We had a few people over for a Superbowl party. Now, I freely admit, that my interest is not in that kind of football, but hey, any excuse for a party. And the game wasn't too bad either!
I wanted to keep the food simple, but delicious, and ideally something I could cook up the night before. So I decided on my specialty, prawn biriyani, because I could make the sauce the previous night, and I wanted a dal to go with it.
I was wondering if I should go with just plain tarka dal, but it seemed a bit pedestrian for a party. I wanted something a bit more fancy, which looked like I had made a little more effort. So I picked my second favourite dal, Dal Maharani. Dal Maharani is very similar to Dal Makhani (dal with butter) and Dal Bukhara (the famous dal from the Bukhara restaurant in Delhi). The only difference seemed to be the addition of chana dal (yellow split peas) and red kidney beans, and a slightly different spice mix.
I made up the recipe for this dish, as I was trying to recreate the taste based on the Dal Bukhara I remember eating. So it felt like I was doing a lot of 'add a little of this, and maybe a little more of that... nah, doesn't taste quite right, add more of this etc.'... but, in a rare moment of organisation, I actually kept jotting notes of what I was adding to it. Shocking, I know, but it actually meant that I could blog the recipe, without trying to remember how the heck I cooked it.
This dal does take a long time to cook, especially if you have no pressure cooker like me, but after the initial work putting it together, it basically just simmers away on a low heat, while you stir it ocasionally, so not super labour intensive! The longer you simmer it, the better it will taste. And it tastes terrific the next day, and freezes well too. So you may as well as make a big batch and freeze in meal sized portions for a quick dal fix!
2 cups whole black gram (black urad/ urid dal)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bicarb of soda)
1 cup chana dal (yellow split peas)
2, 1 inch pieces of cinnamon
2 dried or fresh bay leaves
For the spice mix -
1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 long mild red chillies
2 inch stick of cassia bark or cinnamon
4 - 5 whole cloves
2 pods cardamom
1 small petal of star anise (not the whole flower, just a petal)
1 dried bay leaf
To make the dal -
1 medium onion, diced very fine
3 cloves garlic, microplaned to a paste
1 inch piece of ginger, microplaned to a paste
1 tin of tomato paste (roughly 6 oz)
1/2 - 1 tsp hot red chilli powder
2 - 3 tbsp hot water
1, 400g tin of red kidney beans in water, don't drain
2 cups plain yoghurt
3 tbsp olive or vegetable oil (don't use extra virgin olive oil)
Salt to taste (I used 2 tsps)
To finish -
1/4 cup light cream (half and half)
2 tbsp butter
Fresh coriander, chopped
In separate bowls, soak the chana dal and the black gram separately in cold water overnight, or at least for 6 hours.
The next day, put them into separate pots (adding the bicarb/ baking soda to the black lentil pot), and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until both the dals are cooked. It will take roughly 30 -40 minutes for the chana dal and around 1 hour for the black gram. Both the dals should be soft, but still be able to hold their shape. If you have a pressure cooker, cook both dals separately, until soft.
To make the spice mix, toss the spices together in a hot, heavy pan for about 1 minute, till they smell heavenly. Grind to a fine powder in a powerful blender.
In a big pot, heat the oil, and add the finely diced onion. Cook, stirring for 4 - 5 minutes, until onion is soft and just beginning to colour. Add the ginger and garlic, and cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste, ground spice mix and red chilli powder and stir till well mixed. You may have to add the hot water to make this mixture a bit looser. Cook together for 15 minutes or so, adding a little more water if the masala is too dry.
Now add the cooked dals and the tin of kidney beans (water and all) to the tomato mixture. Stir well, then add the yoghurt and salt. Stir together, taste and add more salt, if required.
Now simmer this mixture on a very low heat for at least 30 minutes (ideally 1 hour), topping up with a little hot water if its drying out. Taste again, and adjust seasoning as required.
Note: If freezing, let the dal cool at this stage and freeze in meal sized portions. Reheat, and then add the cream and butter to serve.
Just before serving, add the cream and butter to the dal, and stir well. Garnish with fresh chopped coriander. Serve hot with naan or rice. This tastes delicious the next day.