Bollywood Cooking: Mum's Creamy Black Lentils - Kaali Maa Di Dal

Dal-Maa Di Dal (01) by MeetaK

Starting the year with a comforting bowl of homemade creamy black lentils. While last year the Bollywood Cooking series focused on many popular street food and restaurant dishes, this year my concentration for the series will be good, down-to-earth, homey food. The type of food I grew up on. My mum is and my grandmother was exceptional in the kitchen. The dishes cooked in their kitchens were beyond scrumptious - they were the solid foundation that gave us footing and reminded us of our roots.

That was important, especially for my grandmother who feared that all her grandchildren, who were born and/or brought up outside of India, would forget where they came from. My grandmother spoke to us only in Hindi.

"How else will you all learn your language!" she would say. We would laugh and in return we teased,

"Nani we will learn from all the Bollywood films!" Knowing very well that although she enjoyed a good Bollywood flick, she did not approve of all that "Western" influence depicted in the films.

The result: we speak Hindi, albeit with an accent (not including the cousins living in India) and some better than others. When we all get together we often speak in Hindi and remember Nani - how she would scold us how she would love us.

I come from a Sikh Punjabi family and grew up with very close ties to my mother's side of the family. We would spend many vacations with my grandparents sometimes in the US but often in India. Life in both countries could not have been more different.

India is colorful, loud and full of life. My grandparents house in Delhi was always alive. Neighbors and friends would go in and out, discussions and gossip would be held on the veranda with anyone who happened to go by and had time, we children would run around shouting and laughing and no one ever told us to be quiet and in the background the radio would always be playing tunes of old Hindi songs from the 60s.

"I am never lonely in India!" My grandmother would say when asked which country she preferred.

When the family was visiting, it was obvious that the kitchen was the hub of the house. It seemed that everything revolved around food and mealtimes. My nani and mum, who was the eldest of four children, were always busy buying or cooking food. Flour would be kneaded to make fresh chapaatis for each meal, vegetables cut and prepared for the various sabzis and lentils or beans picked for stones and cooked into thick creamy bowls of goodness.

My grandfather was a vegetarian and my grandmother was not - so you can imagine how much she enjoyed our visits when she had a good excuse to cook lamb or chicken. But that is for another post.

It was dal however, that enjoyed the most popularity. Everyone had their favorite type and my nani would make it a point to cook one favorite for each meal.

Indeed dal is the answer to every discomfort. Feeling unwell, exhausted, depressed or low, my mother's remedy to all was a bowl of comforting dal and steaming rice - dal chawal, as it is called in Hindi - lentils and rice.

There must be truth in her remedy because today when I miss her, or am exhausted, or feeling down or homesick, I take out a packet of dal, pick it over for stones, cook it in the pressure cooker, while the rice cooker prepares fluffy scented rice and no sooner have I taken the first spoonful, I instantly feel a little better.

Dal-Maa Di Dal (02) by MeetaK

My favorite type of dal dish is and always has been Kaali Maa Di Dal - a delicious, rich Punjabi dish with a mix of creamy whole black sabut urad lentils (black gram), channa dal (or split Bengal gram dal) and a handful of black kidney beans.

The name of this dish is in actual fact derived from the main ingredient - sabut urad. In Punjabi this particular type of lentils are called "maah". Contrary to popular belief the maa in the name of this dish does not mean mother - even though the Hindi word for mother is maa. Knowing that, we can now decipher the entire name of the dish:

  • Kaali = Black
  • Maa = Sabut Urad
  • Di = of
  • Dal = Lentils

So, basically it means that you are getting a lentil dish made of black sabut urad. Too trivial? On the contrary this dal dish is anything but trivial. The spices and aromas make this a wonderfully complex flavored dish full of texture.

There are certainly several different recipes for preparing this particular type of maa di dal, sometimes disguised under the elegant name of Dal Makhani - buttery dal. Every Indian cook (or mother) has their own recipe for maa di dal. However, this recipe for a traditional Punjabi Kaali Maa Di Dal is my grandmother's and adapted by my mother. I never got a chance to learn how to make this favorite dish of mine from my nani, but as I grew up eating and loving my mother's version I thought it would be nice to start the year by sharing mum's creamy black lentils with you - or as we would say in Punjabi Maa di Kaali Maa di Dal ;-)

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  • Deadline January 5
  • Bake delicious cookies sweet or savory highlighted by a spice
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  • Come on over and join us. Details here.


Recipe: Mum's Creamy Black Lentils - Kaali Maa Di Dal

Printable version of recipe here.

