Mah ki dal / Dal Maharani / Kali Dal

Lunch preparation during weekends is one big event in my house – not that I cook an elaborate meal every time – because the kids know that they just have to needle me a bit to get me going with tales associated with the dish! The first time I make any dish is hence, a mix of flavors in the wok or the oven, while they learn more about the history of the dish as I know it, where I discovered it, why I love it, what I associate it with, and the various versions I have had. In doing so I have also seen that this is another area where I completely take after my Mother. She too would tell us similar tales, and introductions as she podded pine nuts for us as we soaked up the warm winter sun in the backyard, or made porulvilanga urundaiswhen we sisters were kids.I make a different version of the same dish each time to let my kids decide their favourite, and in turn they draw their own associations and come up with their versions. The first connection generally has to do with the version they had at my Mother’s place or at the houses of one of my sisters-in-law. Naturally, I need to update and better my cooking if I need to figure in the list! Many times the food discussion ends up in me reading a story or sometimes it leads to movie references too! What starts as a discussion becomes an exchange of ideas with Jr.H suggesting some spicy additions and Jr.P deducting some of the spices that go in.Mah ki dal is one such dish that evokes memories, tales and emotions. My love for rajma/mah ki dal began early in life. My Mother learned it as a young mother of two little children, at the age of 21. She was from a typical conservative South Indian family, and her only pleasure trips to North before her wedding had been to Delhi. Back then no one ever ate out as it was considered an expensive option. Later, married to my Father, she toured all over India learning and enjoying the culinary escapades and the diverse variety the Country has to offer! Her kitchen triumphs started with the local cooks teaching her their signature dishes. Mother learned to make ‘mah ki dal’, from one of the cooks during one such North Indian tryst, after which the dish found her favor and lent its aroma every month to willing diners – me, sisters and Daddy!

Later when we shifted to the South, I remember how my friends would dig into my lunch box on days I carried this delicacy. North Indian dishes were still not widely available in the South during the late 90s. What the hotels offered was more a South Indian concoction of a North Indian dish which would be tasty sometimes but not for us who had had the real thing. I think the culinary revolution happened in recent times. Bangalore even boasts of hotels that serve genuine North Indian delicacies prepared the traditional way!

When I started my kitchen odyssey I chose to cook a ‘dal maharani’ to impress my in-laws. It was a pleasant surprise when I found that my In-laws had never used rajma or mah (saboot urad dal) before. Needless to say, the first time I made it, the dal captured their attention and guaranteed its stay in their kitchen. This is one of those dishes I use even now to get my way with my husband or kids after – a creamy mah ki dal assures that ‘love’ prevails:). I am sure every family has a signature dish of this kind! What is yours? Regarding the flavors of rajma and mah ki dal, I have only one statement to add – “Aakhir, tum iske jadoo se bachke kahan jaooge, Jaani?

Last week, on V’day, Jr.H saw me soaking saboot urad, rajma and small chowli beans, and though she knew what I was doing, she asked me, “Why do you have that satisfied look on your face whenever you make mah ki dal?” I dove into the subject headlong! Jr.H’s association of the dish has shifted considerably from ‘the taste’ to ‘the tale’ of late. She loves my Mum’s version and tells me that my cooking is very different from hers (my Mothers), and often asks me why mine is different. I tell her that she will realize it as she grows that her palate will be used to more tastes than mine, and slowly she will discover her own favorite ways of cooking – the ones that should be explored and not restrained. What was handed over to me by my Mother as a simple tasty dish has gathered new flavors and twists, today’s being the one I had at that dhaba at Bhuntar…..

