Dal Makhni is a North Indian staple, served at most Indian restaurants in the United States and other parts of the world where Indian cuisine is popular. Traditionally, it is made with whole black lentils (urad), sometimes with a smattering of kidney beans (rajma) and most the time, with a generous dollop of cream and butter. The literal translation of Dal Makhni (pronounced daal makh-nee) is “buttery lentils”; lentils are called dal and butter is called makkhan in Hindi. You will run into this dish at lunch buffets which are extremely popular with anyone that wants to try a variety of Indian dishes without having to ask the wait staff to explain details of how they are made and what they taste like.
The key to this popular and amazing dal makhni is the lentil itself, the humble urad, called black gram or black lentil in English or masha in Sanskrit. Of the 60 dals that are in common use in India (moong, chana, rajma, arhar/tuver etc.), urad is among the most ubiquitous and is found in many parts of the country including the south. But there are many kinds of urad. Urad, is a little black seed with a white interior. It is very similar to a mung bean in size and shape but tastes nothing like mung. It has been consumed in India for thousands of years and was highly prized in the olden days. Urad has an earthy flavor and an unusual mucousy texture (it’s a good thing!) when cooked. Papad (or poppadums) are usually made with urad dal as well.
Another reason why this dish is popular is that it is delicious, creamy and goes great with roti or rice (or quinoa for that matter!). The added benefits are that it is vegetarian and full of protein so even if you’re not a meat eater you can depend on this for your nutritional needs.
The preparation is almost basic and therefore very similar to other North Indian dishes, though some ingredients may vary (as with most recipes). For instance, cumin powder may be used instead of coriander powder or in addition to coriander powder. Some folks may blend onions and tomatoes instead of cutting them fine. In my opinion, these variations do not cause much of an impact on the overall taste of the dish, but it may be important for die-hard fans who believe a dish must taste a certain exact way. I believe you can make it the way you want it, as long as you stick to the overall concept. I also believe in the quality and quantity of the ingredients in order to make sure it maintains a high level of nutrition.
I’ve given instructions on how to make this in the Instant Pot. The directions also show how to make this on the stove top, after pressure cooking the dal. I’ve had this dish with Jeera Quinoa, and I’ve found it very delicious and filling. This dal also goes well with roti or Brown Jeera Rice.
*Photo courtesy: https://indiaphile.info/guide-indian-lentils/
Whole urad (black lentils) is a high source of nutrients including: manganese, potassium, magnesium, folate, copper, zinc and various B vitamins. They are also a very filling food, high in protein, resistant starch and dietary fiber.
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- 1 Cup Black Gram Lentils Whole Urad
- 1/2 Cup Onion Fine cut
- 1/2 Cup Tomato Fine cut
- 1 Teaspoon Ginger & Garlic Paste Made by crushing 1" Ginger and 4 Cloves Garlic
- 1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric Powder
- 1/4 Teaspoon Red Chili Powder
- 1/2 Teaspoon Garam Masala
- 1/2 Teaspoon Coriander Powder
- 1/4 Teaspoon Sea Salt (or to taste)
- 1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil (or Olive Oil)
- 1 Tablespoon Butter Skip if Vegan
- Wash and soak lentils in a bowl of water for 2 hours. You can soak them longer upto 8-10 hours. All grains, legumes, nuts and seeds contain anti-nutrients that require neutralization- soaking helps negate this affect and makes it easier to digest.
- Pressure cook soaked lentils under high pressure for about 30 minutes (if you do not own an Instant Pot, any pressure cooker will do).
- Get all ingredients ready before you start cooking.
- Make sure that the steel container of the Instant Pot is dry and set it on 'saute' mode. Add oil and wait for the 'hot' sign to show up. (again, if you do not own an Instant Pot, not a problem, you can use any pan to saute).
- Add onions and ginger/garlic paste. Saute till onions turn slightly brown. Add turmeric, red chili powder (or cayenne pepper), tomatoes and salt. Mix well and cook the contents for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Now add garam masala, coriander powder and mix again. Continue cooking the contents for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the pressure cooked lentils. Add more water if you prefer the dal less thick. Add butter, mix well and cook till the contents come to a simmer.
- Transfer to a bowl and serve with roti or rice or quinoa (pictured here with quinoa).