Dhal Makhani with homegrown beansHome >> Recipes
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For those who thought vegetarian cuisine is light, here is a delicious epiphany, cooked with beans from my garden.
Until I visited India I always assumed that a vegetarian diet meant a healthy, low-calorie diet. How little did I knew. One nice thing in India is that being plump - a common occupational disease for foodies - is not being frowned upon. On the contrary, it shows you are well-to-do. Bollywood heroes do not strike me as particularly anemic. And for Hindus, if you enjoy favorable life circumstances (and are able to eat too much) it probably means you had a commendable moral performance in your previous life. What a fantastic break from Western views where the slightest hint of a budding belly is seen as a sure sign that you are an out-of-control gluttoon unable to exert any self control in any area of his life.
Most indian food lovers assume that the kind of Indian food we get served in the West, so different from that enjoyed in India, must have been invented by the Sindhi chefs who run most curry houses in Britain. Well, not quite. A smart indian restaurateur, Kunda Lal Gujral, created Moti Mahal, an upscale restaurant, in New Dehli just after the Partition. He created some dishes that are now part of modern Indian cookery such as the red-colored chicken tandoori
His grandson Monish Gujral is a very good cookbook author and blogger.
Among the dishes popularized by Gujral is the famous Dal Makhani, a scrumptious, velvety, impossibly rich and massively caloricious beans and lentils side-dish. Detailed history here.
It is very unlike other dhals you get served in restaurants, which are often very light and have no tomato, no cream and no butter.
This is ususally made from black gram, the culinary name of the seeds of vigna mungo, often sold under urad dal.
Since I grow tons of beans every year and I always admired Indian housewives who can cook up very tasty dishes using whatever vegetables they get their hands on, I cook this using my own beans, but if you use black gram you'll get the original.
The way I do is a bit different from the usual recipes.
In restaurants, this dish is often cooked 24/7 on a stove that never stops, yielding a very creamy consistency. You can get the same using pre-soaking, a steam pot and uncle FX's special thickening trick.
I start with a mixture of ginger and a little garlic mashed to a paste...
... then proceed to roasting my spices - here some chilies (better than those in the Indian shop) and cumin...
... and then coriander seeds, fenugreek and cinammon.
I roast an onion with the garlic/ginger paste...
...and add the finely ground whole spices I roasted before.
A little black cardamom is right by me but not usually used here.
And then a whole bottle of tomato purée.
In go the beans, precooked 30 minutes in a pressure cooker.
... and a bit of water with a pinch of salt. Simmer covered, making sure there is enough liquid so that the bottom does not scorch. It will do if the dhal thickens too much and convection movement cannot move the relatively hotter bottom to the top. Obviously you could put everyhing in a vaccuum bag and cook it with a very modern appliance such as a steam oven or a immersion circulator.
Let the large spices (cinnammon and black cardamom) float well in sight so that you may remove them easily at the end of the cooking.
Depending on whether you have pre-cooked the beans in a pressure cooker or not, it may take as little as 30 minutes or several hours until your beans become entirely soft. You get it, this is the kind of dish you cook the day before, leisurely, so that there is no pressure to finish the cooking when the guests arrive. And it freezes beautifully.
Now on to the serious part. Remove a ladleful of your dhal (beans and sauce) into a pot of stand up mixer. Add the thickest cream you can find ...
... then the largest piece of butter your conscience will allow. Reading the original Moti Mahal recipe in Monish Gujral book is not for the faint of heart - for 1kg of beans (a mixture of urad dal, kidney beans and chanal dal), he uses 5dl of cream and 1kg of butter! I had never seen such quantities since Mr Escoffier died in 1935.
Mix with an immersion blender or blitz or just mash with a fork if things went Mad Max on you.
Fold it back into the pot and check the seasoning.
Dal Makhani is considered a side dish, but with naans it will make a highly nutrious - and delicious - evening meal too.