• STEP 1

    Tip the dhal into a sieve and rinse under cold water several times until the water runs clear. Put in a large bowl or pot and cover in double their volume of warm water. Stir in the bicarbonate of soda and leave to soak at room temperature for at least 12 hrs.

  • STEP 2

    Drain the dhal (but don’t rinse), tip into a pan and cover with 1.5 litres water. Add the sliced ginger, whole chilli and turmeric, then bring to the boil, skim off any scum that rises to the top and reduce the heat. Simmer uncovered for 1 hr until very tender, or cook in a pressure cooker for 20 mins. Remove the ginger and chilli.

  • STEP 3

    Heat the butter in a separate pan over a medium-high heat until it has foamed up and turned nut-brown. Pour half into a small container and set aside. Return the pan and remaining butter to the heat and add the cumin seeds, fenugreek leaves, ground coriander, garlic, grated ginger and tomato purée and cook for 2 mins more. Stir the spice mixture into the cooked dhal, then add the kidney beans along with the liquid from the can and season generously with salt.

  • STEP 4

    Roughly mash the dhal mixture with a potato masher until some of the pulses are crushed. Cook, stirring, over a very low heat for 15-20 mins until the dhal is thick and creamy. Stir through most of the reserved brown butter, the garam marsala and half the cream. Tip the dhal into a serving dish and drizzle over the remaining cream and brown butter. Scatter over the chopped chilli and ginger matchsticks and serve.

What are the main ingredients of dhal makhani?

  • A popular celebration dish in India, dhal makhani features urad dhal (black lentils) in a rich butter and cream sauce (makhani translates as ‘buttery’).
  • The dish is flavoured with lots of ginger, chillies, fenugreek leaves and garlic, as well as plenty of spices including turmeric, cumin seeds and ground coriander.
  • Kidney beans add texture, and their cooking liquid makes the consistency velvety.

What is fenugreek?

A staple of Indian food, fenugreek is a herb with a very distinctive, curry-powder aroma and a three-leafed, clover-like shape. The dried seed is also available. The best place to buy dried fenugreek is from Indian speciality stores, online or some larger supermarkets. If you can’t find them then you can use a few chopped fresh celery leaves or leave it out altogether.

What can I substitute for the double cream?

We make no apologies for the fact this is a rich dish, but it is possible to make it a bit lighter if you wish by using 50-100ml plain yogurt or Greek-style yogurt instead (don’t use fat-free as it will split when heated). You can also leave it out entirely if you prefer.

Can I make it dairy-free/vegan?

Although the butter and cream are an important part of the flavour, the dish will still work without them. Replace the butter with 3 tbsp vegetable oil (there’s no need to try and ‘brown’ the oil nor do you need to pour off half the oil as with the butter, just leave it in the pan). You can either omit the cream or replace it with a plant-based cream, soured cream or yogurt.

How long can I store the dhal makhani?

This recipe can be stored, covered, in the fridge for two days.

Can I freeze this dhal makhani?

This can be frozen for about three months. Defrost in the fridge overnight then reheat thoroughly before serving.

What goes well with dhal makhani?

As this is such a rich dish, it’s perfect for scooping up with a plain naan bread or serving with plain rice as a meal in its own right.

For a more elaborate meal, try this choleh bhatureh ‘naan’, a Punjabi recipe of spiced chickpeas served with bhatura (a sort of puffy naan bread), cool raita and crunchy kachumber salad.

More tips for making dhal makhani

  • Ingredients: Confusingly, the pulse used in this recipe goes by lots of names. You’ll need urad dhal, which is also known as urad beans (or ‘urid’) or sometimes black lentils. These are small, whole, unhusked, pebble-sized grey beans that are not to be confused with black (beluga) lentils, black turtle beans or split urad dhal. Dried fenugreek leaveshave a different flavour to the seeds. They taste mildly of celery, and enhance the other flavours while giving the finished dish lots of body.
  • We’ve got ginger running through the cooked dish, but we’ve also finished it with very finely shredded ginger for a touch of freshness that cuts through all the richness. Ghee (clarified butter) is the Indian fat of choice to enrich this dish, but we’ve used butter as it’s more readily available and makes the dhal creamier.
  • Preparation: Don’t skip rinsing and soaking the dhal. The process might seem unnecessary, but it doesn’t take long and makes the dhal more easily digestible. It also means they cook more quickly. Adding a bit of bicarbonate of soda to dried pulses as they soak helps soften the tough skins, gives them a creamier texture and, again, makes them more digestible.
  • Cooking: Simmering the dhal on a low heat for at least an hour will really enhance all the flavours and give it a creamy texture. Use the right ratio of water to urad dhal –a lot of recipes call for cooking the pulses in a large amount of water, which is then drained away. This cooking liquid contains flavour, so we’ve included the correct ratio for perfect absorption, so all the flavour stays in the pan. You can add a splash of boiling water if at any point it looks too dry. Browning the butter is key to giving the dish a caramelised, nutty note. Heat the butter over medium-high until it has foamed up and turned a nutty brown colour.

Other dhal recipes

Recipe from Good Food magazine, February 2020

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