Dal Makhani

How to cook Dal Makhani at home.

Authentic Dhal Makhni

Surely I’m not the only one who gets haunted by fantastic restaurant dishes. Those dishes that leave an impression for a long time and make you wish you knew how to prepare yourself.

One of those dishes was Dal Makhani, which I enjoyed at Dishoom. Unfortunately, I don’t live in London so can’t frequent the establishment as much as I would have liked to. It was time to do some research.

A recipe was found and it raised an eyebrow. No, that was an understatement. It actually raised both my eyebrows. Scanning through the ingredients and recipe instructions it spelt out that a heck of a lot of work was involved.

Now I don’t know about you, but to eat something in one sitting that takes hours to cook depresses me to no end, which makes me wonder why bother. Really determined to make it, I came up with a solution: batch cooking. (A new category menu item has now been officially created for this kind of cooking. Many more recipes to come!)

An old-fashioned idea that is simply brilliant. So many people buy ready-made meals these days. Food that can easily be replicated at home if you cooked in bulk and froze the rest in batches. They could save a heap of money in the process too and miss out on the chemical nasties food manufacturers place in the fare.

Although it appears to be widespread in USA, few people seem to do it in the UK. One problem might be the lack of space in houses, i.e. people can’t have an extra freezer. Fortunately, I don’t have this problem. Another thing you need is a humungous pot to simmer food in. Oh, and loads of foil containers for storage.

Black Le Creuset Pot

From beginning to end the recipe took me four days to prepare – I only cook in the evenings. I made four times the recipe stated below, boiled some brown rice and partitioned them even among forty foil containers. For all my labour I squeezed out probably around 45 portions.

Traditionally, Dal Makhani is meant to be enjoyed as a side dish of an Indian meal but being a Westerner and not being fussy about things like that I turned it into a main meal. Perfect to shove in the oven while I’m getting as much work done as possible during the day!

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Dal Makhani (leave out the second “a” when pronouncing it) come from the Punjab region in northern India. It has many other names such as Dal Bukhara, Kaali Dal, Maa Di Daal or Maa Ki Dhal. (Once you start browsing through Indian recipes you’ll notice everyone’s got a different spelling for lentils!)

Adjusting for Special Diets

The original recipe, found in India: The Ultimate Book on Indian Cuisine – Food and Cooking, below is what you’ll find in restaurants and hotels. It’s laced with copious butter and cream. This is the best version you can possibly get and your toes will curl up in pure satisfaction as you devour spoon after spoonful. Keep it for a special occasion.


However, none of us can afford to eat such rich food on a daily basis and if you’re looking into healthier versions, the recipe is open to tweaking. Thanks to the urad dal, which can be bought in Indian shops, the dish contains plenty of protein.

For those on low fat diets, the bad news is that you’re not going to get away without using any fat. The good news is you can use lower fat alternatives such as milk (any kind) instead of cream and oil instead of ghee or butter. The butter at the end of the cooking can be omitted – it might help to mash the beans a bit so that the lentils’ richness come through and be sure to cook the contents for a long time.

The recipe is gluten free and is suitable for vegetarians.

Substitutions

If you can’t get hold of urad dal, other types of whole lentils will work too. (That said, I haven’t needed to try this out yet BUT pulses are pulses.) Some will actually call this dish Mah ki Dal because there are no red kidney beans in it.

Different Cooking Methods

Some cooking time can be saved by using a pressure cooker to cook the lentils. Afterwards all ingredients can be plunged into a slow cooker and cook slowly overnight.

White wine

Accompaniments

To garnish the dish you can top each bowl with a dollop of plain yogurt and some cilantro. Dal Makhani is best enjoyed with freshly baked tandoori naan or roti bread. Rice would work too. It is amazing how sweet sliced red onions are when eaten with this. A wedge or two of lime won’t hurt either.

Storage Instructions

If you wondered whether you can freeze Dal Makhani, the answer is yes, up to 6 months. It will last about 3 days in the fridge.

Wine Pairing

Curry can be a tricky food to match wine to, in part because there are so many styles, heats and base flavours. My advice would be to match the wine to the dominant flavours rather than the spiciness or the main element of the dish. For this recipe the tomato is not the main element but it is going to be the flavour that comes through so the wine will match to that. Also for curry it is always a good idea to have a wine with a hint of sweetness as it tempers the heat of the spices.

