Spinach and Tomato Dal (Dal Palak)

Note: This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Mildly spiced and oh-so-creamy, this Spinach Dal (Dal Palak) recipe comes together in under 30 minutes for a protein-packed meal everyone will enjoy. This hearty, vegetarian spinach dahl cooks up in one pot for a comforting meal you can easily pair with fresh rice or roti.

A white bowl with dal palak topped with lemons and a silver spoon in the back.
Instant Pot Dal Palak

Growing up, I was not a big fan of dal, also known as the Indian yellow lentil soup to the rest of the world. I may have harassed and annoyed my mom a few times during dinner by blurting out, “Dal, again?”

This was because we ate dal pretty much every other day. That’s probably true for most Indians, though, as dal is an integral part of an Indian diet.

However, this aversion to dal changed when my grad school roommate introduced me to a new dal dish – Dhaba style Dal Palak or Spinach and Tomato Dal. Served with a side of steamed rice, this spinach and dal curry was creamy, delicious, and mildly spiced.

I finally started appreciating dal.

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 dal 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 🙂

What is spinach dal?

Dal Palak, also known as spinach dal, is named based on the two main ingredients. The word dal can be used as both an ingredient and a dish. The ingredient dal typically refers split peas, lentils, or other split pulses. When used in a dish, these ingredients make the dish a dal.

The second main ingredient in this recipe, palak, is the Hindi word for spinach. So a spinach dal is simply a dish made with spinach and split pulses. Served thick like a curry or thinned out more like a soup, there is no wrong way to whip up this delicious dal.

Fun fact: Dal is the word for both split pulses (such as split peas or red lentils) and dishes made from them. To know more about different types of pulses and lentils, check out this post – The ultimate guide to identifying and using pulses.

Alternate names

Much like every region in India has its own recipe for biryani, spinach dal or dhal also has different regional variations and, thus, slightly different names for the dish. For example, in North India, you might see it called dal palak or saag dal, while in Andhra, it’s often called palak pappu.

Dal palak in a white bowl
Palak Dal

Health benefits

Between the filling and hearty pulses and the fresh, vibrant spinach, this one-pot meal has many great health benefits. Let’s look at the two main ingredients, toor dal, and spinach, to learn about what makes this a healthy meal.

Toor dal, also called the pigeon pea, provides:

  • a great source of protein
  • high levels of folate, thiamine, and manganese
  • an excellent source of fiber.

Learn a little more about the health benefits of toor dal in this Livestrong article.

Spinach (palak) adds a buttery flavor to this dal recipe. Its health benefits include:

  • a low-carb vegetable
  • rich in fiber
  • great source of Vitamin A, C, and K
  • contains folic acid, iron, and calcium.

For additional information about the health benefits of spinach, Healthline breaks down the Nutrition and Health Facts about Spinach.

Reasons to love dal palak

Aside from the filling boost of protein, fiber, and vitamins, you will enjoy in each serving of this dal palak, here are a few more reasons you’ll love making this simple meal.

  • Cooks in under 30 minutes! Perfect for those busy weeknights.
  • One pot meal makes cleanup a breeze.
  • Nutrition-packed – From plant-based protein to nutrient-rich spinach, this recipe has no shortage of health benefits.
  • Kid-friendly recipe – Plus, it’s an easy way to sneak in greens.
  • Versatile recipe – This forgiving dish allows you to mix up the dals and leafy greens depending on what is available and personal preference (see variation sections for ideas).

Here’s what you need

Ingredient notes/swaps

  • Oil– Avocado or sunflower oil works well in this recipe.
  • Cumin seeds
  • Asafoetida
  • Aromatics – Onion, garlic, ginger, and a green chili
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Seasonings – Salt, pepper, Kashmiri chili powder, turmeric, coriander, and cumin.
  • Dal – a mix of toor dal and moong dal is used in this recipe, but you can also use any dal, such as toovar, masoor, chana dal, etc.
  • Chopped spinach – Fresh or frozen with any thick stems removed.
  • Lemon or lime juice
  • Water
Two hands holding a black bowl with dal palak on the right side and fresh rice on the left side with a spoon on the right.
Lasooni Dal Palak

Tools

You can make this recipe using one of 3 ways-

  • Instant Pot – an electric pressure cooker
  • Stovetop pressure cooker or
  • A large saucepan.