Remember the trek I mentioned some posts back where I had an architect and an artist for company and we missed the last bus to the base camp? The tale of today’s ‘Mah ki dal’ is the next chapter to that adventure…….. Having missed the last bus, and having trekked another 10kms., we were tired out and refreshed ourselves with tasty, juicy strawberries and cherries which grow abundantly in Himachal. Next we visited a few more local architectural beauties with R (the artist) getting into a long discussion with one of the priests to try and halt the modernisation of an old temple. You will be surprised to know that in these parts of Himachal Pradesh the character most worshipped is ‘Duryodhan’ from Mahabharata! I have forgotten the local tales but on my next trek I promise I will find out the entire story and let you know about it. Meanwhile, R did not succeed much but we managed to kill time and gained some knowledge along the way! We then took the last bus that would take us closer to our base camp, if not to it. This bus dropped us off at a small village – ‘Bhuntar‘. Though small in size, Bhuntar is a common junction for changing buses to major towns in Himachal Pradesh. So if you are anywhere near Bhuntar you can go to both Kullu as well as Kasol by bus. By the time we reached there it was close to nine and we were dead tired thanks to our rucksacks which seemed to have grown mysteriously heavier. T (the architect), and I flopped next to a few foreign tourists who had decided to spend the night on the platform! We weren’t that adventurous either. R went in search of a decent but cheap place as none of us had much cash on us, and I had left my whole kit in the base camp! After half an hour R returned having found a decent place that had a geyser and a neat, clean but small room. We refreshed and started out in search of food. Thankfully one dhaba was open with only the owner and one last hand who were both cleaning up. Looking at our worn out selves, the owner was kind enough to immediately make huge, thick, buttery aloo parathas and serve it with the left over ‘mah ki dal’. This must be the tastiest version I have had till date, and today’s recipe just proves every bit of what I say here. The dhaba being a small outlet, the ‘mah ki dal’ offered was every bit rustic. The creamy gravy was not because of dollops of butter, or thick yogurt added usually in hotels, but because of the slow cooking that the lentils were subjected to, and in doing so the fats were almost eliminated from the cooking yet giving a wholesome tasty version. Of course, the fats in the dal were amply made up for in the parathas and the thick lassi we were served:)! The food was so tasty that we had a paratha each with the dal the next day too before we set off towards the camp!

Today’s dish has many flavors and many versions. Do try this – I am sure you will not regret it at all. The dish has a touch of South (the 1/4tsp. bisibelebath podi), the nutrition of North (the beans), and is full of local memories – the Bhuntar adventure for me, and their Granny’s rajma for Jr.H and Jr.P. For P, my other half, it is a way to his heart!

Recipe: Mah ki Dal | Dal Maharani | Kali Dal

(Serves 5 hearty eaters)


Kashmiri Rajma (Small more flavorful variety) / Kidney beans – 1 cup
Saboot Urad / Whole black gram – 1+1/2 cup
Chana dal / Gram dal – About 2 tbsps.
(I did not have chana dal)
Matki or chowli / Black eyed peas – 1/2 cup
(This is my addition – generally not used but adds a lots of creaminess)
[Soak the above together overnight, and pressure cook upto three whistles alongwith the ingredients at B below. Let simmer very slow fire till the black bean bursts and the lentils become soft and creamy – I cooked for nearly 40minutes! – Do not add salt while cooking.]

Oil (Sunflower) – 1tbsp.
Cinnamon – 2 sticks
(I love the flavor so am a little generous too)
Bay leaves – 2
Cloves – 2
Garlic (chopped fine) – 2 cloves (more if you like the flavor)
Onions – 2 small or 1 big (chopped very fine but not ground or minced)
Whole dry red chillies – 2 (more if you are fine with it)

Onions – 2 (sliced thin)
Tomato puree – 1 tbsp. only
Fresh coriander powder – 1 tsp.
Fresh jeera powder – 1 tsp.
Amchoor – a pinch
Hing – a generous pinch
Jeera – 1 tbsp.
Ginger – 1 tbsp. (Cut into thin matchsticks)
Curry leaves – 1 sprig or 4 to 5 leaves.
Chilli powder – to taste
Bisi bele bath powder – 1/4 tsp.
(surprisingly I find that this actually brings out the taste the rustic way though it is not something that people add in the genuine preparation. Completely optional but do give it a try!)
turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp.
Salt – To taste
Oil – 1tbsp. + 1 tsp.

Cook the beans as mentioned above and set aside.
While the beans cook get on with the seasoning.
Mix all the powders in C together in about 1/4 cup water.
Heat 1tbsp. oil in a wide heavy wok and add half the ginger sticks followed by sliced onions. Fry till pink and add the spiced water. Simmer for a minute and add the cooked dal.
Add the tomato puree and pour more water so that you have a creamy sauce but not one that is too thick, as this dal becomes thick with time. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon like chocolate sauce. Add salt to taste. Simmer for a minute and remove.
Prepare the tadka at the time of serving. Heat the reserved oil in a seasoning pan. Add jeera, curry leaves and the rest of the ginger sticks. Allow to crackle and pour over the dal.


