Dishoom’s Black Dal is Creamy, luscious, and absolutely addictive
I love dal. It’s warm and cozy, full of flavor, creamy, rich, and hearty. It can be an all day affair or a quick 1 hour in the instant pot. This particular dal recipe is a riff on the dal at popular London restaurant, Dishoom. Think: tender lentils in a rich and creamy tomato gravy seasoned with cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, fennel, garam masala, and more. Trust me when I say that it is the BEST vegetarian comfort food dish you’ll ever eat.
Dishoom is a beloved Irani-style Bombay inspired cafe in London. Their most popular dish is the house special, black dal. When you go, you’ll see every table with a little pot of dal alongside warm naan. Dishoom is one of our go-to restaurants in London and we always, always get the dal.
The rumor is that the iconic black dal made at Dishoom is cooked for over 24 hours. They have released the recipe for the dal in their cookbook, but it’s a scaled down, home-style recipe that simmers for 5-6 hours. I loosely based this recipe on that, but we went all out and cooked ours for 24 hours because we wanted it to taste as close to the real deal as possible. The result is a decadent, indulgent dal that you will not believe came from your own kitchen. For those not interested in waiting over 24 hours for an amazing dal, we have an instant pot version too.
What is dal?
Dal are dry pulses such as lentils, peas, and beans. The term refers to both the types of soups and stews made from the pulses and the pulses themselves. Dal is cozy, nourishing, and packed with plant-based protein and fiber. It’s an excellent choice for a satisfying meal, especially served along side rice or naan.
What is dal makhani?
Dal makhani is a dish that originated in New Delhi, India. It’s a modern take on traditional dal but made with black beans or black lentils. What makes it different is the inclusion of butter and cream. Makhani means “buttery” and the butter is what makes this dal special.
What does dal makhani taste like?
Think of a thick, flavorful soup made from lentils. This particular recipe’s flavor profile is deep and dark and full of savory flavors. The lentils hold their shape yet also burst in your mouth with the slightest pressure – tiny bursts of explosions of flavor. It’s thick and spiced with a hint of sweetness from the tomato and lush and rich from the butter and heavy cream.
- black lentils: technically dal makhani uses urad dal, which are in the mung bean family. They’re not super common though and usually need to be special ordered, at least where we are. The black lentils that we usually see are black beluga lentils or petit black lentils. Most likely the black lentil you’ll find at the grocery store will be beluga black lentils which are perfect. Other lentils such as red, brown, or green lentils will work too, but their skins are thinner so they might break down more while cooking. French lentils have a slightly thicker skin so they won’t break down as much.
- spices: whole cloves, star anise, ground coriander, ground cumin, cayenne, fennel seeds, garam a masala, cardamom, bay leaf, and a cinnamon stick. Whew! There’s a large amount of spices in this dish and I feel like they all contribute equally. That being said, I know that many people make their dal makhani with little to no spices and let the lentils, butter, and cream shine. Personally, I find that the warming spices add so much. Lightly toasting the spices in a dry pan will bring out their flavors and aromas, so don’t miss out on that.
- onion: finely minced onion adds sweetness, especially when slow cooked in butter.
- ginger: the warmth of fresh ginger cooks and mellows out deliciously. You’ll want to mince it very finely or use a grater. I like to use a Japanese style ginger grater and measure out 1 tbsp of the grated ginger and all of the ginger juice too.
- garlic: who doesn’t love garlic? Use a garlic press so the pieces of garlic are tiny and melt into the gravy.
- tomato paste: the tomato paste in this recipe condenses, sweetens, and adds so much umami. Again, the smoothness of tomato paste is key here. You want the texture focus of the dal to be the lentils so tomato paste is ideal compared to fresh tomatoes.
- butter: it wouldn’t be dal makhani without butter. I use unsalted butter I can control the salt content, but I must admit, when it’s time to serve, a pat of salted butter that melts down into the warm dal is amazing.
cream: heavy cream adds a luscious creamy thickness.
What is the difference between black lentils/black beluga lentils and urad dal?
Urad dal, which are in the mung bean family, are larger and look like a whole mung bean. They’re about 1/4 inch in length and oval shaped with a small white speck on one side.
Black lentils are smaller and disk-shaped. They’re about 1/8 inches in diameter and have a tiny yellow speck.
How to make dal
This dal takes 24 hours to make, but I promise you, it is so worth it. It’s almost entirely hands off so you don’t actually do much. A covered pot just sits in a low oven and all you do is give it a stir every now and then. The results are incredible!
- Soak. Give the lentils a rinse and then soak them in plenty of cold water, overnight. Lots of lentil recipes say you can skip this step and that might be true, but I always soak mine. I feel hydrating them makes them keep their shape even after cooking.
- Cook. The next day, rinse the lentils off and drain well. Place them in a large pot with cold water and bring to a hard boil, then lower the heat and simmer. Cook until the lentils are soft, but still hold their shape, topping up with water if needed. When they’re soft, drain and set aside.
- Toast. While the lentils are cooking, toast the spices in a dry pan to release their aromas. Crush or use a spice grinder to blend everything up and set aside.
- Sweat. Heat up a bit of oil and butter in a pan and slowly cook onion, garlic, and ginger until everything melds and melts into a soft paste. Stir in the spices, tomato paste, cooked lentils, and a bit of water to make everything come together in a thick soup. Bring to a simmer then remove from the heat.
