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

  1. wendy m

    This looks & sounds awesome. I have some of the green lentils at home and was looking for some ways to use it. So, thank you.

    Question – regarding the tomato puree, are you recommending fresh tomatoes and puree to 6 oz, or can I substitute a can of tomatoes, pureed, and measure to 6 oz?

    Again, looks delicious and can’t wait to try it.

  2. Rachel (Two Healthy Plates)

    I’ve been trying to make some good Indian dishes at home – I haven’t really had much luck but I also haven’t tried to make dal before. This one will definitely be on my list next, it sounds really nice and simple…don’t think it could go wrong!

  3. michelle

    Do you have any suggestions on what I could use in place of heavy cream? It’s not so friendly to my stomach. But this looks sooo good!

  4. bunkycooks

    I haven’t tried very many Indian recipes, but this one does look interesting. I know I would enjoy the seasonings with the lentils and of course, Naan is always good! πŸ™‚

  5. nithya at hungrydesi

    This looks great! Nice work getting the recipe from the restaurant. I sometimes make this dal in a slow cooker as well. It’s interesting that this recipe calls for parsley at the end. I am used to seeing Indian get hit with fresh cilantro at the end but never parsley. Curious to see how it changes the taste.

    @michelle, try low fat yogurt instead of cream (just whisk it until smooth before stirring in). That’s what I do for “at home” cooking and then I use cream for fancier, more indulgent occasions.

  6. suvir saran

    Lovely post and nice pics.
    You always do a great job with this.

    What is funny though is that the lentil used in the first photo with the naan is not the lentil you are using for your version. They use Maash kee dal (black beans) not the masoor kee dal (the french green lentils or the caviar lentils) you have shown.

    Did you do this knowingly or did they not tell you this? Just curious.

    Masoor kee dal is a favorite in our household. And you can make it a hundred times tastier, healthier and more comforting without any dairy. But that is a recipe only home cooks have, and sadly restaurants never bother using. It requires a smart cook who has honed their skills in a home kitchen. Hence lack of representation in restaurant kitchens across the world that serve Indian fare.

    The outcome would be very different from what you photograph. Much lighter, soupier and also lighter in calories, but rich in flavor and very exciting for the palate. Great taste with few calories.

    Hope you are well. Keep the great posts and tweets coming. You are a gem.


    1. SteamyKitchen

      Hey Suvir! The only lentils I could find at the market were these two πŸ™ but the recipe was still superb. The chef didn’t specify which kind of lentils – thanks for clarifying.

      Do the different lentils taste different? From my experience, it’s a matter of texture, not necessarily taste.

  7. rita

    thanks so much, jaden! i’ve been wondering what else to do with the lentils in my kitchen. we love indian food, so i mentioned this recipe to hubby and… sold! i’ll be sure to make it this weekend.

    have a fantastic weekend!

  8. Lyndsey

    I love dal and have been using red lentils and more recently the black ones. I like this recipe, it’s sounds so good with the cream!

  9. Murasaki Shikibu

    I’m always looking for new ways to cook lentil. This sounds interesting. πŸ™‚

  10. Lois Szydlowski

    sound yummy…I am really experimenting with indian food…this sounds great…thanks so much.

  11. Nabeela

    The dish sounds like dal makhani(a restaurant favorite). And I agree with Suvir on it…for Indian dal with cream, black lentils(also called whole urid dal or mash ki dal) are generally used. Masoor ki dal collapses very quickly upon cooking and also tastes different from urid dal.

  12. Fran

    This is one Indian meal component I’ve never tried to make at home, but this recipe has made it to my stack. Thanks! I’m seeing it on the menu on Sunday if things go as planned.

  13. Jeanette

    Beautiful dal picture. Love the creamy dal, but will also try the healthier version with no cream at home. Thanks for the recipe!

  14. nags

    dals are the simplest yet most visited posts on my site too. traditionally, a different kind of lentil is used but of course, its definitely flexible enough to be adapted to what’s available and liked. great pics as alway Jaden πŸ™‚

  15. Michelle

    The only lentils I’ve seen at my stores are green or red, but I always have some stashed in the pantry. We really enjoy trying new lentil dishes and this one’s headed to the top of the “to try” list. So simple, but w/o skimping on flavor at all. Can’t wait to try it.