Tomato puree is not added generally. But I prefer the mellow tang of tomato to the not so healthy tang of amchoor. You can add whisked thick yogurt instead of tomato but I have recently given up that option.
The last tadka is simply for presentation and fresh flavor. This is not added in the genuine preparation.
Matki is my addition, again not used in the original preparation, but it adds and does not take away anything.
Bisi bele bath powder gives it a flavor I miss if I do not add, so do try it if you can.
This will have a blackish brown color due to the whole blackgram dal – do not throw the water.

Event submission:

If there are any other events that seem appropriate please let me know. It will be a pleasure to join you people there!

Whenever I make mah ki dal (also known as Dal Maharani and Kali Dal), Jr.H and Jr.P make sure that their lunch is packed in bigger tupperware boxes. The reason – the dal is too good, and gets ‘forcibly shared’ by their friends. They both love to slurp spoonfuls of this dal even after finishing the rice or phulka that usually accompanies the dal. Jr.P prefers his with pulao or jeera rice while Jr.H loves it with anything.

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Have your say

  1. A healthy curry! urs looks so yummy.
    lovely click too.

  2. Just now saw in Happy cook’s blog,looks so good and protein rich!!

  3. yummm !! delicious curry


  4. Doesn’t matter if my hubby read the comments in ur comment box,coz; he already knows wht i say and what i feel,we both just keep digging into each other(atleast this keeps humour alive in our lives,no matter how sarcastic)Now for a change let me praise him too…the picky guy that he is,who just refuses to eat my culinary experiments while my kid relishes it with 2nd or third helping too,this Dal maharani(as we call it)is his fav. one.Not only his but his grandmother too keep sending her FARMAISH for this dal only,so mostly weekends are the days to have this at lunch ,feeling satisfied after i slurp this creamy dal,whatever left after packing and sending it to my mom,MIL and GMIL(hubby’s grandmother)
    As usual enjoyed ur post,with yummy pics 🙂

  5. Loved the way you involve your kids in cooking. You have painted the pics of your conversations very well.

    Dal looks very creamy. Lovely clicks..

  6. Wow…tasty dal looks perfect..thanks for the entry

  7. The dabha guy should have been ur God that day! Even my cuisine is different than my mom thank God my son didn’t notice, I changed according my husb taste! Never made Dal maharani should be like a butter right? Such a wonderful story u have a great memory H at this age 🙂 I didn’t mean u r aged ur mind is very young H.

  8. Mah ki dal is my hubby’s fav. Loved the story Harini. 🙂 I had rajma at a roadside dhaba in Dharmshala .. such places have so simple yet flavourful dishes. Your snaps look good … as usual. 🙂

  9. I’ve never heard of Ma ki dal before blogging… It sounds and looks awesome. Wonderful one Harini. Will definitely try out!

  10. yummy dhal… I like your posts.. have a hard time deciding if it is because of the story behind the recipe or the actual recipe… both 🙂

  11. ha hhah asusual great store what we say jab pet me chuve doudte hi na tab pani bhi swadist lagti hi left over what any thig will do at that time na and dall looks like real maharani superb pic.

  12. Lakshmi Venkatesh

    Great click. As always very tempting. bookmarked! as usual.

  13. I just made ma ki dal for the first time and i loved it.
    Your looks yummy too.
    Here for the weekend i too try ti make something special aas that is the diner time when one is not in a hurry.

  14. Truly tempting dear friend..your clicks are tooo awesome.

  15. Mah ki dal, it’s my Favorite. it’s lookin tempting. Next time I’ll try this with matki….

  16. Delicious dal, pulling me to prepare soon:)looks gorgeous, protein packed dal makes me hungry:)

  17. Love the way the kids are involved -it makes each and every dish special and full of love.The mah di dal is very tempting and yes the camera is perfect in your hands.
    Love the duryodhan story.I have heard about it in books-there is even a temple for him in one village
    Love love love the dal.I heartily wish I were there when u stopped in buntar.I would have loaded my backpack with this,and you would have needed a crane to airlift me YUM YUM YUM YUM mouthwatering post and dal.

  18. Always delicious and nutritious dal to make and feed. I can understand the bigger tupperware! 🙂

  19. Yum Yum Yum…can smell the aroma of it..Love the idea of involving kids while cooking..Lovely story..

  20. this is one dish that i havent tried at home .. gotta make it soon

  21. H,
    mah di dal looks so delicious and the pics are just beautiful!!and I just love when lil ones join us for cooking sometimes , asking this or that ….
    and thanks for helping me out ….

