A simple dal is a staple at virtually every meal in an Indian household. The most common everyday dals are masoor dal (red lentils), mung dal (small yellow lentils/split and dehusked mung bean), toor dal (split pigeon peas) or chana dal (split yellow peas). But there is a special kind of dal hailing from Punjab in northern India which has the title of the king of dals. It is called Dal Makhani, is made with black whole urad dal and is truly a celebratory dal. From gracing the menu of every single restaurant specialising in North Indian cuisine to roadside eateries called dhabas, dal makhani is a smoky, creamy concoction of lentils slow cooked till they melt in your mouth, clever spices and loads of butter. After all, it has to live up to its name makhani, which in the world of Indian cuisine means made in a rich sauce of butter, onion, tomato and cream.
It is a rich dal, this dal makhani. Which is why most people in India seldom cook it at home. It is predominantly served at weddings and a must have indulgence when dining at restaurants. We love dal makhani at home and because we love it so much, I have created a lighter version of this beautiful dal which is vegan and doesn’t have copious amounts of butter, ghee and cream to overload your system. In fact, a blind taste test would find you hard pressed to differentiate between the traditional dairy laden version and this lighter one. It is that good! And oh so creamy.
Dal Makhani is traditionally made with black urad dal (also known as black matpe bean, black gram or mungo bean). Think of it as a black mung bean, it looks like one. Contrary to the green mung bean, the black urad dal is tough and needs a longer cooking time. Soaking is a must for this dal to achieve optimum creaminess. But the most amazing quality of this black urad dal is that it holds its shape even after six hours in the slow cooker. With a humble list of ingredients you will find very easily in your supermarket or regular grocery store, this dal is incredibly delicious in its simplicity. I cook it overnight in a slow cooker, it cannot get easier than that. But I have also cooked it on the hob and in the oven. It is extremely versatile (I have shared both methods below). Traditional dal makhani would have a smoky flavour from being cooked on coals, I have imparted the same flavour using smoked paprika.
So the next time you have a dinner party, make this effortless dal makhani and wow your guests. Your home will smell like a fancy Indian restaurant. And you will have an amazing vegetarian, vegan and gluten free option that everyone will love. Have you made this at home? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments/rating below! Enjoy. xx
for the dal
- 300g black urad dal
- 4 cups (1 litre) water for soaking
for the tempering
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (or coconut oil)
- 1 red onion, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground garam masala
- 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 400g can diced tomatoes
- 270ml can coconut milk
- 2 teaspoon sea salt flakes
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (or coconut oil)
- 1 small red chilli, thinly sliced
- 1/2 inch ginger piece, julienned
- handful of fresh coriander leaves
- 2 tablespoons whipped coconut cream
- Wash, rinse and soak the urad dal in the soaking water for 2 hours.
- Place soaked dal along with the soaking water in the bowl of a slow cooker and cook on high for half an hour.
- Prepare the tempering – heat olive oil in a large shallow frying pan. Sauté onion, ginger, bay leaves and cinnamon on medium for a couple of minutes until onion is caramelised. Add turmeric, coriander, cumin, garam masala and paprika. Sauté for a couple of minutes until spices are toasted and aromatic.
- Add the tempering to the dal in the slow cooker. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk and salt. Mix well. Cover and slow cook on low for 6 hours. The consistency of the finished dal should be that of a loose porridge. If it is drier than that, add half a cup of water to loosen the dal in the last stages of cooking.
- To finish the dal – Heat oil in a small frying pan. Sauté the chilli and ginger strips for a minute. Remove from heat and pour over the dal. Garnish with coriander and swirl through the coconut cream. Serve hot with rotis or steamed rice and lemon wedges on the side.
COOKTOP METHOD – Place the soaked dal along with soaking water in a large deep Dutch oven or heavy bottomed saucepan. Cook on medium-high for an hour. Add the tempering, tomatoes, coconut milk and salt. Mix well. Cover and cook on medium for half an hour. Reduce heat to low and simmer (covered) for 3-4 hours until dal is tender but still has a bite. The consistency should be that of a loose porridge. If it is too dry, add half a cup of water and cook until warmed through. Finish as per above.
For a rich decadent version, replace olive oil with butter and whipped coconut cream (to finish) with fresh cream.
I often double the recipe, slow cook and cool it completely before packing it away in freezer safe containers. Stays well in the freezer for up to two months and thaws beautifully in the fridge or microwave when ready to use.