Dal makhani is a treasured Punjabi/North Indian recipe. We ate it at home and in fancy restaurants, but I know it best as dhaaba fare, a pot of dal simmering in the outdoor kitchens of all the truck stops in the city. Dhaabas are open late into the night, the food is always piping hot, and you can eat it outdoors, perched on rickety plastic chairs that have replaced the hemp-string beds preferred by tired truck drivers.
Makhan means butter, and the traditional versions are cooked with generous quantities of cream and butter. This version skips both and still tastes rich and creamy, but you can add a dollop of cream or butter on top if you want to stay true to the name.
1 cup black urad beans (You want unsplit, unhusked urad beans. They look like black mung beans. Don’t use the flat black lentils/French lentils/lentils du puy.)
1/4 cup red kidney beans
4 cups water, plus another 4 cups for soaking
2 tbsp canola oil/ghee
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
2 tsp powdered coriander seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 whole dried red chilli
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp kasuri methi (Dried fenugreek leaves available in Indian stores. They give the dish a tandoori/smoky flavor. Substitute with 2 drops of liquid smoke.)
1/4 tsp powdered asfoetida (optional-skip it unless you plan to cook Indian food very often. Its a strong smelling resin that’s an acquired taste.)
1 tsp fresh minced ginger
1 tsp fresh minced green chilli pepper (Indian green chillies or serrano peppers)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced plum tomatoes (canned are fine)
1 1/4 tsp salt, or more to taste
1/2 cup whole milk (or half-n-half/cream)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 tsp garam masala
– The night before/first thing in the morning before dinner, wash and soak the urad and kidney beans in 4 cups of water. They should double in volume after about 6 hours.
– Drain any water left, add another 4 cups of water, salt, turmeric, whole dried red chilli, and the bay leaf. Bring to boil in a pressure cooker. Once the weight starts to rock/the cooker starts to whistle, turn the heat to medium-high and cook for 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the pressure come down on its own before opening the lid.
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can cook the beans, covered, in a heavy pot/Dutch oven. Bring the water to a boil, then simmer on medium heat until done. I haven’t cooked beans this way, but they should be done in about an hour, or when you can easily mash a kidney bean between your spoon and the wall of the pot.
– Once the beans are done, take a heavy ladle and mix the beans well, mashing a couple of ladlefuls against the walls of the pot. If they look too dry, add some boiling water at this stage.
– In a small, heavy sauce pan, heat the oil. Add the asfoetida and the cumin and wait till they splutter. Add the ginger, green chilli pepper, garlic and saute for a few seconds.
– Next, add the powdered coriander and the kasuri methi. Saute for a few seconds, then add in the tomatoes. Add 1/4 tsp of salt, give a quick stir, cover, and bring the whole thing to a boil. Turn the heat to medium and simmer for 10- 15 minutes, until the tomatoes are completely disintegrated into a sauce. Use a hand blender if you need to.
– Add the tomato sauce to the beans, turn on the heat under the beans again and bring the pot to a slow simmer. (After adding spices, try to keep things covered as much as possible- this will push the flavors and the smell inside the food instead of into your living room.)
– Simmer the beans for 5 minutes, to let the flavors meld. Pour in the milk and stir again. (It might separate if the pot is boiling instead of simmering.) Taste and adjust the seasoning. Turn off the heat, and stir in the cilantro and garam masala.
– Serve with a dollop of cream/butter, or without. Naan and rice go really well with dal makhani. Or you could eat it cold, out of the fridge, spread on toast. Its delicious either way.
This recipe serves 4. Dal makhani will keep well in the fridge for 3-4 days and can be frozen. It will thicken after some time- just add more boiling water to thin it to the consistency you like.