Pulse tales: What is Indian food without them?

Pulses are found in every corner of the country and are essential in Indian cuisine

By Pushpesh Pant
Published: Monday 18 October 2021
Pulses are found in every corner of the country and are essential in Indian cuisine. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Pushpesh PantIt is no exaggeration to claim that Indian food cannot be imagined without pulses. Dal roti and dal bhaat is synonymous with everyday food. Lentils are an excellent source of protein for vegetarians and perhaps that is why it is an essential inclusion in the Indian diet.

In agriculture as well, cereals, oilseeds and pulses have a distinct importance. Sprouted pulses are considered more nutritious and are used in usal and misal, traditional dishes of Gujarat and Maharashtra.

The list of dishes that use gram flour made from gram lentils—kadhi, gattas, dhokla, laddu, barfi—is exhaustive. The ingredients made from lentils have been an integral part of our diet.

When Iranian scholar Abu Rayhan al-Biruni came to India 1,000 years ago, he discovered the daily meal of the average Indian, the porridge-like khichdi, a mixture of rice and lentils. Whether it is Bengal’s roasted or maash khichdi cooked during Makar Sankranti or the South Indian pongal, pulses give life to all varieties.

One interesting thing is that different pulses are popular in different states of the country. Roasted sonar moong dal and chickpea dal are common in Bengal, while in Uttarakhand, the chutkani of bhat (black soybean) cooked in an iron skillet is considered exceptionally nutritious.

Moradabadi dal prepared with moong dal appears in Rohilkhand, Uttar Pradesh, which is prepared by grinding moong dal. It is garnished with roasted onions. In Himachal Pradesh almost all the dishes in a traditional feast called dham are prepared from pulses—rajma occupies a prominent place.

Till two generations ago, homemakers used to cook pulses according to this traditional knowledge. Today, under the pressure of advertisements, we are leaning towards those pulses which have been enriched with additional nutrients.

Some pulses are polished to enhance their appearance, which removes the peel and along with it, the nutritious elements. There is also a trend of organic pulses, which was actually the norm in our production a few years ago.

(Pushpesh Pant is a food critic and historian)

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