Monday, 7 February 2011

Daal Makhni

Daal makhni. That's daal is transformed into a thick, butter-based soup. I've had it often at dhabas, and I love it. Love it! But north-western cooking not being a part of my family's palate, we've never had it made at home. Now, I could go out and get it every time I wanted it, but my neighbourhood has a remarkable paucity of restaurants -- even hole-in-the-wall types so popular in this city -- and those that are nearby lack spectacularly in quality and taste. It's a sad plight for gobbly lip-smackers like me, but one has to make do with what one has. So I make do with my kitchen. Here's chef Sanjeev Kapoor's recipe for daal makhni, with a few adjustments of my own. Make it! It's brilliant for lunch, great for dinner, awesome for snacks, and particularly amazing for the awful winter you lot across the Atlantic seem to be having :-(

What you need:
A fistful of red kidney beans (I'm sure one can use black beans or that other bean so popular in the US. Pinto?)
A fistful of one kind of daal. I use toor/orohor daal, which makes a very good base. But one can use moong, biuli, even chholar daal. For local names of these daals, see this.
Tomatoes (one large, one small, or two large if you like the flavour) -- chopped.
Red onions and green chilies -- sliced.
Ginger and garlic -- minced or pasted (or crushed with a pestle).
Jeera/whole cumin.
Coriander leaves/cilantro -- chopped (optional)

My 'Valuable' Two Cents :-)
Feel free to use ground meat in the recipe if you like. Add it right after cooking the ginger, garlic, onion and tomatoes. Cook it right through till it's well-browned. Then carry on with the recipe.

Phase I: Prepping the Beans and Daal
Wash and soak the beans and daal for at least eight hours. At first, the beans will shrink, then swell again. After eight hours, drain the water, rinse the beans and daal briefly under a running tap, then pressure-cook it in about four cups of water with some minced ginger (and red chilli pasted with a little water, if you can stand it).

Soaked red kidney beans.

 Soaked toor/orohor daal

 The shrunked/crinkled looking beans

 In the pressure-cooker with four cups of water

 Plus the toor

It took seven whistles of the pressure cooker on medium-low to have the beans as mushy as we need it. If you don't have a pressure cooker, I think some overnight cooking in a slow-cooker/crockpot might be needed.

Phase II: The Actual Cooking
Heat a tablespoon of butter in a wok. You might want to use a strongly-flavoured oil instead, if you want to cut down on butter, because we will be using butter later to flavour the dish anyway. I used mustard oil. If you do the same, let the oil heat on medium till it just begins to smoke, then turn down the heat completely and let it cool before cooking in it. The rich golden yellow of mustard oil as-is will now be a much lighter shade.

Add the ginger, garlic, onions and tomato in batches, making sure the previous additions are fried halfway through before adding the next.

 Garlic, ginger, red onion, tomato.

 And now, chopped.

 First the ginger and garlic. The green stalks are from the garlic

 Now, here's an useful tip: Instead of frying the ginger and garlic in oil only, push them against the side of the wok after an initial dip in oil. The oil will make them stay there for a while, and in the meanwhile they'll, effectively, be roasted. Then put them back in the oil and fry :-)

 Add the red onions

 Wait till they're nicely translucent. Keep stirring.

 Add the chopped tomatoes to the wok.

After adding the tomatoes, sprinkle salt on the pieces. It'll help them soften. Give the salt a minute to sink in, then hold the wok still with a shNarashi or a mittened hand, and really attack the tomatoes with a spatula till they're quite pulped. Keep tossing on medium so the raw flavour is cooked quite out of it.

 Sprinkle salt on the tomatoes so it pulps easily

 Now, add a slice of butter. Go on, add it!

 When the butter mealts, drop the sliced chilies in it

 Keep cooking on low till the chilies darken

If using ground meat, here's where it goes in. The butter above will be a BIG help if adding meat. Slow-cook the meat, stirring frequently so all of it browns evenly and the tomatoes and onions don't char at the bottom. When the meat is nicely browned, scoop out the beans and add them. Most of the daal will be completely mushed into the liquid now. The liquid it the beans and daal were boiled in, that is.

 The beans and some liquid

Add the liquid from the pressure-cooker

Give the wok a few quick stirs so that the beans and liquid is mixed quite well with the flavoured tomtoes or tomatoey meat. This will be smelling SO incredibly good right now, you'll probably want to dip your head into the wok.

