Tag Archives: spices

dal makhani infused with a smokey flavour

 When dining at an Indian restaurant a makhani dish (dal or chicken) will inevitable be one of the choices ordered from the menu!  Dal Makhani originates from the Punjab region of India and is a legume dish with a very rich and fragrant, buttery sauce… so forget about counting the calories

When I first came to Bahrain some years ago, an Indian restaurant called The Copper Chimney (still going strong) was where I first savoured the wonderful smokey and aromatic flavours of Indian food and this was where… I met my first makhani.  Having had the opportunity of traveling to the Indian subcontinent on many occasions, acquired a taste for this vast and diverse cuisine.

The only Indian-style food tried before all my travels would have been the “bright yellow fenugreek loaded curry sauce,” which did nothing for my taste buds… chips smothered in curry sauce… need I say more!

Fast forwarding the years…  Indian cuisine has become a favourite and at home I try replicate some of the Indian dishes that my family and I have enjoyed when eating out.  Not having a tandoor oven at home meant that the wonderful smokey elements in certain dishes were missing… until I came across an old method of smoking food called Dhungar (see here), popular in some regions of India. Infusing dal makhani with this easy smoking technique is optional… but definitely worth giving it a try.

whole dried black lentils (urad dal)

Soaking dried whole black lentils and beans reduces the cooking time and gets rid of some complex sugars that can cause indigestion!  Miss Vickie’s web site makes some reference to  why you should soak dried beans and may be helpful if you like using a pressure cooker.

Small stones are sometimes found in packets of dried lentils and beans when bought, check throughly before soaking. I have used some canned kidney beans and chickpeas in the recipe below simply for convenience, but you can use dried versions which will need pre soaking.

Asafoetida powder (hing) used in this recipe has a very pungent aroma (some reference made to its smell…devils dung, stinking gum) and once opened quickly permeates the whole cupboard with its very strong onion aroma if not stored correctly. Storing the whole container of asafoetida in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid usually does the trick. Its strong  onion flavour mellows out during cooking, always use sparingly.

Clarified butter can withstand higher cooking temperatures (because the milk solids have been removed) and can easily be made at home. If buying ghee (also a clarified butter), do check the label to make sure it has been made with pure cow’s milk, some inferior brands will have oils and other types of milk added to the product.

 Dal Makhani 

(serves 4)


  • 175g whole black dried lentils (urad dal)
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, peeled roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon clarified butter or sunflower oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 whole green cardamom pods, lightly bruised
  • 2 inch piece cinnamon stick
  • 1 dried red long chilli
  • 1  dried bay leaf
  • 200g canned red kidney beans, (drained and rinsed)
  • 50g canned chickpeas, (drained and rinsed) (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon clarified butter or sunflower oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1/8 teaspoon asafoetida powder (see note above)
  • 1 packet of tomato puree (weighs 135g)
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons of whipping cream
  • 50g to 75g un-salted butter, cubed (you decide on how much butter you wish to add)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of  home ground garam masala or shop bought
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/2 tablespoon chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

How to make: 

Soak the whole black lentils in plenty of water for 6 to eight hours, changing the water at least once or twice during this time, otherwise skip this step if you are soaking overnight!

Place the ginger, garlic and salt into a pestle and mortar and pound together until a paste is formed.

Heat the clarified butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat and cook the onion until light golden. Add the garlic and ginger paste and cook for a further minute. Throw in the pre-soaked whole lentils, cardamom, cinnamon, chilli and bay leaf.

Pour water into the saucepan filling about 2 inches above the surface of the whole lentils and bring the contents of the saucepan to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer, cooking the dal for about 50 minutes or until soft. The whole lentils will absorb water while cooking so make sure the water does not go below the surface, top up with some boiling water if necessary.

Once the whole lentils are cooked, throw in the canned kidney beans and chickpeas, lightly mash together using a potato masher, do not over mash as you want to keep some texture, but if you like a really smooth dal, keep on mashing!

Heat the clarified butter in a small saucepan, add the cumin and fenugreek seeds and cook stirring continuously until fragrant, be careful not to burn the seeds. Stir in the asafoetida powder and tomato paste and cook for about a minute, add this to the pot of dal.

Next stir in cream and butter, on a low heat gently simmer the dal uncovered for about 40 minutes until cooked. Stir occasionally while dal is cooking and add some boiling water if you feel the consistency is too thick. When finished cooking stir in the garam masala and seasoning with salt to taste.

