Under pressure

Mallika Basu - Under pressure

Posted 13th March 2007

kali-dal.jpgPressure cookers have never been my thing. My close friend in New York forgot about hers, wandered off to blow dry her hair and caused a minor explosion, leaving her to clean spinach off the ceiling.

And this girl is smart. I, on the other hand, have a small brain that is entirely used up 9 to 6, Monday to Friday.

This has been a dilemma of sorts. How can I write about quick Indian cooking and ignore a device that can cut cooking time to a third?

So I succumbed and bought myself a pressure cooker on Sunday. It’s a scary-looking contraption with an intimidating set of accompanying instructions. I read the guide cover to cover and still didn’t understand it. (small brain, remember?)

I decided to brave a possible explosion and cook something. Kali dal – a black lentil preparation with historic roots in Mughal courts that normally takes four hours of cooking. It’s not low fat or quick to make, but it tastes damn good. With a pressure cooker, at least it’s quicker – a mere 45 minutes in total.

I sat in the kitchen reading some vapid fashion magazine, too petrified to go anywhere lest something terrible happened. And then a miracle. Hubby waltzed into the kitchen and knew exactly what to do with the thing. Soon it was rotating, hissing and cooking just like it said it would in the brochure. Hurrah!

I am very impressed with the results and will definitely be using the thing more. I might even name it. All suggestions welcome.

Serves 4:

250 gms urad dal, soaked overnight
5 tsp ginger paste
5 tsp garlic paste
4 tsp tomato puree
1 tsp chilli powder
100 gm butter, salted
Salt to taste

Wash the urad lentils thoroughly after they’ve soaked overnight. Stick in the pressure cooker and bring to a boil with two pints of water, roughly reaching about two inches above the lentils.

Lower the flame so that it is still boiling gently. Add the ginger, garlic, tomato puree and chilli powder.

Now stick the lid on, click to shut and wait until the weight starts rotating and hissing. You have to lower the flame to a point where the weight just about keeps rotating and hissing from time to time. This means the pressure is right (listen to me… new born pressure cooker user!!).

Give it about 20 minutes. Then slowly release the steam by lifting the weight with a logn handled spoon. When all the steam escapes, you can take the lid off.

Because we didn’t use much water, the lentils will be cooked but quite dry. Add hot water to make it thick but runny in consistency, chuck in the butter and add salt to finish.

The dal is very tasty and very rich. Enjoy it with bread of some sort – nan, paratha or rotis.

24 responses to “Under pressure”

  1. sandeepa says:

    Eto din no pressure cooker ? Ashchorjyo 🙂 Kali Dal looks good and me thinks you are back to your old self

  2. Asha says:

    Glad to see you back.Dal looks great. Pressure cookers are little scary to use at first,once you get used to it,you will love it!:))

  3. Trupti says:

    Congrats on your new addition…..glad to see you’re better now. Sorry lady, don’t have any names for the cooker….I just call mine “jaadu”.


  4. Padmaja says:

    Pressure cooker was the first thing i bought when i came to uk 8 yrs back mallika, for me i can’t survive without my pressure cooker. I have always seen my mom making dal, rice, curries everything in pressure cooker or pressure pan(for curries, poories n all). Its like an essential part in my kitchen.So any doubts, give me a shout ok!!!

  5. sia says:

    when i left india PC was the first thing i put in my booty although i didn’t know head or tail about how to use it. all my cousins and friends recommended to take this along. now i dont think i can manage w/o my PC. he is handsome(err!!!), strong like steel and my knight in lighting armor;)

  6. sharmi says:

    Hi, Never tried urad dal in this style. Nice recipe! want to try out.


  7. Mangs says:

    sometimes when i want to cook something, i will you to do it, in my head. i willed you to share rajma, paneer, bhindi. you mayn’t have realised it but the reason you shared those recipes wasn’t spontaneous; it was a devious chain of events that was triggered by me. kali daal was the fourth on the list. i might as well tell you what the willing will lead to next: stuffed capsicum.

    (think i drank too much, no? i say, as i eat punjaabi daal)

  8. 30in2005 says:

    I have a Futura pressure cooker bought from India and it is just pure evil!!!! I never get the pressure hissing thing going quite well and there is normally dall all over the place – sadly my floors are not clean enough to eat off!!!

    I love Kali dal but it’s tedious to make and I usually to stock up on it by eating it everyday when I’m in India. I ahve found a sumptious Atul Kocchar recipe for Kali dal that takes quite a bit more work that this one (the results are superlative) and I usually save it for a special occaison dinner. Your recipe looks like it tastes pretty good and I shall have to try it to see if I can cut out all that hard work!!!

