Mama’s Punjabi Recipes: Sabat Mahn Di Dal (Whole Urad Or Mahn Lentils) Slow Cooker Recipe

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The black colored urad dal is better known as “Dal Makhani” (Butter Dal) for the way it is prepared in restaurants around the world. One of the secrets of its success is that it can be made thick – with no runny curry – reminiscent of the thick style beans for barbeque or mole in Mexican restaurants. And of course, it is loaded with carbs!
The other secret to its popularity is the heavy and just a little husky aroma of freshly made mahn dal. You can only get a good sense of its aroma when you are cooking it in the kitchen. Or if you are sitting at a roadside dhaba and the cook gives you a whiff of it as he slides the cover off the pot to give you a peek of what’s inside. Just the aroma makes you want to have a bowl!
I have given the recipe for homestyle mahn di dal before, but this one is for a slow cooker. Since it cooks slowly over time, the curry gets thickened naturally. And, there is no need for a separate tarka or masala mixture as it is done at the start, all at the same time. The small dollop of butter is also not necessary, as the slow cooking thickens the masalas up, but if you want, you can add a small spoon of olive oil on top of each serving of the dal.
Using the slow cooker takes a lot of guessing out of the preparation. They are fairly inexpensive, have one simple control to regulate the heat and are great for busy professionals or mothers on the run. Simply put in all the ingredients and you can make wonderful dals, curries and soups overnight or while you are still at work.
As with other Punjabi style dals, this too is eaten with raw onions and crispy paranthas or hot rotis to be fully appreciated.

2 cup sabat mahn dal (whole urad lentil)
4 cups pani (water)
2 tbspn olive oil
1 medium adrak (ginger) – peeled and chopped, or use powdered ginger
1 medium piyazz (onion) – peeled and chopped
1 tspn garam masala
Pinch of hing (astafoetida)
5 stalktops fresh dhania (coriander) – pinch off the leaves and cut into pieces
Spices: lal mirch (red pepper); namak (salt); haldi (turmeric) – to your taste

1. Place the sabat mahn dal in a bowl and wash it thoroughly in cold water, then rinse it out.

2. Place the dal with 4 cups of water, the oil, onions, ginger and spices in a slow cooker on low before going to sleep at night.

3. In the morning, you will find a thick dal gently bubbling on the surface and the aroma filling the air.

4. If there does not appear to be much water in the dal, then add a cup, stir and let it simmer a little more.
5. Heat a teaspoon of oil in a small karai or wok and add hing and brown it a little. When roasted and the smell of the spice starts to come through, take off the heat and drop it into the pot of cooked dal and stir to mix well.

6. Sprinkle the top of the dal with garam masala and the cut coriander leaves above. Before serving, place a spoon of butter on top for presentation.



Quite often, when cooking with onions, tomatoes or frozen peas, the final dish can come out just a little on the sweet side, despite all the spices and other ingredients you put in. Sometimes, to hide that sweetness, you can overdo the balance of the spices and make the dish too salty, bitter or peppery.

The easier way to dilute the sweet taste without spoiling the final outcome of the dish is to add two tablespoons of saddi dahi (plain yogurt) when starting to cook the masala and before adding the peas, tomatoes or onions. The dahi will take away a lot of the sweetness without affecting the portions of the other spices.

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Shakuntla Malhotra is a skilled cook of Punjabi dishes made in the old-fashioned style that she learnt as a young woman in her ancestral home in Lyallpur, India before it became part of Pakistan after the Partition in 1947. People have often admired her cooking for its simplicity and taste that comes with each mouthful. Even in her mid-eighties, she continues to cook daily and agreed to share some of her delectable Punjabi recipes.