Dal makhani

by Jenny Chandler

A celebratory bean-based dish from northern India

Northern India’s dal makhani is a celebratory dish enriched with butter and cream. Although traditionally made with black urad dal and red kidney beans, there’s nothing to stop you experimenting with lentils, haricots or whatever pulse you fancy. If you’re watching your waistline you could just serve the dal with a dollop of yoghurt instead of the cream, but then it wouldn’t be a luscious dal makhani!


100g red kidney beans, soaked in plenty of cold water overnight (or for about 8 hours)
250g black urad beans (brown lentils will work well too)
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 green chillies, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2½cm knob of ginger, finely chopped
2 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
A good pinch of asafoetida
1 tsp ground cumin (best to toast and grind the seeds if possible)
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
200g tinned tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes when in season
2 tbsp tomato purée

To finish:
50g unsalted butter
3 tbsp double cream
1 heaped tsp garam masala
1 handful of coriander, roughly chopped


Drain the kidney beans and then place them in a large saucepan with the urad beans, turmeric, chillies, garlic and ginger. Cover with water by about 5cm and bring up to the boil. Cover and bubble away for at least 10 mins before lowering the heat to a gentle simmer—this is absolutely necessary to destroy the toxins present in the kidney beans.

Take a look at the beans from time to time, topping up with a little more water if necessary, although the idea is to finish up with quite a thick dal (this will take about 45 mins to 1 hour—you are waiting for the haricots to become creamy and soft, by which time the urad beans will be beginning to collapse).

Once the beans are ready you can purée about a third of them. I find it easiest to do this with a stick blender, but you could just use a potato masher or back of a ladle.

Melt the ghee (or butter) in a frying pan and fry the spices. Once you’re enveloped in a cloud of wonderful smells, throw in the onion too. Cook the onion over a low flame for about 10 mins, until wonderfully soft. Add the garlic and stir for 2 mins before tipping in the tomatoes and the purée.

Stir the spicy tomato mix into the dal along with a good pinch of salt then add in the butter, the cream and a good teaspoon of garam masala. Taste, then add more salt or chilli to balance. Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve.

Recipe: Jenny Chandler