Indian Dal Nirvana

I subscribe to multiple cooking magazines, their glossy photos serve as my “look book” for dinner ideas. But my favorite section actually has no photos, the “dear editor” letters from readers revisiting a favorite food memory and pleading to weasel the recipe from the restaurant chef.

Magazine editors and test kitchens take a complicated chef’s recipe, “home cookitize” for us mere mortals and scale down the servings for a family table.

On a trip to Los Angeles earlier this year, I met up with friends Matt, Adam, Gaby, Jenny, Rachael, Rachelle and Lucy at Nirvana Restaurant in Beverly Hills. Of the dozens of dishes that came flying in from the kitchen, this was my favorite – a dish they call “Dal Nirvana”.

It’s a creamy lentil dish perfect over basmati rice or mopped up with naan flatbread.

But the best part is that this is the original recipe from the restaurant, just scaled down to feed a family of 4 instead of 80 customers. No need to simplify, just good home-style recipe.

The mighty lentil may be one of the small beans, but sure packs a nutritional punch. While these are not the same lentils used in traditional Indian Dal Makhani dish, this is what you might find in your supermarket – and will work fine in this recipe.

These are brown/green lentils:

But I prefer the smaller black “caviar” lentils.

The lentils are cooked for about an hour in tomato puree until soft and tender.

Stir in the cream.

And stir to mix well.

Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.


Indian Dal Nirvana (Dal Makhani)

Servings: 4 Prep Time: 5 Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Recipe from Nirvana Restaurant, Beverly Hills

Serve with basmati or naan flatbread.


1 cup dry lentils
6 ounces canned crushed tomato (or tomato puree, but not tomato paste)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or less depending on your spice preference)
1 cup water
4 tablespoons butter
1/8 teaspoon salt, more to taste
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro


In a large sauce pan, add the lentils and fill with water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes until the lentils open and are tender. Drain the water from the lentils and return the lentils to the pot.

Stir the lentils around in the pot mashing some of them against the pot to break open. Add the crushed tomato, ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, water, butter, salt and pepper.

Cook for 1 hour until the dal is thick. Make sure to check the pot periodically to make sure the water does not cook out.
Stir in cream, garnish with minced cilantro.

Other Dal Recipes

Dal Makhani – A Lifetime of Cooking
Dal Makhani – Hooked on Heat
Dal Makhani with no cream – Cooking and Me
Cauliflower Dal – Fat Free Vegan Cookin
Dal Palak – Apartment Therapy
Red Lentil, Spinach, Feta Salad – Perfect Pantry
Masoor Dal – Sailu’s Kitchen

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Comments 122

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  1. Wynne

    Yum! We all enjoyed this, my husband especially. I was going to try making a second batch with Earth Balance and cashew cream, but he requested I make it again as is. I did cut the cayenne to a scant 1/4 tsp. (I have a 6yo), which left the dal with a bite but not fiery. Thanks for a great recipe!

  2. Jessica

    I love this recipe! Just made it for the second time tonight. I added extra cayenne and a ton of spinach chopped up at the very end. Thanks for the great recipe!

  3. Vijay Venkataramanan

    Dal Nirvana is the name the restaurant has given this dish. The actual name is Dal Makhni which means Butter Lentils. This is one of the few correct recipes for Dal Makhni that you’ll find online. Most others simply overcomplicate it. Only point where this recipe goes wrong is in the cooking time. Dal Makhni is about really extracting flavour and consistency from the lentils, using the tomato base. So once everything is mixed in, the dish needs to slow cook for at least 8 hours to get the correct taste. At Nirvana restsurant, the dal is cooked for 24 hours. Yes you read that right. A crock pot usually is a great tool for cooking this dish, once you nail the right temperature. It is only after the 2 hour mark that the taste truly begins to evolve. And you will feel it improve every hour that you slow cook it. While i dont have the patience to cook for 24 hours, i do start early morning to serve it for dinner. Ideally, you should not require the cream to be added at all, because as you slow cook, the dal will get very creamy.

  4. Audrey

    Delicious! I used half the butter and 1% milk but still super good. I like mine super spicy so I added green chilies too. Thank you!

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  5. Megan

    Once you drain the lentils and add the spices, etc, what temp are you cooking for an hour?

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  6. Melissa

    Can I use canned lentils? And if so how does that change the cooking time etc? Thanks so much!

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      1. Melissa

        Okay no problem. I am gonna try it tonight with canned lentils as I have some that I need to use. I think the only difference is that they are already cooked, so I *think* I just skip the first step in your instructions.

        Thanks for this recipe, I can’t wait to taste it!

  7. Mandy

    Hi, do you have any suggestions for a vegan substitute for the cream? Would coconut cream work? Thank you

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