Maa ki Dal – Comforting Black Lentil Soup

A bowl of Maa ki Dal - Black Whole Urad Lentils - topped with coriander and butter, with cheesy stuffed naan

I can’t quite believe I haven’t shared a Dal recipe yet! Dal is a thick and spicy Indian dish made from one or more different varieties of lentils. Indeed, in a traditional Indian household you would usually eat some variety of Dal everyday as part of a large meal or thali. We don’t quite eat Dal as often as that, but it’s definitely a favourite and a staple in our home.

This Maa ki Dal is an authentic Punjabi recipe which is just packed full of goodness. Similarly to my recipe for Punjabi Palak Saag, it’s actually quite a mild dish with minimal ingredients – which makes it great for beginners to Indian cuisine and veterans alike! It’s made from Whole Urad beans which have an incredibly deep, intense earthy and warming flavour. Because the dish is not packed full of spices, the flavour of the lentils really shines through as the main ingredient. The dish is thick and creamy, with a rich butteriness that really warms the soul.

Maa ki Dal is also sometimes called Kali Dal. Kali Dal literally means ‘Black Dal’ because of the colour – but Maa ki Dal is my favourite name for the dish because it really describes the essence of it. In Hindi it translates to ‘Mothers Lentils’ and implies a homely, comforting and wholesome dish which would be served at home. After all, there is nothing better than Mothers cooking!

This Dal is the epitome of wholesome. Thick and creamy, it’s ideal for scooping up in a pillowy Naan and finishing a piping hot bowl-full.

“Better than the Maa ki Dal in India”!

One of the very first things I learnt about my partners food tastes is that he’s not a big fan of Whole Urad Dal. In-fact he has told me vehemently many times that he doesn’t like Dal Makhani or Maa ki Dal – but as much as I love cooking for him, sometimes I indulge myself and just cook the food I enjoy! Nevertheless, when I served up this dish I asked him to try a small bowl with me. Low and behold, he actually enjoyed eating it and since then has begrudgingly admitted that my variation of the dish was much better than all those he had tasted during his university days studying in Delhi. Of course I was absolutely ecstatic – he’s not one to give compliments readily and that was a huge one!

If you’re interested in learning more about Urad Dal, from its uses to its flavour profile, you can check out the recent article I wrote: A Comprehensive Guide to Indian Lentils & Beans. In addition to going into depth about all the lentils used in Indian cooking, I also give examples about how to use them.

Is Maa ki Dal dish Vegan, Gluten Free and Nut Free?

Maa ki Dal is naturally Gluten Free and Nut Free.

On the other hand, this variant is not Vegan but can be made Vegan really easily. All you need to do is use cooking oil or a good Vegan butter in place of the ghee. Furthermore you can also top the Dal with a Vegan butter and Cream (Elmlea Plant Double Cream is good). It’s that easy – now you have Vegan Maa ki Dal!

How to adjust the spiciness of Maa ki Dal?

For those who eat a lot of Indian food, this is quite a mild dish without a lot of heat or spice. It’s a very manageable spice level for the vast majority of people. However if you have a very low spice tolerance or aren’t used to using chillis, you might find it a little spicy. The good news is that it’s really easy to adjust the spice level to your own liking!

If you’d like to make the dish less spicy, try using Kashmiri Chilli Powder instead of ordinary Chilli Powder. Kashmiri Chillis are much more mild in comparison, hence the end result will still have the same beautiful colour but the impact of the chilli won’t be as fierce.

To spice it up a little, add a few more green chillis to your tomato paste. I don’t recommend adding more red chilli as we want to keep that lovely rich dark brown colour in the Dal. Additionally, do make sure that the green chillis you use are the hot and spicy Indian kind!

What is the difference between Maa ki Dal and Dal Makhani?

Both Maa ki Dal and Dal Makhani are made from whole urad beans and are cooked in a similar way – but there are notable differences.