Château Pampelone Provence Rosé has a delicate cherry and strawberry nose whilst on the palate it is clean and fresh but with a red fruit sweetness that will soften the spices in the dish. The tomato element in the recipe will be picked up and highlighted by the fruity characteristics leading to them being bought to the fore. With all spicy dishes the key is to keep the finish clean and this wine will aid that. The finish is zesty and vibrant leaving a cleansing effect on the palate. Buy it here.


As I said, this recipe requires quite a bit of work so it’s best you make a big batch and freeze them in portions. Here is how I did it.

Day 1

Sieved Whole Black Lentils

Wash the urad dal (whole black lentils) thoroughly and soak overnight.


Day 2

Whole Ginger

Get hold of some fresh ginger root.

Peeled Ginger

Peel the ginger…

Cut Ginger

… and chop it finely.

Urad Dal

Sieve the soaked lentils, rinse them well again and place them in the pot.

Whole Black Lentils & Ginger

Store half of your ginger in the fridge and add the remaining chopped ginger to the dhal and add the water. When it starts boiling, stir to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. After boiling it for 10 minutes. reduce the heat to very low and simmer the contents for 1 hour, stirring them once in a while. At the end of the cooking time, the lentils should have absorbed all the water and be soft.

Browned Onions

To make best use of your time, prepare the brown onion paste. First caramelise your onions, using this recipe.

Pyaaz Ka Lep

After that turn the caramelised onions into a paste, see here.

When everything has cooked and cooled down. Place the food in the fridge for the following big day.


Day 3

Peeled Garlic

Peel all the garlic cloves and…

Peeled Garlic Cloves

…place them in the food processor.

Blended Garlic

Blend them until they turn into pulp.

Melting clarified butter

Heat the ghee in an ovenproof casserole dish.

Spices in Dal Makhani

Add the masala – paprika, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and chili powder

Very Hot Massala

… and stir-fry for about 1 minute.

Pureed Garlic

Add the garlic pulp to the mixture.

Garlic & Masala

Stir the pot vigorously until everything has mixed evenly.

Brown Onion Paste

Next add the oh-so-sweet brown onion paste.

Maa Ki Dal base

You know the drill. Stir everything while it’s frying!

Blended Ginger

Plonk in the remaining ginger from the previous day.

Dal Makhani Sauce

By now you would have noticed the sauce is getting thicker and thicker. Don’t be afraid to add a cup or two of water to the pot because we’re aiming for a sloppy consistency.

Whole Black Lentils

Most importantly, don’t forget the lentils1

Cooking Indian pulses

As usual, stir stir stir. Can you feel your arm muscles growing yet?

Tomato Concentrate

No dish is complete without tomato. This time it’s tomato puree.

Using Passata in Indian food

And some more tomato. I used passata but you can use chopped tomatoes too.

Cooked Kaa Li Dal

Use your other arm to keep your body building efforts balanced.

Garam Masala

We need more spices! In goes the garam masala.

Raw Dhal Makhni

The sauce should have a pouring consistency. If it’s not, add more water until you’ve reached the desired state.

Phew! We’re over halfway. Most of the hard work is done. Place the casserole in a preheated oven, 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4, and cooked for at least 3 hours. Check the consistency of the mixture every 40 minutes or so – adding water to maintain the pouring consistency. Since I’m doing all my cooking at night, after the allotted cooking time I simply switch off the oven and let it cook through the night very, very slowly. This is how I cook my oxtail as well.


Day 4

Heat the pot slowly on the stove top.

Creamy Black Lentil Dish

When the gravy is up to heat pour in the cream.

Melting Unsalted Butter

The sauce will instantly get lighter. Melt the sticks of butter.

Indian food

You will notice that suddenly the sauce is of much richer flavour and the butter has taken off the hard edge of the spices.

Salting Dal Makhani

Add the salt and you’re done! Give it a final 20 minutes of cooking in the oven and enjoy.