200g whole black lentils - black sabut urad, washed several times in cold water and soaked overnight
80g split Bengal gram - channa dal, washed several times in cold water and soaked overnight
50 - 80g red kidney beans, I used canned kidney beans, washed several times
15g fresh ginger, peeled and cut into two pieces
5-6 garlic cloves, peeled
2-3 green chillies
4 green cardamom pods
2-3 bay leaves
2 sticks cinnamon
1 teaspoon black cumin seeds
Pinch asafetida powder
1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder 
3 tablespoons ghee, use clarified butter or unsalted butter as a substitute
160g red onions, finely chopped
400g can crushed tomatoes
50ml heavy cream
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped


  1. In a large saucepan add the sabut urad and channa dal and fill with about 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil uncovered on medium heat. On the surface you will notice a foamy substance, skim off as much of this substance as possible.

  2. In a food processor add the ginger, garlic and chillies, pulsing until minced.

  3. Once the water has reached a rolling boil, add the minced ginger-garlic mixture and stir. Throw in the cardamom pods, bay leaves and cinnamon. Reduce the heat and covered, simmer gently until the legumes have softened and are cooked - about 1 hour.

  4. While the legumes are cooking, heat a skillet on medium heat and melt 2 tablespoons ghee. Once the ghee is hot add the cumin seeds and allow them to cook until they sizzle and sputter - about 5-8 seconds. Add the asafetida and Kashmiri chili powder, stir well. Finally add the chopped onions and stir-fry until golden brown - about 5 minutes.

  5. Pour in the canned tomatoes, reducing the heat to low. Simmer the sauce until the ghee (or butter) begins to separate - about 6 to 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Sprinkle some salt to taste.

  6. Once the legumes are ready - they should be soft and tender - stir in the tomato sauce. Mix until incorporated. Add about a cup of water to the skillet and scrape off any bits of the sauce, then pour it into the legumes.

  7. Add the kidney beans and simmer, covered until they are soft and tender - about 8 minutes.

  8. Pour in the cream and heat through. Stir in the remaining ghee and serve, sprinkled with chopped coriander leaves.

Serving tips:

  • This dal is just delicious with plain Basmati rice, scented with cloves and cardamom pods. It's the way my mum and I enjoy the dish best.
  • My father enjoys this with Arabic or Lebanese bread, breaking pieces off and dunking it into the creamy mixture.
  • Tom loves this in a similar way but likes using crispy rustic French baguette instead and a drizzle of fresh lime juice.
  • Soeren simply enjoys this as a soup, spooning the goodness with a huge spoon.

Food Guide Tip: Learn everything about legumes, including how to cook them, select and store them.


Dal-Maa Di Dal (03) by MeetaK

Now that I am so far away from home and my family, dishes like these keep me grounded and soothes any homesickness I might be feeling - at least for a while. The gorgeous aromas of the spices envelop me and bring me close to my parents and brother. It reminds me how my brother would grump about "always eating dal!" but deep down inside he knew that it was more than dal - it was home!

Mum's creamy maa di dal was full of flavor and delicious richness. She sometimes mashed the kidney beans to make the sauce thicker and velvety. The lovely nuttiness of the three legumes is wonderfully highlighted by the sweetness of the tomatoes and the spices completes the entire dish adding a piquant flavor. It's just comfort in a bowl!

I am kind of late - it's far beyond the deadline - but I wanted to enter this to Suganya's session of My Legume Love Affair, Sixth Helping. Suganya, I hope I can bribe you with a bowl of this creamy comforting Kaali Maa di Dal.

More legume love affair from WFLH:

Red Coconut Lentils 01a framed Black Bean Chilli 03 framed ChannaMasala02
Creamy Coconut Red Lentils Black Bean Chili with Saffron Rice Channa Masala

From around the blogs:

Daily Tiffin Reading Tip:


All photographs and written content on What's For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2009 Meeta Khurana unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First

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  1. This sounds absolutely delicious. Very soul warming. Thanks for the recipe, I love your site!

  2. great idea for a winter meal. I bought a packet of urad dal - been wanting to make dal makhni. and i am a lil confused if dal makhni and maa ki dal is same or?? any idea>?

  3. Hi Meeta,

    There is one curious thing in your blog that resonates with me. I am vegetarian but my wife and daughter aren't. Needless to say, this has led to some interesting situations in our life.

    If there is an interesting story behind your grandfather being vegetarian while your grandmother wasn't, I would love to hear about it.


  4. Meeta,

    You are so right!! I think for a lot of Indians, there is nothing so comforting and healing as a bowl of rice and dal. Thanks for the lovely recipe and write-up. Made me nostalgic as well.

  5. This sounds and looks comforting!

    A very Happy New Year to you hon!

  6. You could sure bribe me with a bowl of this. Something about those little lentils that I love. Beautiful spices.

  7. Dal is one of my favorite Indian dishes but I don't have it very often (A. likes meat-based Punjabi dishes better and makes those more than non-meat ones) but I will be sure to try this recipe soon.

  8. That's one good lookin daal Meeta... Love the styling....

  9. Looks like my kind of food! I love down-to-earth and homey foods. Sounds really delicious.

  10. That does look comforting -- and I love the story behind the dish. We have a very good Indian market in Providence where I can find things like black lentils, too.

