After living in India for just over two years I just can’t get enough of lentils, and I’ve been working on this delicious dal makhani recipe for quite a while. I like to strike a balance between easy and delicious, yet authentic Indian food.
This vegan dal makhani (also known as butter lentils) can be made with jarred cooked lentils and kidney beans, or in a pressure cooker/instant pot, depending on how much of a hurry you’re in. Using pre-cooked lentils and kidney beans will get this recipe ready in 45 minutes with a minimum of chopping.
If you’re like me and you love Indian food, especially easy vegan and vegetarian Indian food, you might want to check out some of my other recipes, or go the whole hog and serve various curries and pretend you’re at a restaurant! Try out (you won’t be disappointed):
- Chickpea spinach curry (chana palak), ready in just half an hour!
- One-pot vegan biryani! No muss, no fuss.
- Vegan tikka masala – this one is technically a British take on Indian food, but it’s still darn tasty.
- Easy onion raita – takes just minutes to make.
Super filling and cheap to make, this homemade version is just as good as a restaurant-style version at a fraction of the price and calories. Ditch the takeaway and wow your family, friends or guests with this fakeaway!
What is dal makhani served with?
Dal makhani is a filling dish from the north of India and this delicious lentil curry with lashings of sauce is perfect served with roti or naan bread.
I usually serve curries with Indian flatbreads first to tear off and dip in and scoop up the luscious sauce with, and have steamed basmati rice on standby to mix with any leftover sauce.
You can also add a dollop of plain unsweetened vegan or non-vegan yogurt, or try my gut-healthy kefir onion raita. Honestly, this lentil curry is so rich that a bit of bread and/or rice is all you need.
Is dal makhani healthy?
Traditionally, no, not really. I’ve cut down on the fat in this homemade easy vegan version, but it’s still not low-calorie diet material. Especially if you add buttery spread, but it is really necessary to get the full rich taste you would expect from dal makhani, I’ve just kept it to a minimum.
Having said that, fat and calories aside, the fact that this dish is full of lentils and kidney beans makes it rich in fiber, B vitamins, iron, and protein, among other vitamins.
How to make easy vegan dal makhani
Heat the sunflower oil over medium-high heat and add in the cumin seeds when the oil is hot. Let the cumin seeds sputter and brown but don’t let them get too dark (nearly black) as they’ll be bitter.
If you don’t have cumin seeds or just plain forget to add them in first, you can substitute by adding ground cumin with the other spices later.
When the seeds have browned, add in the chopped onions and stir well. Fry until the onions are golden and tinged brown at the edges, as in the photo below. Stir often to prevent them from burning. Then add in the crushed garlic and finely chopped green chili.
Fry for two minutes until the garlic doesn’t smell “raw” anymore. Next add in the ground ginger, ground cilantro (coriander), turmeric, ground cinnamon, ground clove, ground nutmeg, and hing (asafoetida) if using.
This is also the point you’ll add in the ground cumin (1/2 tsp) if you decided not to go the cumin seed route earlier.
For the ground cinnamon, clove and nutmeg you’ll either want to add in a healthy pinch or if they are stored in the little jars with holes, two shakes.
Mix very well and fry another two minutes, at which point you should be able to smell the deliciously toasted spices.
At this point, you’ll need to add in the cooked lentils and kidney beans. An authentic dal makhani is normally cooked slowly for many hours (indeed I’ve had the pleasure of tasting two-day dal makhani in India).
I have TOTALLY cheated by using precooked lentils and kidney beans in this recipe to make it faster.
I can’t get precooked black lentils here in Spain, so I’ve used some hearty brown lentils instead. However, I do recommend using cooked black lentils if you can get them. I’ve also made this recipe with soaked brown or black beluga lentils in the pressure cooker.
If you wish to use dried lentils in the pressure cooker or instant pot you can do so easily and I’ll give instructions below.
Add in the cooked lentils and kidney beans and mix well. Next add the pureed tomatoes, water, and vegetable stock cube.
If you’re using precooked beans and lentils, you’re going to want to simmer them on medium-high for ten minutes, on medium for ten minutes, and then add the salt and simmer a further ten minutes on a low-medium heat until they resemble the photo below and look a little dry.
