Black Dal

By Georgina Hayden From the book Stirring Slowly: Recipes to Restore and Revive
Black Dal

A hugely popular choice with Indian food fans everywhere, this is my favourite way to cook black dal. Slow and low, this is all the better for the hours you give it. An incredibly rich and creamy dish. You can easily halve this recipe, but for the time and effort it is worth making a large batch and freezing any extra for a rainy day.

For how many? Serves 8 - 10


  • 500g urad dal
  • 2 large onions
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 6cm piece of ginger
  • 50g butter
  • 1tsp ground cumin
  • 1 heaped tsp mild chilli powder
  • 1 heaped tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 x 400g tin of good-quality plum tomatoes
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 500ml full fat milk
  • Double cream or Greek yoghurt, to serve (optional)


Thoroughly rinse the dal and then soak it in plenty of water the night before you want to cook it. The next day, drain off the soaking water and place the soaked dal in a large saucepan. Cover with plenty of fresh water, bring to the boil, then simmer for 40 minutes (scooping off any scum that comes to the surface) until the dal is soft.

Peel and finely chop the onions, garlic and ginger. Melt the butter in a large non-stick saucepan over a medium-low heat. Add the chopped veg and soften for 10–15 minutes, so they are soft but not coloured. Add the cumin and chilli powder to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, then add the tomato purée. Cook for a few more minutes, then add the tinned tomatoes, gently crushing them to break them down, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 3–4 minutes, then season generously.

When the dal is cooked, drain and add to the pan of veg. Pour in the milk and top with enough water to just cover the dal. Bring the mixture to the boil, giving everything a good stir, then reduce the heat to low, so it is gently simmering away. This is where you need time. You could cook this for 3–4 hours and it would be OK. But don’t settle for that – you want crazy delicious dal and for that you need to cook it for at least 6 hours. Seven if you can. Eight would be amazing. Or keep going – it just gets better…

Leave the dal ticking away uncovered, giving it a stir every now and then. If it looks like it’s getting too dry, top it up with a bit more milk, or a bit more water, alternating the two. After a few hours you’ll notice it starting to darken, which is great – let it get darker and thicker (try not to drown it in too much liquid) and keep stirring.

Check the seasoning – it is a vast amount of dal, so don’t be surprised if it needs more salt and pepper. Serve with a swirl of cream or Greek yoghurt, and steaming basmati rice and chapati on the side.

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