Dahl: An Answer To the Protein Question for Vegetarians


dahl: An Answer To the Protein Question

Beef-, fish-, and chicken-lovers take note:
There’s a cheaper, tastier, healthier, saintlier way to meet your protein needs.

by Visakha-devi dasi


About a year ago my husband and I took an international flight that afforded us a one-day stopover in Prague. “What do you have for vegetarians?” my husband asked the headwaiter in the restaurant of the five-hundred-room hotel where we spent the night. He replied with a thick Czech accent and an astonished look: “I don’t know what you people eat. We have nothing for vegetarians.” Then he sauntered to another table, obviously amazed that human beings could exist without eating meat.

An example of east European backwardness? Not at all. A noted American nutritionist and agriculturalist has said, “All vegetarian diets are rated as monotonous. There is a paucity of form and flavor.” And a subscriber to BACK TO GODHEAD magazine recently inquired, “I know you people don’t eat meat, fish, or eggs, but what do you eat?”

So a vegetarian diet, a way of life for millions in India and other Eastern countries, is for many Westerners practically the eighth wonder of the world. It conjures up images of boiled green beans and mashed potatoes on an otherwise empty plate; of boney, slightly wild-eyed young men who busy themselves in the steamy kitchens of vegetarian restaurants and look upon non-vegetarians with disdain; of monks and yogis who have renounced worldly pleasures and subsist in Himalayan caves on a palmful of rice per day.

But these ideas are simply cultural myths spawned by a society addicted to hamburgers, roast beef, and medium-rare steaks. In truth, a vegetarian diet is anything but limiting. There are forty to fifty kinds of commonly eaten vegetables, twenty-four kinds of dried peas and beans, twenty kinds of fruits, twelve kinds of nuts, nine kinds of grains, and eleven kinds of milk products. The possible combinations are limitless. Our spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, often pointed out that one can prepare hundreds of thousands of palatable dishes with vegetables, fruits, grains, and milk products.

But Srila Prabhupada was not in favor of vegetarianism per se. He would challenge the proud vegetarian: “The monkeys are vegetarians. The pigeons are vegetarians. So to become vegetarian is not a very good credit. We are neither vegetarian nor nonvegetarian. We are transcendental. We are concerned with krsna-prasadam [food cooked for Krsna], and the nutrition provided by krsna-prasadam has no comparison in any other food.” Take dahl (legumes) for instance, the subject of this month’s recipes and a staple in Krsna’s cuisine. (If you groaned “Oh no, not beans!” it means there are a lot of wonderful dishes that haven’t met your tongue yet.) dahl, besides being a good source of iron and B vitamins, is an excellent source of vegetable protein. When you combine dahl with a food that has complementary protein, like grains, seeds, nuts, or milk products, a synergistic reaction occurs, and the usable protein in dahl increases by as much as 40%. In other words, if you eat ¾ cup of dahl with 2 cups of rice, you get the protein equivalent of a 9 ½-ounce steak. Eaten separately, the dahl and rice provide the equivalent of a 6 ½-ounce steak.

And if you eat dahl and rice today instead of a steak or hamburger, you won’t have to worry about cholesterol or calories. You won’t be having a dinner that was once an innocent steer who suffered in filthy, overcrowded pens, was injected with antibiotics and tranquilizers, and was forced to eat an unnatural diet so he would gain weight quickly and cheaply. Nor need you concern yourself about the fear poisons steers release into their blood at the time of slaughter. Nor about the bacteria from putrefactive decomposition (they’re not all killed by cooking). You won’t have to worry about the dozens of diseases and parasites that a meat-bearing animal suffers from, nor how its life was utterly miserable from birth to death. (Maybe you don’t think about these things—perhaps you should.) Nor will you have paid exorbitant prices for your food. (We all think about that.) Yet you will receive all the protein your body requires for good health. As Frances Moore Lappe concludes in her bestseller Diet for a Small Planet, “We could completely eliminate meat, fish, and poultry from our national diet and still ingest our recommended daily protein in all the other high-protein foods we eat regularly.”

As for variety, there are eleven kinds of dahl in Lord Krsna’s cuisine: aduki, arhar, chana, chickpea, kala chana, kidney bean, mung, mutha, urad, and yellow and green split pea. You can make these into soups, thick puree sauces, stews, gravies, fried savories, moist chutney, crispy pancakes, sprouted salads, and all sorts of sweets.

The knowledgeable cook can select a dahl dish to suit any meal, from breakfast to late dinner. You can also serve different dahl dishes according to season: warm, hearty dishes for cold winter months; light, refreshing dishes for the hot summer.

But the best thing about dahl is that, unlike beef, fish, or chicken, it is perfectly offerable to Krsna. One who regularly prepares dahl and other vegetarian dishes for Krsna and then eats the remnants of such offerings gains in many ways. He gains materially, with improved health, a lower food budget, a higher standard of morality, and a variety of tasty dishes to choose from. But most important, he gains spiritually. In the words of Srila Prabhupada, “If someone partakes of prasadam, sooner or later he is sure to go back home, back to Godhead.”