Don't do it. The thing'll be on a plate soon enough. 

Now hold the wok still again, then take that daal-crushing implement we used just recently to the beans. Crush 'em plain! Well, not too plain. You'll never see the end of it. Pound away till you get a rough granular paste, and leave it at that.

 That strange instrument

 That's how it'll look like when you're done with it

Well, confession time. I forgot to add a seasoning, again. I've had a memory problem for some time now, but it's getting worse by the day these days. Either that, or my inner master-chef put a lid on my memory because that part of the recipe seemed just so utterly wrong. "Add jeera, ginger and garlic", said the recipe. Which is ridiculous. 

See, there's a system to cooking, and if there isn't one for the hoi polloi, there certainly is one inside my head! Phoron -- the act of flavouring hot oil for cooking -- can be done in certain combinations. It could be spices, like the Indian five spice mix, or whole jeera, or fennel seeds and fenugreek seeds (mouri methi) and so on, or it could be ginger-garlic, or onions and chopped green chilies... but it cannot be both! It can't be jeera AND ginger-garlic. So I went ahead and boldly skipped the whole jeera, and added freshly-ground dry-roasted cumin along with the red chilies (powdered or pasted).

 Jeera powder

 Red chilli powder

 Turmeric powder

Normally, I don't bother with turmeric because it hasn't much flavour anyway, but today out of the blue I was thinking about my first friend in the grad dorms, Mona, who told me they always add some turmeric to food unless there has been a death in the family. So... I just added some turmeric. For luck. 

And at this point, you can serve it as a thick bean soup. It'll be a winner. Hands down. This is your out -- take it, because I'm about to get creative. Right now. The dish tastes great at this very moment, but it lacks a certain kick. So I took a small deshi tomato (that's a completely organic, no-chemical-fertiliser, no-genetic-alteration-at-all tomato for you), chopped it up, and added it to the wok.

 Then I topped it up with some chopped coriander. Coriander is definitely an acquired taste, but when you acquire it, boy do you acquire it! And it stays acquired. I add it to whatever I can, pretty much. And I *strongly* encourage you to do the same.

And then it's done. It's done! After all this boiling, chopping, dicing, slicing and frying, it's finally done. Pour it out in a serving bowl (mine is earthenware, a coarser cousin to porcelain). Put the remaining stalks of the coriander on top to garnish. And then, and I swear this is not my own addition... well, it is, as a matter of fact, so go right ahead and add two more dollops of butter. And let it slowly melt in the bowl.

And finally, when all the butter has melted, spoil the beauty of it all by mixing the melted butter thoroughly. Because, after all the gorgeous shots one might take of fresh vegetables in the spring sunlight, and garlic frying in melted butter, food is for eating.


Sachinky said...

I love, love dal makhni. I always order it from Azad Hind, and Classic Tandoor, a hole-in-wall place near Lord's Bakery. And I always put coriander in everything I cook. Mr. Sachinky is certainly beginning to acquire the taste of it in a hurry.

Raam Pyari said...

def will try over the week..!

Dea-chan said...

This looks like something I would like! I'll have to try it in the new place. I have most of the stuff, but half of it's packed. :-P

Also, coriander/cilantro is a little more than an acquired taste. There is a hereditary trait wherein it will taste like soap. Guess who has it? ME! My mother says it tastes like chlorine to her. I can taste A SINGLE LEAF OF GARNISH on top of a bowl of soup. It'll ruin a dish for me. Please, when we cook together next, lets leave this spice alone. Ok?

Rimi said...

Sachinky -- ah, those hole-in-the-wall places at Lord's Bakery! Similar hunting grounds, you and me :-)

Raam Pyari -- please do! I love your profile pic, btw.

T -- yes, you would really like this. And you should totally try cooking it with bacon, in bacon grease instead of butter to begin with if you dare. Or with the ground meat. I've only made it with meat once, and it's lovely!

And yeah, we'll leave out cilantro. I had NO idea there could be a genetic aversion. I suppose this is like me unable to process too much dairy.

Soapsuds said...

Lovely. If our residence hall mess cooks tried this recipe instead of the usual awful tasting one, I'm sure nobody would mind Dal Maakhni lunches.


Rimi said...

Give him the recipe :D

Magically Bored said...

Daal makhani with tandoori roti is to die for. Plus, I always add just a bit of cheese spread/grated cheese on top, it gives great flavour.

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