Queen of Dals

My memories of homemade hot buttery black lentils cooked in a delicious, mildly spicy sauce tantalises my tastebuds to this day. There was nothing more comforting than to come home from school to the warmth of my mother and the aroma of dal and roti. My favourite of all the dals was by far and still is the Punjabi iconic 'Maa ki Dal,' or now more commonly known as 'Dal Makhani.' The whole black urad lentils are cooked with rajma (red kidney beans) and spices for hours over a low fire and just before serving, the dal is tempered with some butter and spice, and a splash of cream is the finale. Once the cream is added, this lentil has its status elevated from humble to regal and now has the grand title of 'Dal Maharani,' the Queen of Dals. This was a staple in our Punjabi home and is ubiquitous at any lavish dinner party or wedding. It's a luxurious, rich, robust meat substitute for all the vegetarians. 

Dal Makhani as we know it today was put onto a pedestal by the famous Delhi restaurant Moti Mahal. They were looking for a vegetarian equivalent to their famous creation, 'Chicken Makhani.' They added their eminent makhani sauce, which included tomatoes and cream, to the lentils and there the modern day 'Dal Makhani' was born. The most celebrated place to eat this, is at Bukhara in New Delhi. 'Dal Bukhara' is cooked from the finest urad lentils, sourced from only the best; mineral water is used to cook the dal and the chefs cook it on a low flame overnight, with the cooking continuing for a further 18 hours. Rest assured it isn't necessary to cook it for that long in order to create the creamy, silky, moreish dal. I urge you to cook and savour this quintessential lentil recipe. You'll be back for seconds!

Dal Makhani

Serves 6

  • 225g Whole Black Urad Dal
  • 115g Rajma (Red Kidney Beans)
  • 1 Large Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Sunflower Oil
  • 7 cm Piece of Ginger Root, peeled
  • 3 Large cloves Garlic
  • 1 Green Chilli
  • 1 dessertspoon Tomato Puree
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1 tsp Coriander Powder
  • 100 ml Double Cream
  • 1 tbsp Coriander, finely chopped (optional)

Method

  • Soak the dal and rajma together in a large pan overnight, making sure that water is filled to the top of the pan.
  • The following day drain the lentils and rajma in a colander and wash well under cold running water.
  • Put the lentils and rajma into a pressure cooker and add a full kettle of boiled water. The heat on your hob should be maximum at this point. Put the lid onto the pressure cooker and after the build up of the pressure, reduce the heat to a moderate level and cook for a further 20 minutes. (Each pressure cooker is different and it is important to follow manufacturer's instructions. If you don't have a pressure cooker, boil the dal and rajma in a pan until it is soft when you squeeze a kidney bean between your thumb and forefinger. Just ensure that the water remains topped up whilst boiling).
  • Take off the heat and allow the pressure to dissipate.
  • Take the lid off the pressure cooker and add enough boiled water to cover the dal. Stir in the salt, garam masala, coriander powder. At this point it should resemble a thick stew. Add a little more boiled water if necessary and cook on a very low heat.
  • In a separate frying pan add the sunflower oil, heat on a moderate flame and add the onions.
  • In a herb mill grind the ginger, garlic and chilli together and add to the frying onions.
  • Once the onion mixture is golden brown, add the tomato puree and stir in. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes and then add into the simmering pot of dal.
  • Cook the dal for approximately an hour, stirring regularly. 
  • Add some boiled water if the dal is looking too thick and gloopy. Whilst cooking slowly the water does continue to evaporate slowly, so its fine to add a little water to loosen it.
  • It should resemble a thick stew once cooked.
  • Before serving add the cream and stir in, saving a little to embellish the dal in the serving bowl.
  • Sprinkle chopped coriander on top if you wish, but this is optional.
  • Serve with hot rotis, naans or basmati rice.

Tips

  • I often cook double the quantity and freeze half of it into tupperware containers. When I want to use it, I just defrost, warm it up in the pan and loosen with some boiled water, as the dal becomes quite thick when it cools down. Fry an onion in a little butter and add to the dal as it is warming up.
  • I only add the cream if I'm serving it to guests, or its a special occasion.
  • To make coriander powder, I just buy the coriander seeds and grind them in a coffee grinder. The flavour is far more intense than the shop bought version.
  • I suggest that the dal simmers for about an hour. This is an approximation. You can do it for 30 minutes if you don't have the time or 2 hours if you do. The longer it cooks, the better it tastes!