If you’re a fan of lentil soups than my authentic Creamy Black Lentils (Rajasthan Indian Dal Makhani – Creamy Restaurant Style) is for you. Yes, I did pick the brain of every chef I could while in India, and while it’s taken me years to get this right, I think I might have the best version you could eat. I learned a few tricks and I’m sharing them with you.
We travelled India’s famed Golden Triangle visiting the historic sights of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. On the way to Agra we hit our first truck stop eatery called Highway Masala (Spice Highway), catchy huh? Anyways, that dal makhani was quite memorable, as well as being one of many tastings of dal makhani on our trip.
While in Jaipur I talked with a chef and told him about this site. I read off to him the ingredients in my Dal Makhani with Lamb recipe, wanting to see if the spices I used were correct. Although I added lamb to mine to bulk it into a meal, every time I had it in India it was meat free. I told him his had such a different texture, and while I might have almost figured the right spices, it was the creaminess I wanted – and not from just adding cream.
Key tip number one he said is soaking the dal (lentils) overnight. I always did it for an hour or two. Second key tip was pureeing half of cooked lentils. OK, that made sense. I couldn’t wait to try it out after we got back home.
When shopping for the black lentils I noticed that black lentils (urad dal) look different than the flat, disc shaped green, yellow and red lentils. See below.
Success! What a difference it makes and I am in dal makhani heaven. I hope you will be too. This authentic Indian Dal Makhani is superb. I named the dish in honor of the state/location where we were from the third chef who confirmed the same technique to me – Rajasthan! Even the color of the soup is spot on, I was so happy – finally.
Note: Not sure if you’re aware of this but raw kidney beans contain a toxin that’s called phytohemagglutinin, it’s destroyed by boiling the beans for at least 10 minutes prior to any slow cooking. Feel free to use canned if you like. Always bring soaked kidney beans to a boil for 10 minutes then cook as recipe instructs.
I recently got a new Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000W pressure cooker and did a stovetop and pressure cooker version (see recipe instructions below). I think I preferred the time saver, pressure cooker version better myself, but both were beyond delicious and texture wonderful in both cases. It was more of a time thing (10 minutes less).
When you blend half the cooked lentils be very careful as they are hot. I know it may seem silly to write that, but if using a blender, keep the lid vented slightly, but covered. You don’t want to get lentils all over you or the counter. The heat expands in a sealed blender, so trust me, you don’t want a hot mess on you or the walls.
As this simmers the lentils break down, and the soup becomes creamier, almost a velvety, luscious consistency. Like a great meat dish when it literally is falling of t he bone, it’s all due to low and slow. Patience people, that’s the key.
Time and time again each chef told me to soak the dal overnight, not a few hours, and to cook them low and slow for a minimum of an hour or more. They started in the morning after soaking them overnight and it was ready for lunch and sometimes dinnertime! They were outstanding and nuanced with different spices everywhere we tried them. So for a consistent, creamy and velvety Indian dal makhani, please follow the tips I’ve shared.
Ladle into soup bowls, drizzle with some cream and top with some chopped cilantro. I served this with plenty of naan to dip and soak in the goodness.
That reminds me, I had dosa every morning too. Where has that been all my life? It’s so tasty! Soaked and pureed rice that is made in to a batter and…. well, that’s for another recipe. Enjoy!
- 1 cup dried whole black lentils (urud dal)
- ½ cup dried red kidney beans (rajma)
- 4 cups water
- 1 medium onion - half of one whole, the balance chopped
- 1 tbsp butter or ghee
- 2 Serrano chilis, chopped
- 2 tsp fresh ginger paste
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1½ tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp chili powder
- ¼ tsp cayenne powder
- 2 whole cloves
- 3 green cardamom pods
- 1 3-inch cinnamon stick, break in half
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1 cup of water
- ½ cup heavy cream (optional)
- ⅛ tsp liquid smoke (optional)
- kosher salt
- Pick through the dried lentils and kidney beans, removing any debris like little rocks. Soak them in water overnight.
- Stovetop method:
- Rinse the lentils and kidney beans 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 for 10 minutes, lower heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Discard onion half.
- Pressure Cooker method:
- Rinse the lentils and kidney beans and pour them into pressure cooker. Cover with water by an half an inch. Add half an onion to the water. Close lid and cook for 20 minutes. Discard onion half.
- While the lentils cook, in another stock pot (if using pressure cooker method) add butter or ghee and brown the the chopped onions. Add the chiles, ginger paste, garlic, cumin, chili powder, cayenne, cloves, cardamon, broken cinnamon stick and sauté for several minutes until aromatic. Remove the cloves, cardamom and cinnamon from pot and place in a piece of cheesecloth. Tie and set aside.
- Stir in the tomato sauce, water, cooked lentils and kidney beans. Simmer on low for at least 40 minutes. As this simmers the lentils break down. Carefully place half in a blender and puree. Be careful as this is hot, keep lid vented slightly. Pour back into the soup pot and stir (or use an immersion hand blender and pulse several times). Don't puree completely with hand blender, you still want some lentil texture. Add the spice bag and continue to simmer for 10 more minutes. The soup becomes creamier as it simmers, almost a velvety consistency. Remove spice bag and discard.
- If you’d like it creamier and thicker, add the cream or omit. Add the liquid smoke (unless you're cooking this on a charcoal fire!), this is optional, but the flavor is great. Salt to taste and stir to incorporate in the lentils.
- Serve this garnished with chopped cilantro and lots of dosa, naan, roti, flatbread, pitas or whatever bread you like.