I was introduced to “buttery” dal makhani on a visit to the Northern Indian state of Punjab, when it was cold and below freezing weather, with no heater in sight.
It was dal makhani—filled with warming spices and lots of butter—that got me through the cold. This makes it perfect for winter in the Northern hemisphere.
Dal makhani is a stew made with whole black gram (urad dal), and red kidney beans (rajma in Hindi), flavored with cumin, clove, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaf, garlic, ginger, red chili, onion, and tomato, in a rich buttery base.
The butter tones down the spices and gives the dish an extremely creamy, rich, smooth, and silky texture that’s perfect for dipping naan bread from the tandoori oven, or for enjoying on top of cumin rice, with white radishes on the side like they serve it in Punjab.
Traditionally, dal makhani is cooked on charcoal, on a low flame overnight. This probably explains the mystique this dish enjoys in Northern India, where every restaurant, roadside stand, and home cook claims their recipe is the best.
Fortunately, use of a pressure cooker greatly reduces the cooking time (although I still prefer simmering the dal for as long as possible to impart maximum, velvety flavor).
How to make
To make dal makhani, you first have to cook the whole black gram and kidney beans from scratch.
You will need to cook the dal from scratch because you won’t find canned black gram anywhere.
So you’ll need a pressure cooker or Instant Pot, and ideally at least 6 hours to soak the beans before getting started.
In the pressure cooker, cooking the dal takes just 7-14 minutes under high pressure.
Next, you make the aromatic saucy base of this dish with spices and tomato sauce. The flavors are both subtle and complex, something to really fall in love with.
Imagine cumin seed, clove, cardamom, cinnamon bark, nutmeg, bay leaf, garlic, ginger, red chili, onion, and tomato—kind of like pumpkin pie—except more savory.
Finally, you combine the aromatic tomato sauce with the dal and simmer away. You add a few more spices in the process, and finally finish with the butter.
It’s a beautiful process to experience as it all comes together.
Black gram may be new to you.
This tiny little bean is the same size and shape as its more well-known relative, the mung bean.
You’ll almost certainly need to purchase black gram at an Indian store, or online.
Seeking out black gram is worth it though, because dal makhani will be a dish you will want to return to again and again for a cool weather comfort meal.
Garam masala is a spice mixture popular in North Indian cuisine. There are many recipes for garam masala, but the mixture generally contains cumin, coriander, cinnamon, black pepper, ginger, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves, nutmeg, and more.
Kashmiri chili powder is made from a mild red chili, and it is known for giving a bright red color to dishes more than its heat.
Kasoori methi, also known as dried fenugreek leaves, are slightly bitter and highly savory. You can imagine the taste like a cross between celery and fennel, but more rustic and wild.
Kasoori methi really adds to this dish, and I recommend you take this opportunity to invest in this healthy herb.
Turn dal makhani into a meal
Serve dal makhani hot with an Indian flatbread for dipping, such as roti, naan, or paratha.
You may also enjoy it with basmati rice.
I love a cooked green vegetable side, such as kale or Swiss chard, to assist with the digestion of the butterfat.
A fresh green salad goes really well also due to the richer and heavier qualities of this dish.
In India, dal makhani would be served with a side of raw white radishes (known as mooli in Hindi), fresh lime, and even whole green chilis.
I like a little freshly chopped tomato on top for the bright zingy quality, along with a squeeze of lime and fresh cilantro.
Easy ‘Buttery’ Dal Makhani
For the dal
- ¾ cup whole black gram, (urad dal), soaked
- ¼ cup kidney beans, (rajma), soaked
- 3 cupd water
- pinch salt
For the sauce
- 1 tablespoon ghee
- 1 cup onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
- 1 cup tomato puree
Add to the sauce
To finish the sauce (optional)
- ¼ cup light cream, (optional)
- 2 tablespoons butter, (optional)
For the optional garnish
- cilantro, minced
- tomato, freshly chopped
- lime, freshly squeezed
Soak the dal
- Combine whole black dal and kidney beans in a bowl and rinse with cold water 2-3 times. Leave to soak for 6 hours or overnight. Rinse again before cooking
Cook the dal
- Add whole black gram, kidney beans, water, and a pinch of salt to a stovetop pressure cooker or INSTANT POT.
- STOVETOP COOKER: Bring to high pressure under high heat. Reduce heat slightly, and cook for 7 minutes, then turn off the heat. Allow the pressure to come down naturally for 15 minutes, check for residual pressure, and open the lid safely.
- INSTANT POT: Reduce the water by half a cup. Put on the lid, select “Pressure Cook” on “High” and set the timer for 17 minutes. Wait 15 minutes for the pressure to come down naturally. Check for residual pressure, and open the lid.
Make the sauce
- Heat ghee in a medium skillet on medium heat. Add onion, garlic and ginger and cook until it starts to just brown. Add tomato puree and simmer gently until the ghee floats to the surface (about 10 minutes). Add a bit of water if it gets too thick.
- Add the tomato mixture to the cooked dal and turn on the heat to medium low. (If you are using the Instant Pot, select the “Saute” button to reheat the beans.) Add water if necessary to thin it out.
- Add Kashmiri chili powder, garam masala, turmeric powder, optional kasoori methi, and salt. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Mash dal using a spoon or potato masher, or process slightly with an immersion blender. (Mashing creates a smoother consistency, but you still want about half or more of the beans to remain whole.)
- Optional: Add butter or cream, and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes.
- If you are feeling rich, garnish with more cream or pats of butter.
- Alternatively, garnish with minced cilantro, tomato, and a squeeze of fresh lime.
- Enjoy with basmati rice, cooked greens, and/or naan flatbread.