The following stage (smoking) of the recipe is optional.

Optional: Infuse Dal Makhani with a smokey flavour by following the Dhungar method explained in a previous post!  Note: Spices were not mixed with the clarified butter on this occasion.

Place the dal makhani into a serving dish and garnish with a little parsley. Serve Dal Makhani with warm naan bread and raita.

Look out for more recipes using “my little tandoor oven”!

Do you have a favourite method for adding a smokey flavour to food?

how to make garam masala

Garam masala means warm or hot spice mix and is a blend of spices used extensively in Indian cooking. There are many variations of garam masala as there are cooks and this depends on taste, the recipe being prepared and the region.

Sometimes garam masala is referred to as a finishing spice and can be sprinkled over the surface of a finished dish just before serving or added towards the end of cooking, enhancing the dishes fragrance and flavour. Also this spice mixture (whole or ground) can be added to recipes at the beginning stages of cooking.

Making a visit to the souk (spice section) in Manama, I managed to stock up on some whole spices, some of which will be used to make a fairly basic garam masala which I use when cooking Dhal Makhani... which happens to be one of my favourite Indian dishes!  Usually I grind small batches of the whole spices using my electric spice grinder which does the job, although not as finely ground as shop bought! An electric coffee grinder can also be used, solely for the purpose of grinding whole spices… unless you are happy to consume spiced ground coffee!

Bahrain’s shops, supermarket’s and souk’s are stocked with a huge array of ground spices and spice mixes (which I buy at times) and that means never needing to grind another spice! However, grinding whole spices at home will provide maximum freshness, bringing the aroma and flavour of the spices to another level!

Garam Masala


  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 1inch piece cinnamon stick
  • 3 blades of mace
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 dried bay leaves

How to make:

Heat a heavy-based frying pan over moderate heat and lightly roast each spice (except the bay leaf) seperately, moving the frying pan around until the spice releases a fragrant aroma, this does not take long, about 30 seconds. Immediately transfer the roasted spice onto a cold plate.

Grind all the cooled spices plus the bay leaf in an electric spice grinder or coffee grinder and store in an airtight container.

Note:  After dry roasting the cinnamon stick and blades of mace, break them up into smaller pieces using a pestle and mortar! Your spice grinder or coffee grinder will thank you for this! Also tear up the bay leaf.

If you are not a big cardamom fan, break open the pods and use only the seeds.

If you can’t find mace blades use 1 whole nutmeg instead, break into chunks before dry roasting.

To dry roast or not to dry roast!  I guess that depends on the recipe in question and may also be a preference!  I tend to dry roast the whole spices if I am going to use the ground garam masala towards the end of cooking!

Storage:  Spices are best kept in airtight containers away from direct heat and sunlight. The recommended keeping time for ground spices and whole spices varies, with ground spices loosing their potency faster than whole spices! Let your nose, eyes and taste be  the judge when checking the freshness of your spices!  It is always best to buy small quantities of spices and replenish often.

Do you make up your own spice blends? Do you have any thoughts on dry roasting spices?

spices from manama souk

During the cooler months of the year in Bahrain I always take the opportunity of visiting the Manama souk (market), this was one of the places that I frequented much more often many years ago… before all the air-conditioned shopping malls came into place!  As much as I favour air-conditioning, I believe the shopping malls can never capture the true essence of a market place that has been built around traditions and its people! The souk really is a unique shopping experience and definitely worth a visit!

With a lousy sense of direction I usually end up wandering up (probably in circles as well) and down the many narrow streets which are crammed with shops and stalls selling gold, materials, clothes, perfumes, household items, traditional sweets, nuts, flavoured waters… and a plethora of other essentials! Very enthusiastic store holders greet you at every turn, describing their products and services and each one promising a better price than the other!

Passing by an alley way I notice the usual daily gathering of men at a traditional cafe, many of which I am sure have been friends for years. All catching up on the daily happenings around the island and their own lives, while drinking chai (tea) and smoking tobacco leaves (gidow). Still as friendly as every and happily allowing a quick photo, offering me chai and water while passing through!

My favourite part of the souk… the spices!  Colourful mounds of different spices and herbs fill the surrounding air with a heady aromatic aroma that would make any foodie go weak at the knees!various ground spices

Pleased and relaxed with my morning visit, never coming away from the souk empty-handed (always little surprise finds) and with my supply of lentils and whole spices in hand… my next stop is the kitchen!

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