This recipe is an amalgamation of several different recipes and my own tastes. After 3 different attempts, I feel this is the best version so here is my Lentils with Lamb. A rustic, chunky version serve dup today. I kept the traditional cream out of this and kept it chunky. For a more traditional dal makhani, try my other version with a few key tips that I learned while in Jaipur.
So we are moving south and a little east to India after hitting up some Persian food the other day. Those Persian Meatballs with Dried Cherries and Pistachios were pretty tasty, but the flavors going on in these Lentils (Dal Makhani) with Lamb are going to knock your socks off. Big and bold flavors using warm spices with the addition of ground lamb, but feel free to substitute ground chicken, beef, or none at all.
In researching this one I kept coming up against terms I didn’t know like “cook for 3 whistles”, pardon me? I just need a time on how long to cook the lentils please. Anyways, I just decided to cook these on their own first then add my flavoring components and ground lamb. I also wanted to infuse the lentils with a little extra flavor and added half an onion to the water as they simmered.
As for the various and endless array of lentils, the best for this were the black lentils, known as urad dal. My local market had the golden, the green and red, but no black. I had to hunt that one down and hit up my local international market. At the Indian restaurant we frequent they also add a small amount of red kidney beans (rajma) to their dal and I ended up using some canned as I didn’t have any dried kidney beans on hand. I wanted this to be as authentic as I could with the exception of the ground lamb addition, as I wanted it to be a full meal, not just a lovely side dish. Feel free to omit the meat if you like.
What I learned was that lentils are not like rice and will not soak up all the water you boil them in. Simply bring the water to a boil, add lentils and return to simmer for 30 minutes. They will plump up and won’t split their skins if you keep it real low, you shouldn’t see a lot of bubbles as they simmer. Test them and make sure they are soft, if not cook a little longer, 40 minutes.
I also decided to keep the spices whole for that authentic look I was going for and it turned out pretty good. Just remember to pull them out before serving. I accidentally ate a cardamom seed on the second batch and it was quite the experience, not horrible, but not really all that pleasant. Usually a heavy cream is added at the end, but I decided to omit on the third batch to see and liked it very much. I felt it super rich enough in flavor and as the cream would definitely add another dimension, felt it didn’t need it, but feel free to add a half cup if you would like.
When I asked one of the cooks at another restaurant (because my favorite place wouldn’t tell me – I always ask!) how they got the smokey flavor he said they used hot charcoal. I thought they might smoke the spices or something. What he said was they place a red hot charcoal in a soup ladle, drizzle it with some oil to smoke and lay the ladle on the top of the dal mixture without submerging it and cover with the lid for 20 minutes. He said he stirred it with another spoon half way through to mix it all through. I thought he was kidding me, but he was serious.
I wasn’t up for doing that, buying an entire bag of BBQ charcoal, and thought a little liquid smoke would do perfectly and it did! Just be careful, that stuff is potent and could ruin a dish easily, a little goes a long way.
Serve this with lots of naan, roti, flatbread, pitas or whatever bread you like. Enjoy!
- 1 cup whole black lentils (urad dal)
- 4 cups water
- 2 medium onions - half of one, the balance chopped
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 2 Serrano chilies, chopped
- 2 tsp fresh ginger paste
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- ¼ tsp cayenne powder
- 4 whole cloves
- 3 green cardamom seeds
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1 cup of water
- ½ cup red kidney beans (rajma)
- ½ cup heavy cream (optional)
- ⅛ tsp liquid smoke
- 3 tbsp butter (makhan)
- kosher salt
- Pick through the lentils, removing and debris like little rocks. Soak the lentils in water for 1 hour.
- Rinse the lentils and pour them into a large stock pot and cover with water by an inch. Add half an onion to the water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- While the lentils cook, in another stock pot add butter and brown the lamb. Add the chopped onions, chiles, ginger paste, garlic, cumin, cayenne, cloves, cardamon, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves and sauté with lamb for several minutes until aromatic.
- Stir in the tomato sauce, water, cooked lentils and kidney beans. Simmer on low for 15 minutes. If you’d like it creamier and thicker, add the heavy cream. Add the liquid smoke, salt to taste and stir to incorporate in the lentils. Top with the remaining butter, stir, garnish with chopped cilantro.
- Serve this with lots of naan, roti, flatbread, pitas or whatever bread you like.