June 8, 2006
Chana Dal With Spinach

Preparing to move cross country focuses the mind wonderfully. This week, it's focused my mind on the fact I have an awful lot of frozen food and pantry food I should use up instead of moving.

Now I started off with the best of intentions to make a classic channa dal dish, but as I was cooking, the opportunity to get rid of half a bag of frozen spinach and add a little green vitamin goodness to dinner became irresistable. I don't claim this to be an authentic version of anything but my own recipe for chana dal and spinach.

Chana dal are a yellow pea that can be purchased dried and split in most good stores selling foods from the Indian subcontinent. You may see it also referred to as Bengal gram dal or chholar dal. They are very similar (the same species, in fact) to ciceros, aka garbanzos aka chickpeas but are a different food, contining more fiber and a lower glycemic index. Think of it as similar to the difference betwen a chihuahua and a doberman - same species, very different beasts. Still, if you are unable to find chana dal, you may use dried garbanzos for this recipe.

I accompanied the dal and spinach with chapati bread, which you may remember from a post we did in March last year.

Barrett's Chana Dal With Spinach

1 1/2 cups split dried chana dal
6 cups water
2 tablespoons tumeric
3 peeled ginger slices
1/2 tablespoon or so of salt - to taste

2 tablespoons ghee
2 minced cloves garlic
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon red chili powder

3 tablespoons lime juice
black pepper to taste
additional ghee as needed

8 oz. frozen or wilted fresh spinach

This recipe may be a little undersalted, but you can always adjust up.

Start by washing your dal and picking over it to remove any debris like stones, etc... Modern dals are packed pretty clean, but the occasional stone does slip by the packers from time to time and I have yet to figure out the right way to cook one.

Put the dal and water in a big pot with tumeric and ginger slices. I got the ginger slice trick from Madhur Jaffrey, and I'm not convinced it adds much flavor. But let's give the master the benefit of the doubt. Boil the dal until tender - if split, about 45 minutes to an hour. Depending on the dal, it may take longer, and whole dal will take much longer - an hour and a half most likely.

Once the dal is tender, reserve a half cup of any liquid remaining and drain the dal. Return it to the pot and add the spinach. Add a little of the liquid back in, and cook over a low heat while you fry the spices. If the dal/spinach starts to dry out too much add more of the liquid back in.

In a small skillet, melt the ghee and add the garlic. Sautee the garlic for about two minutes over medium heat. Add all the other spices except the black pepper and red pepper and fry for about a minute, stirring vigorously. Add the red pepper, stir quickly, then take the skillet off the heat and dump the mix into the pot of spinach and dal.

Stir well. Taste. Add the lime juice and the black pepper to taste, and if you feel it needs a bit more fat, add ghee to taste (but not TOO much). Serve with chapati bread.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at June 8, 2006 7:40 AM Print-friendly version

I should mention that the above picture was taken by the lovely, the talented, Redhead, who is becoming quite the photographer.

Posted by barrett on June 8, 2006 at 10:34 AM

Barrett--it may not be "authentic", but I am sure it is tasty.

And besides--I wouldn't be too sure it isn't authentic either. Just because you haven't found in a cookbook or in the menu of an Indian restaraunt (which is usually very limited), doesn't mean that folks in India wouldn't cook it that way.

After reading so many Indian food blogs, I can really understand how limited my understanding of Indian food is, and what a breadth of foods and cooking styles there is in the subcontinent.

Posted by Barbara on June 9, 2006 at 12:11 AM

That is indeed a fantastic photo, Barrett - tell the Redhead congratulations! And the recipe sounds great. Too bad I used up my spinach in the last recipe! ; )

Posted by Meg in Paris on June 9, 2006 at 1:16 AM

This looks mouthwateringly good....the photo is indeed beautiful. Will have to try this for dinner sometime.

Speaking of recipes (lame attempt at a segue there!) do you have one for a nice, light crab salad? I just ordered some jumbo lump crab meat and would love to make something with it. The crab salad at Grace in LA changed my life....any ideas on how to recreate it?


Posted by Anne on June 9, 2006 at 2:29 PM

Anne, I will defer to Meg or Justin on this one. I am unfortunately deathly allergic to crab, and I'm sure the crab salad at Grace would change my life, too, but not for the better. :)

Posted by barrett on June 9, 2006 at 4:57 PM

Barrett- I wouldn't want a crab salad to change (or end) your life- YIKES! If any of the other chefs have ideas, I'd be happy to hear them. Crab is expensive so I don't want to screw it up!

Posted by Anne on June 14, 2006 at 11:10 AM

I "borrowed" your recipe to do an Indian dinner for some clients yesterday and have to say that this was excellent.

It does need more salt, but definitely needs to be seasoned to taste, so starting at 2 teaspoons is a good baseline.

Skip the powdered ginger and use some minced ginger root, which gets heated up in the skillet with the garlic. The powdered ginger is overwhelmed by the garam masala.

Posted by Brian on June 19, 2006 at 8:36 AM

Yum. I made this with some frozen mustard greens I had sitting in the freezer. Since I had no ghee and am too lazy to make it, I just put a TB of butter in at the end. yum.

Posted by maria on November 4, 2008 at 12:17 PM

Delicious! I am married to a Bengali and often cook various indian dishes. The chana dhall with spinach is delicious. It is health, easy to make, the flavors are robust and village authentic. On par with the recipes I have collected from my Bengali friends. I 2 tbsp of butter instead of ghee. This is a keeper.

Posted by Carol on July 15, 2009 at 5:21 PM

This is a great recipe, I made it last night and it was so good!

Posted by Ann on October 1, 2009 at 9:45 AM

Great recipe, especially love lime and ginger.
Chana dal is very low in glycemic index too, tastes lovely.

Posted by Kate on March 5, 2010 at 2:50 PM

Great recipe, especially love lime and ginger.
Chana dal is very low in glycemic index too, tastes lovely.

Posted by Kate on March 5, 2010 at 2:51 PM

I just discovered Anupy Singla’s “The Indian Slow Cooker” book which is mostly vegan or easily vegan adaptable and they are SIMPLE! She uses dried beans, unsoaked and most of the recipes you dump everything in at once and push the button. A couple have you cook the mustard seeds, etc…on the stove at the end but SO EASY!!
I have some of my totally NOVICE experience with slow cooker and Indian food written about at http://www.getskinnygovegan.blogspot.com
But you might LOVE this book!! I stumbled upon it upon accident because I only look in the vegan book sections.

Posted by Paquita on December 26, 2010 at 6:15 PM
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