TIPS

  • Don’t use any thick spinach stems: Chop and discard any thick spinach stems.
  • Add spinach last: Spinach cooks pretty quickly. Only add after the dal has been cooked.
  • Temper twice: Start making the recipe by tempering the cumin seeds in oil and finish the dish with a second tempering (check the recipe card for detailed instructions). This will elevate your dal to a whole new level.
  • Moong dal: Though you can use any dal, I love to use moong dal in this recipe because it breaks down completely when cooked, giving the dal a creamy texture.

Variations

I love this recipe because it can be made with just a few ingredients. For instance, you can skip tomatoes, onions, and garlic, and it’ll still taste divine. Here are a few ways to mix it up every time you make this palak dal.

  • Hyderabadi dal palak: The south Indian version of palak dal calls for a few more ingredients in the tempering, such as mustard seeds, curry leaves, and urad dal. Follow the ingredients and instructions in the recipe card below for tempering but add 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds along with cumin seeds. Once the mustard seeds are done sputtering, add 1 teaspoon of urad dal and curry leaves and fry for 5-10 seconds.
  • Lasooni dal palak: To a tadka pan kept over medium heat, add a 1/2 tablespoon of oil. Add 1 teaspoon of minced garlic (2-3 cloves) and 2 red chilies (Byadgi). Fry for 10-15 seconds. Turn off the heat. Pour this tempering over hot dal.
  • Gluten-free version: Skip asafoetida to make it gluten-free.
  • Mix up dals: You can use one kind of dal in this recipe or mix up two dals in a 1:1 ratio. Here are a few of my favorite ones: moong, toovar, masoor (brown lentils), etc.
  • Other leafy greens: You can also use frozen spinach (no need to thaw). Other leafy greens that you can add or substitute in this dal include methi (fenugreek leaves), kale, arugula, etc. Note: Remember to discard any thick stems.
  • Vegan version: skip ghee and use the oil of your choice.

Cooking spinach dal with rice

Here’s the good thing about using a pressure cooker (electric or stovetop): you can cook two things simultaneously using a pot-in-pot technique. The important thing to note is cooking times of the two dishes to be cooked don’t have to be an exact match, but they do need to be within the 5-10 minute range.

Here’s how you can cook spinach dal with Basmati rice – Use the inner pot to cook the dal, place a trivet, and over the trivet, place an oven-safe container filled with rice and water.

  • After the dal and water have been added to the pressure cooker, place a trivet over it.
  • On top of the trivet, place an oven-safe container with 2 cups Basmati rice and 2.5 cups water. No need to cover it.
  • Close the cooker and set the cooking time. The cooking time should be set based on the food that is cooked in the inner pot, which is 10 minutes. As the liquid in the inner pot heats up, the resulting steam cooks the rice too.
  • Pressure cook. Once the cooking cycle is complete, remove the inner container carefully using tongs.

How to cook dal without a pressure cooker?

In a large saucepan, combine dal with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Skim off any foam. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer until the dal is tender about 30 minutes.

Depending on the consistency of the dal you want to make, you may decide not to use all the liquid in the dal. Don’t discard it; reserve it for later. The drained liquid will come in handy for diluting the dal.

How to prep ahead

Making this spinach dal recipe takes less than 30 minutes. To cut back on some of your prep time, try some of these time-saving tips.

  • Chop onions a few days in advance or get frozen chopped onions to store in your freezer.
  • Make ginger and garlic paste early.
  • Buy packaged, washed, and rinsed spinach.

Storage tips

Whether you are looking to keep this dal recipe for just a few days or prep it and freeze it, here are my tips for storing and reheating dal palak.

