This mildly spiced, creamy version of Spinach and Tomato Dal (Dal Palak) makes for a delicious and nutritious main course served with hot cooked rice.
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I was not a big fan of dal (also known as the Indian yellow lentil soup to the western world) growing up and I may have harassed and annoyed my mom a few times during dinner by blurting out “Dal, again?” I know now.. that was not cool of me.
But seriously, when I think of it, we ate dal pretty much every other day. That’s probably true for most Indians though, as dal is such an integral part of an Indian diet.While a part of me was thankful to have food on my plate, the other part detested the idea of having to eat the same thing for every meal.
This aversion to dal changed though when my roommate in grad school introduced me to a new dal dish – Dhaba style Dal Palak or Spinach and Tomato Dal. Served with a side of rice stir fried in ghee, this spinach and dal curry was creamy, delicious and mildly spiced just like the recipe in this post which by the way is not mine. It is from the book – The Chile Pepper Bible: From Sweet & Mild to Fiery & Everything in Between.
I could not wait to get my hands on this comprehensive book which explained the many varieties of chiles and provided absorbing information on everything from the historical and geographic origins of chiles, to information on The Scoville Scale (it measures the hotness of a chile and was invented by Wilbur Scoville), health benefits and finally, 250 delicious and inventive recipes.
It was hard to pick one recipe to post about because all the dishes in the book look amazing. In the end, I chose the Spinach and Tomato Dal recipe because it was THE recipe that changed the way I looked at all dal recipes.
- 1 cup yellow split peas (toor dal), rinsed and drained
- 1 tablespoon each cumin and coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee) or oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 tsp salt or to taste
- ½ to 1 teaspoon red chile powder, such as Kashmiri
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2½ cups (or one 28 oz can) tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup vegetable stock or water
- 1 tablespoon squeezed lemon juice
- 8 oz trimmed fresh spinach leaves, chopped
- Plain dairy or vegan yogurt (optional)
- In a large saucepan, combine rinsed split peas with 4 cups (1 L) fresh water. Bring to a boil. Skim off any foam. Reduce heat to low, partially cover and simmer until peas are very tender, about 30 minutes. Drain. (Alternatively, pressure cook dal with 2.5 cups water in a pressure cooker or an Instant Pot. If you are using a pressure cooker, cook the dal till the vent goes off twice)
- In another large saucepan, toast cumin and coriander seeds over medium heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to mortar and grind to a powder.
- In same pan, heat clarified butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in salt, chile powder to taste, turmeric and reserved cumin mixture. Season to taste with black pepper. Stir in tomatoes and juice, and bring to a boil. Stir in drained cooked split peas, stock and lemon juice. Reduce heat and simmer until flavors are melded, about 5 minutes.
- Add spinach, in batches, stirring to submerge each before adding the next. Cover and cook until spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes.
- Ladle into warm serving bowls. Drizzle to taste with yogurt (if using).
If you are cooking for someone who is gluten-free, check labels on packaged ingredients, such as stock. They can contain gluten.
To rinse split peas before cooking them: Place split peas in the saucepan in which they will be cooked and cover with water. Using your hands, rub the peas together until the water becomes very cloudy. Drain. Repeat 3 more times or until the water is clear. Proceed with Step 1.
You will need about 8 cups (2 L) chopped fresh spinach leaves. For convenience, you can substitute 1 package (10 oz/300 g) frozen spinach, thawed, for the fresh.
The yogurt adds a pleasantly creamy finish—if you are avoiding dairy, you can omit it or substitute a vegan version.
Courtesy of The Chile Pepper Bible: From Sweet & Mild to Fiery & Everything in Between by Judith Finlayson © 2016 www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.
This Dal Palak recipe opened my mind to new ways of combining dal with vegetables and sometimes even meat to create some truly delicious and nutritious meals. While it is most commonly served with rice or rotis, this vegan and gluten friendly lentil curry can also be consumed as a soup. Dilute this recipe with a little water and it can be your version of an Indian lentil curry soup 🙂
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