Batter Licker

March 17, 2011

aloo palak dal (indian-spiced lentils, spinach and potatoes)

To those of you who didn’t jump the gun like I did to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with cabbage and celery root in drunken mustard last week (and then again last weekend with a full-on family shebang), I hope you’re wearing green clothes, drinking and cooking with whiskey and beer, picking on your favorite leprechaun, and planning to make cheesy corned beef hash bread tomorrow with your leftovers.

As for me, it’s time for more whiskey and beer some Indian food that’s equally cheap as cabbage and potatoes (but isn’t boiled to death while everyone is distracted by adult beverages and rowdy conversations and then smothered in a spicy mustard disguise at the dinner table because obviously, after several whiskey shots and black and tans, this is the best cabbage ever!).

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One of the benefits of eating vegan (or reducing meat and processed foods, at least) during the week is how cheap my grocery bill has become. I’m talking $20 per week for two people cheap, which, compared to my formerly $60-70 per week bill, is ridiculously low. I should probably go buy a new toy to play with a very necessary device for my kitchen to reward myself.

The other major benefit comes in the form of Indian food. Vegan and vegetarian Indian dishes are incredibly flavorful, healthy, and filling, but even more importantly, they are infinitely variable. Substitute any other greens (or even cauliflower or eggplant!) in this recipe, and you’ll see what I mean. While premixed garam masala certainly makes spicing easy, I enjoy making my own garam masala and mixing up the proportion of spices to my liking, which means that almost every time I repeat this dish, it turns out a bit differently. And different is good because it keeps dinners fun and keeps flavors evolving.

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I can never go wrong with lentils, as they are my go-to healthy base of choice for comfort food, especially during a cold and rainy week in San Francisco (lucky celebrators of Irish heritage – or whatever St. Patrick’s Day is really about, if it’s not beer, whiskey, cabbage, and corned beef – must be delighted that the sun came out just in time for bar hopping!). Add spinach, potatoes, and mushrooms and all four main ingredients adopt the warming spices in a unique way for a well-rounded, complex-flavored dish.

Served piping hot, this dal recipe is wonderfully comforting on a cold evening, but it also tastes great right out of the fridge for lunch a couple days later (or a few weeks later, if you store it in the freezer).

Aloo Palak Dal (Indian-Spiced Lentils, Spinach and Potatoes)
Serves 4

The mushrooms, potatoes, and spinach can be substituted with any other greens, cauliflower, eggplant, or other veggies you enjoy. For anyone concerned about the tomatoes for texture reasons, rest assured that they melt right into this dish and serve to balance the other flavors.

1/4 c. water
1/2 large onion, diced
1 lb. mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 medium-sized red potato, cubed
2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. coriander
1 1/2 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. chili powder
1 lb. tomatoes, diced
1/2 lb. spinach, chopped (may substitute other greens, or frozen spinach if defrosted and drained)
1/2 c. French green lentils
1 1/2 c. water or vegetable stock
1 tsp. salt, divided, plus more to taste
3-4 scallions, chopped

Heat water in dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat until water begins to boil. Add onions, mushrooms, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Cook until onions are translucent and mushrooms. Add potatoes and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt. Cook until potato edges start to turn translucent. Stir in ginger, garlic, spices, diced tomatoes, spinach, and lentils, and top with water (or stock).

Increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat, and allow to simmer until lentils are cooked through, about 45 minutes. Adjust seasonings and salt to taste. Add half of the scallions.

Do ahead: Dal can be made a couple days in advance and stored in an airtight refrigerated container (or a few weeks ahead and stored in the freezer), as the flavors only get better after melding for awhile.

Serve with by itself, or with rice or naan (Indian flatbread), and garnish with remaining scallions.


  1. This looks frickin awesome. I have a huge (literally, 10 lbs) bag of lentils at my house, and this is giving me some wicked good ideas for what to do with them. Thanks!

    Comment by Krista — March 30, 2011 @ 6:25 am

  2. Happy to help! I love lentils (so cheap, so good!), so I’m always looking to diversify my standard lentil dishes. And you can’t go wrong with Indian food (in my opinion).

    Comment by Kristen — April 6, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

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