Indian Lentils with Spinach (Dal Palak)
While I have made some great Indian food, Rob’s kitchen territory reigns in India. He loves spicy and anything curry, whereas I prefer dishes that are more mild and don’t have that curry flavour that we still have yet to pin down to a specific spice (?asafoetida ?peppercorns ?amchoor). Now that we will be sharing more meals together, we are trying to compromise with our meals. Hence, my plethora of curries!
I decided to make dal palak, a classic Indian lentil dish jam-packed with spinach. No curry powder in the recipe? Perfect! I was still a bit hesitant to try the dish, despite its rave reviews, because I have had a similar paneer-based dish at a friend’s house. They knew I had a sensitive palate, but had to throw in chilis for flavour, they told me. For me, it was too earthy and too spicy. A true Indian family, they told me it was the blandest food they had ever made! I ate what I could, which wasn’t much.
So with this hesitation, I was cursing as I had nearly every burner going on the stove plus the food processor and spice grinder. This multi-step meal requires a steamed spinach paste that is combined with soft red lentils and spiced with a fragrant mixture of garlic, shallots, ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric and lime juice. Just a hint of spice from the Aleppo chili flakes.
While I was initially cursing, this all dissipated when I finally sampled the dish. This was glorious. The fresh spinach and freshly ground coriander seeds were sweet and it was balanced by the earthy, but not heavy cumin. The fresh lime juice brought this to the next level.
I never knew Indian food could taste so good with such limited ingredients. It wasn’t laden in oil, it was bursting in a creamy spinach soupy mixture. I ate it as is, similar to a stew, but it would be great combined with brown basmati rice, or served with some paratha or roti.
Rob was sad that I rarely make recipes a second time, and thus worried we could possibly forget about this gem. However, this is probably the first thing I will think about when spinach goes on sale for 47c/bunch again.
Indian Lentils with Spinach (Dal Palak)
600g spinach (2 bunches, washed and stemmed – I really think it is important to get fresh bunches of spinach – not frozen, not the big curly leaves in the cellophane either)
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
3.5 cups water
2 tsp oil
6 cloves garlic, coarsely minced
4 oz shallots, minced (around 5 small shallots)
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 tsp coriander seeds, freshly ground
2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp Aleppo chili flakes
1/4 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp salt, to taste
2 tbsp fresh lime juice (from 1 lime), to taste
1. If you can use a steamer basket overtop a pot of simmering lentils, do it and set it up as so.
2. Steam the spinach until very tender, around 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to a food processor and grind to a paste. Don’t bother squeezing out the liquid before blending it up, a little liquid is fine. Set aside.
3. Meanwhile, add the red lentils and 3.5 cups water in medium sized pan with a tight-fitting lid. Over high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover and allow to simmer until the lentils are completely tender, around 20 minutes. Once cooked, remove the lentils & their cooking liquid (don’t drain!) from heat and set aside.
4. Once you’ve got the lentils simmering for about 10 minutes, warm the oil over medium-high heat in soup pot. Add the garlic, and saute until the garlicky chunks are truly golden, stirring frequently. Quickly add the minced shallots and ginger, stir it up, and then cook another 5-6 minutes until the shallots are tender. Stir it often to prevent the garlic from burning. Add in the coriander, cumin seeds, chili flakes, turmeric, and salt. Stir for 30 seconds or so, then add in the spinach paste & cooked dal and stir to fully mix the spices and garlic mixture into the spinach and dal. Stir well, and bring to a simmer for another 10 minutes or so.Add lime juice and adjust to taste.
5. Serve hot with a wedge of fresh lime, rice or paratha/roti.