Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dal Makhni - also known as Ma Ki Dal, the lovable lentils

S and I were in Washington D.C last month, and to celebrate my birthday, we decided to dine out. Of course, that's what we were doing in D.C anyway, but we wanted to go someplace special. D.C has a score of wonderful restaurants, but somehow, that night I felt like dining at an Indian restaurant. That was perhaps the best decision we made that night. We decided to walk around Du Pont and found this up class Indian restaurant called The Heritage India. We took one look at the menu and it appealed a lot to us,and we walked in. For a second, I was shocked. It was a beautifully decorated restaurant with a wonderful huge bar, and most of the customers were suit and gown clad Americans! We wondered if this was another Indian restaurant that was "spiced down" to the American palate, but decided to be decent and sit at our table. The service was splendid, and the food turned out even better. And the best Ma Ki Dal I've ever eaten in my life was served there. I was completely floored. We even got ourselves dessert and champagne on the house. That was just the appetizers we ordered, Dahi Papdi Chaat, Lasooni Murgh Kabab, and Pani Poories (we gobbled them up), and an Arctic Sunrise and I forgot the name of his drink, lol. However, when the main course arrived, we were too engrossed in eating that we couldn't click the best ever Ma Ki Dal.

When we got back, I tried recreating it the exact same way. I've made that many times before, but this time was surely different. In India, I never had to worry about mashing the Kidney Beans, but when I made this Dal here in the US, the beans just wouldn't mash up well. So this time, I tried doing everything different, and S thinks it was even better than Heritage India's Dal!

Things you'll need:
1. Black urad dal - 1 cup soaked in water overnight

2. Kidney beans (rajma) - 1/2 cup soaked overnight

3. One big onion - chopped up coarsely. If you do not intend to grind it, chop it finely. A handful of finely chopped onions to be kept separately.

4. 2-3 tomatoes - depends on how the taste is, if it's good juicy roma tomatoes 2 should be fine.

5. Garlic cloves - 5-6

6. Ginger - 1 inch piece

7. Green chillis - 3-4 (You can spice it up the way you want)

8. Corriander, Chilli and Cumin Powders

9. Fresh heavy cream - You can do with thick curd or milk if you don't want all the fat from the cream

10. Butter for cooking - People use oil, but there's a reason why this is Dal Makhni, the butter does make all the difference.

11. Cumin seeds

12. Garam Masala

This is how you dish it up:
1. Pressure cook the Rajma for 5 whistles, along with the onions, tomatoes, chilli, garlic and ginger. I used to pressure cook the black lentils too in India, but when I tried this in the US, they got over cooked and mashed up, whereas the rajma just didn't mash.

2. Boil the lentils separately in water. Since these have been soaked overnight, they'll boil in no time.

3. When you're ready to open the cooker, try mashing up the cooked vegetables and rajma. If it does happen for you, you're lucky. I passed it through a blender to get a fine gravy.

4. Heat a little bit of butter, about 1 measuring tablespoon's worth and let the cumin seeds splutter.

5. Add the handful of finely chopped onion and allow it to cook well.

6. Add the blended gravy, chilli powder, cumin powder, corriander powder, and salt to taste. Throw in the boiled black lentils.

7. When the spices blend well, add the cream/yogurt/thick milk and allow it to cook a bit more on low heat.

8. When it's done, sprinkle some garam masala, drizzle it on the top with butter or ghee, and throw in some chopped corriander leaves.

A lot of people prefer tempering at the end. In that case, you'll fry the cumin in the end and add it. I prefer tempering upfront as the rich flavours of the tadka penetrate into the dish better. I prefer my dishes a little spicier. Sometimes, I use a bit of whole masalas while pressure cooking, and blend them with the rest. When I tasted this Dal, I didn't find a problem. S loved it and ranked it the best of all dals. You don't have to throw in a lot of butter or cream to get the rich texture. The blended rajma is what brings that texture. If you've eaten at Mexican restaurants, you'll know that the creamy red dish is the blended kidney beans, and it gives a buttery flavour to the dish, added with the real butter. I served it to S with some delicious Zaffrani Pulao that I had made that day, and he didn't speak a word during that meal. He was too busy concentrating on his food!

Thank you Heritage India for the best Ma Ki Dal I've tasted in my life, and for prompting me to try it out again. Cooking in the US is completely different from the gas range blue flame cooking in India. But we always manage to find a way out, don't we.

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