Un-Makhni Dal

The poll to select recipes for July closed on Tuesday. Here are the four recipes that will be posted on Thursdays this month, in descending order of votes received: Un-Makhni Dal; Baingan Masala; Lamb and Bean Stew; and Lamb Shank Curry with Peanuts and Potatoes. I’m particularly happy to see the two lamb dishes make the cut as they’ve been on the poll for a while. But I’m going to start the month with the top vote-getter: Un-Makhni Dal.

The first thing I will note is that this recipe is very similar indeed to a recipe for kali dal that I posted more than seven years ago. There is only one major ingredient that is added here; the rest differ only in proportions. That major ingredient is smoked ham and it keeps this from being a vegetarian or even a vegan recipe. But, as with my earlier recipe for Smoky White Bean Stew, you can fix that by substituting a smoked vegetarian/vegan ingredient of your choice: tempeh or tofu, most probably. I use whole, unpeeled kali urad dal but you could certainly make this quite successfully with Rancho Gordo’s Black Caviar Lentils, if you have any lying around. Those cook much faster and would obviate the need for a pressure cooker. Of course, if you have time and patience you could also slow cook the kali urad dal—which is something I did during the first year and a half of the pandemic, when time was not in short supply. No matter what route you take, you’re likely to end up somewhere tasty.


  • 2 cups whole kali urad dal
  • 1 handful red kidney beans or red beans of choice
  • 1 lb diced smoked ham or a small ham hock
  • 2 tspns cumin seeds
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 1.5 tspns crushed garlic
  • 1.5 tspns crushed ginger
  • 3-5 Thai chillies, minced
  • 1/2 tspn + 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • 1 tspn chilli powder of choice
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 tspn garam masala
  • 1 tblspn chopped dhania/cilantro for garnish
  • Salt
  • Water as needed
  • 2 tblspns ghee or neutral oil of choice


  1. Rinse and soak the kali urad dal and the kidney beans together overnight or for 8 hours. Drain and cook with 1/2 tspn of haldi till almost done. If using an old-school Indian pressure cooker, add 6 cups of water and cook for 4 whistles. Or do whatever the new fangled Instapot or other electric cooker would have you do to arrive at almost-cooked urad dal. Or if slow cooking, cover by a few inches of water, bring to a boil, then simmer, covered till almost done, topping up water as necessary. Either way, when the dal is almost done it should be quite thick with most of the water absorbed and evaporated.
  2. While the dal is cooking, prepare the flavour base as follows:
  3. Heat the ghee or oil over medium heat in a large, deep saucepan.
  4. Add the cumin.
  5. As soon as the cumin splits add the onion. Mix and saute for 10-12 minutes or till the onion has softened and begun to brown.
  6. Add the garlic, ginger and Thai chillies, mix in and saute till the raw aroma of the garlic is gone.
  7. Add the smoked ham, mix in and saute for a few minutes.
  8. Add the haldi, chilli powder and salt and mix in.
  9. Add the tomatoes, mix in and cook, stirring often, till the tomatoes have completely cooked down and the oil separates.
  10. Pour the almost-cooked dal into the saucepan, stir, cover and simmer till the dal is completely done.
  11. Add the garam masala, mix in and simmer for another 5-7 minutes.
  12. Garnish with the dhania and serve with rice or chapatis.


  1. Why do I call it un-makhni dal? Well, because it’s a relative of dal makhni without being it. The smoked ham is used here partly to mimic the use of charcoal to infuse proper dal makhni with smoke but that’s not all that keeps it from being dal makhni. But if you do like dal makhni you’ll probably like this.
  2. You can further approximate the cooking process of a proper dal makhni by cooking this very slowly on the stove top. Start off with just the dal, then add the rest and cook it slowly, covered for a few hours till done (topping up water as needed to prevent it from sticking).
  3. I use Deggi mirch [affiliate link] to provide colour but not heat. You could use Kashmiri chilli powder [affiliate link] instead if that’s what you have. Smoked paprika could be an interesting substitution as well. Or just whatever mild chilli powder you have. The heat will come from the minced Thai chillies.
  4. Especially if you’re cooking this slowly, you could double the amount of tomato.
  5. Here’s the Reel of the last time I made this.



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