Punjabi Dal Makhani – Indian Comfort Food

Healthy, hearty and comforting.

The name is a bit intimidating and exotic. But if you’ve had the pleasure of having Trader Joe’s Madras Lentils and you’ve wondered how they came up with something so tasty…. Well, I can tell you this. They took notes from a tried and true dish that has been eaten in India for a very long time. By calling it Madras lentils they promise something familiar, the humble lentil, combined with exotic spices. And that is exactly what this dish is. It is comforting and exotic all at once. I love Trader Joe’s version, I have nothing bad to say about it. But being that I am me, and I love to cook, I was inspired to find a way to make this dish from scratch. I also wanted to discover the non-Americanized version and see for myself how it compares.

After many months of research I finally came up with something glorious. It is not an exact replica of the Trader Joe’s version. It is a little bit hotter, a little bit more exotic but just as comforting and delicious. And because I made it at home, I can feel good about the fact that I know what is in it and I have control over the quality of the ingredients. Also, I like to think home cooking carries the added flavor of the love I put into it. This recipe, to the best of my knowledge and even with all my tinkering, can still be considered an authentic Indian dish. I hope you like it as much as Thogg and I did. This is sure to be a part of our rotation from here on out. It is also a dish that, once you have the spices in your pantry, costs pennies per portion.

A little note about some of the ingredients: Get your spices at a good spice vendor. It makes all the difference. If you don’t have a local spice market, I get mine at a local place called World Spice Market in Seattle. They ship (not sure about international). Click here for their website! Urad dal, which is the “lentil” Trader Joe’s named their version should not be confused with the true black lentil which is smaller. Urad dal also goes by the names: black gram, matpe bean, and vigna mungo. It is actually in the same family as the mung bean which is grown throughout asia and is a similar shape and size although the mungbean is yellow or light green. Urad dal may be hard to find if don’t have a local Indian market. Going online may be an alternative.

Urad Dal looks like a black mung bean.

This dish is healthy and filling. The beans provide a huge amounts of vital nutrients as well as a good dose of fiber and healthy complex carbohydrates. I have lowered the amount of fat, and saturated fat in this dish in comparison to many of the original versions. You could completely omit the butter by switching entirely to oil and use milk fully in place of the cream, but I was unhappy with it myself. I feel that this version does not sacrifice flavor and palate-ability yet is something that I still consider healthy. Besides, many researchers are finding that in order to absorb many of the nutrients from plant based foods, we need to have fat in the food to do so. Eating this dish with a bread or rice gives you a complete source of protein for your meal.

Also, apologies that I didn’t take pics of a lot of the ingredients or the process this day. I was tired and really didn’t expect that I would be posting this recipe. It just turned out so incredibly good that I changed my mind after the fact.


  • 3/4 c Urad Dal
  • 1/4 c kidney or red beans
  • 2 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 8 garlic cloves – minced
  • 1 tsp garam masala (I use the Kashmiri version from World Spice)
  • 2 inches ginger root – peeled and minced
  • 1/4 c cream
  • 1/4 cup low fat milk
  • 1 tsp (more or less to taste) de-seeded and ground dried red chili pepper (use cayenne as a substitute)
  • 2 to 3 Tbs butter
  • 1 Tbs oil
  • 2 medium tomatoes – de-seeded and chopped small
  • 1 medium onion – chopped fine
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • salt to taste
  • pinch of dried methi (fenugreek) leaves – ground to a powder (optional but highly recommended)


  • Pick through, rinse, and then soak the dal and beans overnight in 4.5 cups water.
  • Cook the soaked beans in their water in a medium to large pot along with the red ground chilies and half the ginger. Keep it covered while cooking and do not add salt yet. Cook until the beans are soft.
  • Once the beans are almost soft, warm up a large skillet or pan and add 1 Tbs oil and 2 Tbs butter. Once the butter is melted and becomes hot, add the whole cumin seeds. Once they begin sputtering and popping add the onions and fry until they begin to brown. Then add the ginger, garlic, tomatoes and a good pinch of salt. Using a spatula cook and smash the mixture until it breaks down and starts to become a bit paste-like. If the tomatoes are not breaking down enough add more salt. Add water or up to 1 Tbs more butter if necessary.

Smash your veggies while you cook them to break them down faster.

  • When the beans are soft (much of extra water will have been soaked up or evaporated) mash them in their liquid with a potato masher or ricer. You do not need to mash them completely, you just want to break them down a bit in order to give them a better texture and to help thicken the dish. Add the tomato mix to the mashed beans, mix and add enough salt (I needed several good pinches) to season it. Bring it back to a low boil, stirring often, and add the tomato paste and cook for another 15 minutes.
  • Add the cream, milk and garam masala powder and simmer for another 5 minutes. Take the dish off the heat and sprinkle it with a pinch of dried, powdered methi leaves. Give it a last taste and add more salt if needed.
  • Garnish with some cilantro and serve with naan or rice.

Yummy with some Naan bread!


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