Dal Makhani (literally buttery lentils) and Mah di Dal (literally black lentils and sometimes translated as Mother’s lentils) are Punjabi dishes. Many equate them as the same dish, but technically they are different dishes.
Mah di Dal is also called Kaali Dal, Ma ki Dal, Maa ki Dal and Manh di Dal. The literal translation of Mah di Dal as Mother’s Lentils shows the love that Punjabis have for this dish.
There are also other dishes that are a riff on the same theme – Dal Bukhara and Dal Maharani, Amritsari Dal, Maa Chole Di Dal and Si Dal are explained below.
Dal Makhani and Ma di Dal
Both dishes incorporate urad (black gram) as their base. As urad cooks it naturally creates a creamy base for any dish that uses it. It has a natural affinity to long slow cooking and wet dishes – it is rarely used in dry Indian dishes.
Because of the slow cooking of the urad, both dishes are naturally creamy and hearty. However there are key differences in the two dishes.
Ma di Dal is made with 1 lentil only – the whole urad lentils (black gram). Recipes abound and the spices varies from region to region and family to family. Butter and cream is optional – it is not traditional but often recipes will add a little cream and/or butter to the dish.
Dal Makhani is always made from whole urad lentils and kidney beans (rajma), and channa dal (split small chickpeas) is also sometimes included. It is always a rich dish with the addition of copious amounts of butter and cream to generously enhance the creaminess of the slow cooked urad.
Dal Bukhara and Dal Maharani
Dal Bukhara, like Ma ki Dal, is made with Urad alone and is often a simpler dish than Dal Makhani. It is less likely to contain butter, tomato paste and cream – rather it is the long cooking time that produces its intense creaminess, and fresh tomatoes are added early and become part of the cooking process. In Dal Makhani the butter is blended into the dish, but with Dal Bukhara, the butter is dropped into the dish as it is served. (However, many current recipes that you will see add copious amounts of butter and cream. This has become more popular in the past few years.)
Dal Maharani is a subtle variation of Dal Makhani, but opinions vary as to the differences. Some sources use the name interchangeably with Dal Makhani, while at the other extreme, some sources have it made with channa dal only.
Maa Chole Di Dal and Si Dal
There is another Punjabi dish, made from urad dal and channa dal, maa chole di dal. And Si Dal, a very simple Urad dish.
Dal Amritsari, as the name suggests is a dal from the city of Amritsar in the Punjab region of North India. Two lentils are combined – urad which is slightly glutinous, and channa which is more crumbly.
There are no spices used in this dal, only cumin. It is a dal bursting with simple rustic flavours and subtle sweetness. The next day the dal tastes even better.
You might like to try different Dal Makhani recipes, Mah ki Dal Recipes, and a range of recipes using Urad. There is also a Unhulled Urad and Rajma recipe, a sister to Dal Makhani. For more information on Urad, go here.