Simple dal series – Part 3, tuar dal with spinach

(Part 2 of this series is here.)

Here is the pigeon-pea, which has nothing whatsoever to do with pigeons, except that they are both full of protein:

Pigeon pea, tuar dal

Pigeon pea, tuar dal

Tuar dal

Tuar dal

And here is some dementia-fighting spinach:



And this is what you get when you marry them: spinach dal.

Spinach dal

Spinach dal

Eat enough of this, and you will be lifting weights while remaining completely undemented. But that’s not all. Spinach is a good choice to put into any dal, because it melts in, rather than remain in bits. Whether your intention is a soupy dal or more of a porridgy one, spinach fits right in.

Spinach with tuar dal

Ingredients, for boiling:

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  • Half a cup tuar dal (dehulled and split pigeon peas)
  • spinach — one bunch (use half a bunch if you want it more yellow than green)
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1-2 serrano chilies
  • half a teaspoon turmeric

Ingredients, for seasoning (all of these are optional, but do try to use at least one spice):

Seasoning spinach dal

Seasoning spinach dal

  • 1-2 tablespoon ghee
  • sprinkle of asafetida
  • half teaspoon mustard seeds
  • half teaspoon cumin seeds
  • half teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • half teaspoon or to taste red chili powder
  • salt to taste
  • Half a lime or lemon squeezed


Rinse and soak the dal in hot water for an hour or more. It will double in volume, or more. Put the drained dal in a thick-bottomed pot along with the turmeric, garlic, and chili. Add two and half cups water and bring to a boil.

Now. I say this with every dal recipe but it bears repeating. When dal first comes to a boil it will froth up with the rage of a volcano. Let it do so while the pot is uncovered. This way you can watch and the foam is not likely to end up on your burner. Once the foam has spent itself, partially cover, turn it down to simmer for an hour and half.

In the middle of cooking time, put in the washed and chopped spinach. Cover and cook on until the dal grains are soft. Give the soupy stuff a whisk with a whisk or a swoosh around with one of these, a mandheera. Add salt and keep it on a low simmer.

Spinach dal before seasoning

Spinach dal before seasoning

Now for the seasoning. Heat the ghee on medium high heat. By the way this is one dish where I do recommend ghee rather than oil because it enhances the flavor in a very nice way. Of course oil would work too.

When the ghee is completely melted, throw in the seasonings in this sequence: first, the asafetida and the red chili powder; then the cumin seeds; when they sizzle, the mustard seeds; when they pop, the fenugreek seeds. Don’t cook these longer than about 10 seconds, because they will turn bitter if so.

Turn off the heat and pour into the dal. Stir, stir, stir. Simmer for a few minutes to meld the flavors. Squeeze some lemon/lime juice to it to brighten the flavor.

I love this dish with rice but other people recommend rotis. I never would, so there.


Rice with spinach dal

Sweet and sour pigeon peas — tuar dal

Here is one reason to relish your pigeon peas — it is the first legume to have its genome completely sequenced! Now isn’t that appetizing! Here is the other reason — they are delicious.

Pigeon peas are known as tuar dal or toor dal in India, where they are used from south to north, from east to west. When mature, the full lentil looks like a dried beige pea. But the way they are used normally is after having the outer husk removed, and split into halves, so they look like little yellow half-spheres. This, by they way, is how most dals (lentils) are commonly eaten — husk removed and split into halves.

In my family we had soupy tuar dal with rice at least once a week. Its deep musky flavor seems to take very well to some added sweetness and tang. Of course that means the holy pairing of jaggery and tamarind. I could go into a deep digression about each of those, but suffice it to say that you can use brown sugar instead of jaggery, and lemon instead of tamarind; let’s stay on our musky subject of the day, people — tuar dal. Eyes on the ball now.

Step 1: soak and boil.

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I started with 3/4 cup of the stuff. Work night dinner means I don’t have the luxury to allow it to soak for a couple hours; so I rinse, and soak in near-boiling water for just about fifteen minutes, and see the volume double. I learned this trick from Madhur Jaffrey and it has served me well.

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Now, time to boil it. Half a teaspoon of turmeric goes into a pressure cooker, the rinsed and drained tuar dal goes in next, and 3 cups of water. Cover the pressure cooker and let it come to a boil; turn it down and cook, pressurized, for twenty minutes. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, a regular saucepan will do, but the time stretches to an hour and a half. Leave the lid open in this case, at first, because as it first comes to a boil, the lentils will spew like a volcano, and leave watery lava all over your burner.

Once this is done, add salt to taste, half a teaspoon of tamarind paste, and a small piece of jaggery. If you don’t have tamarind use lemon juice, and if you don’t have jaggery use a teaspoon of sugar. Leave the dal uncovered on a low simmer while you prepare the seasoning, stirring occasionally.

Step 2: Seasonings

For the fat in this dal, I used one tablespoon of ghee. There are a few dishes where I opt for ghee instead of oil because of the the lusciousness it gives the result. Butter is a substitute, but I have never tried it.

For the seasonings, I used asafetida, red chili powder, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds, in that order.

The seasoning of lentils, known in central India as vaghar, and in the north as tadka, takes some special sequencing. Use a small but thick-bottomed pan to heat the fat in. First, the asafetida can go in pretty quickly, as soon as the fat heats up a little. It will foam in seconds. Now put in half a teaspoon of red chili powder.

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Then, in a few seconds, a teaspoon of cumin seeds. They will also sizzle in seconds. Wait a few seconds and put in a teaspoon of mustard seeds. Now, wait.


Wait about 30 seconds. The seeds will first make sizzling sounds, then each little ball will pop and you will start to hear popping sounds.  At this point, put in one teaspoon of fenugreek seeds.

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A note on fenugreek seeds. If they saute long enough to turn dark brown, they will be hard and bitter. So to avoid that, they go in last and cook the least in the hot oil. Of course if they do turn bitter, some simmering in soupy stuff will resolve that problem, so no harm done; but we try to avoid them turning bitter at all.

Step 3: Aromatics

In a few seconds the fenugreek will sizzle as well; now put in and inch of ginger, minced thusly:

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…and 2 green chilies, stems removed, and sliced through (if you have curry leaves, use about 6 of them):

Wait till they sizzle, and the chilies show blisters, then empty the entire thing into the dal.

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Allow the dal to still simmer on for a few minutes for the flavors to meld.

Step 4: Garnish

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Garnish with a handful of chopped cilantro and stir. Have it mixed with rice and perhaps a fried or grilled vegetable on the side.