Most Indian lentils come in four ways:
- Skinned, whole
- Skinned, halved
- Unhulled, whole
- Unhulled, halved
and amazingly, each one has a different taste, different properties, are best for different dishes. I was out of urad (black gram) this week, and my trip to the Indian grocer yielded four different packages.
Urad dal is quite special indeed. I love it a lot. Mostly Nth Indian in style, it takes to long and slow cooking very well. For Mah ki Dal we use whole unhulled lentils.
You will notice a difference with this North Indian recipe from our usual South Indian dishes – North Indian in general have very refined and very large spice combinations, while South Indian dishes use fewer spices and are perhaps tangier (in general).
This dish is also called ma ki dal, maa ki dal and manh di dal.
Urad dal is well suited for the slow cooker, and it is this recipe that I am sharing today.
Mah di Dal means Mother’s Lentils. It shows the regard that Punjabis have for this dish. Creamy and hearty because of the slow cooking of the urad, it can be made even richer with the addition of cream or yoghurt and butter, although that is not traditional. Some will call this a Dal Makhani, technically it is not.
Mah di Dal is made with 1 lentil only – whole urad lentils (black gram). Recipes abound and the spiciness varies from region to region and family to family. Butter and cream is optional.
Dal Makhani is always made from whole urad lentils, kidney beans (rajma) and channa dal (split small chickpeas) . It is always a rich dish with the addition of copious amounts of butter, cream and sometimes yogurt too to enhance the creaminess of the slow cooked urad.
Mah ki Dal | Mah di Dal | Mother’s Lentils | Kaali Dal
Prep time:20 mins
Cooking time: 8 hours in slow cooker
Serves: 3-4 people, depending how you use it. You can double the recipe to serve more. It freezes well without the cream.
1.5 cups whole black gram dal with skin on (urad dal)
1/2 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1.25 cm piece ginger, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 green chillies, chopped
1 bunch fresh green coriander
1/2 Tblspn cumin powder
1/2 Tblspn coriander powder
1/2 Tblspn garam masala
1/2 tspn turmeric
1/2 tspn chilli powder, or more, to taste
6 cups water
3 – 4 ripe tomatoes
1/2 tspn mustard oil
1/4 cup heavy cream or yoghurt (optional)
1 Tblspn butter for garnish (optional)
chopped onions for garnish
chopped tomatoes for garnish
These instructions are for a slow cooker, but you can use the stovetop too. You will need more water and it will take 1.5 – 2 hours to cook. if you pre-soak the lentils.
Soak the urad overnight, rinse and drain. This step can be omitted, but you might find that you need to finish the cooking on the stovetop just before serving.
Place the drained urad dal in the slow cooker.
First saute the onion, chilli, garlic and ginger until the onion is just browning. Then grind these to a paste with half of the green coriander. Add this to the slow cooker with the chilli powder, cumin, coriander powder, salt, turmeric, and water.
Puree the tomatoes in the food processor and add to the slow cooker.
Cook on high for 4 hours and then add the mustard oil (if using). It helps to break down the lentils.
Cook for another 4 – 6 hours and stir in the garam masala.
Slow cookers vary on heat levels. If your dal is too liquid or if your urad has not cooked down to very soft, place the dal in a saucepan and simmer for around 30 mins or until it has the desired thickness and the lentils are soft.
Keep warm until you are ready to serve. Mix in the remaining green coriander and the cream if using. Optionally drizzle some mustard oil over the top. Garnish with the butter, chopped onions and tomatoes. Serve with rice, an onion salad and yoghurt.
recipe notes and alternatives
Although whole unhulled urad is traditional, it can be made successfully with split urad. The flavour is not as deep and earthy but it is still very very nice. It is lighter in colour because of the split lentils and the amount of cream added.