Mama’s Punjabi Recipes: Sabat Moong Di Daal (Whole Moong Lentils)


Daals are the mainstay of Indian diet, whether you are in the north or south, east or west – providing much needed protein – and each region has its own way of making them. So central are they to Indian life, there is even a phrase to express daily life: “daal-roti toh khani hai” (we have to eat our daily bread). But nowhere will you find the heartiness and flavorful taste of daals as you would in the Punjab.

Punjabi daals are known for their smooth, thick texture and the perfect blend of spices. They are not supposed to be runny or thin and the hot tardka or blending in of spices, onions, garlic and sometimes hing (asafoetida) is a sizzling experience that fills the air with the aroma of the dish.

Many people in India make daals in pressure cookers and they have brought along this method to their new homes in America too. But, in our ancestral homes in Jhung and Lyallpur in West Punjab there were no pressure cookers and we used to make daal in a large patila (pot) simmered for an hour or more over a slow to medium flame. Very often, the daal made in a cooker gets overcooked and comes out like soup! Daal should be cooked so that you can spot the grain and scoop it up with a little turri (curry).

As most people know, there are at least six major types of daals, and then some are available skinless too as this alters their taste. Skinless daals cook faster than those with the skin on. The fiber content of the skin gives daals a nuttier, earthier taste.

Some people only know dals by their color; the moong daal is leaf green when whole and comes out yellow when it is skinless. Moong daal cooks fairly fast and goes well with rice and rotis.



• 1 cup sabat moong daal (whole moong lentils)
• 2 cups pani (water)
• 2 tbspn olive oil
• 4 cloves of lasan (garlic) – peeled and chopped, or use powdered garlic
• 1 medium adrak (ginger) – peeled and chopped, or use powdered ginger
• 1 tspn garam masala
• 5 stalktops fresh dhania (coriander) – pinch off the leaves and cut into pieces
• Spices: lal mirch (red pepper); namak (salt); haldi (turmeric) – to your taste



1. Place the moong daal in a bowl and wash it thoroughly in cold water, then rinse it out.
2. Bring the 2 cups of water to a boil over high heat.  Pour in the moong daal into the pot, cover, and add the haldi, ginger and salt and let it come to a second boil then reduce the heat to medium.
3. If the water boils off before the daal becomes tender, then add some more and let it continue to boil for about 30 minutes till the daal is tender but not soft. Keep a frequent eye on the daal to make sure it does not become soupy.
4. Heat the oil in a small karai or wok and add the garlic and brown it a little. When roasted and the smell of the pieces starts to come through, take off the heat and drop the masala into the pot of cooked daal and stir to mix well.
5. Sprinkle the top of the daal with garam masala and the cut coriander leaves above.



Daals (lentils) are made to be enjoyed when they are hot, tasty and the individual kernels are visible with each morsel. Unfortunately, it is disappointing to see many people overcook them till they look like thick soup while others turn them into watery broths! Unless it is a South Indian sambar (lentil stew), a Punjabi cannot appreciate a daal that cannot be identified.

Daal is quite simple to make, but many cooks make the mistake of trying to make it fast by boiling it in a pressure cooker. Most daals should not be cooked this way, but if you do, turn the heat off after the first whistle, wait to open, then let it simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.  For most daals, simply place the daal in two cups of water, throw in salt, pepper, turmeric and ginger, bring it to a boil, then let it simmer till the kernels are tender and the gravy slightly thick. Serve with a dab of olive oil; add caramelized onions if you have time.


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Shakuntla Malhotra is a skilled cook of Punjabi dishes made in the old-fashioned style that she learnt as a young woman in her ancestral home in Lyallpur (since renamed Faisalabad), India before it became part of Pakistan after the Partition in 1947. People have often admired her cooking for its simplicity and taste that comes with each mouthful. Even in her mid-eighties, she continues to cook daily and agreed to share some of her delectable Punjabi recipes