Black bean dahl

Black beans cooked in Indian style dahl

Like a lot of vegetarian cooks, my pantry shelves are full to bursting with an enormous range of ingredients and, at this stage in my life, I want to bring it all in and consolidate my pantry staples into some kind of semblance of order and usability. When I read a recipe which includes yet another ‘must have’ esoteric ingredient, my eyes kind of glaze over because I know unless I’m absolutely compelled to cook something and use that ingredient more than once, I really shouldn’t be buying it. So that is why I decided to use black beans instead of the whole urid black dahl to make this dish. Urid dahl has a distinctive sticky, viscosity that the black bean lacks but there are enough similarities that make the black bean very sympathetic to cooking them in this Indian style dahl.

Indian black bean dahl

Really, it’s all about consolidating my pantry staples – while I can find endless uses for black beans, the poor old urid dahl seems to be less versatile. I’ve adapted this recipe from Rick Stein’s black dahl in his most recent book, India: Recipes from my Indian Odyssey. I’ve had this book out from my local library for about a week now, and I’ve been reveling in it’s lavishly photographed pictures of the gorgeous Indian food, street scenes and landscapes. It hasn’t got a huge vegetarian section but I’m enjoying Stein’s take on classic Indian vegetarian dishes, with his particular kind of panache and flair. The recipes aren’t rigidly authentic and have been adapted to suit British tastes but it has been done with such exuberance and love that I find myself wanting to try every vegetarian recipe in this book.

Indian black bean dahl on tray

In keeping with this process of food adaptation to local tastes and circumstances, I’ve used black beans, replaced Stein’s use of Kashmiri chilli powder with sweet paprika and chilli powder (that’s all about more pantry/spice consolidation) and thrown in some curry leaves – that’s because I live in Sydney and I have a curry leaf tree in a pot in my front yard and I like to use them for a bit of that local flavour.

The spices in this dahl, along with the knob of butter thrown in at the end, make this a rich and warming dahl, which is perfect for Sydney at the moment, which after the hottest spring on record, has lapsed into chilly and gloomy raininess. It’s just the thing to warm you up after the recent drenching we’ve experienced.


Black bean dahl

Adapted from Rick Stein’s black dal in India: Recipes from my Indian Odyssey

  • 350 grams of black beans or 3 x 400g cans of black beans
  • 3 tablespoons of light olive oil
  • 1 x 400g can of whole tomatoes chopped finely
  • 1 large red onion chopped
  • 6–8 fresh curry leaves (optional)
  • 1½  teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli powder (or to taste)
  • 1½ teaspoons of tumeric
  • 1½ teaspoons of ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon asafoetida (optional)
  • 1½ teaspoons of toasted and ground cumin seeds
  • 1½ teaspoons Garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons of salt

To finish

  • 25 grams of butter or ghee
  • 4 cm of ginger peeled and finely shredded
  • Handful of coriander chopped
  1. Wash beans in cold water, cover with fresh water about 4 cm over beans. Leave to soak overnight.
  2. Drain soaked beans, place in pan and cover with water about 2 cm over beans. Bring water to boil, turn down to simmer, partially cover pan and simmer gently until tender for about 1 to 1½ hours (if using urid dahl, this will probably take longer). Top up beans with a little water as needed.
  3. As the beans are cooking, heat three tablespoons of oil in a frying pan, and fry cinnamon stick for about one minute until fragrant, throw in curry leaves until they sizzle, then add onion and cook until golden (about 10 minutes). Stir in asafoetida, tumeric, coriander, sweet paprika and chilli powder, and saute until fragrant. Add tomatoes and juice, ground roasted cumin powder and Garam marsala and cook down for about ten minutes until this is reduced and thickened.
  4. Add tomato mix to black beans and bean liquid (if you are using canned beans, add beans and liquid to pan). Simmer for about 30 minutes uncovered until the sauce thickens and the flavors meld.
  5. To finish – stir in ghee or butter and garnish with finely shredded ginger and chopped coriander.

Serve with rice or flat breads, yoghurt and pickle.

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