Dal Makhni (Creamy Black Lentils)

It ain’t real dal if it ain’t dal makhni….


Let me begin by wishing you and a family a very Happy Diwali and Prosperous New Year!! Diwali is the festival of lights celebrated across India and it holds different significance depending on which region and religious faith you come from. For simple people like me Diwali always meant and continues to mean only one thing – a celebration with family and friends with good food and lots of diyas, lamps and lights.

As I write this recipe I am thinking of my family back home in India, they are celebrating Diwali in the lap of the Himalayas with my Beeji (Grandmaa). The other side of my family is in Adelaide, which leaves just my husband, Viktor and I. This is such a special time, made even more special when you can share it with family and friends.

Being a North Indian, in my part of the world Diwali is celebrated in memory of Lord Rama’s victory over the demon king Ravana and his subsequent homecoming to Ayodhya after 14 years in exile. There is also a great significance behind making Dal Makhni on Diwali, particularly in North Indian households. It is believed that back in the day people did not have much wealth IMG_5169and therefore fancy foods were out of the question. Kaali dal being a staple food in the North Indian diet was available in every household, so people made Dal Makhni using Kaali dal and made it special by adding a geneorous amount of ghee. This holds true for most North Indian families even today, wealthy or not – Dal Makhni is a special treat for every Diwali.

Ingredients:  5    Cooking time: 2 hours
Serves: 4
  • One cup whole black urad dal
  • One cup red kidney beans
  • Two tablespoons ghee or olive oil
  • Two red onions sliced
  • One crushed tinned tomato can or fresh tomato paste (using three to four depending on size)
  • One table spoon grated ginger
  • Two pods of garlic
  • One or two green chillies (depending on how hot you like it)
  • One cinnamon stick
  • My top secret ingredient, fresh coriander stem (about 4 to 5 stems chopped)
  • 1.5 tea spoon cumin seeds (Jeera)
  • 1.5 tea spoon coriander powder (Dhaniya)
  • 1 tea spoon turmeric powder (Haldi)
  • 1.5 tea spoon garam masala
  • 1/2 tea spoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup skim milk (can be avoided if vegan or lactose intolerant)
  • 1/2 teapsoon asafoetedia powder (hing)
  • Two small black cardamoms
  • One bay leaf

Soak the lentils and the kidney beans over night if possible or atleast for four to five hours before cooking. You will notice the longer you soak the lentils and beans the more bloated they will get, which is good.

Transfer the lentils and beans into a pressure cooker and add the asafoetedia (hing) powder, which helps breaks the protein in the lentils making it easier to digest, add the black cardamom and bay leaf and cook the lentils for about 90 minutes (longer if using a saucepan) until they are soft. 

North Indian Red Curry Paste

In a pan add two table spoons of ghee (Sorry this recipe is notfor the faint hearted). Alright two table spoons of olive oil for my health conscious friends. Once you can smell the aroma of ghee (or olive oil), add the cumin seeds and wait until they start tempering. Now add the sliced onions and cook until translucent.

Once the onions are cooked add ginger, garlic, green chillies, cinnamon stick and coriander stems. Mix it all and wait until the onion mix has carmelised.

Bring on the colour and add the tomato paste, followed by adding coriander powder, turmeric powder and garam masala. Let the mixture simmer until the oil surfaces to the top. Add salt, sugar and skim milk. Add water if you wish to dilute the paste.

Let the mix cool slightly and blend it all up. TADA!!! Curry paste is ready.

While the dal is cooking, make your red curry paste and keep it aside. Once the dal is cooked mix it in with the curry paste and let it simmer. The reason this dal is called Makhni is not because it uses a lot of butter, ghee or cream. It is simply because it is cooked for so long that the lentils and beans become mushy and give the dal a rich creamy texture.

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