Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Slow-cooked Indian Black Lentils: Dhal Makani

One of my favorite lentil, or "dhal," dishes at Indian restaurants is the creamy, slowly cooked black lentil stew called "dhal makani." This is a "fancy" restaurant dish and is traditionally simmered overnight in a clay pot in the dying coals at the bottom of the tandoori oven. Nowadays an electric slow cooker does the work. But it still takes overnight or all day to simmer.

The dish, though made from whole black "urad dhal" plus red kidney beans, is actually a reddish brown color. It is very creamy. But just to enhance that richness it usually has real cream stirred in at the end. It accompanies a curry extremely well, along with rice or Indian breads.

It took a long time for me to know to look for it at restaurants, and much longer to realize I could make this favorite dish at home easily and economically. The key ingredient is the small black dhal, unsplit. It is available in one- or two-pound bags at Indian groceries, of which we have many in Atlanta and even one in Athens. Otherwise the special ingredients are fresh ginger, cumin seeds, turmeric, dry red kidney beans (available at Indian groceries, some natural food stores, and some supermarkets), and cream or canned evaporated milk.

While it is an acquired taste to Americans (I now like it), Indians will often include a little asafoetida ("hing") in the dhal. My recipe does not use it, but if you wish, put a quarter teaspoon of powdered asafoetida (from Indian groceries) in with the other spices.

The recipe serves six with leftovers.

Dhal Makani (Creamy Stewed Indian Black Lentils)

1 pound (2-1/4 cups) whole black urad dhal (see above)
1/2 cup dry red kidney beans
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
1 inch fresh ginger, thinly sliced then pounded in a mortar or finely minced
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
1-1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
1-1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt plus to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream or canned evaporated milk
Chopped cilantro for serving

Pick over lentils on a cookie sheet (there are often small stones) and pick over beans. Rinse them together well. Soak at least 8 hours in water 3 inches over the top. Drain, and place them in the container of a slow cooker (crock pot).

Add butter, oil, tomato paste, if used, ginger, onion, garlic, bay leaves and ground spices (but not salt). Add boiling water to 2 inches above surface of lentils.

Heat 1/2 hour on high cook setting, then reduce to slow cook (not "warm") and let simmer overnight or all day, 10-12 hours.

Add salt and sugar, then mash with potato masher to coarsely break up lentils and beans. Add water if needed to give a soupy consistency. Let heat 10 more minutes, then stir in cream or evaporated milk. After 10 minutes, taste, and add salt if needed.

Serve sprinkled generously with chopped cilantro.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just tried this recipe and it turned out great. Easy to follow and not too hard to find the black lentils.

10:45 PM  

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