Chana Dal with Spinach and Tomato (Saag-Tamatar wali Chana Dal)

This vegetarian chana dal recipe from Madhur Jaffrey is a treat. The colourful tomatoes and earthy spinach are coupled with cumin seeds, curry leaves and red chillies.

Introduction

This dish, from no specific region of India, but with a lovely mixture of northern and southern seasonings, could also be made with moong dal or toovar dal. I often make it for dinner for my husband and me, accompanying it with rice, a dish of green beans or cauliflower and natural yoghurt. I also love to make it for large groups. Just recently, I was going to have a dozen people come back with us after one of my husband’s concerts. I had prepared everything beforehand for a grand meal. The spread included this dal (I doubled the recipe), the Berry Pilaf (see page 168 of Curry Easy Vegetarian) and the Aubergines in a Peanut & Sesame Sauce (see page 60). A yoghurt relish, Quick Yoghurt & Pickle Chutney (see page 278), was already in the refrigerator. All I had to do was heat up the food.

I like to use fresh spinach for this dish. You do not need very much. Cut the stems crossways into tiny dice and chop the leaves into small pieces.

Serves 6

Ingredients

285g/10oz chana dal, washed in several changes of water and drained
½ tsp ground turmeric
1½ tsp salt
3 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) or olive oil or peanut oil, or a mixture of ghee and any oil
⅛ tsp ground asafoetida
½ tsp whole brown mustard seeds
½ tsp whole cumin seeds
1-2 dried hot red chillies
7-8 fresh curry leaves
1 large onion (225g/8oz), peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1½ tsp peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
2 good-sized tomatoes (about 285g/10oz in all), peeled and chopped
140-180g/5-6oz well-washed spinach, chopped (see introduction above)
¼-½ tsp nice red chilli powder (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Put the dal in a medium pan along with 1.2 litres/2 pints water. Bring to the boil, skimming off the froth as it rises to the top. Do not let it boil over. Stir in the turmeric, cover partially, lower the heat and cook for 1¼ hours. When done, mix in the salt.

While the dal cooks, heat the ghee and/or oil in a small, preferably non-stick frying pan and set over a medium-high heat. When hot, add the asafoetida and, a second later, the mustard seeds. As soon as the seeds start to pop, a matter of seconds, add the cumin seeds. Stir for 5-6 seconds, then add the red chillies and fry until they darken. Throw in the curry leaves, stir once and add the onion. Sauté for about 7-10 minutes, or until the onion starts to brown.

Add the garlic and ginger and stir for another 1-2 minutes. Now add the tomatoes and stir for 5-6 minutes, until they soften, mashing them down with the back of a wooden spoon as you do so. Add the spinach and 120 ml/4 fl oz water. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook gently for 10-12 minutes, or until the spinach wilts and is very soft.

When the dal has finished cooking, add the spinach mixture and stir well. Check the seasoning and add the chilli powder if you need it. Grind black pepper over the top. If the dal feels too thick, you can stir in a little water.

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