Not quite in my case though. After all the trouble I cocked up in the very last step by adding 8 TABLESPOONS of salt instead of 8 TEASPOONS. Even experienced cooks have their bad days and on the day I had one of mine. Earlier that day I baked muffins with the children and couldn’t figure out why the muffin batter came out as bread dough. Later I realised instead of adding 150ML of flour I added 150G of the stuff which is plenty more than needed. Of course, the muffins came out a disaster. After banging my head on the kitchen door so many times that I lost count, I had to start doing problem solving. People have told me that if stews were over-salted, you can simply add whole peeled potatoes to the pot and the starchy veg will soak up the salt. Let me tell you, it worked! The potatoes tasted amazing too. :-)

Maa di Dal with Roti

5.0 from 2 reviews

Dal Makhani
 
Author: 
Nutrition Information
  • Serves: 12
  • Serving size: 114.5g
  • Calories: 224
  • Fat: 15.4g
  • Saturated fat: 8.1g
  • Unsaturated fat: 0
  • Trans fat: 0
  • Carbohydrates: 21.3g
  • Sugar: 2.7g
  • Sodium: 291mg
  • Fiber: 5.8g
  • Protein: 7.7g
  • Cholesterol: 27mg

Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

A truly authentic dish of the Indian cuisine.
Ingredients
  • 225g (8 oz) whole black lentils (urad dal)
  • 1.25l (2¼ pints) water
  • 40g (1½ oz) fresh root ginger, finely chopped
  • 30ml (2 tbsp) ghee
  • 12 garlic cloves, pureed
  • 200g (7 oz) brown onion paste
  • 10ml (2 tsp) paprika
  • 5ml (1 tsp) coriander seeds, roasted and ground
  • 5ml (1 tsp) cumin seeds, roasted and ground
  • 2.5ml (½ tsp) chili powder
  • 5ml (1 tsp) tomato puree
  • 200g (7 oz) tinned tomatoes, pureed
  • 45ml (3 tbsp) garam masala
  • 150ml (5 fl oz) single cream
  • 150g (5 fl oz) unsalted butter
  • 10ml (2 tsp) rock salt
Instructions
  1. Soak the lentils in plenty of water for at least 12 hours. Drain and rinse well.
  2. To cook the lentils, bring the measured water to the boil in a 2.5 litre (4½ pint) saucepan. Add the lentils and half the ginger. When it returns to the boil, stir to ensure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  3. Boil for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to very low and simmer for a further 1 hour or so, stirring from time to time.By this time, the lentils should have absorbed all the water and be soft not al dente.
  4. Heat the ghee in a 2.5 litre (4½ pint) ovenproof casserole dish. Add the masala and stir-fry for 1 minute or so. Add the garlic, onion paste and the remaining ginger and stir-fry for a further 2 minutes. Mix in the lentils.
  5. Add the tomato puree, tinned tomatoes and garam masala to the lentils. Cook for a further 15 minutes, adding a cupcful or two of water as needed so as to retain a pouring consistency.
  6. Put the casserole in a preheated oven, 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4, and cook for at least 3 hours. Check the consistency of the mixture every 40 minutes or so – adding water to maintain the pouring consistency.
  7. On your fourth check, add the cream, butter and salt and give it a final 20 or so minutes cooking in the oven with the oven switched off.
Notes
If you like you can deglaze the onions by adding a dash of balsamic vinegar to give the onions a tang.

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Comments

  1. says

    Goodness me, what an effort and I am so glad you averted disaster at the last moment!

    45 portions is an awful lot… There would never be the space in my freezer….

    Beautiful photos as always, and glad your JO knives are still going strong…

  2. says

    Mmmm, I LOVE dal Makhani! Might have to come over to your place to eat it though as I am not sure I have the fortitude for a 4-day event ;) Also, you have space for 45 portions of anything?!? Wow! Superb photos as always and now I am absolutely craving lentils…

  3. says

    Jeeeeez, 4 days later and you cock it up with salt? Sounds like something I would do!

    This looks delicious though, will definitely add to my to-make list.

  4. says

    Wow that was a marathon of a recipe and I’m sure that my husband would be in heaven if I cooked this for him! I’m glad that I’m not the only one to have hiccups in the kitchen, my carrot and coriander soup had to have a re-name when I realised I’d used parsley instead, but luckily it still tasted good! Lovely photos, keep up the good work:-)

  5. says

    OMG! What a process, but I can see that the result is well worth it! The smells coming from those gorgeous pictures are incredible! I don’t think I have ever had dal makhani, but I am definitely curious now. It looks like the ultimate comfort food! Thanks for presenting this and providing such great instructions! I, too, am a batch cooker. Chilis, stew, beans, all make great freezer meals!

  6. Myra says

    Is the 3-hour baking part necessary? Do you think it would make that much of a difference if I did that part in a pressure cooker?

  7. Catnight says

    Hi Michelle,
    I am making this recipe right now and had a question. How much garlic do you add? I see Garlic mentioned in the direction but not listed in the ingredient list?

    Thanks

    Cat