My South Indian mother-in-law makes this rustic and hearty North Indian-style kali dal which is a creamy buttery lentil dish made with whole black urad dal and rajma (red kidney beans). I’m always surprised at how truly North Indian this comforting dal tastes, as if it somehow arrived out of a cold winter evening in Delhi.
I find that the recipe is full of interesting little tips, like the one that says to throw half a stick of butter, along with green chillies and ginger into the pressure cooker at the beginning, and another that asks for yogurt to be stirred into the separately frying onions and garlic. I’m still suspicious though. It’s too tasty. Surely some South Indian influence lurks in it. When my Punjabi friends taste the dal and exclaim that “it tastes like it’s been made in our home,” I realize that I should have known better than to doubt my mother-in-law’s culinary prowess and the secret source of her recipe, Singh Aunty from Punjab.
This lentil preparation makes an easy and delicious one-pot meal. It requires some pre-soaking and pressure cooker work that may take a couple attempts to get perfect, but the dal will still turn out tasty no matter what. It’s completely whole-grain and healthy.
I usually serve it with hot rotis or basmati rice, cucumber raita and a side of raw red onions. Agastya, who just turned three, enjoys alternating spoons of onion-garnished dal with bites of roti.
In the pressure cooker:
1 cup of whole black urad dal, soaked in water overnight
1/2 cup of red kidney beans (rajma), soaked in water overnight
2 green chillies
1-inch piece of ginger
1/ 2 stick or 4 tbsps of butter
1 cup of diced onions
3-4 pods of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of yogurt
2 tbsps of oil
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
1. Soak the black urad dal and rajma in water overnight for about 12 hours. Drain the water in the morning, and place the lentils in the pressure cooker. Add enough water to the lentils such that there is a 1/2 inch of water above the beans in the pressure cooker. Add a 1/2 stick of butter, two green chillies and an inch of ginger. Bring to full pressure on medium heat, and allow 2 whistles on the cooker. Continue to cook in the pressure cooker for about 30 minutes on low heat. This makes the lentils soft and buttery with a melt-on-your-tongue texture. When you open the pressure cooker, the lentils should be in a soupy gravy. If the lentils appear too dry, you might need to add a little more water to the pot.
2. While the lentils are in the pressure cooker, heat the oil in a pan. Add the diced onions and cook for several minutes until the onions turn medium-brown in color. Add the minced garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Now add the 1/2 cup of yogurt and cook until the yogurt has completely dissolved into the onions, and you are no longer able to see the “white” of the yogurt.
3. After you open the lid of the pressure cooker, allow the steam to escape. Continue to cook the beans in the cooker for about 15 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. While the lentils are cooking add the onion, garlic and yogurt mixture, as well as the dry powdered spices: cumin, coriander, garam masala, cayenne pepper and salt. You can add a little more of the dry spices depending upon taste. I recommend tasting frequently while you are stirring and adjusting the spices if needed. The dal keeps acquiring flavor as it cooks slowly over the flame.