Bangladeshi dhal recipe: A national favourite for World Pulses Day

Pulses are an essential part of Bangladesh’s food culture — and can steal the show on a delicious spread

Brook duBois
Feb 10, 2020 · 4 min read
Fatema’s dhal, centre, is made with red lentils, a popular pulse in Bangladesh. It’s served alongside rice, meat and vegetable curry for a healthy lunch or dinner. WFP/Brook duBois

Pulses, types of legumes grown in pods, are superfoods, both for people and planet. They’re a staple for healthy diets, containing carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat. They’re also good for the environment, producing nitrogen which enriches soil for better crop yield without the need for fertilizers and require less water, having a lower environmental impact than other farmed foods.

Dhal is a term used for dishes across southeast Asia that use dried, split pulses. It is one of Bangladesh’s specialties and one of the most common foods found on dinner tables nationwide. Sometimes dhal is a combination of thickened spices and mung beans, often eaten at breakfast with bread. Some types of dhal combine lentils or chickpeas with vegetables and are deep fried as snacks.

Fatema, a local restaurant-owner in Ukhiya sub-district of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, makes a dhal that’s hugely popular with her lunch and dinner crowds. She opened her restaurant with her husband just over a year and a half ago thanks to a start-up grant from the UN World Food Programme (WFP). They recently moved into a new building to accommodate the growing number of customers she serves, who still have to crowd around three small tables to get a taste of Fatema’s food.

Fatema makes her lentil dhal twice a day, for lunch and dinner customers. Her husband, Anwar, taught her the recipe originally. He now helps Fatema run the restaurant and serve their growing number of customers. WFP/Brook duBois

“Dhal and vegetables are two of my most popular items,” Fatema says. “We sell dhal, vegetables and fish curry to around fifty people every day.”

Fatema additionally provides catering to nearby NGOs working in the area. WFP staff also frequently stop by the restaurant, knowing they can get a reliably delicious lunch there.

After cooking the lentils, Fatema adds onion, ginger, garlic and herbs like coriander to the dhal. Left: WFP/Brook duBois. Right: WFP/Nalifa Mehelin

Fatema makes her dhal with lentils and herbs including bay leaf, ginger and cinnamon. It’s made into a soup-like dish, topped with coriander and served hot. She makes two batches every day and serves it alongside rice, chicken and eggplant curry.

“I try to cook it with lots of care so that people who are eating here get a touch of a home-cooked meal,” she says.

Fatema serves dhal to customers at lunchtime in her restaurant. She gets more than 50 people a day asking for her tasty food, including WFP staff who frequent the restaurant when coming to and from the nearby Rohingya refugee camp. WFP/Nalifa Meherin

Since the late 1990s, the Government of Bangladesh has been promoting domestic production of pulses, particularly lentils, to meet national demand while at the same time maintaining food production in areas where water levels have lowered due to a changing climate. At WFP, nutritionists promote pulse-based food in programmes to improve diets. Lentils, chickpeas and mung beans are commonly promoted at WFP nutrition centres across Bangladesh and can be found in WFP’s food assistance interventions for over 850,000 Rohingya refugees in the south of the country.

“WFP promotes a healthy diet that meets both calorie and micro-nutrient requirements,” Tracy Dube, WFP’s Head of Nutrition in Cox’s Bazar, says. “Pulses are rich sources of protein, fibre and micro-nutrients such as B vitamins and iron. When included in the WFP food basket and complemented with other foods like cereals and vegetable oil, pulses contribute to a healthy diet that meets full protein requirements.”

Fatema tops the dhal with freshly chopped coriander before serving. WFP/Nalifa Mehelin

Make your own version of Fatema’s dhal this World Pulse Day:

Ingredients

· 2 cups dried red lentils

· 1 small red onion, chopped

· 2 cinnamon sticks

· 10–12 cardamom pods

· A handful bay leaves

· 2 tsp turmeric powder

· 1.5 tsp salt

· 1 tb chopped garlic

· 1 tb of ginger paste

· Vegetable oil

· A handful chopped coriander

Steps

1. Wash the red lentils with water until no foam forms

2. After washing, put the lentils in a pot and place it on the stove to boil

3. Once boiled, turn down to simmer and gradually add turmeric powder, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and bay leaves one by one and allow them to cook in the lentils

4. Remove from the stove and add salt

5. In a separate pot, heat vegetable oil over the stove and add chopped onions and garlic, sautéing until they turn light brown

6. Add the sautéed onions and garlic to the lentils and mix

7. To garnish, add freshly chopped coriander and serve

Read more about WFP’s work with pulses

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme