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Dhal Makhani with homegrown beans

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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.

Dal Makhani

  • 500gr (1 pound) mixture of black gradm (urad dal), beans of your choice and bengal gram (chanal dal)
  • Water or milk to cook beans, about 5dl (2 cups)
  • tomato purée about 5dl (2 cups)
  • Spices as per your liking such as chili powder, cumin, fenugreek seeds, coriander, cinammon, black cardamom
  • 2 cloves garlic, a plum-sized piece of ginger
  • 5dl heavy cream
  • The largest piece of butter your conscience will allow - up to 500gr (1 pound)
  • Salt and baking soda to precook the beans

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.


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20 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by TFP
This recipe reminds me the time when I tried to cook a Murgh Makhani based on a recipe from the same book. It was delicious, although it was nothing like the stuff they serve in indian restaurants around here...

BTW, on an unrelated note, could you post a recipr for a serious Bouillabaisse? I happen to have many mediterranean fish in my part of the world (such as John Dory, Hake, and Rascasse Rouge), and I'd love to see how to cook them properly...
  • FX's answer→ Good point indeed Murgh Makhani is a really popular cousin of this recipe!

    No unfortunately I am not a huge fan of fish, living in a landlocked country the kind of sea fish we get is like cooking Wooly Mammoth from the Ice Age...

  • #3
  • Comment by Karel
I love it already! BUTTER!
  • FX's answer→ Everything is better with butter!

  • #5
  • Comment by Ashleigh Haze
Another gorgeous looking recipe FX, wonderfully informative as usual. I was similarly disabused of my notions about Indian cooking by the Subcontinent's love of Ghee!
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Ashleigh! I really think that good butter is much better here than store-bought ghee.

  • #7
  • Comment by Laura
Up to 500 g of butter, along with 5 dl of heavy cream, for 500 g of beans?! :-O
I love butter, F-X, I really do, but I don't think I could eat more than two forkfuls of that. Two delicious forkfuls, but nevertheless only two.
  • FX's answer→ Yes the recipe uses as much butter as dry beans ... but I never dared to myself!

  • #9
  • Comment by Peter Durand
It is so good to see you back.

You and Chefsteps are my favorites.

Cheers,

Peter
  • FX's answer→ Well this is quite a favorable comparison for good old me! Thanks!

  • #11
  • Comment by BK
So deliciously decadent!
  • FX's answer→ Thanks, decadent it is!

  • #13
  • Comment by Tony Hall
Great photo's and a great blog FX. What is "5dl" of cream. thx.
  • FX's answer→ Ah Tony 5dl is what Americans call "1 cup" - sorry for that!

  • #15
  • Comment by Leila Karlslund
Sorry, but 5 dl is a scant 2 cups. So glad you are back - you were sorely missed by me. Leila, Denmark
  • FX's answer→ I stand corrected! Very right, a scant 2 cup it is. Article updated for unmetric quantities. Thanks!

  • #17
  • Comment by Chef RM
WOW...I deeply believe that one of the GREAT cuisines is Indian. It is far more complex than most people know.
  • FX's answer→ Indeed Indian cuisines are extremely rich with many centuries worth of traditions and successful combinations and all sorts of unique cooking methods (dum, dhungaar, bhunao, ...) and, compared to for instance Chinese cooking, there is a wealth of Indian-published book available in English with less common, more authentic recipes.

I made dal makhani a couple of weeks ago too. I was visiting Trinidad and brought back some black gram dal with me.
  • FX's answer→ Ah it does take weeks to burn off those calories but a really fine recipe don't you agree?




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