Kali Dal

Kali Dal
This is the classic Punjabi dal that doused with cream and butter appears on Indian restaurant menus as dal makhani (more or less). This is a home-style version that skips the cream and butter and actually lets you taste everything that’s in it. As you can probably tell from the picture it is a creamy dal but the creaminess comes from the lentils themselves (a portion of which you mash). It’s not just healthy on that account though: as it uses a lentil/dal that is unpeeled it is chock full of fiber.

The preparation is a simple one. You cook the dal with water, salt and turmeric till it’s done, then add a prepared “tadka” to it, and continue to simmer until you’ve reached the desired consistency, which is achieved when the dal is soft to the bite but still easily holding its shape. I cook the dal itself very quickly in my terrifying Indian pressure cooker—but it will be easy enough to cook it normally on the stove-top; if you have a new-fangled pressure cooker you’re on your own (I don’t understand how those things work).


For the Dal

  • 3 cups kali urad dal (whole, unpeeled black lentils), soaked overnight
  • 1 large handful of kidney beans, soaked overnight with the dal
  • 8 cups water (if using an Indian pressure cooker)
  • 3/4 tspn turmeric powder
  • 1 tspn salt

For the tadka

  • 1 tblspn cumin seeds
  • One large red onion, chopped
  • 1 tblspn coarsely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 tblspn chopped fresh garlic
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes with their juices
  • 2-4 Thai chillies, minced
  • 1 tblspn ghee or vegetable oil
  • Salt to taste


  1. Drain the soaked dal and beans and place in a large saucepan with enough water to cover by two inches, the turmeric and salt, bring to a boil, reduce to a low simmer, cover the pot and cook till the dal begins to soften but still holds its shape and offers a bit of resistance to the bite. On the stove-top this will likely take about 1.5-2 hours (maybe more, depending on how old your lentils are). You should uncover and add more water (ideally hot, freshly boiled water) to top off as it goes.
  2. When the dal is done, mash a ladle or two’s worth of dal against the side of the pan. Stir and let it simmer on the stove while you prepare the tadka
  3. In a small frying pan heat ghee/oil and add the cumin seeds.
  4. As soon as the cumin seeds split add all the other ingredients except the tomatoes and saute over medium heat till the onions begin to brown around the edges.
  5. Add the tomatoes with a pinch of salt and cook down completely.
  6. Now add the contents of the frying pan to the simmering dal, mix everything in, taste and adjust for salt and let it all simmer together for another 10-15 minutes.
  7. Garnish with some chopped cilantro and serve with rice or chapatis.


  • If you insist on making this unhealthy you can stir in 1/4 cup of cream after you’ve mixed the tadka in.
  • If you really want to make it unhealthy you can also swirl a pat of butter around the top after taking it off the heat.
  • Don’t use ginger or garlic paste for this recipe—you want the occasional gingery crunch and garlicky softness when you eat it.
  • I made this this weekend for a large gathering—these quantities will easily feed 12-14 people with a couple of other dishes. You can easily halve the recipe.
  • If you do have a terrifying Indian pressure cooker cook the dal with 8 cups of water and the salt and turmeric for three to four whistles, take the cooker off the heat and let the pressure subside on its own.

3 thoughts on “Kali Dal

  1. I am going to make this this weekend, and douse it in cream and butter, I can’t wait. I won’t use your recipe for chicken pakoda since you don’t have one, which I can’t believe due to those kids of yours.


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