  9. Aunty says:

    Am sure you will agree when I say that like men, pressure cookers too need to be treated with some caution – and they make your life a whole lot simpler. Mind though, that using a long-stemmed spoon to release the steam can cause harm if you’re not careful. It’s best to let the steam escape while you get on with other stuff. If you are in a hurry, put the cooker with its whistle on, under cold running water – it will be ready to use in a jiffy.

  10. nandita says:

    Pressure cooker is my most favourite device / utensil in the entire kitchen and Kudos to us Indians who have been making the most of this one for many many years. I cook almost anything in it and ever since I started cooking, I have NEVER EVER boiled dal or rice or any other pulses. Even a basmati pulao comes out beautifully fluffed up and I dont even bother to keep it in a separate vessel, it goes in directly. Never owned an electric cooker – in fact never had enough patience to wait 45 minutes to eat rice…Ah you just pressed some point me in and I can go on and on and on…Trupti just summed it up in one word, it is magic…and you did the perfect thing but not slaving over some simmering dal…
    Happy half anniversary 🙂

  11. […] only worth the effort when they are the focus of the meal and made in small quantities. I made some kali dal in the pressure cooker and we devoured it all with mango pickle and a few vodkas. Fabulous. Shame […]

  12. Krishna says:

    Mallika…..how have you been? Is this close friend me…?? I remember this pressure cooker explosion I had many years ago but did not think you would remember it too!!! Anyway now I am an expert at using the “pressure cooker” and cannot live without it!

  13. tovorinok says:


    Great book. I just want to say what a fantastic thing you are doing! Good luck!


  14. Harshika says:

    I cant live without my pressure cooker either..the first thing i bought when hubby announced we are getting transferred to london. Infact requested some friends rather shamelessly to gift us a brand new one as a send off gift……now i possess 3 in different sizes that too!! dal, rice, meat ,idlis..just about everything goes in there and now i sound like a hawkins-prestige sales woman. errr sorry folks!

  15. […] Indian cook, I am sure you will be baffled by my various shortcuts and apalled by my apparent inabilities. Fear not, the recipes do work and they save you time. A look at the glorious recipes posted by […]

  16. […] made caipirinha. Smashed glasses. And doubled up over the Kali Dal, Bhuna Gosht and Aubergine Raita as she regaled us with stories of learning how to drive in […]

  17. Melba Chatham says:

    I have read all the wonderful recommendations for using the pressure cooker, BUT I am wondering about the site which advises against it, saying dals clog the vent. Here is the site:

    Why are the opinions so opposite? Any advice
    about dals will be appreciated. Thanks

  18. Mallika says:

    Hi there

    It is true that dals clog the vent of the pressure cooker. However, these are my tricks to lower the risk levels:

    1. Wash the lentils thoroughly. The cleaner they are the less they will foam up
    2. Fill the cooker only a third with water when cooking lentils. Any more and it will be more likely to clog the vent
    3. Add a few drops of oil before putting the lid on. This limits foaming
    4. Soak the lid in hot water and wash well to ensure it is thoroughly clean before using next

    I have never had a problem and I cook a lot of dal in the pressure cooker. However, I would advise you to also read the instruction manual that came with your cooker.

    Good luck and very best!

  19. Jennifer says:

    i make my black dal the exact same way u do except that i add mustard oil to the initial round in the cooker as it keeps the dal black in color….and i add chopped dhanya at the end with a spoon of cream….

  20. Ntka says:

    Hi there,

    Bumped into your website by chance and I totally relate to your cooking style!

    Few things that come to my mind…first and foremost, coming from a Punjabi background, no kali daal is complete w/o adding channa dal to it. Channa dal adds body to the dal. So, one third channa dal to be added to two third kali dal. The recipe stays the same.

    Secondly, I am surprised you have not got hooked to a slow cooker. It is made for women like us!!! Makes the rice cooker pale in comparison. I cook a variety of dishes in it- Kheer, chicken, mutton curry, channa, rajma, saag…anything that needs tender loving care and hours of painful cooking is a perfect candidate for slow cooker. The beauty is that you do not need to mind it and never have the troubles of a pressure cooker. I can relate to your friend’s mis-hap with the spinach; everytime my mom makes spinach in the pressure cooker, I am forced to clean the kitchen backsplash tiles and cabinets for hours…not a good return on time invested!

    One last comment- have you ever hit upon the BESTEST kulfi recipe. Bestest not only because it is absolutely yummy but also because the extend of work is opening a few cans and stirring the contents for less than a minute and set to freeze…ingredients being 500 ml whipping cream, 1 tin condensed milk, 1 tin evaporated milk, half tin mango puree (or diced lychees or pistas or whatever else flavor you prefer…can avoid flavour altogether and keep it simple). Add all to a bowl, stir and freeze!!!

    I am adding your website to my favorites so keep the good stuff coming 🙂


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