Refrigerator – Keeps 2-3 days in an air-tight container.

Freezer – Stores for a couple of months air-tight, freezer-safe container.

Reheat – Dal thickens when refrigerated. Dilute it with water to get the required consistency. Reheat in a microwave for a minute or two until heated through.

Serve it with

There is no wrong way to serve this filling dal recipe. Some of my favorite dishes to make with dal include:

Pink circle with light bulb

Frequently asked questions

What is the best lentil for dal?

Moong dal – personal preference as it turns creamy when it breaks down. You can use any dal, such as toovar, masoor, chana dal, etc.

Can I use baby spinach in this recipe?

Yes, baby spinach works great in this recipe. Be sure to trim any thick spinach stems before using them.

Is this recipe gluten-free?

No, but you can easily make this a gluten-free meal by omitting the asafoetida.

Can I use frozen spinach in this recipe?

Yes. No need to thaw. Add it to the hot dal and cook in the residual heat.

Other dal recipes to try

Here are a few other dal recipes that we enjoy and often make at home:

  • Tadka Dal – One-pot recipes are the best! That’s why you’ll love this Tadka dal (tempered dal) recipe – make it in an Instant Pot or a pressure cooker – and you’ll have your meal ready in no time.
  • Dal Tove – It is the simplest dal ever made from a few basic pantry ingredients.
  • Dal fry – This recipe for Dal Fry is very close to my heart because it comes from my mom’s kitchen. This is my humble attempt to recreate the hearty and lip-smacking dal my mom makes at home. This is her signature dish – simple and elegant, just like her.
  • One pot moong dal khichdi – A wholesome and nutritious meal –  Moong dal khichdi made from rice and moong dal (split lentils) is comfort food at its best. This one-pot, 5-ingredient meal is easy on your stomach and is perfect for all ages.
A white bowl with dal palak topped with lemons and a silver spoon in the back.
Click on the stars to rate!
5 from 1 vote

Spinach dal / Dal palak (Instant Pot + Stovetop recipe)

Author : Anushree Shetty
Love lentil soups? Try this creamy dal palak (spinach dal) recipe. Takes 30 minutes in an Instant Pot or stovetop for a quick and easy vegetarian dish.
Prep Time : 5 mins
Cook Time : 20 mins
Pressure building time : 10 mins
Total Time : 35 mins
Servings : 4

Ingredients
 
 

For second tempering [optional]

Instructions
 

Instant Pot method

  • Add oil to the steel insert of the Instant Pot and press the Saute function. Press the Adjust button to move the selection to “medium” and wait till the display reads “Hot.”
  • Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pressure cooker kept over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add cumin seeds.
  • When the cumin seeds start to sizzle, add asafoetida. After 10 seconds or so, add the chopped onions, ginger, garlic, green chilies and salt.
  • Fry till the onions have turned soft and translucent.
  • Add tomatoes, chili powder, turmeric powder, coriander and cumin powder. Stir them and cook the tomatoes for about 6-8 minutes till the tomatoes soften.
  • Add the rinsed dals to the inner pot along with 2.5 cups of water.
  • [Optional Step] – You can cook Basmati rice along with dal. Place a trivet over the dal.
  • [Optional Step] – Place the bowl with rice and water over the trivet. For 1 cup of rice, add 1.25 cups of water.
  • Press the “Warm / Cancel” button and select “Pressure Cook.” Adjust the time to 10 minutes ad set the pressure selection to high. Cover the Instant Pot lid and lock it.
  • When the cooking cycle is complete, allow the pressure to release naturally.
  • Carefully remove the rice using tongs.
  • Open the Instant Pot, add spinach leaves along with lime juice and ground pepper (if using). Mix well.
  • Cover the pressure cooker. In about 5 minutes, the spinach will soften and wilt. [Note: You can saute the spinach with the dal if you like, but I feel it cooks really well in the residual heat. Just cover and wait for a few minutes]

Optional tempering

  • To a tadka pan kept over medium heat, add oil or ghee. Once the oil heats up, add minced garlic and red chilies. Fry for 10-15 seconds. Turn off the heat. Pour this tempering over hot dal.
  • Serve hot with a side of steamed rice.

