Dal Makhani: History And Significance In Punjabi Cuisine

Dal makhani is a buttery, creamy, and downright delicious dish that has captured the hearts (and stomachs) of Indian food lovers around the world. Made with black lentils slow-cooked with butter and cream, this dish is the ultimate comfort food. It's like a warm hug in a bowl or a cosy blanket on a chilly day. Whether you're enjoying it with some rice, naan bread, or just a spoon, there's no denying the irresistible allure of dal makhani. But where did this culinary masterpiece come from? Let's take a trip down memory lane and explore the history of dal makhani!

History Of Dal Makhani

Believe it or not, the origins of dal makhani can be traced back to the Mughal era, which spanned from the early 16th century to the mid-19th century. During this time, the Mughal emperors were known for their lavish lifestyles, extravagant palaces, and, of course, their love for good food. It is said that the dish that inspired dal makhani was actually a simpler dish called kali dal, which was made with black lentils and basic spices. But when the Mughal emperors tasted kali dal, they were underwhelmed. They wanted something richer, creamier, and more indulgent.

Video Credit-Kanak's Kitchen Hindi

That's where the magic of dal makhani began. It is believed that an inventive chef (or chefs) decided to add butter and cream to the lentils, and voila! A star dish was born. It was so popular that it became a staple in the royal kitchens and was often served to important guests and dignitaries. But it wasn't just the Mughals who were fans of dal makhani. As the dish gained popularity, it made its way to other parts of India and became a beloved comfort food for people of all backgrounds.

In fact, the dish became so popular that it even made its way to the United States in the 1970s. Legend has it that a man named Kundan Lal Gujral, who was the owner of a popular restaurant called Moti Mahal in Delhi, was the one who introduced dal makhani to America. He opened a branch of his restaurant in New York City and served up the dish to curious diners who had never tasted anything quite like it before.

Today, the dish is a staple on Indian restaurant menus around the world and has even been the subject of controversy. In 2011, the Indian government attempted to patent the dish as "traditional Indian food" under the Geographical Indications of Goods Act, which would have given India exclusive rights to the name and recipe. However, the move was met with criticism from Pakistani officials who claimed that the dish had origins in the Punjab region, which is now divided between India and Pakistan.

Significance Of Dal Makhani In Punjabi Cuisine

When it comes to Punjabi cuisine, there are few dishes that are as iconic as dal makhani, which has been a staple of Punjabi cooking for many generations, and its significance in the region's culinary culture cannot be overstated. For Punjabi families, dal makhani is often considered a celebratory dish, reserved for special occasions like weddings, holidays, and other festive gatherings. It's the kind of dish that brings people together and fosters a sense of community and connection.

But the significance of dal makhani in Punjabi cuisine goes beyond just its role as a special occasion dish. It's also a symbol of the region's agricultural heritage, as lentils and beans have been a staple crop in Punjab for centuries. By incorporating these locally grown ingredients into their cuisine, Punjabi cooks have created dishes that reflect the flavours and traditions of their region.

And of course, there's the taste. Dal makhani is beloved for its rich, creamy texture and complex blend of spices, which includes cumin, coriander, and garam masala. It's a dish that is both comforting and indulgent, and its popularity extends far beyond just the Punjabi community. And while the dish may have undergone some adaptations and variations as it's travelled across borders and cultures, its significance in Punjabi cuisine remains unchanged.

At its core, dal makhani is a dish that represents the best of Punjabi cooking: a celebration of community, tradition, and flavour. Regardless of its origins and ownership, dal makhani is a beloved dish that has stood the test of time. And whether you prefer it with a side of rice, naan bread, or just a spoon, there's no denying the creamy, buttery goodness that is dal makhani.

Here's an easy recipe for making dal makhani:


  • 1 cup whole black lentils (urad dal)
  • 1/4 cup kidney beans (rajma)
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
  • 2 green chillies, finely chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, pureed
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh cream
  • Chopped coriander leaves, for garnish


  • Soak the black lentils and kidney beans in water for 6–8 hours or overnight.
  • Drain the water and pressure cook the lentils and kidney beans with 4 cups of water and some salt for 10–12 whistles, or until they are soft and fully cooked.
  • Heat the butter in a pan and sauté the chopped onions until they turn translucent.
  • Add the ginger-garlic paste and green chillies, and sauté for another minute.
  • Add the tomato puree and cook for 5–7 minutes, or until the raw smell of the tomatoes disappears.
  • Add cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, and garam masala powder, and mix well.
  • Add the cooked lentils and kidney beans to the tomato gravy and mix well. Add some water if needed to adjust the consistency of the gravy. 
  • Add salt to taste and let the dal makhani simmer for 15–20 minutes on low heat.
  • Once done, add fresh cream and mix well.
  • Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve hot with steamed rice or naan.