Best spinach dahl

Best spinach Dahl #Indian #vegan

When I first moved back to Sydney about 15 years ago, there was a hole in the wall Indian eatery up at my local Croydon shops. I’m calling it an an eatery because it wasn’t as grand as a  cafe or restaurant, just a unrenovated shop with a few tables and chairs, offering a small selection of dishes. Sydney used to have a lot of these small, dingy eateries of dubious hygiene but offering cheap and good food. Rising rents and the relentless tide of gentrification has pushed most of these places out of business so they now exist only in memory. They never seemed to have names but they developed loyal followings through word of mouth unaided, in those long ago days, by any social media.

This particular eatery was famous for its dosas and idlis but it’s the spinach dahl I remember most fondly. It was packed with spinach so it seemed more spinach than dahl. I’ve modelled my homemade spinach dahl on this spinach dahl ever since packing finely chopped spinach into the dahl once it was cooked and simmering until the spinach was wilted down. Of course it never seemed quite as good as the nameless eatery’s spinach dahl, but it was still very good and it’s been one of my family’s stand by meals for many years. A few months ago I made a spinach dahl and used frozen chopped spinach, which I’d de-frosted and pressed the liquid out of. It was the best spinach dahl I’d ever made, finally I’d discovered the secret to that long ago spinach dahl and it was pressing the liquid out of the spinach before adding it. Now even when I use fresh spinach I blanch it first, press out the liquid before chopping it finely and adding it to the dahl. It’s a revelation! One of the joys of cooking is you can still learn something new after many years.

Note: My spinach dahl is always very simply spiced with whole cumin seeds. I really like the flavor of cumin seeds with the spinach but you can experiment with other spice mixtures. The whole spice mix panch phoron also works well.  I used fresh spinach for the photographed dahl and I was racing to catch the light so it isn’t chopped as finely as I would usually do.  For this amount of dahl half a packet spinach should be enough. I really like the packets of frozen chopped spinach that are in small cube size portions, they defrost quickly and you can just use as many as you need.

Best spinach Dahl

Serves 4-6

  • 1 cup red lentils.
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
  • 2 cm piece of root ginger peeled and cut into half (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 1 big pinch of asafoetida (optional)
  • 1-2 dried chillies
  • half a small onion finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove thinly sliced
  • Half a packet of frozen spinach defrosted and the liquid squeezed OR
  • a bunch of fresh spinach, leaves washed and blanched in boiling water, then pressed and chopped
  1. Pick over, wash and drain lentils and place in a medium size pan. Pour in 750 mls of water and bring to the boil. Use a spoon to remove the grey scum that comes to the surface.
  2. Put in tumeric and ginger, turn heat to very low and simmer with the lid slightly ajar for about 40 minutes. Stirring occasionally.
  3. For the Tarka ( seasoning) Heat oil in a small fry pan, heat the oil. Add asafoetida, cumin and chillies when the spices sizzle and the chilli crisps and darkens add the onion and cook until it begins to brown, add garlic last cooking until it is just golden.
  4. Pour the tarka into the dahl and add spinach and heat through if serving immediately. If re-heating the dahl to serve later add spinach and reheat dal and spinach just before serving.



  1. How much cumin do you use Elizabeth? Quantity isn’t listed in the recipe.

  2. This really is the best. Has become a favourite. Thanks Elizabeth.

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