There is perhaps no north Indian dish that oozes comfort quite the way a Maa ki Dal does.
And it starts with the name. Maa ki Dal literally translates to “Mom’s Dal” — now didn’t you feel your belly grow all warm and mushy at the sound of that? Rich and soothing, this is exactly the sort of food to put a spring in your step on the rainiest, dreariest, most depressing days. And it works just as well for the good days too. 🙂
There are as many variations of Maa ki Dal as there are mothers in India who cook it, which is probably why — if you were to look up this dal on the internet — there is a great deal of confusion over what exactly goes into it. Some recipes use cream, others use butter, and most use ghee. While every version out there uses urad dal (also called udad dal or black gram dal) as the lentil base, there are differences over what kind of urad dal to use. Some use sabut urad, the unpeeled, whole lentil that looks like a tiny black globe. Others use the split lentil, but with the black skin on. Yet others use the peeled, ivory-white version. Some add a second lentil to it, usually chana dal, and yet others confuse it with its more famous cousin that’s often found on Indian restaurant menus, the luscious Dal Makhani, which has rajma or kidney beans added to it.
But just like mom, a Maa ki Dal needs no frills to make it special. The recipe I am about to share with you is super simple: you need some Indian ingredients, but if you cook Indian food on a fairly regular basis you likely already have these in your pantry. And you do need the urad dal.
My recipe is also vegan which means of course that there’s no ghee here– an ingredient most Indian cooks will try to tell you is what makes this dal special, but pay no heed to them. There are so many flavors in play here, you will never know the difference. And can you think of a better way to pay tribute to the cow, also a mom who has her baby snatched away from her soon after it’s born so humans can enjoy her milk?
Enjoy the recipe, all!
- 1 cup urad dal (I used the ivory-white, peeled kind)
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp grated ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed into a paste
- 1 tsp coconut or other vegetable oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 medium red onion, minced
- 1 medium tomato, finely chopped
- ½ tsp cayenne or paprika (for less heat)
- 2 tsp coriander powder
- ½ tsp garam masala powder
- Salt to taste
- ½ lemon
- Coriander for garnish
- 12 almonds, soaked for 30 minutes then blended into a very smooth paste with ½ cup water
- Cook the urad dal with the bay leaf, turmeric and 1 tsp grated ginger until the dal is really tender. This is best done in a pressure cooker. If you don't have one, soak the dal for at least two hours, then place in a large saucepan with the other ingredients and water to cover by an inch. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat to a simmer, and cook until the lentils are really soft and mash easily.
- Heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds and, when they sputter, add the minced onions.
- Add a pinch of salt and saute the onions until they are just beginning to turn color.
- Add the tomatoes and saute for a couple of minutes. Then add the coriander powder, cayenne or paprika, and garam masala powder.
- Stir well to mix, then add the cooked dal and mix really well. You can discard the bay leaf at this time.
- Bring to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. If the dal is really thick, add water. Let the dal cook for five minutes for flavors to merge.
- Add the almond paste and chopped coriander. Squeeze in the lemon juice. Add salt to taste. Stir well and turn off heat.
- Serve hot with rice, a subzi, and phulkas.