Have You Met… Chana Dal

Have You Met… Chana Dal

This post is part of a series meant to spotlight ingredients, providing nutritional background, a little culinary inspiration, and perhaps encourage you to take an adventure into new markets and cuisines.

Have you met… chana dal?

Also called split Bengal gram, chana dal are immature chickpeas that have been split in half and polished. Rounded on one side and flat on the other, they closely resemble (but are in no way related to) yellow candy buttons.

What’s so great about it?

Chana dal falls into the pulse category — an edible seed of plants in the legume family. (Other pulses are dry peas, like split green and yellow peas, dry beans, chickpeas and lentils.) Humans have cultivated these immature chickpeas for thousands of years, and among plant foods chana dal are some of the most nutritionally complete and most easily digested.

Chana dal contains a high amount of both insoluble and soluble fibers, as well as resistant and slowly-digestible starches. The former is a type of complex carbohydrate that acts similar to insoluble fiber in that it’s not digested by the intestines; the latter, as you may have guessed, is more slowly digested than other carbohydrates. Altogether this promotes a healthy GI system, long-lasting satisfaction, and may improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Its very low glycemic load means a moderated effect on blood sugar and insulin levels when eaten.

Rich in metabolism- and energy-boosting lean protein (11 grams per serving), chana dal contains eight of the nine essential amino acids. Consuming chana dal with another plant protein source*, such as rice or other grains, quinoa or other seeds, nuts or dairy provides the full complement of amino acids and creates a nutritionally balanced meal. Given this, it is quite popular as an alternative to animal protein in a variety of cuisines around the world.

Chana dal contains no cholesterol or trans fats, and virtually no saturated fat or sodium. It’s a good source of zinc, and particularly rich in phosphorous and magnesium. A 1/4-cup (dry) serving provides 35% of your daily requirement of folate and 15% of your iron. This is one super addition to the diets of women planning to become or who currently are pregnant!

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Where do I find it // What do I look for?

Chana dal is very popular in Asian cuisine, particularly Indian and Pakistani, and is usually found packaged at Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern or other specialty foods markets. Some stores may have bulk bins as well. If you cannot find chana dal near you, they can be sourced through the (surprise?) Bob’s Red Mill online shop… which leads to me wonder if they might be available in larger supermarkets…

Because primary cultivation is in the Middle East, northern Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Mexico, and therefore requires long-distance travel to the States and other western nations, there are several things to be aware of when purchasing. Always check your package for a tight seal, no signs of moisture or previous moisture damage, and an expiration date that has not passed. To be extra safe, you should also inspect the contents to ensure there are no blemishes, stones or insects. Do not purchase from bulk bins that are left open, or from online retailers that you do not trust.

Store in a tightly sealing container, jar or zipper-top bag in a cool, dry place up to 6 months. Once prepared, chana dal will keep refrigerated in a sealed container for 2 to 3 days, or frozen for 1 to 2 months.

Like with most other legumes the price is very low — easily some of the cheapest protein sources around. Our local Asian market sells a 2-lb bag for $2.79, and the Indian market in Milwaukee where I picked up the last bag was 2-lb for $2.99. That’s roughly $1.40 per pound, or $0.09 per ounce!

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How do I use it?

Similar to the chickpea, chana dal holds its shape well during cooking, and is pleasingly toothsome and has a slightly “dry” consistency. Soaking overnight helps them soften, and also decreases cooking time and further improves digestibility. Another trick to soften is to add 1/4 tsp baking soda to the water before heating. (Note: Omit this step if you plan to use a pressure cooker, lest chana mush is your goal. Then again, this would be a great food for bubs and toddlers because of the creamy texture and rich nutrition!)

The taste of chana dal is mild and slightly sweet, making it a good neutral canvas for spices, and is delicious both alone and in mixed dishes. It is often found as the protein source for veg, grain or rice salads, as a textural component to soups, stews and curries, or finely ground and incorporated into savory snacks and traditional Indian and Pakistani desserts.

One cup of dry, uncooked chana dal yields 2 2/3 cups once cooked. Therefore, the suggested serving size of 1/4-cup (dry) should yield about 2/3-cup cooked. I always make extra.

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Here are a few ideas to get you started…

+ Portable, snacky oven-roasted chana dal, Cook To Enjoy

+ Western Indian cabbage upkari — steamed cabbage with fresh coconut and chana dal, Veg Recipes of India

+ Creamy chana dal and sweet potato chowder, The Simple Veganista

+ Garlic, lemon, cumin and dill chana hummus, Mendosa

Chana and chickpeas cooked in a mint and tomato sauce, We Gotta Eat

Chana dal with fresh fennel and almonds, Just Bento

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The links above are only a smattering of simple ways to enjoy chana dal. There are so, so many other, more intricate and involved, methods of preparing this wonderful ingredient (such as paratha or tikki), and I encourage you to experiment! And be sure to check back here soon — I’ll be sharing a personal chana dal favorite: chana dal with spinach, cucumber and pomegranate arils.

Cheers, Heather

Tell me… Are you already familiar with chana dal? What’s your preferred way to eat them, or which recipe above sounds best to introduce yourself? 

*Contrary to previous thinking, complementary proteins do not actually need to be eaten together within the same meal — only within the same day. To make a complete protein with legumes, pair with grains (great match), nuts or seeds (great), or dairy (good).

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p.s. I love hearing from you! Check back if you ask a question, because I’ll answer it here.

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Eat Well Edibles Have You Met...


    • Heather Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN says:

      A new-to-you food! Maybe you’ll seek it out? In the Milwaukee area, I recommend the Indian market by Mayfair for best selection, quality and price. Haven’t tried it in a soup yet, but there’s a chowder recipe linked, and I’m sure if you treated it like a split pea it’d act fairly similar… perhaps a bit more chew (though, you could cook longer to soften further). Have fun trying it out!

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