Dal makhani and aloo gobi

My take on two Indian classics

Many of you will know we’re in the process of moving house. The people we’re buying from wanted to be out by Christmas. Then it was 19 January. And guess what: we’re still here! We packed up and moved a container-full of stuff into storage, including all my catering equipment, in early January. Since then we’ve been living in a half-packed house, waiting day by day to hear when we can exchange contracts.

All of which means I’ve had to avoid any sort of work commitment—such as offering takeaway menus. Instead I’ve been spending time cooking and eating through the contents of my five freezers and five fridges—which are now down to two and three respectively—and trying out new recipes. Here’s a couple of my versions of two Indian classics, dal makhani and aloo gobi, both of which are Punjabi. (Though I swear there’s not a dish in world cuisine whose origin isn’t disputed!)

Dal makhani

Buttery black bean dal

Dal (sometimes spelt daal or dhal, though not in India) refers to dried, split pulses (lentils, peas, and beans). Dal in fact means ‘split’ in Sanskrit. Confusingly though, dal dishes can also be made from whole pulses: dal makhani is just such a dish. It was, allegedly, invented at the Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi. It is referred to often as ‘buttery dal’— makhan meaning butter.

Many will have met dal in an Indian restaurant, as ‘tarka dal’. Tarka is the Punjabi name for the mixture of spices heated in oil poured over the top of the dal before it is served.

Dal is one of my favourite dishes to make and to eat. I make it with all sorts of different pulses, according to what I have in my stock cupboard. For this dal makhani I used both black beans and red kidney beans—and must confess that this time I use tinned ones which shortens the cooking time considerably. These are the ones I used:

Mine is a simple version of the original and traditional recipe. One of the characteristics of this dish is the smokiness that you get from cooking it on charcoal.  As I often don’t plan what to cook very much in advance getting the charcoal ready is too much of a faff for a last minute decision. So to get the smokiness I use smoked paprika. Generously.

Quantities are for three or four people, with a side dish—such as aloo gobi—and basmati rice or chapati bread.


  • Black beans | 400 g tin
  • Red kidney beans | 400 g tin
  • Chopped tomatoes | 400 g tin
  • Curry leaves | 4 or 5 (if available)
  • Dried chillies | 6 or more
  • (Kashmiri are best, other types are ok)

  • Green finger chillies | 5 or 6
  • Rapeseed oil | 4 tbsp
  • Ghee, or unsalted butter | 70 g
  • Yellow mustard seeds | 1 tsp
  • Cumin seeds | 1/2 tsp
  • Green cardamom | 3 pods
  • Black cardamom | 1 pod
  • Cinnamon stick | 1 cm
  • Bay leaves | 2
  • Onion | 2 lg cooking
  • Garlic | 4 cloves
  • Ginger | 2 cm
  • Smoked paprika | 1 tbsp
  • Coconut milk | 250 ml
  • Fresh coriander | 1 sm packet 


  • Green chillies
  • Split lengthwise, keeping the stalk

  • Cardamom
  • Crush pods to release the seeds

  • Onions
  • Slice thinly

  • Garlic
  • Crush or grate

  • Ginger
  • Peel and grate

  • Coriander
  • Roughly chop leaves and stalks


Bean mixture

  1. Heat beans in a large pan or a wok until soft and almost breaking up (c.20 min). Add water if needed to get a creamy mixture.
  2. Mix in tomatoes and reduce until nicely mingled and creamy.

Meanwhile, prepare the tarka

  1. In a wok or large frying pan cook curry leaves, dried chillies, and split green chillies in one tablespoon of oil, until crispy.
  2. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  3. Add another tablespoon of oil and 30 g of ghee/butter to the same wok and heat until foamy.
  4. Add seeds, crushed cardamom, and bay leaves and cook until seeds start to spit.
  5. Add one sliced onion and fry until nicely brown and caramelized.
  6. Add to bowl with fried chillies and curry leaves and set aside.

Step 3

  1. In the same wok, fry second sliced onion in rest of oil and another 20 g of ghee/butter, until brown and caramelized.
  2. Add grated garlic and ginger, and paprika, and cook for a minute or so.
  3. Pour into bean mixture, add half the coconut milk, stir well


  1. Transfer the hot bean mix to a serving dish and add rest of ghee/butter and let it melt.
  2. Drizzle over rest of coconut milk, then top with tarka and scatter with chopped coriander.

Aloo gobi

Spicy potatoes and cauliflower

This well known and well liked dish is I’m sure familiar to anyone who has unpicked the menu in an Indian restaurant. Familiar it might be, but I love anything with cauliflower (gobi) so it’s one of my favourites—especially the leaves. 

This recipe is not the traditional and authentic way of cooking it. Instead of using potatoes (aloo), I used sweet potatoes as I wanted to use up what I had in my stock cupboard. I guess I should call it ‘misti aloo gobi’. I was rather pleased with the result so thought I’d share it. Of course if you have ordinary potatoes you can just substitute them for the sweet version.

I like my aloo gobi dry and the vegetables caramelised. It’s a perfect accompaniment to a wetter curry or dal.

For three or four people, served with another dish.


    • Cauliflower | 1
    • Sweet potatoes | 2 medium
    • Cumin seeds | 1 tsp
    • Nigella seeds | 1/2 tsp
    • Rapeseed oil | 4 tbsp
    • Onion | 1 med. red
    • Garlic | 4 cloves
    • Ginger | 1 inch
    • Turmeric powder | 1 tsp
    • Chilli powder | 1 or 2 tsp
    • Kashmiri is best, other types are ok

    • Ground coriander | 1 tsp
    • Garam masala | 1 tsp
    • Amchur (dry mango powder) | 1/2 tsp
    • or juice of 1/2 lemon

    • Cherry tomatoes | 4 or 5

      or 1 large tomato

    • Kasoori methi (sun-dried fenugreek leaves) | 1 tbsp

      leave out if you can’t find them

    • Sea salt
    • Coriander leaves | enough for garnishing
    • Red chillies | enough for garnishing



  • Pre-heat oven to 200º C
  • Cauliflower
  • Remove leaves; separate head into florets (not too small, 2–3 cm); cut leaves into manageable slices

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cut into pieces about the same size as the cauliflower

  • Onion
  • Chop finely

  • Garlic
  • Crush or grate

  • Ginger
  • Peel and grate

  • Tomatoes
  • Halve (or cut into chunks if not cherry tomatoes)

  • Coriander leaves
  • Chop for garnishing

  • Chillies
  • Slice finely for garnishing


Roast vegetables

  1. Mix cauliflower florets, sweet potato chunks, and seeds with 2 tablespoons of oil and a sprinkling of salt in a roasting tin (big enough for the vegetable to be just one layer).
  2. Roast in oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until vegetables are soft with golden edges.
  3. Remove from oven and set aside.

Cauliflower leaves

  1. Heat a wok or large frying pan, add a splash of oil, then sauté the sliced leaves until they start to singe at the edges. Don’t stir too much.
  2. Empty leaves into roasting tin with roast vegetables. 

Aromatic sauce

  1. Into same heated wok pour in 2 tablespoons of oil and fry chopped onion until soft and starting to caramelize. 
  2. Add grated garlic and ginger and all the spices and mix well together. Heat until the spices begin to produce their aroma.
  3. Gently stir in tomato pieces and fenugreek leaves (if you have them) and season well.
  4. Add vegetables and stir well.
  5. Remove from the heat. If you haven’t used amchur, or if your amchur isn’t very strong, squeeze lemon juice all over to add a little acidity.


  1. Transfer to a serving dish.
  2. Scatter generously with chopped coriander and chilli slices.

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