Guest Post: Dal Palak (Indian Lentils with Spinach)

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Guys!  I have something exciting today.  Namely, a guest post from one of my favorite new friends–Vijay, who is Editor and “Chief Nosher” at NoshOn.It, a daily email to inspire you to cook just a little bit better each and every day. They feature hand-picked recipes from up-and-coming bloggers (like moi) and expert cooking tips, so you don’t have to think about what to make for dinner. If you want to try out their daily newsletters, just head over here:  I’m subscribed myself!  You can never have too much in the way of inspiration, you know?

Vijay is going to share his  recipe for dal palak, a comforting, rustic, hearty vegetarian Indian dish of lentils, spinach and fragrant spices.  (Are you excited yet?)  But first, let’s get to know Vijay a little better!  He kindly let me bug him with some interview questions.

Can you tell me a bit about how you started NoshOnIt, and why?
“NoshOnIt was started out of my passion for wanting to break down the barriers to great cooking at home. I truly believe that ANYONE can (and should) be an amazing cook with just a little bit of inspiration and a touch of education. Plus, I think the best inspiration comes from people you can relate to, so we built NoshOnIt as a platform to help showcase the best up-and-coming bloggers and their work. What I think is really unique about what we do is that we use email as our main channel – you don’t have to think about it, it just comes to you, and it’s always delicious.”

You always seem to be having so much fun running the newsletter. What’s your very favorite thing about it?
“Making friends around the world – no question about it. Even though I haven’t met most of our bloggers or readers in person, doing what we do has allowed me the chance to get to know people everywhere! I literally believe I could go to almost any city and have someone I can call a friend.”

What were you doing before?
“In a time long long ago, I attended culinary school and cooked professionally for a bit, but ultimately realized that I was much better in my own kitchen at home. Since then, I’ve done a bunch of things related to food & wine, including helping open a winery, being an event & wedding planner, and a brief speedbump that they call an MBA.”

Why are you passionate about food and cooking?
“Food is my way of showing love. I truly believe that there is almost no thing in this world that is as much of a common denominator as a good, hearty meal. I like to make food that brings people together in an unfussy, comfortable way but that also challenges their taste buds with bold, exciting flavors. Also, I think that learning about new cultures is best done through their food, even if you can’t make the trip.”

What was your favorite food as a kid?  How about now?
“At home growing up, I ate mostly the South Indian vegetarian food that my mom made. The one thing I ate almost every day was yogurt mixed with rice. It sounds weird to most people, but it’s an absolute staple in any South Indian household. Also, on weekends, my mom would make dosa, a thin and crispy rice crepe. I still can’t eat it anywhere else but at home. Now, my tastes have evolved as I’ve traveled, explored, and cooked on my own. If there is crispy, slow-roasted pork on the menu, you’ll have to pull me away.”

What about your favorite food to cook these days?  Do you have a signature dish?
“I go through phases, sometimes driven by the season and sometimes driven by a whim. Lately, I’ve been into trying Korean and Vietnamese recipes at home. The combination of flavors in both cuisines is just explosive!  But the one thing I go back to (and gets requested over and over again) is Carnitas, preferably with pickled onions and homemade salsa verde. I dare you to have just one bite.”

Okay, lastly I want to know what the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten is.
“Goat brain curry. It was at a high-end, fusion Indian restaurant and apparently it’s a rustic specialty of some village. The spices masked the creamy texture of the brains…but, I’m not feeling any smarter so I think I’ll pass on a second helping!”

I bet you like him as much as I do.  I also bet you’re going to be just as intrigued by this dish as I am!  So let’s have Vijay tell us about it.

Thanks so much to Danguole for having me. I’m so happy to be sharing this recipe with you today because it’s comfort food at its finest…at least in Indian households! I know that Danguole lives in the slightly more temperate climate of Reno, but out here in Boston, it is COLD. And dark. And rainy. Not the most pleasant of environments.

When it’s dreary out, I think back to the food of my childhood. Growing up in Houston, TX, in a South Indian home, we primarily ate vegetarian food at home. As I’ve moved around the country (and world) and traveled, my palate and culinary interests have come along with me. I love exploring new cultures through experimenting with their recipes and understanding their food. I hope this recipe helps you do that for Indian food.

If there’s one food that’s eaten across all of India, it’s dal…or as it’s more commonly known, lentils.

Dal is the most humble of all Indian foods. Inexpensive, hearty, and a springboard for other flavors, lentils are simply put…a staple. They come in different sizes, colors, and varieties and, in all honesty, it doesn’t matter which kind you use for this recipes.

If you have an Indian grocery store nearby, look for Moong Dal, one of my favorite kinds. There’s nothing particularly special about it but it breaks down easily, creating a thick hearty almost-sauce-like consistency that works well in this dish. Otherwise, feel free to use whatever kind of Indian lentil you can find in the ethnic aisle of your grocery store – some other ones to look out for include toor dal and chana dal.

I would like to say that this Dal Palak (Dal with Spinach) is one of my mother’s famous recipes…but it’s not. We used to eat dal frequently and there are some things about this that remind me of hers (the soupy consistency, use of tomatoes, and squeeze of lime), but over the years I’ve made it my own. I love the swirls of spinach in the thick yellow lentils and the spots of softened tomatoes that lend a gentle acidity to certain bites.

