Palak chana dal is a saucy chickpea stew starring turmeric, freshly ground spices, and Lagos spinach. Ripe tomatoes and a touch of mouth-watering tamarind make it a sensational vegan supper.
Reserve one cup of cooked chana dal and blend the rest to a smooth consistency.
I’ve tried different versions of cooked chana in this recipe. Ultimately, the combination of blended and whole chana dal is the official winner. That’s because the creamy base is heavenly with the remaining toothsome pearls of chana, juicy tomatoes, and tender spinach all wrapped in warm masala spice.
Tasty Lagos spinach is celosia argentea
Wondering why I chose Lagos spinach for this palak dal? I confess I created this recipe as a way to enjoy the Lagos spinach that reseeds itself prolifically in my garden year after year.
It’s such a tasty, robust, and colorful plant that I want the world to know about it. I’ve come to prefer its greens hands down over regular cooked spinach.
To me, regular spinach has an earthier flavor. Plus, highly nutritious Lagos spinach doesn’t have any trace of sliminess. Most importantly, it’s fabulous cooked with dal.
If you would like to know a little more about Lagos spinach, also known as celosia argentea, this post has information for you.
You can substitute regular spinach in this stew, but I hope you will be able to use Lagos spinach or another tender wild or cultivated green from the amaranth family. Depending on where you live, you might find callaloo, soko, phak khom, or bayam.
Cook chana dal first
The recipe starts by soaking chana dal. Then, mild nutty chana cooks quickly with turmeric powder and salt flavoring the nuggets while they soften.
Difference between chickpeas and chana dal
Chickpeas are a legume that comes in many types and colors. In India, where so many wonderful dishes are cooked with pulses, chickpeas are called chana and divided into two main groups.
Kabuli chana is larger with a smooth round coat and is generally cooked whole. In Europe and the United States, it’s known as ceci bean and garbanzo.
Desi chana is smaller with a rougher shape and skin. It’s also called brown or black chickpea, and Bengal gram.
Since chana means chickpea in Hindi and dal means split, here’s a really simple way to think of it:
HINDI- chana dal = ENGLISH- split chickpea
Vegetables and seasonings
Even though there are several ingredients in this recipe, once chana dal is cooked it comes together quickly. Not surprisingly, it’s a go-to dish in our house and could become a favorite of yours.
Onion, ginger, and garlic are browned with masala and other dry seasonings in plant-based butter or ghee. When the kitchen is filled with earthy perfume, ripe tomatoes are added and cooked until soft. Tart tamarind is added at the very end with your choice of quickly-wilting spinach.
The star of all seasonings in this incredible chickpea stew is the masala spice. You can buy a pre-made mix if necessary, but for best results, grind your own fresh masala from whole spices.
Is masala spicy?
Even though garam masala literally means hot spice blend, it’s not what you might think. Here hot refers to the warming action described in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s said to increase circulation for good health. Garam masala typically does not include hot chili peppers.
Thus, many garam masalas are mild to the palate. Even though my blend is not spicy hot, it’s bold and fragrant. I love to have it on hand to cook for friends and family that don’t eat hot spicy food so they can still enjoy Indian dishes.
Also, garam masalas typically don’t have turmeric in the mix. Instead, they are often added at the end of recipes to complement the turmeric and chilies already included.
Curry is a word invented by the British during colonial times in India. While you can buy what’s called curry powder in a market, those jars of seasoning don’t have any useful standards or authentic Southeast Asian roots. Further, the turmeric-heavy blends may sit for years growing stale on a shelf.
Masala, on the other hand, is a Hindi word steeped in tradition. True Indian masalas are meant to be made fresh and used in a short time. They reflect the history and culture of each distinct region and even individual households in India.
In the same way Italian grandmothers are known for their secret pasta sauce recipes, throughout Southeast Asia families make signature dishes with aromatic masalas. Just don’t call them curries!
Because it makes such a difference, I hope you will consider grinding your own fresh spices for this recipe. It will make your palak chana dal fragrant and legitimately delicious.
