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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.

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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

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I start with a mixture of ginger and a little garlic mashed to a paste...

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... then proceed to roasting my spices - here some chilies (better than those in the Indian shop) and cumin...

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... and then coriander seeds, fenugreek and cinammon.

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I roast an onion with the garlic/ginger paste...

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...and add the finely ground whole spices I roasted before.

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A little black cardamom is right by me but not usually used here.

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And then a whole bottle of tomato purée.


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