This amazing and authentic dal palak recipe is full of flavor and easy to make. Cooked with caramelized onions, this restaurant style dal is quite different than other spinach dal recipes. It is also nutritious and comforting at the same time.
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Palak Dal (Spinach Lentil Curry)
This dal palak recipe promises to be different than the routine Indian spinach and lentil curries. The combination of dals (chana dal and masoor dal) used here works perfectly well with the spinach.
Chana dal has a chickpea like taste that goes so well with creating vegan and vegetarian dishes that have a complex restaurant style taste like chana masala. And masoor dal cooks quickly and disintegrates to give a nice consistency to the dal.
In this recipe, spinach and lentils are cooked with caramelized onions and warm spices. The idea of cooking legumes with fried onions comes from our popular Persian noodle soup, which tastes fabulous. Then we top the dal with a unique tadka that takes it up a notch. The end result is so rich and of restaurant quality.
So this spinach dal will work great as a vegetarian party menu item, just like our plain chana dal recipe. But you can also serve it any day of the week, like our masoor daal. The flavor is so good, it is a standalone item. You only need some rice or bread to serve along, but you can also add some Indian roasted cabbage.
The spices, spinach, combination of dals, caramelized onions and the special tadka, create a dish that works well for a festive menu!
Dal Palak Recipe Ingredients
- Dals: We need chana dal and masoor dal. Chana dal or split skinned chickpeas (also known as Bengal gram), is a firmer lentil. Soak it before cooking for perfect results. Masoor dal cooks soft and makes the dal saucy.
- Spinach: I like to use fresh baby spinach, as it is cooks quickly and gives a great texture and taste for the dal. But you can also replace with 5 ounces frozen spinach.
- Cooking oil: I prefer olive oil or avocado oil.
- Spices: We use the standard spices that are typical for dal - cumin seeds, chili powder, turmeric and ground coriander. Garam masala is what adds the richer restaurant style taste, along with the aromatics below.
- Aromatics: Onions are one of the star ingredients here. We caramelize thinly sliced onions and cook some of it with the dal and stir some into the tadka. Then we need dried red chillies, garlic and ginger. Use fresh ginger and garlic for incredible Indian dishes.
- Tomatoes: Adds a nice taste, texture and appearance to the dal.
- Cilantro: A must ingredient for Indian dal.
- Ghee/Butter: A dollop of ghee or brown butter drizzled over dal always makes a great difference in taste.
- Chili Peppers: Traditional recipes use green chilies, but you can replace with jalapeño peppers (milder) or serrano peppers (hot). Remove seeds to lower heat.
- Optional: Kasuri methi (dry fenugreek leaves) adds a nice touch. Kashmiri red chili powder is less pungent than regular red chili powder, and has a brighter red color. Smoked paprika is an option for smoky flavor.
How To Make Dal Palak
- Caramelize onions: Saute thinly sliced onions until caramelized. Remove from oil and set aside.
- Seasoning Oil: Sauté cumin seeds, garlic and red chilies. Add half the fried onions back. Stir in chili powder. Set aside half of the onion-seasoning oil.
- Cook Dal: Add tomatoes to the pot and cook. Then add ginger, green chilies, turmeric, coriander powder, garam masala, kasuri methi and cook. Add drained dals, and simmer until soft and mushy. Check recipe notes for instant pot chana dal.
- Spinach: Add spinach, half the onion-seasoning oil, cilantro and simmer. Add lemon juice and adjust seasonings.
- Tadka Topping: Serve the dal hot, topped with remaining onion-seasoning oil.
Soak chana dal with a pinch of baking soda before cooking. Drain, rinse and use for cooking. This will soften the lentils while cooking.
To make it more saucy and thick, blend some of the cooked dal using a hand blender.
If the lentils foam initially, leave the pot uncovered for a while and skim it off. Once it subsides, place a lid on the pot or keep it ajar.
Add turmeric after the foam settles down. Otherwise, the yellow foam can be messy.
Other ways to control the dal boiling over - (1) apply some ghee or oil around the rim of the cooking pot or place a wooden spoon over the pot.
Dal palak will continue to thicken even after turning off the heat. So, remove from the stove before it reaches the desired consistency.
To increase the umami flavor, use chicken stock to cook the dal instead of water.
Meal Prep & Storage
- Soak the lentils ahead. Cook the spinach dal a day or two before. Add the seasoned oil before serving.
- Store leftovers in refrigerator for 4 to 5 days. Reheat dal, adding some water to adjust consistency.
Serve it with rice, pappadum and pickle. Add some kachumber on the side.
