Talk about an iconic Punjabi dish! Daal makhanni or Maah ki daal literally translates into “lentils cooked in butter”. Daal makhanni is made with whole black gram/lentils that can be easily bought at an Indian/Asian grocery store. Sometimes bulk sections of health food stores and stores like Whole foods and Earth Fare also carry black whole lentils.
This is another one of those recipes that has been traditionally cooked low and slow. This slow cooking in earthen pots over wood or coal fire yielded a creamy , almost mushy daal with a flavor that is hard to beat and pretty much not achievable in our modern kitchens. Daal makhanni is usually served with roti, naan or parantha and a salad of red onion, green chilies and cucumber with a squeeze of lime. If rice is your thing (like me), go for it! I am literally drooling as I type this. And I secretly wish you do too…:P.
Over the years I have tried many different was of cooking daal makhanni to achieve the taste that I was longing for. I don’t recall exactly, but the flavor profile I was always aiming for is from a tandoori restaurant called Bukhaara in our home town, which I and Dr. A used to go eat at often when we were still in college. The recipe that I share with you today is pretty much up there. If I ever change anything with this recipe, I promise I’ll share it with you. Deal!
I use a pressure cooker to cook this daal. If that is a constraint for you, I will update the recipe with cooking times for open pot as well as slow cooker once I try these. The list of ingredients is long but don’t let that intimidate you. Abandon yourself and all your fears of Indian cooking to this recipe and you will be triumphant. Yes, this recipe is that good. I am modest like that.
What it takes to cook this daal for a family of 4:
Whole Urad/black gram/lentils – 1.5 cups
Water – 7 cups
Green cardamom – 2
Cloves – 4
Cinnamon – ½ inch piece
Dried whole red chili – 1
Bay leaves – 2 (optional)
Mustard oil – 1 tablespoon (optional)
Ginger – 1 inch piece, grated/minced and divided
Garlic – 4 cloves, minced and divided
Green chilies – 2 (optional), chopped and divided
Onion – 1 ½ , chopped and divided
Tomatoes – 3 (big and juicy ones), chopped and divided – See note
Butter – 1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoon
Heavy cream/yogurt – ¼ cup
Olive oil – 1 tablespoon
Cumin seeds – 1 teaspoon
Red chili powder – ¼ teaspoon
Coriander powder – 2 tablespoon
Garam masala – ½ teaspoon
Kasuri methi (dry fenugreek leaves) – 1 teaspoon
Salt – to taste
Rinse and soak the lentils in room temperature water for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes discard the water and rinse the lentils again. Set a pressure cooker on high heat, add lentils, water, salt, green cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon, dried whole red chili, bay leaves, and mustard oil (if using). Also add half of each of the following ingredients – ginger, garlic, green chilies (if using), onions and tomatoes. Add salt and put the pressure cook lid on. After one whistle, lower the heat to medium low and cook for 30 minutes.
Wait for the pressure to release by itself and then open the pressure cooker lid. Now add 1 tablespoon butter and heavy cream or yogurt. Traditionally, heavy cream is used, using yogurt lends the daal same creaminess, however, it also adds a tang to it which might not be a part of the traditional flavor profile of daal makhanni. I use yogurt more than the cream, just because it’s healthier and I like my daal makhanni a little tangy. But cream is good too. Are we going in circles here? I am sorry.
Cook the daal without covering on low heat for about 30 minutes. While the daal is simmering away, start preparing the tadka or tempering. Set a heavy bottomed frying pan on medium heat. Add remaining butter and olive oil. Add cumin seeds and wait till they begin to crackle. Add garlic and green chili and stir around for 30 seconds. Now add onions and a pinch of salt. Adding salt to onions makes it cook faster by extracting out the moisture from them. Cook the onions till slightly browned and then add ginger. Mix and sauté for another minute or so. Now add red chili powder and coriander powder. Mix and then add the tomatoes. Stir around everything and cook, stirring in between, till you can see tiny droplets of oil on the sides of the “masala”, about 10 minutes. As the masala cooks, all the water in the onions and tomatoes evaporates and the spices work their magic. This way of coking till oil separates form the masala is called “bhoono”. Bhoonoing the masala is a must as it lends the flavor tones that we are looking for. So be patient and keep at it. It will come to you!
Add the bhoonoed masala to your daal that has been simmering and mix. Cook for additional 10 minutes. Finish by adding garam masala and kasuri methi. Give a taste check and adjust salt. Serve daal makhanni hot with a drizzle of heavy cream and enjoy with roti, parantha, naan or rice.
Love – Vaishali.
Note: If canned tomatoes are your thing, use 1 can of diced tomatoes with 1 small can of tomato sauce. Use half of sauce and diced tomatoes while pressure cooking the daal and remaining in tadka.
Knife and chopping board
Measuring cups and spoons
Heavy bottomed frying/sauté pan