Chana Dal with Spinach & Tomatoes – Make Indian Food at Home
Mildly spicy, fresh and flavorful, thick and satisfying. Golden-hued Chana Dal with Spinach & Tomatoes is Indian food you can easily make at home. Make it thin and saucy, or thick and creamy. Adjust the heat level as well, by adding more hot peppers to the tarka. (see below) The sprinkling of fresh cilantro along with the addition of lightly cooked fresh spinach and tomatoes (when in season), adds a layer of freshness not usually found in Indian restaurants. What a treat to make Indian food at home.
Dal’s double meaning
The Indian word dal refers to over 60 varieties of dried beans, peas and lentils. As well as to the vegetarian dish in which they star. Dal is considered a cornerstone of Indian meals, fusing nutrients and spice into a most flavorful and satisfying whole.
Chana dal or yellow split peas?
I don’t believe I’d ever seen or tasted chana dal before a few weeks ago when I found them at our local co-op. What a find. They are so much more flavorful than the much-easier-to-find yellow split peas, which are sometimes substituted for chana dal.
Chana dal not only looks different, it cooks and tastes differently as well. See how smooth and perfectly shaped the yellow split peas are? Then compare them to the more textured appearance of chana dal. Neither, by the way, requires pre-soaking before cooking.
They have different origins as well. Chana dal are split desi chickpeas. They hold their shape relatively well when cooked.
Yellow split peas, are, well, split peas, and will completely lose their shape. . .as in split pea soup. If you do use yellow split peas instead of chana dal, you will have a softer dal with less texture.
Tarka, tadka, chaunk or tempering
A spice infusion widely used in Indian cuisine, and known by a number of different names. Tarka is made by sautéing the spices and herbs in hot fat in order to release their essentials oils. Tempering the spices this way creates additional layers of flavor.
“Hot fat has an amazing ability to extract and retain the essence, aroma and flavor of spices and herbs and then carry this essence with it when it is added to a dish.” Monica Bhide
Just before serving the Chana Dal, lightly stir in the tarka for a boost of color, texture, taste, and aroma.
A side of chutney
Chutney and dal complement one another perfectly. What luck to find a few jars of last year’s Rhubarb Chutney with Apples, Dates and Ginger still in my cupboard. May you be as fortunate.
Chana Dal with Spinach & Tomatoes
Chana Dal can be served with chapattis, naan or basmati rice to absorb all the saucy goodness.
Easily adjust the texture and spiciness to your taste. Make Chana Dal as thick or thin as you like. Or add additional hot pepper to the tarka, if you prefer your dal spicier.
Gluten and Dairy-Free. Vegan.
Makes 4-6 servings Printer Friendly Recipe
Total Time 1 ¼ hours
1 cup chana dal (split desi chickpeas)
1 ½ teaspoons turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons coconut oil or ghee
6 whole cloves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 medium onion, ¼ inch dice (1 ½ cups)
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
½ Serrano pepper, minced
1 teaspoon crushed, red chili flakes, optional
1/3 cup diced fire-roasted tomatoes (or 1 fresh tomato, seeded, ½-inch diced)
4 ounces baby spinach, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- Rinse the chana dal in a sieve until the water runs clear.
- Combine the chana dal, turmeric, cardamom, bay leaf and 4 cups of water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat so the mixture simmers. Partly cover the pan. Cook for 40 minutes.
- Stir in the salt. At this point, there should still be a lot of water in the pan. If yes, continue cooking, partly covered. If not, add 1 cup additional water and continue cooking, covered. In either case, cook until the dal is tender, 20-25 minutes. Turn off the heat.
- Remove the bay leaf. Use a whisk or an immersion blender to partially purée the dal. Dal is usually served a bit saucy but not soupy. Stir in the fresh lemon juice.
- Meanwhile prepare the tarka: put the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and cloves. Once they become fragrant, about 30 seconds, reduce the heat to medium low. Stir in the diced onion. Cover the pan and cook 6 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, Serrano pepper and optional chili flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally to keep the ginger from sticking, until golden brown. Stir in the diced tomato. Cook a minute or two to heat through.
- Just before adding the tarka to the dal, stir the spinach into the tarka. Cover the pan and cook for 2 minutes or until wilted.
- Spoon the tarka on top of the hot dal and partially stir it in.
- Serve Chana Dal with Spinach & Tomatoes over rice or with naan, garnished with coarsely chopped fresh cilantro. Serve chutney and/or raita on the side.