  16. City Share

    Those lentil look great. We make lentil all the time but jut with a mix of Indian spices and garlic. I will have to try it with tomato and cream. Thanks for the recipe.

  17. Kim in MD

    The “dear editor” section is my favorite part of food magazines, too! πŸ™‚ This dish looks so good! I am mostly unfamiliar with Indian cuisine, but would love to experiment more. I’m so excited that Aarti Sequeira won the Next Food Network Star title. I think she is adorable and fun, and she is going to introduce Indian cuisine the Food Network audience. Thanks for inspiring me to try this Indian dish, Jaden. If you say it is amazing, that is good enough for me! πŸ™‚

  18. Lori

    This looks perfect! My past attempts at dal have been dismal, but this looks unlike anything I’ve ever made, which probably means I’ll dig it. I live in Los Angeles, so I am going to have to hit Nirvana. Thanks for this! πŸ™‚

  19. Me

    michelle β€” 8/27/10 @ 2:48 pm

    Do you have any suggestions on what I could use in place of heavy cream? It’s not so friendly to my stomach. But this looks sooo good!

    Michelle, I have trouble with dairy too. I usually take either 2 capsules or two chewable lactaid pills for something with alot of dairy, one if there is not too much. You should be ok. (just a suggestion.)

  20. Anne

    This looks heavenly. I cook a lot of Indian food and make the black dal (urad) which is my favorite but it takes a long time to cook. I am not familiar with the caviar dal you used. It looks similar but would not soften up so fast. Great post. Thanks.

  21. skip to malou

    When we lived in FL, one of our closest friends are from India. This is when I realized that Indian food is like my soul food. Havn’t tried cooking it yet thought but hopefully will try soon… thanks for the inspiration…
    have a great sunday!

  22. Pingback: Indian Dal Nirvana — Homely Lentil Becomes a Supermodel

  23. AGinTO

    I love when restaurants share their recipes! This looks so easy! My dinner parties are always themed… I’ll make this (among a couple other indian dishes) for my next dinner party – Indian themed, of course!

    Made You Look NATURAL Skincare

  24. Alice

    This looks sublime. I am a huge Dahl fan but have never tried it with cream. Maybe now’s the time…..
    Will have to keep my eyes peeled for the caviar lentils.

  25. Susy

    This was awesome! I now enough left to enjoy for several more meals this week. I used the frozen garlic Naan bread from Trader Joes.

  26. Jenny

    I made this tonight, as written, except using 1/2 the cayenne since we aren’t huge fans of the spice. It was so delicious!

    Next time, I’m going to cut the amount of fat in half and try olive oil instead of butter, and use coconut milk instead of cream, just to see if the texture even comes close. Plus then it would be vegan!

  27. dawn hutchins

    I agree with the comment above. 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!

  28. Srivalli

    The pictures look beautiful Jaden. Glad that you enjoyed..the Dal makhani that I make I use three different dal in it and it comes out very yum..:)

  29. molly

    The cream is everything here. Well, and the spices. And fresh cilantro. And of course all those earthy lentils. I cannot WAIT until we’ve cool enough weather to justify a pot o’ dal. Hip hip, for fall!

  30. nithya at hungrydesi

    @Jaden – I’ve never been able to put my finger on the difference in taste between different lentils. I’m not sure there is a difference beyond texture – some are meatier, others fall apart easier and so on.

    That being said, my philosophy with cooking Indian food is that there’s no real right or wrong. I sometimes make changes in ingredients and technique to adapt traditional recipes for my lifestyle and pantry. All that matters is that it tastes good. Even if it’s not the exact same lentil that my great grandma would have used back in the day, it’s still all good! So way to go finding a lentil that’s easy to find and doesn’t require hours of presoaking and pressure cooking.

    @Suburban Cook – most Indian food doesn’t actually use curry powder. I think that actually came about more from the Brits.

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