or tur dal is accompanied by chilka moong dal (moong dal with the skin) and urad dal. The three lentils are cooked with tomatoes and green chillies, and occasionally with raw mango pieces, dry mango powder (amchur) or lemon juice to add a light tartness to the dish. It is finished off with a tadka of cumin, garlic, fenugreek seeds and red chilli powder, and served with some plain rice and tuk patata (fried and spiced potato slices). Sindhi Teen Dal is also the base for a famous Sindhi dish, da pakwan.

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Dalma
Dalma is a soup-like lentil side-dish, which combines lentils with vegetables such as pumpkin, eggplant, potatoes and tomatoes. Though the recipe calls for tur dal, you use equal proportions of chana dal with moong dal alone. Raw banana and raw papaya too occasionally find their way into this staple found in almost every second Odiya home. While roasted cumin, dry chilli powder and paanch phoron are essential seasonings, turmeric is used generously to help give the dal its deep colour. 

Tomato Pappu
Pappu literally translates to ‘cooked lentils’, and the dish is an integral part of Andhra cuisine. The tadka of garlic, cumin seeds, asafoetida and curry leaves add a unique flavour to this sweet and tangy tomato dal. What brings it all together, is the tanginess from the tamarind and tomatoes, which also help tame down the spice from the chillies, thereby adding another dimension of flavour. 

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