  • In Hindi, ‘Makhani’ means ‘Buttery’ or ‘With butter’ (Makhan is the word for butter); therefore Dal Makhani is cooked using a lot of butter and cream, which makes it a much richer dish than the comparatively homely Maa ki Dal.
  • Dal Makhani is traditionally simmered for hours over low heat to get a really creamy consistency. On the other hand, Maa ki Dal is slow cooked – but only for one hour in comparison to several hours or even days!
  • Maa ki Dal only uses whole urad beans. Whereas Dal Makhani traditionally incorporates Red Kidney Beans and sometimes even Chana Dal or Masoor Dal to make the end dish more thick and creamy.

This Recipe is:

  • Incredibly flavoursome
  • Authentic – exactly how it would be made in India
  • A low effort recipe with minimal spices
  • Perfect for mopping up with breads!

If you’re interested in more authentic Indian recipes, take a look at this healthy iron-packed Punjabi Palak Saag, this show-stopping Paneer Biryani, these Vegan Seekh Kebabs made from Soy Chunks, or this delicious and homely Patta Gobi Sabji made from cabbage and greens. Now onto the recipe!

Maa ki Dal - Comforting Black Lentil Soup

  • Servings: 3
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print


To Cook the Dal:

  • 100g Whole Black Urad Dal
  • Water to soak (enough to cover)
  • 800ml Water (to cook the Dal)

For the Tempering:

  • 1.5 tbsp Ghee
  • 1 tsp Cumin Seeds
  • 1/2 Medium Red Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp Ginger-Garlic Paste
  • Pinch of Hing (Asafoetida)
  • 1/4 tsp Turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp Coriander Powder
  • 1 tsp Red Chilli Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 2 Large Salad Tomatoes
  • 2 Thin Indian Green Chillis, de-stemmed
  • 200ml Water (to adjust the consistency of the dal)

To Garnish:

  • Butter, optional
  • Fresh Coriander


  1. To soak the lentils, wash them thoroughly, drain and place into a bowl. Add enough water to cover with an additional inch of water on top. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave to soak overnight, or for around 9 hours.
  2. To cook the soaked lentils, drain and wash several times. Add to a medium sized pot along with 800ml water. Cover the pot and set to cook on medium heat for 1 hour.*
  3. To make the tempering, begin by making the tomato paste. Cut 2 large salad tomatoes into quarters and add them to a blender along with 2 thin green chillis. Blend to a smooth paste without adding water and set aside.
  4. Next, add ghee to a large saucepan or kadai over medium-high heat. Once the ghee melts add the cumin seeds and wait for them to crackle. Next add the chopped red onion and cook for around 30 seconds before adding the ginger-garlic paste and hing. Stir and cook for another 2 minutes until the onions are soft.
  5. Now add the turmeric powder, coriander powder, red chilli powder and salt. Once again stir the mixture to properly incorporate all of the spices and cook for around 30 seconds.
  6. At this stage add the tomato and green chilli paste to the pan. Cook for around 5-8 minutes, until the paste has thickened and the ghee is leaving the sides of the mixture.
  7. Once the lentils have cooked whisk and mash them using a Dal Ravi/Ghotni – or alternatively use a vegetable-masher and a metal whisk. This is to break them down. Once done add the cooked lentils to the tempering and mix.
  8. Finally, adjust the consistency of the dal by adding another 100-200ml water to the pan (I used 200ml). Cook covered for another 5 minutes or until the consistency is to your taste, and then serve with fresh coriander and butter on top.

*Note: If you use a pressure cooker, you can reduce the cooking time by roughly 20 minutes. The Dal should be cooked within 40-45 minutes, instead of 1 hour.

How to Serve Maa ki Dal?

This gorgeously thick and creamy dal tastes best when served with Indian breads. On this occasion I served it with a mozzarella stuffed naan – but a garlic and coriander naan would taste wonderful too. My potato stuffed Kulcha would be another good choice, or even Tandoori Roti or Chapatis.

You can also serve Maa ki Dal with plain steamed rice or Jeera Rice.

This dal is very wholesome and quite filling so it stands well as a main-course and doesn’t really need to be served with any other dishes. You could serve a simple Boondi Raita or add my Paneer Tikka Masala or Baingan Bharta on the side if you want a larger meal.

CategoriesFood Lunch Main
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