Dishoom's Black Daal (Daal Makhani)


This past summer Phoebe and I took a trip to London and when in Rome one must dine at an Indian restaurant. London boasts more Indian restaurants than in Mumbai and Delhi combined! From quickie take-away curry spots to fancy four star temples to South Asian gastronomy, London is the place for Indian food! An Indo-British friend had suggested Dishoom in Shoreditch (they have several locations) but warned they don’t take reservations and wait times can exceed over an hour but that our patience would be rewarded. As predicted, upon arriving we were quoted 90 minutes for a table so I sent Phoebe off to explore the neighborhood while I waited in line and chatted up my fellow diners. An Indian guy waiting ahead of me said he had brought his family all the way from New Jersey to eat Dishoom’s famous Black Daal, it was the stuff of legends. I will be the first to admit I hate lentils, in particular daal. My mother would make it EVERY SINGLE DAY and I had reached my saturation point years ago. There’s only so much daal a person can eat in one lifetime but my new friend had spoken so passionately and emphatically about this magical daal, I decided what the heck, let’s give it a try and I’m so glad I did! The Dishoom Black Daal isn’t regular dal, it’s dal on steroids —luxurious and creamy with notes of ginger, garam masala and the just the right amount of chili spice enticing you to come back for more. I can see how someone would want to travel thousands of miles and wait in line for almost two hours just to eat it but luckily we don’t have to, Dishoom released a new cookbook earlier this month and they were kind enough to include the recipe for their infamous Black Daal.

I’m now convinced everything about Dishoom demands your patience. The recipe warns of a four hour cooking process that shouldn’t be rushed but will be justly rewarded, very much like a prize-winning chili. I set aside a Sunday morning and in between doing laundry and listening to podcasts, I turned some boring looking black urad daal into a dish I would happily wait in line for. I believe the secret to this daal is indeed the slow cooking process and of course ample amounts of butter and cream. My friend Mohan suggested doing the whole thing in a slow cooker, I’ll try this next time.


Prep 30 min
Cook 4 hr +
Serves 8-10

300g urad dal
4 litres cold water
12g garlic paste
10g ginger paste
70g tomato puree (I mixed tomato paste with water)
8g fine sea salt
⅔ tsp chilli powder
⅓ tsp garam masala
90g unsalted butter
3 oz heavy cream
Chapatis, to serve

Put the dal into a large bowl, cover with water and whisk for 10 seconds. Let the dal settle, then pour out the water. Repeat three or four times, until the water is clear. Tip the dal into a large saucepan and pour in at least four litres of cold water. Bring to a boil and cook steadily for two to three hours. Skim off any impurities that rise to the surface, and add more boiling water as required to keep the grains well covered. The dal grains need to become completely soft, with the skins coming away from the white grain. When pressed, the white part should be creamy, rather than crumbly. When cooked, turn off the heat and set aside for 15 minutes.

In a bowl, mix the garlic and ginger pastes, tomato puree, salt, chilli powder and garam masala into a paste.

Carefully pour off the dal cooking water, then pour on enough freshly boiled water to cover the dal by 3-4cm. Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat, then add the aromatic paste and butter. Cook rapidly for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent the mixture from sticking.

Lower the heat and simmer for one to one and a half hours more, stirring regularly to prevent it from sticking, and adding a little boiling water if the liquid level gets near the level of the grains. Eventually, the dal will turn thick and creamy. The creaminess must come from the grains disintegrating into the liquid and enriching it, not from the water being allowed to evaporate, leaving only the grains behind.

Add the cream and cook for a further 15 minutes. Serve with chapatis or other Indian breads. When reheating any leftover dal, you may need to add a little more liquid; use cream or cream and water, rather than just water alone.

Alpana SinghComment