  11. I reeeeeeeeeeeeally want to make this at home Meeta ... *sigh* if only the hubbs wasn't allergic to kaali daal. *sigh* Someday though, when he's off travelling, THEN I'll make me a big batch of this dish, using your recipe.
    If you're looking for more lentil dishes to feature on your blog, check out my rajma masala.

  12. A great insight into your family life Meeta! and these lentls def look comforting and delicious. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Hi, this is my first time here, what a lovely blog you have! Such an inspiration for a new blogger like myself :)

  14. This looks delicious, Meeta. I love the earthiness of black lentils too.

  15. I need something non-meaty and healthy, but sill delicious. As far as I can read, this recipe fits all three of those specs. Thank you for sharing.

  16. I have been a fan of your website for a long time. The picture you portray of childhood in India is exactly the same I remember mine, although I come from another state.
    Co-incidentally, my father is vegetarian and mother isn't. As a result we ate non-veg very infrequently. Now, strangely I am more of a vegetarian at home and my husband isn't.

    The dal looks absolutely delicious. I have to try this recipe.

    Happy New Year !

  17. So they are on at last!! I wondered when you would have maa ki dal because it is so typically Punjabi:), and it is impossible for anyone to dislike this one!!

    This is our family favourite dal too:)

  18. Thank you so much everyone for your comments.

    ANON - Thanks for your comment. The story is basically how both managed with their different eating habits and lifestyle. I do plan to post about it sometime in the future, For now all I can say both have to be a little understanding towards the other.

    Rajani - my mum and i will say they are two different dishes. my mum's recipe for dal makhani does not include the channa dal for example and there are a few other variations too. I hope to provide the recipe for that soon in this series. Often however they both get mixed up and are treated as one dish.

    This is a must try recipe and I hope it brings comfort to you as much as it does to me!


  19. I always enjoy reading your family stories :-) And I LOOOOOVE lentils!!

  20. We love our dals too.:) Truly comfort food.
    I make mine without the chana dal.

  21. Great post, I'm looking forward to trying this...dal makhani is one thing which I always have trouble with! Btw do you mind if I link to your blog - love your photos and writing? It would be great if you did the same - thanks!

  22. some ingredients I've never worked with -- this looks like a great place to start. Loved the story too :)

  23. Meeta, hope you had a great start to the New Year too!

    the dal looks warm and comforting, and your photography has improved so much girl, if that's even possible:)D

  24. The ingredients sound like this is an improved version of chili in a way. It sounds wonderful Meeta!

  25. My parents are flying to Mumbai today, their first trip to India ever. How I wish I could have gone too.

    Isn't it funny when you don't reside in your home country anymore, you prepare dishes you grew up with for comfort. Yes, it works!

    Cream in any dish works for me. :-)

  26. Thats really very comforting Meeta...I thought you are sending this to me...:)...

  27. Love lentils. This sounds like a perfect meal for these cold times.

  28. This looks just delicious. Seems perfect for winter weather!

  29. Hey Meeta,

    Lovely dal...this is something that has fond memories for me.

    If you have the time you can read it at my blog too.

    n yes a great start to a new year.

  30. Thankyou for sharing your Dal recipe Meeta! It's the one dish I always order whenever we eat Indian food. There is something so comforting about it and I don't think I've ever seen it made with black lentils!

  31. Meeta

    Mah di dal - the weather's perfect for this wonderful dish!!

  32. wow! awesome looking dhal meeta.....a sure try for me one of these days!

  33. OMG I had a legume dish planned for Suganya's event which I was planning to post this week but I lost track of time. What exactly are black lentils? Are they actually black, because the only ones we eat here in Greece are brown but I have seen some green ones as well.

  34. Great story! Who needs hooked on phonics when you have movies?
    Your dal looks so good... Easily my favorite lentil dish.

  35. My turn to say you are making me crave! You got to maa di daal before me! It is a wonderful winter dish with the spices and butter/ghee. My family likes it with a thickish flat bread like naan.

  36. Dal is one of the dishes in Indian cuisine that I love! I understand totally the comfort you derived from it because we have our own local bean dish (made from mung beans) that is an ultimate comfirt dish over here :) I will save this recipe...thank you for sharing it!

  37. I have never heard the term Bollywood cooking before. WHat does it mean?! How're you Meeta? How's the thing we talked about in India going - all well I hope.

  38. Thank you everyone for all your comments!

    Deepa - Bollywood Cooking is the name of my cooking series dedicated to Indian cuisine. You can check out all the dishes to date under the category Bollywood Cooking

  39. oh yes, i see how refreshingly different your recipe is. I love the addition of chana dal. will definitely try this the next time, i have all the ingredients :)

  40. I did Indian dishes several times with better and worse results, but always something was missing. This recipe is TERRIFIC, definately my taste! Plus, the ingredients are available. Spicy and delicious!
    Thank you! :)


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