(dahl recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)

How to Clean and Wash dahl

Since imported dais undergo minimal processing before you buy them, you should pick through the dahl for foreign matter, such as dried leaves, stems, stones, or overly hardened kernels. You can participate in the time-honored ritual of cleaning dahl by following these easy steps:

1. Pour the beans onto a large cookie sheet or round metal plate. Place them at one end and slowly move them from one side to the other, a few at a time, carefully picking out the stones and other foreign matter. Any remaining particles of dust or chaff will float away when you wash the dahl.

2. To wash the dahl, put only as much as you will use right away into a metal strainer and lower the strainer into a large bowl two-thirds full of fresh water. Rub the beans between your hands for about 30 seconds. Then lift the strainer, pour off the water, and fill the bowl again. Repeat the rubbing and rinsing 3 or 4 times, or until the water is practically clean. Drain or soak, as each recipe requires.

Split Mung dahl Soup

Smooth and liquidy, this soup is garnished with a simple fried seasoning known as a chaunk. It is simple to prepare and easy to digest, and its light consistency makes it appealing in any season. (The seasonings needed for this and the following recipe are available at Indian and Middle Eastern groceries.)

Servings: 4 to 6
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 1 to 1 ¼ hours, or 20 to 25 minutes in a pressure cooker

1 2/3 cup split mung beans without skins 6 to 6 ½ cups water (5 ¼ to 5 ¾ cups if you’re using a pressure cooker)
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 ½ teaspoons scraped, minced fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon seeded, minced fresh hot green chilies (use as desired)
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil (See back to godhead Vol. 17, No. 2-3 for ghee recipe)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons minced fresh coriander (cilantro) or parsley leaves

1. Sort, wash, and drain the mung beans.

2. Combine the mung beans, water, turmeric, coriander, fresh ginger, and seeded chilies in a heavy 2 ½-3-quart saucepan and, stirring occasionally, bring to a full boil over a high flame. Reduce the flame to medium low, cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, and gently boil for 1 to 1 ¼ hours, or until the dahl is soft and fully cooked. (For pressure cooking, combine the ingredients in a 6-quart pressure cooker, cover, and cook for 20 to 25 minutes under pressure, using 5 ¼ to 5 ¾ cups of water.) Add the salt.

3. Remove the dahl soup from the flame (reduce pressure if necessary), uncover, and beat with a wire whisk or rotary beater until it is creamy smooth.

4. Pour the ghee or vegetable oil into a small saucepan and heat 30 to 60 seconds over a medium to medium-high flame. Toss in the cumin seeds and fry for about 30 to 45 seconds, or until the seeds turn golden brown, and pour the ghee and seeds into the dahl soup. Immediately cover and allow the seasonings to soak into the hot dahl for 1 to 2 minutes. Then add the minced herbs, stir, and offer to Krsna

Quick, Creamy Split-Pea Soup with Carrots

(Gajar Malar-Ki dahl)

This elegant, mildly seasoned dahl soup has a light and pleasant texture and is good the whole year round.

Servings: 6 to 8
Soaking time: 1 hour
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, or 25 to 30 minutes in a pressure cooker

1 cup green or yellow split peas 7 ½ cups water (6 ¾ cups if you’re using a pressure cooker)
1 teaspoon scraped, minced fresh ginger root
½ to 1 ½ teaspoons seeded, minced fresh hot green chilies (use as desired)
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon ground coriander
4 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
½ pound (about 3 medium-sized) scraped carrots, cut into 1/8-inch slices
1 to 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or coriander (cilantro) leaves
1 ¼ teaspoons cumin seeds
¼ to ½ teaspoon mild asafetida powder (hing), if available

1. Soak the split peas for 1 hour; then wash and drain.

2. Combine the split peas, water, minced ginger, seeded green chilies, turmeric, ground coriander, and a dab of ghee or vegetable oil in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over a high flame.

3. Reduce the flame to medium-low, cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, and gently boil for about 45 to 60 minutes. Add the carrots, cover again, and continue to cook for 30 minutes, or until the split peas are soft and fully cooked. (For pressure cooking, combine the ingredients, including the carrots, in a 6-quart pressure cooker, cover, and cook for 25 to 30 minutes under pressure.)

4. Remove saucepan from flame (reduce pressure if necessary), uncover, and stir in the salt and the parsley or coriander leaves.

5. Pour the ghee or vegetable oil into a small saucepan and heat 30 to 60 seconds over a medium to medium-high flame. Fry the cumin seeds 30 to 45 seconds, or until they’re golden brown; then sprinkle in the asafetida and fry for 1 or 2 more seconds. Pour the fried seasonings into the dahl, immediately cover, and let the spices soak into the dahl for 1 or 2 minutes. Stir and offer to Krsna.

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