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)
- 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
It’s hard to seek out knowledgeable folks on this subject, however you sound like you understand what you’re talking about! Thanks
I cooked according to recipe, then cooked basmati white rice on the side. I used a teaspoon of coconut oil and a pinch of saffron in the rice. It turned out so good!
I don’t see the recipe on this page. Just photos with vague instructions. Where is the recipe?!?
Tried this tonight and omg my family loved it! Thank you for posting a non-intimidating recipe with so much flavor! Definitely a new favorite!
One of my favorites. Thanks for sharing.
I loved this recipe..Thank you for sharing..
Loved It. So Delicious, So simple dal recipe.
I used your recipe as a base and it is a delicious dal! Thank you for sharing 🙂
I am interested in making your Indian Dal Nirvana (Dal Makhani) but I have a question, I have hachimoto and cannot use real milk, I was wondering if I could follow the recipe as is and just add milk & butter substitutes ?
I was thinking of using Coconut cream and vegan butter?
Vegan butter I have Earth Balance & 1 can of coco Goya for the cream
Vegan butter is perfect. As for milk, try almond milk or coconut milk. Is the Goya coconut cream sweet or unsweet? Look for unsweetened.
Just made this dish today. It was delicious, really delicious! I usually do not make indian food (or any other oriental food) from non-indian websites, but this one is really great! thanks for sharing, it’s a keeper.
Thanks so much!
Hi, do you have any suggestions for a vegan substitute for the cream? Would coconut cream work? Thank you
I made this recipe with and without cream but I did use the butter. It tastes really good with or without cream in my opinion. I also add a few dashes of Garam masala for some extra spice, love it!
Thank you Chloe!
Can I use canned lentils? And if so how does that change the cooking time etc? Thanks so much!
Hi Melissa – I haven’t tried with canned lentils.
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!
Once you drain the lentils and add the spices, etc, what temp are you cooking for an hour?
Just on stovetop, medium-low heat.
Do you cook it covered or uncovered? So excited to try this 🙂
Hi Gina – Cook partially covered.
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!
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.
I also like to add for the readers , Dal Makhani is made from Red Kidney Beans and Whole Black Lentils. Kidney Beans are called as Rajma in India. Whole Black Lentils are also known as black gram and whole urad dal or kali dal. after they have been soaked for several hours or overnight and drained. After cooking for one hour & drain does not make any sense.
Asking Feroza, are you saying the whole black lentils can be soaked overnight, drained and then cooked for one hour as per this recipe’s ingredient instructions?
great post–thanks for this. When you cook it all day in the crock pot–do you use the low setting?
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!
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!
Are the caviar lentils the same as the black beluga lentils?
Yes! Aren’t they pretty?
Seriously delicious! Iv made this a few times now, always so yummy and great the next day.
thank you so much for the recipe, this was so easy and tasty! I mixed brown and yellow lentils and it turned out perfect!
Thank you Lara! So glad you enjoyed it!
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!
Very one-note and just tastes like cayenne. Just seems like some flavor is missing.
I make this dish all the time and it’s always a hit! Very filling and comforting.
Made this tonight and it was incredible! Thanks.
Hey this is kinda of off topic but I was wanting to know if
blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code
with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding knowledge so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!
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!!
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!
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!
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.
Sorry about that – I’ll edit recipe.
I came across this recipe on foodgawker.com 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.
The recipe is very clear. It specifies canned crushed tomatoes.
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.
I wondered about that myself. I used crushed tomatoes and couldn’t really taste them at all.
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!
Thanks Amy! It’s def one of my favorites for easy side dish.
Lentils and oher legumes are staples in my kitchen. I grew up with them.
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.
Sounds and looks incredible. I adore Indian. Bookmarking now. Thanks for sharing.
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.
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!
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!
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!
My husband says this is his new favorite dish!
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.
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!
This is why I love you
I thought this was a great idea, Jaden, so I wrote about it in my weekend links round-up. Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂
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!
Looks very delicious. I love lentils. They are such a reliable and tasty staple. Beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing.
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!
This was AMAZING! It will easily become a staple in my kitchen. The flavors were so rich, but made with plenty of stuff I have right in my kitchen.
I’m a lentil lover! This looks so good, I’m going to try this out. Thanks for sharing Jaden!
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!
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.
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?
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!
Made it last night. YUM!!
I just love anything served over basmati rice and mopped up with naan! Looks delish!
@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.
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!
Yummy! no curry powder?
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..:)
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!
This looks simply amazing, and I cannot wait to try it myself.
This recipe is lentils at its best. the dish looks gorgeous Jaden 😀
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
Happy memories – come back soon xxx
michelle — 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.)
Like the black lentils, they look great. Good reason to try them. Thanks for sharing this nice recipe!
This looks so great. Indian food has always seemed so intimidating to make. I think I’m going to give this a try!
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! 🙂
The “dear editor” section is my favorite part of food magazines, too! 🙂 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! 🙂
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.
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.
I`ve never eaten this before but it looks delicious!
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 🙂
Beautiful dal picture. Love the creamy dal, but will also try the healthier version with no cream at home. Thanks for the recipe!
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.
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.
sound yummy…I am really experimenting with indian food…this sounds great…thanks so much.
Looks great! We’ve been trying to modify our diet, and this will fit in perfectly. Thanks!
God, I love to cook Indian and to make dal. I’m trying this one this week for sure.
I’m always looking for new ways to cook lentil. This sounds interesting. 🙂
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!
This looks amazing. I am printing and making soon!
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!
Mmm..daal. So tasty.
oops! you’re right, it’s cilantro, not parsley.
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.
Hey Suvir! The only lentils I could find at the market were these two 🙁 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.
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.
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! 🙂
Sounds great. Do you have a good Naan recipe to go with it?
Here ya go: one from My Baking Addiction
@Michelle – I don’t do dairy either, but I’ve used this with success in place of heavy cream. It’s nut-based and works for recipes like this (it doesn’t whip up tho). I used it in a Pink Vodka Sauce recipe a few months and was in heaven 🙂
This looks absolutely delicious. I just bought some nan to make pizzas for the kids but maybe I’ll try this instead:)
Yummy! Thanks for getting this recipe!
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!
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!
oh, just used canned!
I’m new to Indian food, but am becoming very fond of it! I am a big fan of lentils, so this looks amazing! Especially with naan!
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.