This is a recipe for one of the world’s finest dishes. Give it time and it will reward you handsomely with the most captivating, indulgent dal you’ve ever eaten, full of earthy, smoky flavours, rich deep tomato and warm buttery notes. This dal can also be made a day in advance.
urad dal (black lentils) 400g
unsalted butter 60g, plus 30g to finish
onions 2 large, finely sliced
ginger 4cm, peeled and finely chopped
garlic 10 cloves, crushed
tomato puree 6 tbsp
salt 1¾ tsp
chilli powder ¾ tsp (or to taste)
whole milk 400ml
In a sieve, rinse the urad dal in a couple of changes of cold water, until the water runs clear, then drain and put into a deep pan – they will double in volume while soaking. Cover with a generous amount of just-boiled water and leave them to soak for at least 6 and up to 24 hours.
Once they’ve finished soaking, rinse them, drain and put back into the pan. Cover them with cold water and bring to the boil, then continue boiling for 45 minutes. Scrape off any scum that forms on the top and discard.
Meanwhile, put 60g of butter into a frying pan on a medium heat. When it starts to foam, add the onions and cook for 15 minutes, then add the ginger and garlic. Fry for another 5 minutes. It’s not worth skimping on the time here: the longer you cook these (without burning), the more flavoursome your dal will be. Add the tomato puree, salt and chilli powder, stir well, then take off the heat and set aside.
Once boiled, the dal should be soft enough to crush against the side of the pan. When it is done, keep enough water in the pan to just cover them and drain the rest off. Add the onion and tomato mixture and the milk, bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer.
Stir every now and then for around 1½ hours. If the sauce starts to run low over time, top it up with an equal mixture of whole milk and water. The sauce will start to turn darker, richer and creamier. If the dal is not rich and dark after 1½ hours, give it some more time – you can’t do this dish any harm by cooking it for a little longer.
Taste, adjust the salt and chilli if necessary, add the remaining butter just before serving and stir. Serve alongside rice or hot fluffy naans.