Culinary Arts

How to Make Dal Makhani: Cooking Tips and Creamy Dal Makhani Recipe

Written by MasterClass

Mar 6, 2019 • 4 min read

Every culture has its comfort food. For most Indians, that includes some form of dal, or lentil stew. It’s creamy, light, and mild enough that it’s just as good for breakfast as it is for dinner. One of the most popular and delicious examples of dal in Indian food is dal makhani.

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What Is Dal Makhani?

Dal (“lentil”) makhani (“with butter”) is a Punjabi or North Indian dish from the same region as another beloved classic, Indian butter chicken. Roughly translated as “buttery lentils,” dal makhani is a creamy, tomato-based vegetarian stew that is served as both a hearty main and a side dish. Dal makhani has become a standard dish in Indian restaurants, thanks to the culinary stylings of a chef named Kundan Lal Jaggi at the Moti Mahal restaurant in 1950s post-partition Delhi.

How Do You Make Dal Makhani?

Traditional dal makhani is made with whole black lentils (urad dal, also known as black gram lentils), red kidney beans (rajma), butter, and cream.

The beans and lentils are cooked in a tomato-based sauce, bolstered by the Indian trinity of garlic, ginger, and onion and aromatics like garam masala and bay leaf. It’s finished with a swirl of heavy cream, which is stirred in to give the dal its coppery gloss.

What Is Dal Makhani Served With?

Dal makhani is often served with basmati rice, naan bread, or rotis, or as a complement to other Indian main dishes like palak paneer and aloo gobi.

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Is Dal Makhani a Vegetarian or Vegan Dish?

Dal makhani is vegetarian, but not traditionally vegan, as it gets its rich, velvety texture from butter and cream. That being said, dal recipes can be made vegan by substituting coconut oil or vegan butter and coconut cream for the dairy products. Dal makhani is also gluten free, and high in fiber and protein.

4 Tips for Making Perfect Dal Makhani

While dal makhani isn’t a complicated dish, it does require some know-how to make. Here are some tips for achieving a delicious restaurant-style dal makhani.

  1. Use whole, fresh spices if possible. While ground cumin could step in for the whole seeds in a pinch, the flavors you get from toasting whole spices right before cooking gives the finished dal makhani far more nuance and depth of flavor.
  2. Cook low and slow. This allows the flavors to meld and build on one another. There’s no need to rush the individual stages of your dal makhani once you’ve assembled your sauce: give the beans and lentils plenty of time to soak up the spice notes and soften to a tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture.
  3. Use black gram lentils (urad dal). Though you could technically get away with substituting any conventional lentil, including green lentils the flavor and texture of urad dal will give you the most authentic dal makhani. Black gram lentils can be found in any Indian grocery store or online.
  4. Soak your lentils. Soaking lentils overnight will not only speed up your cooking time, but also make them both easier to digest and more nutritious.

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How to Make Dal Makhani in a Pressure Cooker

Most Indian recipes call for cooking dal makhani on the stovetop, but pressure cooker or Instant Pot dal makhani can save you time and turns out delicious.

To make dal makhani in a pressure cooker, heat the butter or ghee in the pot and fry the cumin seeds and bay leaf until fragrant. Add garlic, ginger, chillies, and onion, then sauté until soft and golden brown. Add soaked lentils with 4 cups water and season with salt. Pressure cook for 45 minutes, or 8-10 whistles. Relieve the pressure and open the lid, then add kidney beans and stir to combine. Continue to simmer for another 20 minutes, then add heavy cream, and simmer for another 10. Season to taste and serve with basmati rice.

Dal Makhani in silver bowl with ingredients

Easy Dal Makhani Recipe

Makes
4-6
Prep Time
15 min
Total Time
1 hr 15 min
Cook Time
1 hr

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry whole urad dal, debris removed and soaked in water for 6 hours or overnight. (They will take less time to cook this way!)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 15 oz can kidney beans (1 ½ cups), drained and rinsed
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter or ghee
  • 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1-2 red chiles, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped, about 1 cup
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • Salt, to taste
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp cayenne or other chili powder
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • ¼ -⅓ cup heavy cream
  1. Add the soaked dal to a pot with 4 cups of water, over high heat. Once boiling, lower heat to a simmer and allow lentils to cook, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes until tender. Drain well, reserving 1 ½ cups of the cooking water, and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat butter over medium heat. Add cumin and bay leaf and cook for 30 seconds, until cumin begins to darken. Add garlic, ginger, and chilies and cook another 30 seconds until that signature garlic-ginger paste has formed.
  3. Add onion to the pan and cook until translucent and browning at the edges.
  4. Add the tomato purée, garam masala, coriander, cayenne, turmeric, and the reserved water. Stir well to combine, and season with salt to taste. Simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, allowing to thicken just slightly.
  5. Add the cooked dal and kidney beans, and cook on low for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
  6. Add heavy cream, and simmer for 5 more minutes. Season to taste. Serve with fresh basmati rice—find our recipe here.

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