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Dal Makhani

This is an incredibly well revered curry in India, rich and fragrant, multi-layered and aromatic. The same recipe makes a perfect gravy for a murgh makhani or butter chicken, when paired with marinated tandoori chicken, but it is not the chicken that makes it. We love the dal as part of a veggie thali plate for an ultra-satisfying lunch or served simply with some good breads or coconut and coriander basmati for dinner.

The curry itself is a one-pot wonder. Everything is put in, stirred and then left to sort itself out for 45 minutes. If serving this with rice, it makes for a speedy meal. If you’d rather make this buttery little breads, it does take longer. But, you can choose which option best suits you on any given day.

This is also an Ayurvedic version of the classic – so most of the butter is replaced with ghee and the cream is subbed out for good, creamy, organic coconut milk. Nothing is lost in the exchange and extra subtle layers are gained as well as better fats and easier digestion. This is not a low fat version or a low fat dish but it is healthy, balanced and delicious. You’ve probably clocked by now that we do not offer low fat recipes. Quality fats and cholesterol are essential for health but we do recommend insisting on good, natural fats used according to their properties, and reducing animal, poor quality or processed ones. Tweak your portion if you like but not the healing and balancing properties of the dish and certainly not the flavour! We had some very happy chops around this indulgent, healing, veg and spice-packed offering.

Preparation Note
Serves 4 for a light dinner or 2 for a big lunch. Avoid eating the whole spices – they need to be stirred in the ghee so any kind of think muslin or stringing-togehter technique doesn’t quite do the trick here. The flavour you get is inimitably authentic – but you do need to fish out the cinnamon, cloves & cardamon once cooked. Please also remove the bay leaf before serving.

Ingredients

For the dal makhani:
2 spilling handfuls of dried dal / lentils (The speckled variety is what we had in and worked very nicely indeed, traditionally it would be dark urad dal but green, French lentils from dried also work) , soaked in water overnight to soften and ferment slightly
A thumb sized knob of butter
2 tbsp of ghee
2 cloves of garlic, pressed and chopped
2 thumb sized pieces of fresh ginger, grated / finely chopped and mashed in a mortar
2 hot green chillies (bird’s eye ones work perfectly)
6 green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick about 4cm long
4 cloves
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp organic tomato paste
5 seasonal cherry or baby plum tomatoes, finely cubed
½ tsp ground cumin
½ a can of good, organic coconut milk, stirred before pouring
1 bay leaf
3 / 4 curry leaves
2 tsp of methi (dried fenugreek leaf)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh coriander leaves to dress

For the breads:
100g of plain flour / white spelt flour
100g of wholemeal wheat / wholemeal spelt or khorasan flour
2 tsp of nigella / black onion seeds
1 tsp of caraway seeds
2 tsp of active yeast
A drizzle of cold pressed rapeseed oil
1 ½ tsp of sea salt
Ghee for brushing

Method

  • 1 For the breads, combine your flours with your yeast, salt and whole seeds. Add a good drizzle of rapeseed oil and warm water bit by bit until you can bring it together with a spoon into a dough
  • 2 Turn out onto a floured board and knead for 6 minutes, stretching the dough with the ball of your palm and returning it, turning and repeating, adding flour if sticking, or wetting your hands if too dry, until you have a smooth, pliant dough that springs back from a thumb pressed into its surface. Form into a ball, return to the bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for an hour
  • 3 For the curry, warm your butter and ghee in a saucepan. Add your onion with your whole cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and stir for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and finely sliced chilli and stir for another 3 minutes. Add the ginger and stir for another 3 minutes
  • 4 Add your tomato paste and combine well, reducing the heat to minimum. After a minute add your dal along with the fresh tomato, the cumin and the coconut milk. Stir until combined and add your bay and curry leaves. Cover with water and simmer for 45 minutes
  • 5 After an hour press the air from your bread dough and preheat your oven as hot as it will go, ideally with a pizza stone in there but a lightly buttered baking tray will work
  • 6 Take a palmful of dough and roll out on a floured board to a rough circle about 15cm in diameter. Brush with ghee and fold in half. Brush with ghee and roll out again to the same size. Repeat the process with another piece of dough, until your dough is used up
  • 7 Bake your breads in the hot oven, preheated for at least 15 minutes for about 5 minutes until it puffs and develops slight layers
  • 8 After 45 minutes, add your fenugreek leaf to your curry, teasing with your fingertips as you sprinkle it. Season well with salt and black pepper and simmer for a further 15 minutes ensuring that your dal is soft
  • 9 Remove from the heat and serve with your hot breads, a good scattering of fresh coriander leaves and a drizzle of coconut milk from the remains of the pan