This dal tastes very good with easy flatbreads or whole wheat naans. You can also add some Indian style chicken koftas or sauteed shrimp.
Yes, this is a nutritious recipe. Both spinach and lentils are excellent sources of plant nutrients.
Spinach provides vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, potassium and folic acid. When consumed regularly, it supports health benefits such as better diabetes management, intestinal health, bone health, cancer prevention, lower blood pressure, good skin and hair.
Lentils are a great source of protein, fiber, folic acid, manganese, phosphorus, iron and phytochemicals. They also support many health benefits including lower cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease and obesity. This dal palak recipe is vegetarian and makes a healthy and complete meal with whole grains such as brown rice.
Yes, you can cook it in instant pot with some modifications. Caramelize the onions and prepare the seasoned oil in saute mode. Cook dal under pressure for 10 to 12 minutes (about 8 whistles). Release the pressure naturally. The lentils should be cooked very soft.
This lentil curry is gluten free, vegetarian, egg free, nut free and soy free.
- Vegan and Dairy Free: Skip ghee and use coconut oil or vegetable oil.
- Rich Flavor: A drizzle of ghee on the top makes the dal taste fantastic. You can make your own ghee, following our baklava recipe post.
- To make it more tangy, add ½ to 1 teaspoon of dry mango powder or squeeze lemon juice on top.
More Lentil Recipes
- Moroccan Lentil Soup
- Mediterranean Lentil Soup
- Lentils and Rice with Cranberries
- Kale Quinoa Lentil Salad
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Dal Palak (Spinach Dal)
- ¾ cup chana dal soaked with a pinch of baking soda, or moong dal/toor dal
- ¾ cup masoor dal rinsed and drained
- ½ lb spinach rinsed, pat dry, shredded
- 4 tablespoons olive oil or avocado oil
- 1 medium onion 1 cup, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced, check quantity
- 2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 7 cloves garlic finely grated, 2 tablespoons
- 4 dried red chilies
- 1 teaspoon chili powder Kashmiri chili powder is less pungent
- 1 large tomato 1 cup chopped
- 2 teaspoons chopped green chili optional, remove seeds for less heat
- 1½ teaspoons grated ginger fresh
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon kasuri methi dry fenugreek leaves, optional
- 4 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 1 tablespoon ghee optional
- Rinse both the lentils very well until the water is clear and drain in colander. Tip: If using other yellow lentils instead of red lentils, then soaking in water for about an hour will help.
- Rinse spinach, drain and pat dry. Stack all the spinach leaves, roll and slice finely. See note for frozen spinach.
- Heat oil in a medium cooking pot. Add onions and sauté over medium heat until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Using a frying spatula separate the onions from oil, draining well and transfer to a small bowl.
- Place your palm three inches above the oil and check to make sure it is hot enough, add cumin seeds. When the seeds start to splutter, add grated garlic and dried red chillies. Sauté until garlic turns a light golden brown and then add back the fried onions. Turn off the heat and stir in chili powder. Do not let it burn.
- Set aside half of the onion and oil mixture in the small bowl. Save it for later.
- Then add chopped tomatoes and cook until softened.
- Next add grated ginger, green chilies, turmeric, coriander powder, garam masala and kasuri methi. Stir and make sure to not let the spices burn.
- Add the soaked and drained lentils, water and bring it to a boil.
- Lower the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add salt to taste and continue to cook until most lentils start breaking down, become a bit mushy and turn into a thick sauce like consistency.
- Tip: Cook the dal until it reaches a consistency that is thinner than what is desired, because it will thicken further after cooking.
- Then add shredded spinach, half of the onion-spice oil and chopped cilantro into the cooked dal. Stir and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Add lemon juice and adjust seasonings to taste.
- Transfer the dal into a serving dish. Top with remaining onion-seasoning oil, cilantro and ghee. Serve with steamed rice.
- To make it more saucy and thick, blend some of the cooked dal using a hand blender.
- Optional ingredients: Kasuri methi (dry fenugreek leaves) adds a nice touch. Kashmiri red chili powder is less pungent than regular red chili powder, and has a brighter red color. Smoked paprika is an option for smoky flavor.
- If the lentils foam initially, leave the pot uncovered for a while and skim it off. Once it subsides, place a lid on the pot or keep it ajar. Add turmeric after the foam settles down.
- Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker: Caramelize the onions and prepare the seasoned oil in saute mode. Cook dal under pressure for 10 to 12 minutes (about 8 whistles). Release the pressure naturally. The lentils should be cooked very soft.
- Indian lentils are available at Indian grocery stores, major American grocery stores or online. Buy fresh stock from stores with a fast turnover.