Dal Makhani for sure is the most loved lentil recipe of north India. Dal makhani is the buttery whole urad dal flavored with multiple whole spices, cooked to a level where it becomes creamy. This no soak, pressure cook recipe of Dal Makhani is perfectly creamy, earthy, spicy, and smoky.
It is made of whole urad dal, also known as Black Gram. Black gram has a beautiful earthy flavor. And, it does take a long time to cook.
But, this time-consuming lentil recipe is definitely a crowd-pleaser. When cooked well, urad dal becomes creamy. This creamy, earthy lentil infused with the delicate flavor of whole spices, is must in a north Indian kitchen.
Traditionally it was cooked in open pots, taking good 6-8 hours. Yup... that’s true. My grandma tells me that they used to put the dal in a Haandi with all spices post breakfast in the morning and would let it simmer all day.
Haandi! Yes. Haandi is a traditional heavy bottom pot with a narrow mouth, primarily used for cooking urad dal, chickpeas, beans, etc.
Before dinner, a tempering would be prepared and added to the cooked dal in the handi.
That was before pressure cookers were a household name.
Conventionally, the whole Urad dal is soaked overnight. But in the past years, I have made Dal Makhani without soaking. And it comes out just perfect.
Why make this Dal makhani recipe?
- Creamy and buttery: This recipe yields buttery and creamy Dal Makhani
- Earthy flavor: Slow simmering enhances the earthy flavor of the urad dal.
- Quick: This is a comparatively quicker recipe in the sense that you do not have to soak it for 4-5 hours or overnight. It is a pressure cooker recipe. An open pot based preparation consumes a lot of time.
- Smoky: Using smoked paprika and dry roasted cumin adds a naturally smoky flavor to the Dal Makhani.
- Highly flavorful: Since the dal is simmered with various whole spices, the aroma of the spices augments the overall dense flavor of the whole urad dal.
- Can be easily made vegan: By just substituting butter with vegan margarine and using a vegan cream, this recipe can be made vegan. I have made it with Coconut cream. Coconut cream goes well with Urad dal. But if using coconut cream, do not add sugar to the recipe as coconut cream already has a mildly sweet flavor.
First, let us discuss Urad Dal or Black Gram.
For making Dal Makhani we use Whole Urad dal. It is the black gram dal with black skin intact. It's a pretty sturdy dal when it comes to cooking. It does take a lot of time to cook, but when it is fully cooked, it becomes super soft and creamy.
Sometimes you might have noticed that it takes much much longer to cook it. It is probably because the dal is very old. So, try to buy from a store that regularly gets new stocks. Older the dal, more time it takes to cook.
Whole urad dal can have some kind of adulteration in the form of seed weeds and stones. So, always take out the portion you wish to cook, in a plate, and scan through it. You will probably find a mini stone or two or some wild grass seeds that look very similar to black urad dal gains. Since both, the weed seeds and the stones, are black they are easy to miss out in a jar. No matter what brand you use, there is always a possibility. So I sincerely suggest you give a minute to sort the dal.
Beans or no beans?
Dal Makhani can be cooked with Rajmah ( Red Kidney beans), or Soya Beans, or on its own.
I like to use canned red beans instead of using raw Rajmah or Kidney beans.
This is simply because if we do not soak Rajmah, they sometimes take a little bit longer to cook than Dal. Also, every Rajmah is different. If you somehow buy a batch of Rajmah which is old or aged, it may take much longer to cook.
If you choose to soak your dal and Rajmah overnight, then, it might not be a trouble, but if making the same day, I recommend to use soya beans or use precooked beans.
Dal to Water Ratio: Dal to water ratio will depend on:
- The age of dal: Older the dal, longer it will take to cook. Hence it will need more water. There is no way to tell the age of dal, but just by making it, you can estimate if it is taking longer to look, it might be old. So, add more water next time. Also, try buying your lentils from a store which rapidly restocks its groceries.
- Mode of cooking: The open pot method takes more water than pressure cooking.
- Whether soaked or not: If the dal is presoaked for 6-7 hours, it will need at least ½ a cup less of water.
Let us talk about the aromatic spices that are the soul of Dal Makhani
Spices and condiments
Ginger and garlic: Add finely crushed ginger and garlic to whole urad dal for boiling. As the dal boils, they release their aroma and flavor into the dal. It is just amazing.
- Greater cardamom: Crush 3 greater cardamoms and extract their seeds. Discard the hull and crush the seeds. I just love the way greater cardamom gives a smoky flavor to the Dal Makhani. If you do not have it, replace it with 1-2 green cardamom.
- Cloves: Adding cloves gives a very subtle flavor to the earthiness of Dal Makhani.
- Cinnamon: It adds the perfect sweetness to the dal makhana. Use a small cinnamon stick while cooking the dal. If you do not want to add sugar to the dal while tempering it, just add a pinch of cinnamon powder. Always take care while adding cinnamon in savory dishes. It has a very overpowering flavor. A little pinch goes a long way.
