If you've come to see me, or any ayurvedic practitioner or doctor, you've probably been told to add mung dal to your food library. Why, what is so special about mung dal? First of all, a dal is a split lentil or bean. Often the outer hull is taken off, and then the inside is split in two halves. Since the outer hull is all fiber, a dal is easier to digest than a bean, and as you probably have understood, Ayurveda is all about favoring digestion when choosing which foods to eat. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't eat fiber. A healthy diet has a large amount of fresh vegetables and fruits and those are full of fiber. Sometimes, depending on your belly, it is better to not choose the whole grain or the whole lentil/bean, because they might push the amount of fiber to the point where your belly starts to protest and produces a lot of gas. If you know this about yourself, then give dal a try. You might also choose white rice over brown rice. It's true, white rice doesn't have as much nutrition as brown rice. But if you're not digesting your brown rice well, as in getting gas, then you probably are not absorbing all those nutrients anyway.
Don't apply this to your bread. Bread was something that was developed by early humans to make the grasses and grains that were growing all around, and that were great sources of nutrients, more digestible. They gathered the seeds and ground them into powder. Mixed the powder with water and shaped it into patties or other shapes and cooked these on a fire. This evolved into what we know as bread. When the whole grains are ground into flour they are easier to digest. A lot of the work our teeth, stomach and intestines would have to do is already done. So bread is a great way, if you choose the right kind, to get a lot of nutrition in a compact package. More about bread later....
Back to mung dal. There are so many kinds of dal, why do we like mung dal so much?
Mung beans have been very popular in South and South East Asia for many centuries. In India they're mostly eaten as dal, because it is light, easy to digest, rather bland, which makes them a great tridoshic food, and especially good for pitta, and it is a high quality protein. So when you are not well, cleansing, or for women going through menstruation or menopause, or when you have poor digestion, it is important to eat light foods to not overburden your body and create indigestion. During these times the body's systems are functioning at less than optimally, so the digestive fire is also low. Eating a light diet is important. The blandness of mung dal and the fact that it cooks so fast, make it a great recovery food. It can be made very tasty by cooking it with spices and herbs according to your dosha, but eating it simple and bland can be very restoring and calming for your body and mind. Cooked together with Basmati rice, and spices, vegetables and ghee it makes a tasty, simple one-pot meal that is a complete protein, called kitcheree.
It is not a local food, but there just isn't anything like it, for restoring an overburdened body. And mung beans are grown in the US these days.
by Simone de Winter
Owner and practitioner at Marin Ayurveda in Marin County, California.
Practicing and teaching Ayurveda for 11 years.