Lentils are an important staple food in many parts of the world, especially in India. They come in many colors, sizes and textures, but some of the most common varieties found in Indian cuisine are brown lentils, also known as sabut masoor dal. These tiny lens-shaped pulses have a mild, earthy flavor and are integral to many Indian dishes. But what exactly are these brown lentils called in India?
Names for Brown Lentils in India
Brown lentils are known by a few common names in different Indian languages:
- Sabut masoor (Hindi)
- Kora masoor dal (Bengali)
- Minumulu (Telugu)
- Masur dal (Gujarati)
- Mochai paruppu (Tamil)
The most widely used term across India is sabut masoor, masoor or masur referring to the lentil itself and dal meaning split lentils with or without the skin. The word sabut means whole, implying whole brown lentil grains that have not been split. Other regional names have similar meanings.
Why are Brown Lentils so Popular in India?
Brown lentils have been cultivated in India for thousands of years. They grow well in the Indian subcontinent hence their popularity and importance in Indian cuisine. Here are some reasons why brown lentils are so extensively used:
- They are packed with protein, fiber and various nutrients. Dal is a great source of inexpensive, high quality vegetarian protein for the largely vegetarian Indian population.
- They are versatile pulses that can be sprouted, split with skin on or off and cooked in endless ways – boiled, fried, added to curries, soups, stews and more.
- splitting and dehusking. This allows for easy digestion while retaining nutritional value.
- They cook faster than other dried beans and do not require pre-soaking.
- They have a mild flavor and take on the flavors of spices and herbs added to them.
- The dried lentils have a long shelf life making them suitable for storage for long periods.
- Brown lentils are affordable and provide nourishing nutrition for low income groups.
Thanks to these attributes, brown lentils are indispensable in the Indian kitchen. Every part of India uses them extensively in regional recipes.
Common Ways Brown Lentils are Used
Here are some of the most popular ways brown lentils are used in Indian cuisine:
Dal refers to a lentil stew or soup that is a staple food across India. It is made from boiled sabut masoor dal that is simmered in a flavored broth of onions, tomatoes and spices. There are many regional dal varieties and it is often served with rice or roti.
Whole brown lentils are added to rice pilafs called pulao or biryani and absorbed the robust flavors.
Spicy masoor dal fritters, lentil vada or lentil dumplings are popular street food snacks.
Brown lentils are sprouted and added to salads, sandwiches and chaat.
Roasted and ground lentil flour is used to make regional specialty flatbreads like missi roti.
Key Dishes from Indian Cuisines Using Brown Lentils
Here are some iconic lentil dishes from regional Indian cuisines that use sabut masoor:
Dal Makhani (Punjabi Cuisine)
This rich, buttery black lentil and kidney bean stew is one of the most popular dal dishes.
Sambar (South Indian Cuisine)
A lentil and vegetable stew tempered with sambar powder and served with rice, idli and dosa.
Dhokli (Gujarati Cuisine)
A comforting khichdi dish made of rice and lentils steamed into rolls.
Masoor Tenga (Assamese Cuisine)
A tangy lentil stew cooked with vegetables and Assam’s famous tenga (souring agent).
Dal Bukhara (Rajasthani Cuisine)
A thick, creamy black gram dal punctuated with whole brown lentils.
There are endless everyday dal recipes, each with their own regional variations in spices, herbs and cooking techniques used.
Nutritional Values and Benefits
Here is the nutritional value per 100g of cooked brown lentils (source – USDA):
Brown lentils are packed with protein, essential vitamins and minerals. Some health benefits include:
- Excellent vegan source of protein needed to build muscles and tissues
- High dietary fiber supports heart health and gut health
- Lowers cholesterol
- Rich in folate, good for pregnant women
- Provides iron required for healthy blood and beating anemia
- Magnesium, potassium, zinc and phosphorus support bone health
- Powerful antioxidants to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress
It’s easy to see why simple brown lentils are valued in Indian cooking for their extensive nutritional profile in addition to their versatility, taste and accessibility.
Where to Buy Brown Lentils
Brown lentils are easily available in these places:
- Grocery stores – in bags or bulk bins
- Indian grocery stores or spice shops
- Online shopping sites like Amazon
- Public markets carrying local produce
When buying, look for:
- Firm, unbroken lentils
- No moisture or insect damage
- Removal of any grains or debris
- Storage in airtight containers
For the best flavor and texture, buy from stores with good turnover to get fresh stock. The lentils can then be washed and stored in airtight jars in a cool, dry place for several months.
How to Cook Brown Lentils
Brown lentils are very simple and quick cooking. Here is a basic recipe:
- 1 cup brown lentils, rinsed
- 2 cups water or broth
- Pinch of salt
- In a saucepan, combine lentils, water or broth and salt.
- Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to simmer.
- Cook uncovered for 15-20 minutes until lentils are tender but still hold their shape.
- Drain any excess water if needed.
- You can season and add them to dishes, or simply enjoy as is!
Cooking times can vary based on the age of lentils. Add more water ifneeded during cooking to prevent drying out.
Brown lentils are called sabut masoor or sabut masur dal across most of India. They are hugely popular for their nutrition, affordability, taste and versatility in Indian regional cuisines. You can buy these protein and fiber-packed legumes in Indian grocery stores and cook them easily at home to enjoy in a variety of delicious dishes.