Notes

Stovetop method

  • Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pressure cooker kept over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add cumin seeds.
  • When the cumin seeds start to sizzle, add asafoetida. After 10 seconds or so, add the chopped onions, ginger, garlic, green chilies, and salt.
  • Fry till the onions have turned soft and translucent.
  • Add tomatoes, chili powder, turmeric powder, coriander, and cumin powder. Stir them and cook the tomatoes for about 6-8 minutes till the tomatoes soften.
  • Wash the dal well, add it to the cooker, and add 2.5 cups of water. Close the cooker and wait till the vent goes off 4 times [ Note: Every cooker works differently, and mine takes that long to get the dal nicely cooked]
  • Shut the gas off and allow it to cool naturally.
  • Open the cooker, and add spinach leaves along with lime juice. Mix well.
  • Cover the pressure cooker. In about 5 minutes, the spinach will soften and wilt. [Note: You can saute the spinach with the dal if you like, but I feel it cooks really well in the residual heat. Just cover and wait for a few minutes]
  • Serve hot with a side of steamed rice.
For additional tipsCheck the post for more info on storage tips, meal prep ideas and variations!

Disclaimer: Approximate nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and can vary depending on the exact ingredients/brands used. If you have health issues, please work with a registered dietician or nutritionist.

Nutrition

Calories: 292kcalCarbohydrates: 36gProtein: 13gFat: 12gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 10mgSodium: 68mgPotassium: 422mgFiber: 8gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 3405IUVitamin C: 52mgCalcium: 90mgIron: 4mg
Diet : Gluten-free, Vegetarian
Course : Lunch/Dinner
Method: Instant Pot, Stovetop
Keyword : restaurant style
Cuisine : Indian

This recipe was first published on 11/15/2016 and was completely updated with new images and text on 11/03/2022.

Get dinner on the table faster!

Learn my meal planning + prepping secrets to make fresh Indian food without spending hours in the kitchen.

An overhead shot of Gujarathi kadhi along with rice, rotis and a side of lemon

FREE EMAIL COURSE

Simmer to Slimmer Logo

8 Comments

  1. 4 stars
    Hi,
    I want to make this, but confused by ginger and garlic. In one of your replies you mentioned that this recipe does not call for these, but in the directions it says “add ginger and garlic and cook, stirring for 1 min.” Can you please clarify? Thank you!

    1. Sorry for the confusion, Marl. I updated the recipe with the amount of ginger and garlic needed. Thanks for letting me know.

  2. Thanks for replying, I was only asking as they are mentioned in point 3 and not in the ingredients list, but perhaps I misunderstood that they were optional. Anyway, I did add approximately what you suggested and it was very nice and I will make it again. I’ve only recently come across this toor dhal and it’s great to have a new recipe to use with it. Best wishes and continue to enjoy cooking and sharing your wonderful recipes, Sue x

    1. Sue – thanks for your kind message. I am glad that helped and I apologize for missing the ingredients. I’ll fix it shortly.

      Thanks,
      Anushree

  3. Hi Anu, I am enjoying exploring your site, and this is the first recipe of yours I am attempting. My dal is cooking in the pressure cooker whilst I get on with chopping onions but can you give me some guidance as to how much garlic and ginger to use, and how to prepare them. I have made a guess for now, but look forward to hearing from the expert! Many thanks, Sue

    1. Hi Sue

      This recipe does not call for ginger and garlic. But if you would like to use it, you can grate about a 1-inch piece of ginger and about 2 garlic cloves, minced.

  4. 5 stars
    This is another keeper for me. I’d never added lemon juice or pepper to spinach dal before. I really liked the tangy twist to the flavor. I also didn’t add yogurt to the recipe at the end but did top off the dal on my kids’ plates with a dollop of yogurt to get the creamy texture you mentioned and they sure loved it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recipe Rating