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Lentils grainy!?! :( Dal Makhani, Split Pea Soup


I am a twenty one year old male and having the most difficult time of learning to cook edible meals. Haha. :O). My problem this time around is getting lentils to cook properly. I can never seem to get them done. At a market quite far from my home I was happy to find some Urad Dal. These are split and say, "chilka" which I believe means with skin. They are still black on the outside. They are spelled Urid Dals on the packaging. I tried to make Dal Makhani, which is a dish I like a lot, with these. I soaked these split dal over night. Then I boiled them on high, for 3.5 hours on the stove (in a normal pot) with turmeric, ginger and fennel seed. I did not add salt as I've read that this can cause some beans to toughen. The problem is that my dal remain "grainy"... they don't soften up. I have also had the same problem with split green peas in a attempt to make a green pea soup in a crockpot. I don't have a pressure cooker. Would that help? I have normal pots and pans and a small crockpot (slow cooker). I would appreciate any advice or suggestions.


Soleado123. :))).

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  1. Hello. It sounds to me like the lentils may have been old. Beans/peas/lentils that are too old will never soften! It's always good to make sure to buy from a shop that has a heavy turnover.

    A pressure cooker might be one solution. One thing I do when I forget to soak overnight is put the beans into a pan with lots of water, add a teaspoon of baking soda, bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and cover. I do this first thing in the morning, and by the time I get home from work, the beans can be drained and cooked in a change of water fairly quickly.

    You might also try adding baking soda to your soaking water; it seems to break down the beans more quickly.

    Finally, the salt thing is a myth. It doesn't keep beans from softening. I always use some salt and, depending on the final dish, some other flavorings (a clove or two of garlic, for example) to the cooking beans.

    Good luck!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Kagey

      I was going to say the same thing, that the lentils must be old. This happened to me just a few weeks ago when I found some split peas in the back of my cupboard that were maybe a year old. They looked and smelled fine so I boiled them up and ended up throwing them away. They were also grainy and the texture just wasn't right.

    2. It had to be the lentils. Firstly, lentils do not have to be soaked before cooking. Also, they should take way less than an hour to cook. Try again with different lentils. Start tasting them after 25 min. to check if they are done. Good luck and don't give up....legumes are so good for you!

      2 Replies
      1. re: Deborah

        Good point! Lentils should never have to be soaked! True enough.

        1. re: Kagey

          I looked up some dal makhni recipes with urad dal and they soak and then use a pressure cooker. I was surprised.

          When I make channa dal, it really needs to cook for a while (granted, probably not 4 hours) to get soft, but they never get mushy.

      2. I'd get a new package and try again. Some lentils keep their texture (like channa dal) and some really become mushy quite fast (the small red ones). The ones without skin do cook faster. Maybe you just need to cook for longer?

        Here's a nice chart with pictures of different lentils:

        I've never soaked lentils before; I just boil them. But then I've never used urad dal.

        Incidentally, I use a crockpot to boil unsoaked beans and it is really nice -- you don't have to worry about them drying out and burning, and isn't really *that* slow.

        1. Thank you all for your advice. :O). I would be a little surprised if these dal are old because I bought them in a market that usually has so many people. Walking in it can be difficult. Who knows though? They could have had them in the back or got them from a supplier who had some old ones to get rid of. I will try to find a reputable market, perhaps Indian, to buy these lentils at on my next trip into an area that has one.

          1. Urad dal are a different animal than other lentils -- they have a husk that doesn't get soft. Choose red or brown lentils and add twice as much liquid as lentils. Simmer 20 minutes or so, and you will get a tasty dish. You can addd whatever spices/herbs you want.

            2 Replies
            1. re: pikawicca

              I should mention that in that past I made a Dal Makhani out of brown lentils and pinto beans. Those cooked up ok. This time I wanted to try a recipe with more spices. The traditional dal does seem to be small black whole lentils called Urad Dal. They have an earthy taste. They are smaller than black beans. They also may be called matpe, urid dal, black gram and horse gram? I gathered those names from various sources browsing the net, so I'm not sure if I'm correct. Traditional seems to be Urad Dal (black lentil) and Rajma (kidney beans). For me the dish is best when it comes out fragrant. My limited understanding of Indian cuisine is that it is many times eaten with the hands. Even though I've been using traditional western utensils, my hands still become perfumed with the spice and smell of the dish. I think that's neat. :).

              1. re: soleado123

                I usually use brown lentils because they break down nicely as they cook, producing the texture I like.

            2. Hard shelled dal can also be impossible to get soft if you are cooking it at high altitude. If you are at high altitude (like Denver, for example), a pressure cooker is the only solution.

              1. this dish is usually made with the whole black dal, right? You can cook it with pre-soaking or not,. I would usually bring up to boiling, cook for a few minutes and then turn off, and leave covered for a couple hours. the dal should swell - if it does not, you have a problem. Then add the ginger and seasonings and cook - at a simmer, not high temp, for as long as it takes. Always cook the beans at a simmer (I guess if you use a pressure cooker different rules apply) I usually dont salt until the end, supposedly the salt toughens the skins.

                I agree with the others, your dal must have been old and dried out. I suspect the split dal must dry even faster than the whole. As a person who always overestimates the amount of dal/beans I will cook, I have plenty of experience with old dal.
                get some nice new urad dal and maybe some kidney beans and try again.

                1 Reply
                1. I have no idea why your beans didn't soften, must have been stale.

                  The Indian technique is indeed to soak overnight, I always do that. It sounds bizarre to me not to soak. The only daal that doesn't need a soaking really is moong daal. I cook the beans for daal makhani for slightly over one hour, when the color darkens, they are ready. You used the correct sabut uraad daal. You can also add "raajma" which is not exactly a kidney bean but very similar. I am afraid of pressure cookers and have never used one, but I always have success. BTW if you like daal makhani you should try rajma as well.