The Indian concept of a meal hasn’t changed that much since the time of the EBTs’ composition. A proper meal was invariably divided into rice, one or more liquid, often legume-based ‘soups’ (sūpa), and one or more meat, fish, or vegetable dishes (byañjana). Today, if we subtract (American) potatoes and add Tapussa’s honey cake (madhupiṇḍika) we’d have something like this:
I have chosen a nonvegetarian thali because the Buddha’s contemporaries seem to have been overwhelmingly non-veg (or rather, pre-veg). But byañjanas are contingent. What does not change, in the idealized meal of the Pali texts, is the rice and the ‘soup’.
Legumes used in ‘soups’ and broths (yūsa) include beans (māsa), split peas (bidala), mung beans (mugga), chickpeas (kaḷāya), horse gram (kulattha), (green?) peas (hareṇuka)… Such are, at least, some common identifications for these Pali words. Although there’s no absolute certainty as to the precise species, we already have a conspicuous absence.
Today, most of the time, the normative legume ‘soup’ is called dal and is made of lentils. India’s favourite protein rich-food is said to have found its way into the subcontinent long before its inhabitants were hooked on rice (and that must have happened long before the words ‘rice’ and ‘food’ became synonyms, as happens in Pali).
And yet, I do not seem to find it anywhere!
In fact, what is the word for lentil in Pali? As far as I can see, there is no occurrence in the PTS Pali-English Dictionary. While Sujato and Bodhi once rendered kulattha as ‘lentil’, both the dictionaries and contemporary Indian usage would seem to point to horse gram/kulthi.
Ven. A.P. Buddhadatta Mahathera’s English-Pali Dictionary unwittingly suggests that there is no word at all. The author fills the gap with masūraka, which does appear in the literature, but referring to a bolster—the PED connects it with masāraka (‘couch’, ‘longchair’). The Vipassana Research Institute’s dictionary has masuro (in the nominative), without any reference or context.
The reason for this choice seems clear: masūra means ‘lentil’ in Sanskrit, and bears the most common root in Indo-Aryan languages to this day, from Nepali to Sinhala to Gujarati.
As the word is found also in the Jain Prakrit, Pali might stand as the only recorded Indo-Aryan language without lentils. Or am I missing something? I must be!