This creamy spinach dal curry is an easy to prepare vegan version of dal palak. Made with fresh spinach and red lentils it pairs well with naan, basmati rice, or is filling on its own as an Indian stew.
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What Is Palak Dal Curry
Like many of my dishes, particularly in recent times, I made this because of left over ingredients. I make many of my recipes with pantry ingredients, so I’ve been craving fresh vegetables.
We often buy the fresh veggies and figure out a use for them later. It kind of forces us to eat them, rather than relying on dried spaghetti that is always in the back of the pantry.
When I had a big bag of spinach and loads of lentils at home, I figured I would give this dish a shot. Dal means lentil and palak means spinach, so this is palak dal. It’s a super simple dish to make, even if you are nervous about trying Indian cuisine at home.
Check out some of our other Indian-inspired dishes with beans and pulses:
Using Red Lentils For This Dal Palak Recipe
We always have bags of different lentils at home, but it can be a challenge to pick the right lentils for the right dish. If you don’t have red lentils at home for this recipe, no worries. In the end, any lentils will do.
The three main types of lentils are brown, green, and red. Brown and green lentils take longer to cook. They tend to hold their shape better. I like using them for Moroccan or French recipes, where I want the lentils to still have some structure to them. For example, I use them in this warm green French lentil salad.
I prefer using red lentils for Indian-inspired recipes. This is when I want a lentil to be softer, and yeah even a little more mushy. Particularly when pairing spinach and lentils the dish should be soft and smooth at the end.
Cooking With Coconut Oil
I love using coconut oil for Indian-inspired dishes. This dal and spinach recipe is no different. Eric always enjoyed my Indian dishes, but once I started to use coconut oil instead of canola oil, he started making a lot more involuntary yum sounds when eating.
The coconut oil just adds a depth of flavor to Indian cooking that you just don’t get from canola oil. You can easily buy coconut oil for cooking on Amazon here.
It’s a little different cooking with coconut oil than olive oil or canola oil. For this recipe, feel free to use canola oil. The coconut oil, though, adds a nice layer of coconut flavoring to the lentils.
Coconut oil normally is solid, which means you need to scoop it to use it. Once it heats, it liquifies. Depending on the type of coconut oil, it might have a higher burn factor. This means it’s best to cook with coconut oil over lower temperatures when possible.
Check out our Instant Pot Dal Makhani, which also uses coconut oil.
Cooking With Garam Masala And Other Spices
Garam translates to hot and masala translates to spices. But, most garam masala blends are not hot and spicy. Instead, the spices used are normally toasted to bring in a strong but earthy flavor.
Although many people make their own garam masala at home, I’ve found it easiest to just buy it in bulk. I use it in so many recipes it just makes sense. Spices in garam masala include cumin, black pepper, cumin, cardamom, and other spices.
It’s honestly rare for me to make an Indian dish at home without at least some garam masala. It used to be that you had to buy garam masala at a local Asian market. Now, they have it at supermarkets in the spice aisle. Or, you can buy garam masala on Amazon here.
Ingredients For Dal Spinach Curry
I know many home cooks are hesitant to try cooking Indian cuisine at home. But it shouldn’t be that intimidating. This dish is a great first step because it’s pretty simple. Also, once you have a handful of Indian spices in your pantry, it makes all of these dishes quick and easy to whip up.
Seasoning And Spices
In addition to coconut oil (canola oil), the seasoning for this dish comes from diced yellow onion, garlic, and ginger.
I like to use a garlic press so that there aren’t big chunks of garlic in the curry. Try the Zulay stainless steel garlic press, which is easy to use. There’s no need to even peel the garlic ahead of time. I also like to freshly grate the ginger using the small holes in a cheese grater or by using a microplane (like this one).
As for the spices, this dish is not spicy at all. In addition to garam masala, I add ground cumin, ground turmeric, and a little cayenne pepper for heat. You can skip the cayenne pepper entirely if you want.
I also add a little salt to the lentils and a bit more to the spinach to season the vegetables. This won’t make your dish salty, but will bring out the flavors of the ingredients. Don’t be afraid to cook with salt!
Obviously the base of dal palak is the dal, or lentil. In this dish, I use red lentils, which don’t need to be soaked. That’s one of the great things about cooking with dry lentils as opposed to dried beans.
The lentils should be rinsed, though, in cool water. Use a sieve, not a colander because the lentils can fall through the holes of a colander if the holes are too big.
The lentils cook in vegetable broth. If you are not vegetarian or vegan, you can use chicken broth as well. I also add a bit of tomato paste to add some color and some acidity to the dal palak recipe. I tend to keep a tube of concentrated tomato paste at home so that I can add a squeeze when needed. You can buy tomato paste on Amazon here.
The last ingredient is spinach. You can use baby spinach or just roughly chop the spinach before adding it to the curry.
How To Make This Spinach Dal Recipe
One of the reasons I love cooking Indian food is because most curry dishes are one pot recipes. This spinach dal curry is no different. And, it’s not difficult to make at all.
Add the coconut oil, onion, garlic, and ginger to a medium-sized dutch oven on medium-high heat. Cook 3-5 minutes or until the onion starts to yellow, but before the garlic browns.
Add the cumin, turmeric, garam masala, cayenne pepper, and salt to the oil mixture. Coat the spices in oil to release the flavors and aroma. Add the lentils and coat in the mixture. Cook the lentils for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure they don’t burn.
Once the lentils start to sweat add 3 cups of vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer.
Simmer uncovered for 35-40 minutes. Stir occasionally and add more broth if needed to keep it from drying or burning. The lentils are ready when they are soft and no longer crunchy.
Stir in the tomato paste. Fold the spinach in a bit at a time. Serve when the spinach is soft and wilted.
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil (or canola oil)
- ½ small yellow onion, diced
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup red lentils
- 3-4 cups veg broth
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 large bag fresh spinach, roughly chopped
- Add the coconut oil, onion, garlic, and ginger to a medium-sized dutch oven on medium-high heat. Cook 3-5 minutes or until the onion starts to yellow, but before the garlic browns.
- Add the cumin, turmeric, garam masala, cayenne pepper, and salt to the oil mixture. Coat the spices in oil to release the flavors and aroma.
- Add the lentils and coat in the mixture. Cook the lentils for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Once the lentils start to sweat add 3 cups of vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer.
- Simmer uncovered for 35-40 minutes. Stir occasionally and add more broth if needed to keep it from drying or burning.
- The lentils are ready when they are soft and no longer crunchy.
- Stir in the tomato paste.
- Fold the spinach in a bit at a time. Serve when the spinach is soft and wilted.
This recipe makes 4-5 servings if serving the lentils on their own. If serving the lentils with rice or naan, the recipe can stretch to 5-6 servings.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 104Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1601mgCarbohydrates: 15gFiber: 4gSugar: 4gProtein: 5g
This nutritional data is provided by a third-party source and should not be relied on if you are on a strict diet.
How To Serve This Spinach And Dal Recipe
Serve the spinach dal curry warm with basmati rice or fresh naan. I actually like the lentils, though, on their own.
Sometimes I add a cup of greek yogurt just before serving to make the lentils super creamy. Of course, this is only for non-vegans. Or, I will top the lentils with greek yogurt to add something cool to the dish. The greek yogurt is also a nice addition when reheating the lentils to add some freshness to the dish.