There is a saying that there are as many ways to make dal as there are cooks.
That’s a very accurate statement. Even if two cooks start with similar ingredients, the results can be very different. One may use onion and garlic; another might avoid those. One cook might like more heat. One cook might like more spice. One cook may use cumin seeds; another, mustard seeds. Changing the proportion of garlic to ginger can make a huge difference. (One reason why I’ll use garlic paste, and ginger paste, but I avoid garlic-and-ginger paste – I like to be able to adjust the proportions.) And, of course, you can use the exact same recipe with a different type of lentil and the taste will be completely different.
After some experimentation, this is my favorite way of making palak dal. Both my partner and I like turmeric, so I use a little extra. I also, for some reason, prefer this to have a more delicate taste, so I skip the cumin. (The cumin seeds in the basmati rice I serve the dal over are sufficient.) I also like this to be very ginger-y, so I use a higher proportion of ginger to garlic. And finally, I like to keep my tomatoes a little chunky instead of cooking them down into the usual paste.
Please note this is different than chana palak or chana saag, which is whole chickpeas in a creamy green gravy made from spinach or a mixture of greens. This is more like a creamy soup or porridge that just happens to have spinach added.
Ingredients for Palak Dal:
1 cup Split Chana Dal
3 Cups Water
1-2 Teaspoons Turmeric
2 Teaspoons Sea Salt
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
1 medium-to-large Yellow Onion, diced
1 heaping Teaspoon Garlic, minced
1 heaping Tablespoon fresh Ginger, minced or grated
2-3 Thai Green Chili Peppers, finely choppped, OR 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon Ground Red Chili Pepper
1 – 2 Roma Tomatoes, diced
1 Bunch Fresh Baby Spinach, approx. 8 oz.
1/2 – 1 teaspoon Garam Masala
Instructions for Palak Dal:
Sort 1 cup of split chana dal, looking for bad beans or any debris that shouldn’t be there. Then rinse in several washes of cold water.
Add chana dal to pressure cooker along with the water, turmeric, and salt. Lock the lid and pressure cook for 4 whistles. (Alternately, you can cook on stovetop – you’ll probably need to simmer around 45 minutes.) The end result should be a slightly creamy base, with some of the chana dal still holding its shape. You don’t want it to be blended into a smooth mess like split pea soup; nor do you want what looks like pebbles floating in water.
While the dal is cooking, start the onion masala.
Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the onions. Add the green chili peppers, if using. Cook over medium-high heat for approximately 5 minutes, or until the onions start turning a little translucent.
Add the garlic and ginger and cook another 3 minutes.
If using ground red chili pepper, add it now and stir quickly to mix with the onions. As soon as it is mixed, add the tomato, salt, and garam masala. Cook for 2-3 minutes (remember, this is one recipe where you don’t want the tomato cooking down into a paste!)
Add the spinach. This will probably fill your whole skillet!
Gently mix with the tomatoes and onion. Cook until the spinach just starts to wilt.
Add the mixture to the cooked dal and stir (the spinach will continue to wilt a little in the hot dal). Heat over low heat for another 5-10 minutes, to allow the flavors to blend.
Taste for salt – dried beans and lentils can sometimes require a fair amount.
Ladle over basmati rice and enjoy!
You can also try this with other kinds of lentils and beans, such as red lentils (masoor dal) or moong dal.
Similarly, you could also try making this with kale. Keep in mind the kale will take a little longer to soften and wilt.
Sometimes, I’ll even eat this straight out of the pot with no rice, like a soup!