Here is a ready reckoner of some of the commonly used daals/legumes/beans/pulses we use across the country and a few ideas for using them:
Pigeon Pea (Toor/Tuvar/Arhar)
While tender green pigeon peas can be eaten whole in the form of a curry or stuffed into savoury pastries, the dried form of this pea is used in split form and is common in western and southern India. This forms the base for the South Indian Saambaar and Rasam as well as for the Gujarati Osaman and Maharashtrian Amti. This lentil is considered slightly heavy to digest and is therefore, almost always cooked with a small amount of asafetida. A simple tadka works best although it can just as well be eaten plain on a mound of soft rice, drizzled with ghee!
Bengal Gram (Chana)
A hearty, more filling form of daal, the split Bengal gram is at the heart of the Puranpoli and makes its way to several other deserts as well. Dry-roasted, it forms the basis for dry chutneys such a Milagaipodi and serves as a thickener in the form of Besan, its powdered avatar. Try using Besan in bakes such as cookies to improve the protein content of the baked product.
Black Gram (Urad)
Smooth and sticky when cooked or soaked and ground, the Urad daal is what gives the idli or dosa batter its characteristic texture. Added in small quantities to tadkas, it turns wonderfully toasty and offers a crunch to an otherwise smooth chutney. Urad daal is also used to make a dry daal preparation which can be eaten with roti instead of rice. Try and incorporate more urad daal in your diet as this is one lentil that boasts a very high protein content.
Red Lentil (Masoor)
Split masoor is a favourite in the eastern part of the country as well as in the north, where it is used to make daal as well as stuffed parathas. Since the masoor is similar to the French Puy lentils, it works beautifully in stews and soups cooked with Mediterranean flavours.
Kidney Beans (Rajma)
The Punjabi Sunday favorite and the Kashmiri staple may be slightly different but they belong to the same family, and are much loved even in the rest of the country. These are great additions to Mexican-style dishes or for making a red bean hummus!
Chickpeas (Kabuli Chana/Desi chana)
The large Kabuli chana or the small brown or green desi chana belong to the same family as well, and while they are usually eaten in the form of chaat and the ubiquitous Chhole, they are important components of the hummus and can also be used in several middle-eastern style dishes that call for a protein.
Soy bean (Bhatwan)
Soy beans have been cultivated and consumed in the hilly regions of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh for many years. This protein-rich legume is hardy and provides sustenance in mountainous areas where other crops are difficult to grow. It is now common practice to add soy beans to wheat when milling it but soy beans can also be cooked whole as a curry—try it with a freshly ground masala of your choice!
Moong beans (Mug/Moong)
Perhaps the most common of the lot, the Indian staple of Khichri will be incomplete without it! Whole moong beans are used to make a soup in Maharashtra and sprouted beans can be turned into a salad or curry or a stir fry because they cook easily and are easily to digest as well.
Black Eyed Beans (Cholai/Chowli)
Available in white and red variants, these cook soft, quite like Rajma and taste great in coconut-based dishes. Try adding cooked Chowli to a Thai-inpired salad with tender coconut, lemongrass and kaffir lime!