Introduction to Dal Makhani
There are so many wonderful kinds of lentils out there with endless ways to customize them. One of my favorite variations is creating dal makhani. Dal makhani is a creamy and spicy dish made with a mixture of both lentils and kidney beans. This dish is then topped off with lots of butter and cream which balances out the spice and makes this recipe ultra-indulgent and delicious.
Breakdown of Ingredients:
- Oil: I always recommend using a neutral oil for South Asian recipes. I prefer using canola oil. Avoid using oils like sesame or olive oil which have a strong flavor.
- Urad Dal: Black urad dal is a key ingredient in this dish and should not be substituted with other varieties of lentils.
- Kidney Beans: For this dish I recommend using dried kidney beans and soaking them overnight along with your urad dal. However, canned kidney beans could also work if that’s all you have on hand.
- Yellow Onions: Yellow onions work much better with lentils rather than red onions. Red onions have a sweeter flavor that doesn’t suit the flavor palette of many lentil-based dishes.
- Ginger + Garlic: Ginger and garlic are essential in any tarka. A “tarka”, as I’ll explain further below, is the process of tempering aromatics and spices before adding in your veggies or lentils. Ginger and garlic adds a lot of richness and warmth to this dish.
- Crushed Tomatoes: I prefer using canned crushed tomatoes in this recipe. Canned diced tomatoes work well too. I recommend using canned tomatoes over fresh tomatoes though because they have a stronger flavor.
- Green Chillies: Use your favorite green chillies for this recipe – serrano and jalapeno work well.
- Cream + Butter: The “makhani” in dal makhani refers to the creamy and buttery consistency of this dish. So don’t be shy when adding the cream and butter in! Traditionally, ghee (clarified butter) would be used. However, I typically use earth balance which is a plant-based butter.
- Cloves, Cardamom, and Cinnamon: I use both small green cardamom pods and a large black cardamom in this dish. These spices coupled with cloves and cinnamon add an earthy richness to this dish.
- Hing; Hing, otherwise known as asafoetida, is a staple in a lot of Indian dishes. It adds warm and depth to the dish and is pretty essential. However, if you don’t have access to it, it may be omitted if necessary.
- Cumin Seeds: Cumin seeds or powder may be used for this dish, although I prefer cumin seeds since it tastes a little fresher and more vibrant.
- Kashmiri Mirch: Kashmiri mirch is a type of red chili powder that has a bright red tone that is more vibrant than regular chili powder and also a milder flavor.
- Turmeric, Garam Masala, Dried Fenugreek Leaves, Coriander Powder: These spices are another staple for most Indian dishes. I use them in pretty much every dish, and they add a lot of warmth and depth of flavor.
Keys to Success
- Soak your lentils and kidney beans overnight. Urad dal and dried kidney beans must be soaked overnight. Otherwise, you will end up cooking your lentils and beans for several hours to get them to soften.
- Use a pressure cooker. A pressure cooker or instant pot are the best appliances to use for cooking lentils or beans Either of these will cut down your cooking time significantly versus using a regular pot or dutch oven.
The Perfect Tarka:
The process of frying your aromatics and spices in Indian cooking is known as a “tarka.” When making lentils, traditionally, the lentils are boiled separately while the tarka is made in a skillet. Once both are done, the tarka and lentils are combined.
The key to perfectly tempering your ingredients is heating up your oil in a skillet on a medium heat, and then adding in your cumin seeds and hing. Roast your cumin seeds and hing for about 30 seconds to a minute before adding in your onions. Then, you want to let the onions cook for a couple of minutes, making sure to stir constantly. Let the onions turn translucent and fragrant.
Then, add in your spices. I always recommend adding in your spices before your tomatoes so they can cook thoroughly. Otherwise, the spices can be left with a slightly “raw” flavor. Then, add in your tomatoes, green chilies, and salt to your mixture. I recommend adding the salt right after the tomatoes since it will help the tomatoes soften.
Then, continue to cook the cook the mixture for a few minutes until you can see the oil start separating from the mixture. This could take about 3-5 minutes on medium heat, if not longer.
- 1 c urad daal (black)
- 3/4 c kidney beans (dry)
- 6 c water
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 c yellow onions (finely chopped)
- 1 tbsp ginger (grated)
- 2 tbsp garlic (chopped)
- 1 c crushed tomatoes
- 2 green chillies
- 3 cloves
- 3 choti eliachi (cardamom)
- 1 badi elachi (big cardamom)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- pinch of hing
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1.5 tsp kashmiri mirch
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 1 tbsp kasoori meethi leaves
- 1.5 tsp coriander powder
- 1/3 c cream
- 3 tbsp butter
- salt (to taste)
- Soak your urad daal and dried kidney beans overnight (the longer the better).
- Sauté your onions until translucent and then add garlic and ginger. Cook another minute.
- Add in all spices: cumin seeds, hing, turmeric, red chili powder, coriander powder, garam masala, kasoori meethi, cloves, cardamon (big and small) and the cinnamon stick.
- Sauté the spices until aromatic (about a minute) Make sure the heat is on medium or medium-low so the spiccs don't burn.
- Add crushed tomatoes, green chilies, and salt. Sauté well until the oil starts to separate from the mixture. This could take 3-5 minutes. Make sure to keep stirring constantly so the mixture doesn't stick to the bottom or burn.
- Add your water, and then cook your mixture for at least 45 minutes to an hour. This is really going to depend on what appliance you use and how much your beans have softened. I really recommend using a pressure cooker or instant pot. A dutch oven or regular pan with a lid could work but it will take much longer!
- Once the daal is close to being done, make sure to check on it to make sure the mixture hasn't dried up too much. If it has, you can adjust by adding more water. Also, be super careful if you aren't used to working with a pressure cooker! If you're going to check on the mixture, let all of the hot air out first (carefully) and then gently open the cooker to take a look.
- Once the daal is done, mix in your butter and cream, and serve with naan, roti, or rice. Garnish with cilantro if desired.