In Ayurvedic nutrition legumes are often a part of almost every meal of the day. They are also used to make desserts and snacks. The protein in legumes is a very different protein from that which is found in meat products, cheese, eggs, and fish. Vegetarian protein from legumes requires some effort to digest, and individuals new to legumes will find it very helpful to use spices that help digestion, such as asafetida (hing), cumin seeds, fresh ginger, and black pepper. Adding these spices to legume dishes will help to reduce side effects that beans are often associated with, such as bloating or gas.
Why are Beans, Dhals, and Lentils Important?
For vegetarians, beans, dhals, and lentils constitute an important source of nutrition—they provide protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamins. As versatile as they are tasty, dhals and lentils lend themselves to being used to make salads, appetizers, soups, main dishes, sides, and even desserts. They work well with other foods such as grains, vegetables, herbs, and spices.
Mung beans, split, with skins removed (also known as mung dhal), are held to be excellent for all three doshas. Easier to digest than most other beans and dhals, mung dhal can be eaten every day. When cooked, mung dhal takes on the consistency of porridge. This type of dhal is praised in Ayurvedic texts for its nutritional value and ease of digestion.
If you have access to an Indian grocery store, here are some other Indian dhals you can try:
- Toor dhal—yellow, very nourishing, combines extremely well with vegetables.
- Chana dhal—also yellow, retains its shape even when fully cooked and has a nutty flavor.
- Urad dhal—found split and hulled, or split with the skins on.
Tips for cooking with dhals and lentils:
- Store dry beans and dhals in dry, airtight containers at room temperature.
- Try to use dhals and lentils within six months—the older they get, the longer they take to soak and cook because of lost moisture.
- Sort dhals, beans, and lentils before use—you may find an occasional small stone you'll want to remove before cooking.
- Rinse several times before you cook.
- Some beans need soaking to aid the cooking process.
- Do not add salt or acidic ingredients like tomatoes or lemon juice until the beans or dhals are cooked.
- Ayurveda recommends eating beans, dhals, and lentils that are well-cooked for easy digestion.
- Adding spices such as cumin, black pepper, and ginger to dhals and beans helps the process of digestion.
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