The quintessential Dal Makhani

June 20th, 2011

For most Indians, going out for dinner at an Indian restaurant was – and still is – about having Dal Makhani, tandoori chicken, palak paneer and tandoori roti with, of course, pyaaz ka salaad and finally, if the pocket permits, kulfi to complete the outing!!

Let’s take each one and see if we can recreate it at home, starting this week with Dal Makhani!

In 1988 having cooked for about eight years or so, my former employers decided to send me on a refresher course to Mumbai with chef Satish Arora, a decision I am so grateful for even to this day! This man is a genius; a real master of the art of cooking Indian food and an amazing teacher. He starts, betae, agar chef ban-na hai to Dal Makhani seekhoYeh Pahla kadam hai.

Soak the lentils and the beans in enough water to cover them.

Leave them overnight in a warm Tandoor or an oven, and slow cook till the beans are soft with their skins still intact. Therein lies the challenge! The beans and the lentils must be perfectly cooked without becoming too mushy and still have the skin intact!! Phew . . . So much precision and difficulty for just a bl..dy Dal!!

As Arora Saab would say, “This is called ‘cooking’ with Fursat. This is no ‘fast food’; the longer it takes, betae, the better it tastes.”

And I ask him, “But how do we get it right, Chef?”

“Simple son”, he replies, “just follow these simple steps when cooking Dal Makhni.”

“First”, and he held up his thumb, “never drain the liquid in which the lentils/beans are soaked, this is called ‘pot liquor’ and will actually help in softening the beans when you start cooking. Cook the beans on a low heat, and never stir, no matter how tempted you might be to do so!!”

“Second, add some salt after the beans are soft as the salt stops the beans from cooking.”

“Third”, and he held up a third finger, “add the spice (garam masala) as a bouquet garni and leave it in with the beans as it preserves and helps mature the Dal.”

“Fourth, make sure you add the rest of the ingredients one at a time, making sure you cook the last ingredient before adding the next.”

“And fifth”, and he held out his entire palm with all his fingers outstretched, “finish the Dal with Quasoori Methi (fenugreek leaves from the region of Quasoor) in Pakistan, as this prevents any flatulence!!”

“And last, but by no means least, remember to cook the dal uncovered, which means no pressure cooking!!”

“Can’t see, won’t cook!!”, and he crossed his arms across his body, nodded his head, and eyed me to see if I’d taken it all in. I had!

To try and make your own Dal at home, click dal makhani recipe.

Next week I’ll be telling you about Palak Paneer. Happy cooking until then!


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    […] this wonderful description of cooking Dal Makhani from the chef at […]

  2. kanchana arun

    you should write a book ajoy . you are great in explaining!!!!



  4. Nicky

    Kalakare da,kanna!!

  5. Rajasekar cheannai 98407 27517

    a good write up and an extremely useful tip,DAL MAKHNI the best when cooked right ofcourse with love and warmth.
    Dal Makhni was and is my favourite since I started my career.
    Thank you for the tip

  6. felix

    Great article, hope you remember me from taj residency Bangalore

  7. madhu13

    Ajoy- you seem to be rekindling my love for home made food! Good tips :-).Keep it up mate!

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