  22. What a delicious and healthy dal! My husband really fond of dal, and Indian food in general.

  23. That’s a lovely way to include kids while cooking. My son who is 3 loves to help (read disturb) me when I’m cooking. Earlier it was a bit difficult, now I have started to encourage him and he is my sous chef. He cleans cilantro and plucks methi leaves for me. It looks so good, the tiny fingers doing all this stuff.

    I’m going to prepare this daal very soon. Can’t resist after reading the narration.

  24. this is my favourite too!!u r so true about taste by slow cooking. I made my dal in slow cooker.

  25. Harini I always look forward to read your posts. They are so personal yet its the little stories of everyone. I have my 7 yr old getting involved in her interest in food really quick & i am loving that.

    Love Mah ki dal!!

  26. Love it so much…pairs well with rice or roti!:)

  27. Lovely snaps Harini..true ..each dish has so many memories n tales associated with it…like a mystical fragrance.. 🙂

  28. delicious ..

  29. This is such a beautiful and yum looking dhal, looking forward to trying it !

  30. That was a lovely look at the Dal

  31. wow Curry looks very delicious.check my blog for 2 wonderful awards.

  32. Now this dal truly reminds me of my mom,I rarely make it but whenever I do I make my mom’s way:)

  33. love this, but have never made it. you have tempted me now 🙂 looks yummy.

  34. Harini you have an amazing style of presenting your recipes..I enjoy reading your posts combined with the peppy anecdotes you have about them..the dal has left me heavily drooling over..can’t wait to try it 😀
    It’s been a long time and I see that I missed a lot..
    Thanks a lot for the Eid wishes way back in Dec’08..also thanks a lot for the new year wishes…hope you too have a wonderful year ahead..My apologies as this is coming so so so very late..I was not around for almost 3 months..

  35. Love the variety of pulses happily mixed in this dish. Thanks for sharing your special home recipe, Harini. Question, though: what is bisi bele bath powder? I’m intrigued (as always). : )

  36. I love Mah Ki Dal.. it tastes so good when cooked on slow heat. Loved the write up. As a kid I too used to sit on the platform while mom used to cook. Mom had so many memories about the food and also how good her mom prepared that particular dish..

  37. I have never heard of this reipe… good one

  38. Lovely Harini.I love the aroma of Bisibelebhath and i will try using it the next time i make.I also add cream when i make,urs look so good and creamy without it,this surely is a better way of making.Super dish harini!

  39. Is that your new camera? Lovely pictures

  40. Thanks all, for your lovely comments and reading the anecdotes too:) Keep smiling!

    Susan, I will post bisi bele bath powder in the next few days. It is an awesome mix of lentil and spices – I hope you will like it!

  41. lovely writeup and a beautiful recipe. Thanks for the elegant contribution. I have never added all these dals together. have to try out sometime.

  42. very nice! this looks like such a hearty, warming dish.

  43. Sukanya Ramkumar

    Loved this dal a lot. Looks so good. Nice recipe. YUM!… Perfect picture…

  44. Enjoyed reading, and had a nie treat to my eyes too. Awesome recipe with great click, Surely your kids have to take in big boxes to share. Supercook accept my award.

  45. Love the pictures first of all. Loved the recipe too, love Maa ki Dal.

  46. My, such a beautiful, flavorful dal with so many great stories attached! I will certainly try, it looks so tempting!

  47. Looks so good…Very delicious dal curry

  48. Kitchen Flavours

    First three cheers for your energy for writing such an intresting and long post. Dal makes me drool.

  49. What a lovely dal, Harini. I like the unusual addition of bisi bele powder. Delicious.

  50. hi, great recepie and i am currently trying it. but have a doubt. ur recepie says onions in part b and c. but when should i add the b part onion? is the whole b part for tadka only? can you please clarify?

  51. Congratulations Harini! So glad to have discovered you through Pedatha 🙂

  52. hello, Congrats … it was a great post 🙂 . And a great recipe too..

  53. Simply Innocence

    I know it’ll taste so good. Share some recipes from Pedatha book. Congratulation for ur winning!

  54. I tried Mah ki Dal for dinner today. It was yummy! I wanted a more traditional mah ki dal, so avoided matki and tomato and used yoghurt instead. Loved it. Thanks a lot for the wonderful recipe.. It is a keeper.. thanks 🙂


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