Daal Makhni, a family recipe

The past month of quarantine has meant that I have a lot of free time on my hands, and lately, I’ve been spending much of my time eating– and cooking! I’m definitely a foodie, and in these weeks, I’ve been trying out a bunch of recipes, from falafel and hommos, to Moroccan salads, and of course, Indian cuisine. And with that, I want to dedicate this post to daal. There’s nothing incredibly special about daal. It’s not fancy or iconic, yet of all the delicious dishes that I’ve grown up eating, this is the one that brings to mind most first and foremost the word “home.”

There are plenty of different types of daals in Indian cuisine, and the style of preparation varies by region and family. I grew up eating masoor daal at least once a week, and in fact, it was the first dish I ever learnt how to cook, years ago when I was a little kid. Lentils are a simple food– they don’t take much preparation or spices and lack the elaborate grandeur of other elements of Indian cuisine. Yet, they’re such a reliable staple, and I didn’t realize how much I missed them until I moved to Morocco. Even though Moroccan lentils are wonderful, there’s nothing like a plate of homemade daal and rice when you’re feeling homesick… I will even admit that one particularly homesick night, I had a strange dream of eating Indian daal in Rabat. And of course, it was the first meal I was served the night I came home.

Although we usually eat masoor daal, I was recently flipping through my mom’s childhood handwritten recipes, and I came across “daal makhni,” a more elaborate, richer lentil dish. Let me clarify that there are daals, and then there is daal makhni, which is so much more than your average plate of lentils. After calling my grandmother for cooking advice as I always do, I tried making my family’s daal makhni recipe and it was delicious! So today, I share with you a recipe for Daal Makhni (which literally translates to “butter daal”). It’s easy, pretty healthy, vegetarian (and can be easily adapted to vegan), and is a true reflection of how flavorful Indian cuisine is. 

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From my mom’s recipe book!

Begin by washing a cup of whole urad daal (find at your local South Asian store) and putting it in a pressure cooker.

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Finely chop some onion, and add to the pressure cooker. I did about 1/2 of a large onion, but it depends on your preferences and the size of your onions.

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Chop and add a tomato. As with the onion, make sure that the tomato is chopped relatively finely, so that only the flavor– not the texture– is noticeable in the final product.

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Chop or grate some green chili, garlic, and ginger. Like most Indian cooking, this step depends completely on taste, but I did about one and half teaspoons of each. Add to the pressure cooker. 

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Add in spices: a teaspoon of haldi (turmeric), about half a teaspoon of red chili powder, and a teaspoon of salt. The salt and chili can be readjusted to taste at the end.

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Finally, add in about ⅓ cup of yogurt, if you so choose. This will make the daal thicker and creamier. Also add in a tablespoon of cooking oil.

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Add about five or six cups of water, and then mix all the ingredients together. Don’t worry about measuring the water– you can add more later if it’s too thick, or cook some water off if it’s too thin. At this point, the mixture will look really strange and watery, but don’t worry!

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Put the pressure cooker on medium to high heat and cook until one whistle. Then, lower the heat and let it cook for about 45 minutes. After about 45 minutes, turn off the gas and let the pot sit for a while, until it is a bit cooler and the pressure has completely escaped.

Open the pressure cooker and reheat the daal. At this point, you need to adjust the water, adding more if it is too thick, or boiling to cook off extra water. Using a masher, mash the daal in the pot until it is thick and creamy. You don’t have to mash all of it, but just go for the texture that suits you. This step is pretty important because the creaminess is a characteristic of daal makhni.

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Reheat the daal before serving, and adjust the salt and spice to your preference.

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Before serving, you can choose to garnish the daal with cilantro, about half a tablespoon of butter, and some cream! Enjoy this delicious dish with rice, naan (flatbread), or by itself! ❤

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