There are restaurants in India that cook Urad dal (black gram) overnight in large pots to make dal makhani and, understandably, they are very proud of the creamy results.
Meanwhile, the busy mom or dad at home has only an hour, at the max, to get dinner ready at the table. So, what aspects of the resultant dal are you giving up when you decide to take the pressure cooker route? – Is it the appearance? is it the taste? If yes, by how much? I hope my little experiment will give you answers to these questions.
But first: Using Whole Urad Dal, skin and all finally!!
Dal makhani is one of the few recipes that uses the whole urad dal, skin and all. Why is this important? In most South Indian recipes, especially idli, dosa – we throw away the husk and use the white part. The seed coat of the urad dal is mainly used for animal feed. But, what are we missing out in the process?
The seed coat of Vigna mungo (urad dal) not only exhibit good antioxidant properties but are also rich in phytochemicals, minerals, protein and fibre. Another fantastic property of the seed coat – guess it’s calcium levels? It is 1062mg/100g. That’ pretty awesome!! Think about it, this is a plant product that stands at par with calcium levels found in cheeses (an animal product). Now, I understand, you are not going to sit down to eat a bowl of urad dal skins, but you get my point!!
Plus, most plant foods that’s black is loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory anthocyanins – black rice, black soybeans, blackberries, black sesame, etc.
Ok, enough about the nutrition for now (there is enough to discuss in a separate blog post later!) Onwards to the recipe…
Same Ingredients: 2 ways
I chose to make the dal makhani recipe from the Dishoom restaurant cookbook. It is printed in the guardian here (click link for recipe). There is a shorter Youtube clip for this recipe as well. I chose this recipe, because 1) I have made it before (using the traditional boiling method), it is delicious! 2) It is a very famous recipe from a famous restaurant.
I will not be printing the recipe here, but I have used the exact same ingredients and split the processing 2 ways:
- Pressure Cooker
- Traditional boiling in stove top
There are only a few major steps to the recipe:
- Wash the Dal
- Cook the dal
- Add slurry of spices
- Let it boil with spices
Let’s review the steps one by one.
Step 1: Wash the Daal
Ok, so the recipe starts off by telling us to wash the dal 3-4 times thoroughly until the water runs clear. Now, why should we do this? It is not for cleanliness. Nowadays, the dals are manufactured with the latest technology and there is very little, if any, dirt or stones.
So, it’s not dirt, then why?
Here’s the water in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd wash. You can see, the natural black pigment runs offs from the seed coat in decreasing levels.
You can see the drained water color switches from light gray to clear in about 3-4 washes. And that’s a big focus with this recipe is to avoid the black/greyish color and nudge the end dish towards an attractive pink/reddish color.
This becomes even more obvious later between step 2 and 3 when the chef asks us to throw away the boiled and drained dal water . Normally, you keep the dal water for nutrition reasons or to use it as a broth. But here, the seed coat has a black/purple seedcoat that keeps releasing its pigments in water as it cooks. Visually, this color is a deterrent from ending up as a rich-looking dish.
Note: Sorry about the bad lighting in the photo above.
So, if you want a pinkish red hue to your dish, wash it multiple times; if not proceed with the regular wash levels.
Step 2: Cook the dal
I cooked the dal in 2 different ways:
- Instant Pot for 20 min High Pressure
- Stovetop Open Boil for 2 hours
Here’s how the Instant pot grain looked after 20 min pressure cooking, 10 minutes natural release.
Here’s how the Urad dal looked after 2 hours of stove top boiling:
Both methods cooked the urad dal completely. But the texture and color of the resultant dal was different. The pressure cooked dal kept the dal grain whole without too many tears. In the open pot method, the agitation of the boiling water splits open some of the grains and the gelatinous insides start spilling out.
Also, the color of the open pot method was lighter than the pressure cooked method. In the 2+ hours on the stove, the dal kept boiling in plenty of water plus I had to top it off a few times with fresh water. Finally, the recipe asked to drain the boiled water out thereby leeching out the color. The pressure cooker method however, used up all the water I added (1:2 ratio) and thus retained the color of the dal.
Step 3: Add spices.
I added the same amount of spices and water to both the dishes at this stage: Ginger paste, garlic paste, butter, chili powder, garam masala, tomato paste and water.
Step 4: Cook with spices
This time, again I continued with the same heating technique I used to cook the dal earlier.
- Pressure cook the dal + spices for 5 min high pressure, natural release
- Open boil with spices for 30 minutes
Timewise, it was ended up pretty much the same. Between the 10 minutes to reach pressure, 5 min high pressure and natural release, it pretty much hit close to 30 minutes of open boil time.
But effort-wise, the open pot was slightly more demanding. As the boiling time increased, I had to stir every few minutes, to avoid any scorching of the bottom, topping off with little hot water as required. However, I could visually see the creaminess, so it was tempting to me. And the smell was wafting everywhere, so my family was excited.
Let’s look at them closely. Here’s the pressure cooker results:
The grains look intact and slightly darker. However, the end product looks fairly good.
Here’s the open pot method.
The urad grains are more dispersed in the sauce. The sauce is pinker in color. It was visually more attractive than the pressure cooker method.
I did not add the cream at the end, because I felt I would not be able to contrast the 2 methods as starkly as possible with its addition. Please feel free to add cream to your dal makhani.
They say you judge the “taste” of a dish by using your sight, touch (yes, touch – eg chili peppers), taste and smell. I wanted to take the visual aspect out of the equation. So, I asked my husband and daughter (my super taster) to taste them blindfolded (all for science, you see!! :)). I repeated the same test by randomizing the order 3 more times.
Majority of the times, they chose the open-pot technique over the pressure cooker technique, especially my daughter. However, they felt the taste of both were fine and by the end, they were frankly quite fed up with me!!
Anyway, my daughter gave the open pot technique a 9/10 (which is as high as she goes) and a 7.5 for the cooker technique. Bear in mind, these numbers are from 1 subject, a very opiniated one, at that.
Obviously, few of us have 3 hours to open pot boil the urad dal unless it is on weekends. However, if we can optimize the following 2 aspects in a dal makhani recipe:
then, we can possibly save on time, yet develop flavor!
The pipingpot curry blogger has a trick for overriding the color aspect. She reports that her mom grinds 2 kashmiri chilis soaked in water and adds it to the boiling dal to get the pinkish color. A nice trick!!
For the creaminess, I would recommend looking into Cookingshooking’s Pressure cook, then manually mash + open pot boil technique (+mash again) to get the best of both worlds approach.
I hope this post helped you understand the nuances between cooking dal makhani in 2 different ways – pressure cooking vs stove top open boil.
Do you have any comments/thoughts from your experience in cooking dal makhani? Share them below!!
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Dishoom restaurant cookbook