How do you make a vegan version of a dish that has the word ‘butter’ in its name? If I have to say dal makhni in English, I would call it “Butter Lentils”. So, butter is very much there. But fortunately, all it takes to turn Dal Makhni into a vegan lentil curry is a vegan substitute of butter.
Dal Makhni is a classic Indian lentil curry and its primary ingredient is black lentils (Vigna mungo). The dish has many names such as Dal Bukhara, Dal Raisina, etc. Actually it is the same dish but the name of each recipe includes the name of the place or the restaurant where it is served.
Any good recipe to make this dish will need the use of not just butter but also ghee (clarified butter) and milk cream. First, lentils are slow cooked over several hours to obtain a creamy texture and then the fats are added according to the recipe. The result is a dreamy creamy curry that makes for a royal meal when paired with a pudina paratha (mint paratha).
The Butter Substitute
I have searched several vegan recipes of dal makhni and most suggest use of one of the three butter substitutes – coconut milk/cream, cashew butter/cream, and olive oil. Well, coconut milk and coconut cream have a strong flavor of their own and while you will still get a creamy dal curry, its flavor will be far from the real thing.
Cashew butter/cashew cream and extra virgin olive oil work better. You will see how to make cashew butter in the vegan dal makhni recipe that I have suggested below. Cashew cream is used for garnishing only and if you wish to make that yourself, there are several videos for the same on Youtube.
A good quality extra virgin olive oil (such as the ‘Borges’ brand sold in India) works very well as a butter/ghee substitute provided you don’t use too much of it. Olive oil can be used for frying the masala/tomato purée, etc., and can also be added just like butter or cream to the cooked dal.
I make dal makhni with a butter substitute that is not 100% vegan but almost vegan. You will easily find this butter substitute which is called ‘margarine’. In India, we get a product called ‘Nutralite Premium Spread’ that is primarily made from vegetable oils but still has some dairy-based ingredients. It tastes just like real butter and can be used in dal makhni.
3 Great Dal Makhni Recipes
Vegan Dal Makhni By Chef Sanjeev Kapoor
A nice vegan dal makhni recipe that uses cashew butter as a substitute for dairy-butter. It is a quick recipe that suggests pressure-cooking of dal. Presoaking is still recommended. Here is the video with English captions: Vegan Dal Makhni By Chef Sanjeev Kapoor. The video will open in a new tab or in the YouTube app on your mobile.
Classic Dal Makhni By Chef Ranveer Brar
Chef Ranveer Brar presents the classic dal makhni recipe in a mesmerizing Youtube video in which he tells the story of the origins of this popular dish. This video is in Hindi mostly but accurate English subtitles make it easy to understand. Chef Ranveer uses a lot of butter in the recipe but cashew butter or extra virgin olive oil will do just fine.
The recipe requires presoaking of lentils overnight and then slow cooking for at least 60 to 90 minutes. Watch the YouTube video here: Dal Makhni By Chef Ranveer Brar
Dal Bukhara By Chef Ashish Kumar
Chef Ashish Kumar shares a unique recipe for making dal makhni that he calls Dal Bukhara. It is a slow-cooking recipe that requires presoaking as well as cooking for about two hours in an open vessel. To make it vegan, extra virgin olive oil can be used instead of clarified butter that the chef uses. Or, cashew butter-cashew cream combo will do the trick. Here is the video: Dal Bukhara By Chef Ashish Kumar.
Use Your Imagination
Dal makhni is not supposed to be vegan. We all love this dish for that unique flavor that only real butter can provide. If you are ok with “almost vegan”, use margarine. Otherwise, extra virgin olive oil or cashew butter are your options. Do some experimentation and see what works best for you. Happy cooking.