Makhani Dhal, essentially Indian
Rich black earthy lentils cooked very slowly, mixed with a tomato-based masala sauce, and then served with a swirl of cream. Luxurious, essentially Indian. You get obsessed with Makhani Dhal in India, pursuing the perfect dish from mountaintop restaurant to roadside shack, becoming an expert on the accompanying butter naan and losing your waistline and all perspective in the process. The only answer is to embrace the madness and make it yourself.
It’s easy, as most great Indian recipes are; but it takes a long time, as all worthwhile things on Earth also do. This is a special dish, not for everyday. Cooked for weddings, family gatherings and big occasions, so treat it with respect.
You can use either a pressure cooker or a slow cooker for the long cooking, as I don’t think you’ll be simmering on the stove for 8 hours. You could also use a tin each of cooked lentils and beans and skip the long cooking. I think there might be a slight price to pay in reduced depth of flavour and creaminess but I expect you could achieve a perfectly respectable result – if you try it, let me know.
Serves 4 Timings: overnight soaking, 8 hours simmering (or shorter time if using a pressure cooker) and an hour to finish.
Soak the lentils and beans in cold water overnight, topping up if needed to keep the pulses covered with liquid.
In the morning, tip the lot into a pan and bring to a boil, then tip into the slow cooker on high heat. Add the black cardamom, cloves and cassia bark and leave to simmer for about 6 hours.
Using a stick blender, make a paste from the chopped white onion, ginger, garlic, and red chilli.
About 2 hours before you want to eat, (or earlier, the sauce will stand for hours waiting for you to add the lentils), start the masala.
Fry the whole spices in some ghee or vegetable oil until sizzling, then add the sliced red onion. Fry and stir as it turns brown and caramelises – taking about 10 minutes. Add the chopped fresh tomato and the onion/garlic/ginger/chilli paste. Mix and fry together. Add the tomato puree, mix. Put the dry spices into a glass and add a tablespoon of water, mix well and add this to the pan. Mix and fry, stirring, until the fat separates out of the mixture. At this stage, you can leave to cool in the pan until the lentils are done.
When the lentils and beans are soft, after the cooking time, transfer them and their liquid to the masala pan. Stir well to mix, and heat gently. Add lemon juice and salt to taste, and simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and topping up with water if it looks as if it’s catching on the bottom of the pan.
At the last minute stir in the cream and add a handful of chopped fresh coriander.
Serve with a butter naan and some homemade chutney – a coriander and chilli chutney, a cooling cucumber and yoghurt raita, or a smooth and smoky aubergine raita.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.