The name Dal Makhani reverberates the rich and robust Punjabi culture and cuisine. Dal Makhani has many monikers; Kaali (Black) Dal or Maa ki Dal. It is a very popular dhaba dish and has a very earthy flavour. Dal makhani is now a staple Indian dish but was popularised by the refugees from Pakistan. My parents too were refugees and my connection with Dal Makhani is through my mom’s recipe cooked with loads of love and patience and which was always finger-licking delicious. I am glad I learnt it from her and my Dal Makhani may not be as tasty but is quite good. Another connection was through my husband who was a total foodie. Give him a bowl of Dal Makhani, Palak Paneer and two kadak Tandoori Roti and he would be in gastronomic heaven. He would swear by the Dal served at the Moti Mahal restaurant in Daryaganj, Delhi and would always incite me to match up to that!
An all-time classic dish, Dal Makhani is cooked with whole black lentils (urad) with red kidney beans (rajma) and split chickpeas or chana dal. Urad dal or black lentils are said to have the nutrients of mother’s milk and hence known as Maa ki Dal. My mom used to cook it on a coal angithi or Brazier. She used to put it on in the morning and by dinner time it was cooked just creamy and yummy. I used to feel so proud when I was given the important task of blowing on the coals from time to time.
Nowadays the Dal is served mainly on special occasions as it takes a long time to cook and is rich, creamy and loaded with homemade makhan or butter and that’s where it gets its name Makhani-meaning buttery.
There are many ways that this dal is cooked, but I am going to share the way I make it. Slow cooking is the best bet for an authentic Dal Makhani as served in restaurants and Dhabas. Have lots of patience and let it simmer on slow flame for hours. Most people now cook it in pressure cookers reducing the cooking time to 2–3 hours.
Dal Makhani (buttery lentils) and Maa di Dal (Mother’s lentils, Maa Tujhe Salaam) belong to Punjabi cuisine. But both are not the same. I used to tease my mom and say it’s your dal mom! Both recipes use urad dal(black gram) but Maa ki dal uses only Urad dal while Dal Makhani is made with Urad, rajma or kidney beans and chana dal or split chickpeas.
After the kids flew the nest, I rarely got the chance to cook Dal Makhani as its too much trouble to cook just one small bowl. The other day my friends were coming over for lunch and I treated them to a complete Punjabi meal and was thrilled to make Dal Makhani after so many years.
Recipe for DAL MAKHANI
For the dal:
1 cup black urad dal, soaked for an hour
6 cups water
4 cloves garlic chopped fine
1 small piece ginger julienned
Salt for taste
1 onion sliced
1 Tomato chopped
2 green chillies
2 black cardamoms
1 tsp red chilli powder
For the tadka or tempering:
2 Tbsp ghee
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 green chilli, split
1 tbsp cream
1 tbsp butter
For the dal:
In a cooker (I cook in slow cooker) add the washed and soaked dal with 6 cups of water. Add the rest of the ingredients; onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cardamom, salt, green chillies and chilli powder.
Let it cook for 5 to 6 hours and if it is still not nice and creamy then add a little more water and let it cook. You can cook it in the pressure cooker which is faster. But you will not get the traditional mom-cooked taste.
Stir it nicely in between so that the dal gets crushed and gets a creamy consistency. Transfer to a serving bowl. I use the rice cooker which automatically changes to keep warm mode when the water has evaporated, so I don’t need to worry about it getting overcooked or burnt.
For the tadka:
Tadka for this dal is optional. Most restaurants don’t temper the dal.
I temper it as my mom did it the traditional way.
In a small tempering pan add ghee, once hot add the cumin seeds and then the cloves. The cloves give off a heady aroma when put in scalding ghee.
Add ½ a tsp of red chilli as it gives it a nice spicy tinge.
Pour over the hot dal and garnish with coriander leaves, green chillies with generous blobs of fresh cream and butter.
Add a little milk if you want to reduce the amount of cream and butter.
Serve piping hot. Scoop the dal with a bite of tandoori roti, naan, pulka or even have it mixed with rice!
Let me share a little secret…Daal makhani always tastes better the next day. So the next morning, my mom used to make hot Puris for breakfast and serve them with the leftover cold dal and achar or pickle…..mmmmmmm…..amazingly yummy. Do try it and share your experience with me.