Garam masala ingredients
- Cumin seed – Like all the spices in this mix except mace, start with the whole spice.
- Black peppercorn – Use Tellicherry peppercorns if you can.
- Mace – This is the one spice I recommend purchasing ground. But you won’t have to compromise on freshness if you order from The Spice House. They have exceptional products you can count on.
- Coriander – Adds a light citrus note. An essential spice in any Indian kitchen.
- Fennel – Like cinnamon, fennel seeds add a sweeter note.
- Cardamom – Make sure you use the green pods and not the smokey black cardamom pods.
- Cinnamon – Vietnamese or Saigon cinnamon are extra bright and ideal for this masala.
- Indian Bay Leaf – Wonder what the difference is? Boil 2 cups of water and steep an Indian bay leaf in one and a Turkish or California bay leaf in the other. You’ll taste the contrast! Hint the Indian variety is less herbal.
Make masala, toasting optional
It’s easy to make masala spice mix. The recipe card below has instructions for powdering spices in a coffee grinder or spice mill and makes enough to share with a friend.
Toasting spices before grinding is optional for this masala recipe. It saves time to skip this step and still provides a deeply fragrant, weighty masala with nice citrus tones.
If you prefer toasting your spices, or want to try, go right ahead. I think the difference will be subtle in the finished dish but the toasted masala should add a slightly more roasty and pronounced flavor.
- Break cinnamon sticks into pieces and tear bay leaves. Toast the larger spices together first and add the smaller ones half way through. Take care not to burn or your masala will be bitter!
- Cool toasted spices to room temperature before grinding and grind in batches.
More recipes with homemade spice mix
I would be thrilled to know if you try this recipe! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo #poppyswildkitchenrecipes on Instagram. Aloha!
Palak Chana Dal With Lagos Spinach
- 1 cup chana dal, soaked 2 hours or overnight in fridge*
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 3 cups water
Dry masala mix- Makes extra
- 1/2 cup whole cumin seeds
- 1/4 cup whole coriander seeds
- 1/8 cup whole green cardamom pods
- 1/8 cup whole fennel seeds
- 1 TB whole cloves
- 1 TB whole black peppercorns
- 6 small Indian bay leaves
- 4 whole cinnamon sticks broken
- 1 tsp. ground mace, optional
Seasonings and vegetables
- 2 TB vegan ghee or plant-based butter
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1 TB minced ginger
- 2 tsp. minced garlic
- 1 small chopped fresh red or green chili, more or less to taste
- 1/2 tsp. coriander
- 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 1 tsp. garam masala
- 1 1/2 cups seeded chopped ripe tomato
Boil Chana Dal
- Place soaked chana dal, salt, turmeric and water in a deep pot. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook for 30-45 minutes or until soft.
- Remove 1 cup cooked chana dal to a bowl. Blend remaining chana with cooking water until smooth.
- Return blended chana and whole chana to original cooking pot and hold aside over very low heat.
Make dry masala mix
- While chana dal cooks, grind masala spices.
- Break cinnamon sticks and tear bay leaves. Grind whole spices in two or three batches in a spice mill or coffee grinder.
- Grind to a powder and sift in a fine strainer if the mix has larger pieces after grinding.
Cook seasonings and vegetables
- Heat ghee in a sauce pan. Add onion and cook until onion begins to soften.
- Add ginger and garlic to onion. Cook a few minutes. Add dry spices and cook until fragrant and slightly roasted.
- Add fresh chili if using and chopped tomato. Cook until tomato breaks down and is very soft.
Finish chana dal with spinach and tamarind
- Add tomato and spice mixture to pot with cooked chana dal. Stir in chopped spinach with tamarind. Cook 10 minutes or until spinach wilts and flavors meld. Taste chana and add a touch more salt, tamarind or chili if desired.
- Chana dal is delicious accompanied by chapati, tortillas, or rice and raita.
- Soak chana dal 2 hours at warm room temperature or overnight in refrigerator. Then rinse and drain before cooking.