Dhabas are north India’s greasy spoons– tiny roadside shacks that dot highways and mostly cater to weary truckers who pull in for a hearty, hot meal before heading over to the petrol pump (as gas stations are known in India) next door. Outside each dhaba are rows of charpoys, small Indian cots, where the truckers can nap awhile, right there under the open sky and by the dust-smothered highway, before getting back on the road.
If you’ve eaten at an Indian restaurant anywhere in the world, chances are you’ve already eaten some of the distinctive cuisine served by these otherwise unglamourous eateries: lassi, naan, aloo mattar, and, of course, this creamy, deceptively indulgent Dhabay ki Daal, one of my favorites.
Dhabay ki Daal is not typically a vegan treat– there is usually butter in the recipe which not just lends the dish additional flavor but also gives the dish a satiny texture. Because the butter plays such a crucial role, I added some vegan butter to round off the dish and mellow out the richness of the spices. You can leave it out but honestly, don’t. It’s just one tablespoon for more than eight servings, so it’s not like you’re eating a lot of fat. In fact, this dish is such a healthy one overall that your tastebuds and your waistline will be thanking you for the treat. Now how often does that happen?
- 1/2 cup chana dal
- 1/2 cup udad dal
- 1/2 cup rajma or red kidney beans
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp red chilli powder , like paprika or cayenne if you like some heat
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tbsp ginger , grated or ground into a paste
- 6 cloves of garlic , grated or ground into a paste
- 1 large tomato , finely chopped
- 1 onion , minced
- 1/4 cup kasoori methi
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp vegan butter , like Earth Balance
Cook the legumes. I will share with you here my "shortcut" way of doing this-- because rajma takes much longer to cook than the two lentils, and because I don't always remember to presoak my beans, I faux-soak the rajma by covering it with 2 inches of water in a microwave-safe dish, zap it for about 10 minutes, add more water if needed, and then zap again for another 10 minutes. Then I place the legumes and the rajma in a pressure cooker and cook them together. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can cover the lentils and the soaked rajma with water in a large saucepan, slap on a lid, and cook about an hour.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan.
Add the ginger and garlic, saute for a minute on a medium-low flame, and then add the onions.
Saute the onions until brown spots appear, about 8-10 minutes.
Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric powders and salt to taste. Add the tomatoes and saute until they are cooked down, about five minutes.
Now add the cooked lentils and stir well to mix. Add some water if the dal is too thick.
Cover with a lid and cook about 8-10 minutes for all the flavors to meld together. Crush the kasoori methi with your fingers and sprinkle over the dal. Mix in the butter and stir until it's melted into the dal.
Stir in the cilantro, turn off the heat, and serve hot.