Because I have strange habits, I spent a lot of time one night last week watching videos on YouTube of grandmothers and other home cooks making dal makhani, a rich black lentil dish from the Punjabi region. Unpolished home cooking videos are one of my favorite ways to learn how to make a dish that is foreign to me, and while what I’ve made here isn’t an authentic black lentil (urad) dal, it’s worth knowing why it is isn’t. For example, it would have a small portion of kidney beans (rajma) it in too, you’d definitely have soaked your lentils and beans together the night before and in almost every case, cooked them in a pressure cooker on another burner while making the spiced base sauce, and then together for a little or long while. The more authentic versions I looked at have a lot more butter and cream in them, and only sometimes began with an onion. In every case, the cook had a “ginger-garlic paste” that seemed to have come prepared, something I was previously unfamiliar with but find brilliant as they are so often better together, and of course all spices were added with eyeballed measurements.
It’s also much more loose. A traditional dal is like a gravy or a loose soup, but here I go for something thicker, almost like a chili. You can loosen it a bit with more water and serve it like a soup, or ladled over rice; you can also add a spoonful of rice to the middle, as we did with this soup to give it a bit more heft. We ate it in small bowls with some toasted naan and these potatoes and cauliflower on the side, a forever favorite.