Mama’s Punjabi Recipes – Sabat Mahn Di Dal (Whole Urad Or Mahn Lentils)


This dal is probably the most well-known one in the whole world, thanks to its extensive use in restaurants and served as “Dal Makhani” (Butter Dal). It is a black colored dal – also known as urad dal – which is served at just about every Indian buffet in a universally cooked recipe, and is just as popular as “sag paneer” (creamed spinach and cheese). Both dishes are widely known by name by Indians – second generation and beyond – and also by non-Indians.

But the big difference in the restaurant style and the Punjabi homestyle – for it is truly a dal closely associated with the Punjab and northwestern states – is the way that the curry or sauce is prepared and the resulting taste. The secret is simple: restaurants and dhabas (roadside stalls) serve the dal thickened with lots of cream and then add more spices to take away the sweet flavor of the cream, just the same as sag paneer.

Homestyle mahn di dal doesn’t have the cream, but the curry gets thickened by allowing it to simmer over the stove. Also, there is a tarka or masala mixture – that is poured sizzling hot into the dal after it has been cooked and the ingredients of the tarka help in digesting this dal. A small dollop of white homemade butter is usually put on top of each serving of the dal: hence the name “dal makhani” was coined by restaurateurs.

It is well known that mahn dal is hard to digest and often makes people feel bloated and gaseous. In order to overcome this, it is very important to add spices and herbs like hing (astafoetida), adrak (ginger) and lasan (garlic) to cut down the aftereffects of the dal. This is a step that most restaurants often skip as the taste and aroma of the spices, if done improperly by less trained cooks, can overpower the taste buds of the diners.

As with other dals eaten Punjabi style, this too is also eaten with raw onions and a crispy parantha 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 onions, ginger and pepper in a pressure cooker and bring to a boil over high heat.  After three or four whistles, turn the heat off and after it has cooled down a bit open the cooker up.

3.  Put the heat on medium and let the dal simmer till the grains are tender. Stir occasionally to make sure the dal is not sticking to the bottom of the cooker. If the water boils off before the dal becomes tender.

4.  Now add the salt and let the dal simmer for 5 more minutes, then turn the stove off, cover and let the dal stand for 15 minutes.

5.  Heat the oil in a small karai or wok and add lal mirch, lasan and hing and brown it a little. When roasted and the smell of the spice starts to come through, take off the heat and drop the masala 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.

mamas recipe inside3

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. 



There are many times when eating out or otherwise we suffer from bad breath. Most times, in Indian settings, whether at home or in a restaurant, you are offered saunf (fennel seeds), sometimes mixed with mishri (rock sugar), as an after meal mukhwas (mouth soother), sort of like an after dinner mint. The fennel actually is to settle the stomach, although it also disguises the smell of your mouth.

But, to really get rid of the bad odor of your mouth and still not change the wonderful flavor of the food you have just eaten, it is better to chew dhania seeds (coriander seeds), also sometimes mixed with mishri or rock sugar. The taste is pleasant and associates with the Indian meal. Or for plain bad breath, dhania works better then fennel or cardamom.