I also amp up the flavor with ginger, garlic, and cumin seeds, and finish with a pat of butter to make it rich and creamy. Skip the butter if you’d like, but I really think it makes a difference.

What brings it all together, though, is a massive squeeze of lime juice at the end. It brightens up the entire dish, tames down the spice from both the green and red chiles, and adds another dimension of flavor that hits a different set of taste buds.

Served with a steaming bowl of rice or your favorite Indian flatbread (or even just on its own as a soup), this dal palak is healthy, hearty, and absolutely comforting. Skip the butter and it’s not only gluten free but also vegan as well.

As you start to explore Indian food in your own kitchen, I hope you’ll start with this Dal Palak. In many ways, it’s the most simple and core of all Indian dishes, with little touches to make it just a little bit special. When it’s cold or you’ve had a long day, this is the kind of food that will wrap you up in a big, fat, hug. Happy cooking!

Dal Palak – Indian Lentils with Spinach
Serves: 4-6

1 cup yellow moong dal (or toor dal or chana dal – use whatever Indian yellow lentils you can find)
1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups (or more) of water
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 whole dried chiles (chile de arbol), split in half
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 tbsp ginger, minced or grated
1 tbsp garlic, minced or grated
½ tsp turmeric
2 serrano chiles or jalapenos, cut into big chunks
2 plum tomatoes, diced into large pieces
1 bag (1 lb) baby spinach, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lime (more if you’d like
1 tbsp unsalted butter (optional)
Chopped cilantro, to garnish


1.  After measuring the lentils, pick out any odd-looking pieces and rinse. In a large saucepan, add the lentils, 1 tsp vegetable oil, and 3 cups of water. Allow to soak for 20-30 minutes.

2.  Cook the lentils: bring the lentils to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook, partially covered until tender and practically falling apart, about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally so the lentils don’t stick and add water as needed to maintain the consistency of a thick soup. Set aside until ready to use.

3.  In a saucepan with a wide base, heat the remaining 2 tbsp of vegetable oil over medium-high heat until just simmering. Add the dried red chile and cumin seeds. Stir for 30s until the cumin seeds splutter and become fragrant.

4.  Add the diced onion and saute for 2-3 minutes until lightly golden. Add the ginger, garlic, turmeric, and serrano chiles and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Season with salt.

5.  Add the diced tomatoes and a splash of water to help the tomatoes break down. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook 5-7 minutes, stirring often, until the tomatoes soften and start to fall apart.

6.  Add the spinach and stir to combine, 2-3 minutes or until the spinach is wilted.

7.  Add in the reserved lentils and stir to combine, adding more water if needed to achieve a stew-like consistency. If you want it thinner, just add more water. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes to let the flavors meld. Taste and add salt as needed.

8.  To finish, add the butter if desired and a big squeeze of lime juice. Stir in chopped cilantro and serve with rice or your favorite Indian flatbread.

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  1. says

    Wow! You’re going so Big Time now! Don’t forget us little guys when you get to the top 😉 Congrats, my dear!
    This looks really delicious, and Vijay sounds like a great new best friend!
    I’ve always been a little intimidated by Indian cooking because it is so unfamiliar for me, but the lime, tomato, cumin – they might tempt me into an Indian cooking night at home.

    • Danguole says

      Aww shucks… I think this is a great recipe to get you started on Indian–it’s not that far from Mexican. You start with cumin and hot peppers and add a whole bunch more delicious stuff! In fact, I used to work with this Indian guy who called Mexican food “half-assed curry.” Hahaha.

    • says

      Thanks so much Sara – I hope you’ll give it a try! There are a lot of ingredients but once you have a good spice cabinet, everything else is super easy (and inexpensive!). This is a really forgiving dish too!

  2. says

    Thanks so much Danguole – this is awesome! So glad to have met you as well =). Now I have a new friend in Reno!

    @Sara – I’ve learned a lot about Indian food on my own and really what it comes down to is a well-stocked spice cabinet. If you have an Indian grocer nearby, they carry pretty much everything. Everything else you can get at any ol’ grocery store!

    Also, one of my favorite resources is this youtube series: He has almost every recipe in video form!

    • Danguole says

      Thank YOU for the beautiful post. And yes, I think I count as one of your “any city in the world” friends!

  3. says

    Love it! I am obsessed with Indian food (specifically Indian buffets–all the food in my mouth all at once, please) but rarely cook it at home because it seems like most recipes call for a million spices and a million hours. I’m definitely going to give this one a try!

    • says

      Elizabeth – thanks! Indian buffets are great, but once you learn how to make it at home, you may never go back =). You’re absolutely right – it is all about having a well-stocked spice cabinet but if you have an Indian grocer nearby, the spices are fresh and cheap. I buy them in bulk, store them in a cool, dark place and use them for months.

    • Danguole says

      Oh, I can be a really impressive eater at Indian buffets. I think I’m going to make this too, one of these days!

    • says

      Thanks Allison – it’s a favorite of mine too! I love the little wisps of green in the yellow day. Many Indians will add ghee (clarified butter) to their dal at some point but in a pinch, a pad of butter works just fine. I always add a big squeeze of lemon or lime to help brighten everything up.