Black caviar lentils look very similar to the whole, unpeeled urad dal used in the making of the classic Punjabi kali or black dal—the kind that is used in the ever-popular dal makhani. They are, however, an entirely different kind of lentil. They’re also a bit smaller than kali urad dal and they cook much faster; at least the Rancho Gordo black caviar lentils cook much faster than whole kali urad dal, even when the latter has been soaked and the former has not. The Rancho Gordo site recommends cooking for just 20-25 minutes but for this recipe I would recommend going quite a bit longer. That’s because this recipe cooks them in much the same way as kali urad dal would be cooked and the goal there—as in most Indian dal recipes I am familiar with—is not to have the dal firm or completely holding its shape. I can say that despite not being identical to kali urad dal it produces an excellent result when cooked in more or less the same way. Which is not to say that this recipe is identical to that of the kali dal I posted a recipe for more than five years ago.
In most North Indian dal preps—though not my mushoor dal from Sunday—you cook the dal separately and then add a spice base to it. In some cases this is a simple tadka—just some seeds and onions/garlic/chillies—and in some cases a bit more. As you’ll see if you look at my previous kali dal recipe, my general method with black dal is to prepare a spiced sludge (mmmm) with a cumin seed tadka to which onions, garlic, ginger, chillies and a lot of tomato are added and then mixing this into the dal and simmering the whole for a bit longer. And, as is common, I always add a handful of rajma/kidney beans to the dal as it is cooking. For this recipe I followed this general roadmap but not exactly.
As this was my first time cooking black caviar lentils, I cooked the dal first so I could taste it and get a sense of how it compares to kali urad dal. I found it to be more delicate and less earthy. You might think that this might call for spicing it less robustly but I went in the other direction. In the case of kali urad dal I like to make the earthiness of the dal the central and secondary focus of the dish—I don’t add any cream or ghee or garam masala at the end and use very few spices. But in this case as the dal presented a more neutral canvas I decided to add more accents.
Oh, one more note: because the Rancho Gordo black caviar lentils will cook so quickly, you will not be able to cook the kidney beans alongside them. I soaked them overnight and then started them a little earlier with some of the water before adding the lentils. You can do this or just leave them out altogether.
- 1 lb Rancho Gordo Black Caviar Lentils
- 1 handful kidney beans (optional)
- 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
- 1 tez patta/cassia leaf (or use a dried bay leaf)
- 1 tspn cumin seeds
- 5 green cardamom pods
- A big piece of cinnamon
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 tspn grated garlic
- 1 tblspn grated ginger
- 1 tspn ginger powder
- 1 tspn powdered coriander seeds
- 1/4 tspn powdered fenugreek seeds
- 1.5 cups chopped tomato
- 3-5 slit Thai chillies
- 1 tspn sugar
- 6 cups water (approximately)
- 1 tspn ghee or good unsalted butter
- Chopped dhania/cilantro for garnish
- If using the kidney beans, soak them overnight and then set them to cook, covered, in 2 cups of water in your bean pot till just beginning to yield to the tooth. Meanwhile rinse the lentils.
- Add the lentils to the pot with the kidney beans, add more water to cover the whole by at least 2-3 inches and bring to a boil.
- Add the haldi and the tez patta, cover the pot, and cook for about 40 minutes at a simmer till the beans are cooked and the lentils are nice and creamy.
- While the lentils are cooking prepare the spice base as follows:
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pan or karhai and add the cumin seeds, cardamom and cinnamon.
- When the cumin seeds split add the chopped onion and saute till nicely browned around the edges.
- Add the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute or till the raw aroma is gone.
- Add the powdered spices and saute for another minute or so.
- Add the tomatoes, chillies, salt and sugar and cook down till the oil separates.
- Add the cooked lentils to the pan, mix in thoroughly. Add more water if necessary to loosen it up nicely and then simmer it uncovered till thick but easily pourable.
- Add the ghee, mix it in and garnish with the chopped dhania.
- Serve with rice or chapatis with a spicy achaar on the side or just eat it out of the bowl.
- As with all home-cooking, this recipe is more like loose directions than a precise roadmap. You can adjust things as you see fit. Most obviously, use less tomato or onion if you like (though I don’t think you should use more). Use more or less garlic and ginger. On the spice front you might consider adding some amchur/dried mango powder if you have any to the powdered mix. And you could add a pinch of garam masala at the end instead or in addition to the whole garam masala at the beginning.
- And if you insist you can swirl a few tablespoons of cream in at the end.
- One more thing: when making kali urad dal I mash a few ladles of the dal against the side of the pot at the end. But because these black caviar lentils got so creamy on their own I didn’t bother.