- Braise. Take a note of the time. Cover the pot tightly and place in a 325°F oven for 3-4 hours, checking every so often to see if the dal is dry and you need to add water.
- Overnight. Turn the oven to 200°F and let the dal cook overnight.
- Finish. The next day, turn the temperature up to 300°F until you’ve reached 24 hours in the oven. Stir in cream and butter and season with salt. Enjoy!
How to make Instant Pot dal
If 24 hours is much too long for your dal craving, Instant Pot dal is here for you. Here’s how you do it:
- Lightly toast the spices in a dry pan over low heat to bring out the aromas, then crush or grind them.
- Add butter and oil to the Instant Pot insert. Turn on to sauté high and stir in diced onions, minced ginger, and minced garlic. Cook briefly. Stir in the spices then add uncooked rinsed black lentils, tomato paste, and 2 cups of water.
- Seal and cook on high pressure for 15 minutes. Quick release, carefully vent, and open the lid. Stir in butter and cream to finish. Taste and season with salt and enjoy!
Instant Pot dal vs stove top/oven dal
It’s really hard to choose, but if I had to choose, I would choose the 24 hour dal. The 24 hour dal has so much more depth of flavor! It’s smoky and rich and dark. The Instant Pot version is light and creamy. It definitely had something to do with the amount of time the tomato paste has to cook and condense down. The 24 hour dal has just a hint of tomato – you almost have to be looking for it to identify the flavor, where as the Instant Pot version has tomato as one of the first flavor notes. I love both so it’s hard for me to say if one is better the other, but if I’m in a dal-rush, the Instant Pot version is AMAZING. Also, sometimes you’re just hungry. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Tips and tricks
- Soak your lentils overnight. This is the number one thing you need to do for this recipe. It will help your lentils hold their shape and be tender after cooking. Many lentil recipes say that you don’t need to, but it’s not a difficult step and I’ve never skipped it.
- There’s a certain smokiness comes from the long braise in the oven. This isn’t a quick recipe, but the hands-off time comprises most of the time. Slow cooking in the oven gives you a smokiness that you won’t get if you just make this on the stove.
- A small pot is your friend. Use a small heavy bottomed cooking vessel with an oven-safe lid. I use our 1.5 quart petite Staub and the depth and width makes it the perfect dal pot. It’s about 5 inches across and 6.5 inches high. If you use a pot with too large of a base the dal will come up shallow and may lead to burning/drying out. If you don’t have small pot, transfer your dal to a taller oven safe dish and cover it with foil.
If you’re looking for extra smoke you can complete this last step. You’ll need a small metal bowl, a piece of all natural hardwood lump charcoal, and a way to light the charcoal on fire.
- When the dal is ready and you’ve stirred in your butter and cream, place a small metal bowl directly onto the surface of the dal. The thickness of the dal should hold it up.
- Safely light your charcoal outside and let it burn until it is hot and lightly covered with white-gray ash, about 4-5 minutes.
- Use a pair of tongs and carefully put the hot charcoal in the mental bowl and add 2 tablespoons right on top of the hot charcoal. It will instantly start to smoke.
- Quickly cover the dal with the lid and let smoke for 5 minutes then remove the lid and the bowl with the charcoal.
What to serve with dal
I truly hope you try this recipe. It’s one of my favorites and always on repeat!
xoxo love and lentils,
- 1 cup black lentils I used black beluga lentils
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 star anise
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 1 small onion finely diced
- 1 tbsp ginger minced
- 1 tbsp garlic minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5.5 oz tomato paste 1 can
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- salt to taste
Soak the lentils in cold water overnight. The next day rinse and drain well. Place the lentils in a large pot and cover with cold water by 2 inches. Bring to a hard boil over high heat for 5-10 minutes, skimming if needed. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are soft, but hold their shape, about 40 minutes to 1 hour. If needed, add water to the pot to prevent the lentils from drying out. Drain and set aside.
Heat the oven to 325°F. In a small dry pan, over low heat, lightly toast the cloves, star anise, coriander, cumin, cayenne, fennel, garam masala, and cardamom, stirring constantly, until very fragrant, about 30-45 seconds. Make sure not to burn! Remove the spices from the pan and add to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Crush/grind until fine. Set aside.
In an small, oven-safe heavy-bottomed pot, heat up 1 tbsp each of butter and neutral oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5-8 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes.
Stir in the spices, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf. Add the tomato paste and 1 cup of water to bring everything to a thick, soup-like consistency. Add the drained lentils to the pot, adding a bit of water to thin out, if needed.
Tightly cover the pot with foil (or the oven safe lid) and place in the oven for 3-4 hours, checking every 30 minutes or so to stir. Add water, a tablespoon at a time, if needed, to maintain a soup-like consistency.
After 4 hours, take a note of the time and turn the oven to 200°F. The next morning, when you get up, turn the temperature up to 300°F, check if you need to add a tiny bit of water, stir, then continue to cook in the oven, covered, until you hit 24 hours from the time you started the dal in the oven.
Remove the pot from the oven and stir in 2 tbsp each of heavy cream and butter. Taste and season with salt. Enjoy with basmati rice or naan.
If desired, you can pull the dal after 4 hours in the oven at 325°F and finish with butter and cream.
Dishoom’s Black Dal Recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 94
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 5.2g33%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.