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

Comments 107

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  2. wendy m

    Just made this! Hubby loves it. I will have to tone down the cayenne pepper for myself. It must be the spice brand, it’s super spicy! But good!

  3. Amy

    Just saw this today for the first time and oh my gosh, it looks good…garlic, ginger, cilantro…my mouth is watering. Lentils are yummy, but I haven’t cooked with them in a long time. Wonder if I could persuade my family that this is indeed traditional Labor Day fare?

  4. Kunal Mittal

    Just made this dal last night. Have had it over a 100 times at Nirvana and have had the original in Bhukhara in Delhi a 100 times as a child. This is the best dal ever! Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  5. Lucy T.

    Whoa spicy! But really, really nice. Will cut back a little on the cayenne next time but otherwise wouldn’t change a thing. This is a keeper, thanks!

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  7. Photo Contest

    This does look amazing. I really want to try my hand at more Indian dishes but hadn’t found a good place to start. This looks like an excellent place!

  8. Trish

    Looks very delicious. I love lentils. They are such a reliable and tasty staple. Beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing.

  9. dc

    According to my husband, that was the best spicy dish I made for him. I’d prefer a milder version myself but this recipe is very, very good. Thanks!

  10. Diana

    This is just one of the simplest and tastiest dish ever. I used sriracha instead of cayenne (I didn´t have it!) and turned out delicious!! I was a bit gingerphobic before I cooked and tasted this!! Never again!

  11. Nikki

    Just made this for a small group of girls at the boarding school where I work…they are typically not very adventurous but were all brave and mostly liked it! I used coconut milk instead of cream for the lactose-intolerant among us and it was just fine. After cooking and with all the tomato, it had a very subtle flavor, just right for the meal I think. Thanks for sharing, it was yummy.

  12. The Pontificator

    Looks awesome, but I really need to lighten this up. What are the healthiest/tastiest substitutes for the butter and heavy cream?

    BTW I just stumbled upon this blog last week. I’m impressed!

  13. Beth

    This looks wonderful! I’ve been really into Indian food during my 3rd trimester, so I can’t wait to make this.

    Do you happen to have a good/simple recipe for naan? LOVE your blog!

  14. Beth

    Okay, just scrolled up and saw the naan link. Do you happen to know if you can bake naan instead of grilling it? It’s a bit too chilly to grill outside these days!

  15. SI

    Where do you get your black “caviar” lentils? I love lentils and I have had the Black why dining out but not able to find them.


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  17. Murasaki Shikibu

    I’m making this right now and I’ve just noticed that it says: 6 ounces canned crushed tomatos – in the ingredients list, but after that it’s referred to as tomato puree which are two different things. I’ve used crushed tomates in mine. Hope this wasn’t a boo boo because the same amount of tomato puree would mean a hell of a lot more tomatoes.

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  19. Amy

    I have to say, this has quickly become one of the go-to recipes for me and my husband! On the laziest of days I can throw this together with pre-minced garlic from a jar and pre-minced ginger from a squeeze tube and it’s totally like comfort food. Thanks!

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  21. BlessedBlogger

    I just made this last week. To make it healthier we tripled the recipe (I needed enough for 12 servings), reduced the butter to 2 tbsp total and replaced the cream with 2% milk. It still came out ok, though not as creamy I’m sure, but we skipped the cilantro (don’t like it) and it was very bland and much thicker than the picture indicates. Next time I’ll add more tomatoes and spices and possibly some chicken broth if it requires further thinning. We served it with homemade gluten free Naan bread which came out to 446 calories per serving for one slice of bread and 3/4 cup beans.

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  24. Nicole

    I came across this recipe on and I know it is an old post but have to add my $.02 since I made it today.

    As mentioned by other commenters, it is unclear whether the recipe calls for crushed tomatoes or tomato purée (paste). Based on the quantity required, I assume it’s supposed to be paste, but I added the crushed tomatoes and water before realizing this discrepancy. Sloppy blogging, but that’s what happens when you use free recipes.

    So I doubled the amount of crushed tomato and simmered a bit longer to thicken it up. It did not taste Indian at all to me, more Italian, so I added a bit of paprika and garam masala, which gave it a great Indian flavor. I also had about 2 Tbsp chopped onion left over from last nights dinner, so I minced that up and added it too.

    My cream turned out to be expired, so I used TJ’s lite coconut milk (about 1/2 cup) instead and it is delicious with the changes I made.

  25. KB

    I am still yet to taste the end product, but in the ingredients, it does state canned crushed tomatoes HOWEVER in the steps, it does state add the ‘tomato puree’ – this is where people are probably getting confused, as I myself, was also confused.

  26. Jennifer

    I made this for dinner the other night. It was super easy and delicious. I found the instructions easy enough to follow. Thanks for the recipe!

  27. Jess @ Sugar High

    Just ate this for dinner and I am Stuffed! So delicious and flavorful, I don’t want to stop eating it! Indian food is totally my comfort food, this did not disappoint. After reading other comments I decided to use less cayenne, and I’m sorry I did. It just wasn’t spicy enough! Next time I’ll just stick to the recipe 😉
    I served it with coconut rice and buttered naan. Yum! Thanks for a great recipe!

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  32. Theresa

    I was a little skeptical because this recipe didn’t have some of the usual Indian spices, but it was fabulous!!! I had to sub fresh tomatoes and used only a few shakes of cayenne so my 3 year old could eat it, but this was so, so good. The best dal I’ve ever made – I had about given up because I could never make it taste as good as the ones I’ve had in restaurants or in India & Singapore. Thank you for sharing!!

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  36. sara

    I made this last week and it is SO GOOD! I was a little skeptical at first because it doesn’t have the ‘usual’ Indian spices, but the flavor is amazing. I couldn’t find the fancier lentils at the store, so I just used regular brown ones, and it still turned out great…I will definitely look for the black ones next time I’m at a fancier market as I’m sure that would make the dish even better!

  37. Iara

    thank you so much for the recipe, this was so easy and tasty! I mixed brown and yellow lentils and it turned out perfect!

  38. Rachel

    Seriously delicious! Iv made this a few times now, always so yummy and great the next day.

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