- Javitri or mace: It is the outer covering of nutmeg and has a dense flavor. Use a small bit equal to half of the flower. If using mace powder, add a pinch. This is totally optional.
Another thing I want to talk to about is the smokiness of Dal Makhani.
The smokiness in Dal Makhani
Since it was conventionally cooked on the fire, Dal Makhani had a naturally smoky flavor. Even today in India, many restaurants boil there dal on firewood. It can be easily achieved at home in the following ways.
- A teaspoon of smoked paprika can make up for the smokiness of the firewood.
- Dry roasted cumin: This is the most widely used substitute in north Indian families. Cumin is dry roasted in an iron pan to a level where it starts to get smoky. Just then, it is removed from the pan and crushed using a pestle and mortar. I make it in a larger batch and store it in an airtight container.
- Another possibility is liquid smoke. Use half a teaspoon of liquid smoke if you are really rooting for that smokiness.
- Dhungar method: Place a piece of burning charcoal in a small bowl. And place it over dal. Add a few drops of ghee or oil on charcoal and quickly cover the da. Let the dal absorb smoke for a minute or two. This method can be slightly tricky or messy at times.
I like to use a combination of smoked paprika and roasted cumin in my Dal Makhani.
Do give it a try and let me know.
- Pressure cooker
- 1 cup Urad dal sorted and washed
- 5 cups Water for cooking if soaking use 4.5 cups
- ½ can Red kidney beans pre-cooked
Spices (for infusing the dal)
- 3 Greater cardamom Badi Elaichi
- 2 Cloves
- 1 2"stick Cinnamon
- 2 tbsp Crushed ginger
- 3 cloves Garlic Crushed
- 1 ½ teaspoon Salt
- 1 teaspoon Turmeric
- ½ flower Mace javitri
Ingredients for Tempering
- 3 tablespoon Butter 2 tbsp+ 1 tbsp
- 1 tablespoon Oil
- 1 tablespoon Whole cumin
- 2-3 leaves Bay leaf
- 1 cup Finely chopped onion
- 3 cloves Garlic Minced
- 1 teaspoon Coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon Garam masala
- 1 teaspoon Smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon Chili powder
- 1 pinch Asafetida
- 3 tablespoon Tomato paste
- ¼ teaspoon Sugar
- ¼ cup Heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon Dry roasted cumin coarsely crushed
- Sort and wash the measured quantity of whole urad dal.
- Into a pressure cooker add dal with 5 cups of water.
- Also add crushed ginger and garlic, turmeric, salt, crushed seeds of greater cardamom, cloves, javitri, and cinnamon.
- Mix with a few strokes of a ladle and close the pressure cooker.
- Place it on a gas stove with a high flame. Let it cook on high flame till the first two whistles.
- Then, reduce the gas to a low flame. Let the dal cook at this low flame for about an hour and 15 minutes.
- In the meantime chop onions and mince the garlic.
- After an hour and 15 minutes, turn off the flame and let the pressure cooker cool and the pressure release on its own.
- Place another pan on gas and heat.
- Add oil and butter.
- As the butter melts add whole cumin seeds and bay leaves.
- When cumin becomes aromatic add the finely chopped onions and garlic. Sauté till it starts to turn golden brown.
- Reduce the flame to low and add tomato paste with ¼ cup of water.
- Add the powdered spices, coriander powder, garam masala, chili powder, asafetida, paprika, and sugar.
- Let everything cook together for 4-5 minutes or till it starts to leave oil.
- Now add the heavy cream and cook for additional 3-5 minutes.
- Carefully transfer the boiled dal and half a can of pre-cooked red kidney beans.
- Mix everything well and adjust the consistency if required by adding the required volume of hot water.
- Cover the pan and let everything simmer for 10 minutes.
- Finish off with a tablespoon of reserved butter and dry roasted cumin.
- Serve hot with naan, roti or rice.
- Use the spices available with you. Spices like asafetida, mace, and greater cardamom are not easily available. Feel free to skip them. Dal Makhani will still be good.
- It tastes equally good without any kind of beans.
- If you want to add beans anyway, use whichever bean you like. If you want to boil some bean with the un-soaked dal, use smaller sized beans like pinto beans, soya beans or small kidney beans.
- Use store-bought tomato paste preferably. Alternately use a puree of three fresh tomatoes by simply blending them.
- If you are soaking your Whole urad dal, reduce the water volume by half a cup. Also, the cooking time will come down by about half an hour.
- Once the dal is cooked and you open the pressure cooker, you will know exactly how much water your dal needs. If dal is dry and very little water if left in the cooker, add the desired volume of hot water to fix the overall consistency. Make a note of it and always add that much more water when you boil the dal the next time.
- Adjust salt and chili according to your taste and heat tolerance. Smoked paprika is not very hot so, add chili powder as per your taste.
- If you see that your dal is not creamy and well boiled. Just temper it and let simmer for a longer time till it becomes smooth and creamy.