Like risotto, you’ll need to keep an eye on your lentils and stir often, or they will stick and burn.
In theory, you could turn the heat up high and stir frequently and reduce the mix in ten minutes, but you won’t get the slightly viscous characteristic texture of real dal makhani.
If you’re going the dried lentil route, make sure they are presoaked brown or preferably black (beluga) lentils, and drain and add to the pan with the liquid and then cook according to instructions.
I normally use a pressure cooker and bring to high heat and turn down to low heat after the first whistle and cook for 15 minutes and quick-release the pressure.
Note I said the dried lentil route – I don’t recommend going the dried kidney bean route as well, as cooking and soaking times are so different for kidney beans. As we say here in Spain, la cosa se complica (it gets complicated).
If you really want nothing to do with precooked beans, then you can just do dark or black lentils and call it a day.
If in doubt, cook less time and check. You can always cook more, but burnt lentils are hard to recover from.
Bear in mind that if you use dried lentils and cook via the stovetop/pressure cooker/instant pot method, once cooked add the salt and you’ll still need to cook them down over a low-high heat stirring often until they look like the picture below.
Once the lentils are cooked down, add the coconut cream, lemon juice, garam masala and cook for a further two minutes before mixing in the chopped fresh cilantro. Mix well and serve, enjoy! Will keep up to five days in the fridge, or three months in the freezer.
If you made this recipe please take a photo and tag me on Instagram (the_fiery_vegetarian) or leave a star rating in the recipe box and a comment in the comment section below. You may also enjoy some of my more recent posts:
- Easy Vegan Lentil Bolognese
- The Best Vegan Mexican Rice
- Easy Sweet Potato Sushi Rolls
- Easy Bombay Potatoes (Restaurant Style)
- 10-minute Garlic Sesame Noodles
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 4 cloves crushed garlic
- 1 green chili, chopped finely
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- .5 tbsp coriander powder
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 large pinch ground cinnamon
- 1 large pinch ground clove
- 1 large pinch ground nutmeg
- ⅛ tsp hing/asafoetida (optional)
- 2 cups cooked lentils
- 1 cup cooked kidney beans
- ½ cup canned pureed tomatoes (not concentrate)
- 1.5 cups water
- 1/2 vegetable stock cube
- ¼ tsp salt
- ⅓ cup full fat coconut milk
- 1.5 tbsp Lemon juice (or 1.5)
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 .5 tbsp buttery plant-based spread
- 2 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves plus extra for serving
- Heat the sunflower oil (or any flavorless oil) on medium-high heat and brown the cumin seeds.
- Add the chopped onions and fry until golden and slightly brown at the edges, around 2-3 minutes.
- Add in the crushed garlic and finely chopped green chili pepper and fry two minutes more until the garlic doesn't smell "raw" anymore.
- Now add in the ground ginger, cilantro, turmeric, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and hing if using, and fry two more minutes.
- Now add the cooked lentils and kidney beans, canned pureed tomatoes, water, and stock cube.
- Cook ten minutes on medium-high, ten on medium, add the salt and cook a further ten on low until most of the liquid is gone. Stir often or the lentils will stick and burn.
- Add the coconut cream, lemon juice, and garam masala and stir well. Cook two minutes more.
- Stir in the chopped fresh cilantro just before serving and sprinkle with a little extra to serve if desired. Done!
1) This will keep up to 5 days in the fridge and is easy to double or triple up. Freezes well, up to 3 months.
2) At the stage of adding in the cooked lentils, you can sub out dried lentils and cook according to pressure cooker/instant pot/stovetop timings but don't add the salt in until the lentils are cooked and you will still need to cook down the lentil mix until most of the liquid is gone.
3) I don't recommend using dried kidney beans due to the time difference in cooking lentils and kidney beans. If you must, skip the kidney beans altogether and substitute for the same amount of cooked lentils or half the amount if dried lentils.
Amount Per Serving Calories 447Total Fat 21gSaturated Fat 7gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 11gCholesterol 25mgSodium 741mgCarbohydrates 46gFiber 13gSugar 6gProtein 23g