Saag Dhal (Lentils with Spinach)

Happy New Year!

I thought I’d kick off the new year with a few of my favorite things: lentils, spinach, and Indian food! Sadly, to this day, I have not yet found a good way to take a super appetizing picture of Indian food, so pardon the kind of crappy shot above. I have this theory that Indian food looks best when you have a spread of multiple differently-colored dishes but when Nathan and I are cooking for ourselves, especially on a weeknight, we usually settle for one dish. Ah well. But let me assure you that while this dish may not look that great on camera, it definitely tasted delicious and warmed our bellies.

I love love love dhal and I love love love keeping jars of all the different dhals you can buy at an Indian grocery store in my pantry. Not only do they look pretty and colorful, but they never go bad and they’ll make sure you’re always ready to whip up a batch of yummy dhal for dinner.

This recipe is based on one I found from one of my new favorite cookbooks: “South Indian Cookbook” by Devagi Sanmugam. I had actually picked up this book with some leftover foreign currency at the Singapore airport a few years back and have been loving the recipes in the book since. FYI, in the book, this dish is actually called ‘Paruppu Keerai’ and not ‘Saag Dhal’ – perhaps a difference in dialect?

Since the recipe was written in metric, I’m only estimating the equivalent amounts here, but I really don’t think a little too much/little dhal or spinach ends up mattering that much. Also, I substituted frozen spinach because that’s what I had in the freezer.

¾ cup mung dhal, washed and drained
1 tsp ghee or vegetable oil
1 tsp turmeric
2 green chilies, slit lengthwise
3 cups water
1 bag of chopped frozen spinach (or 1 lb of fresh spinach, washed and chopped)
1¼ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp chili powder

2 Tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
2 dried chilies, cut into small pieces
1 onion, thinly sliced
½ tsp of asafoetida (can omit if you don’t like it)

In a medium-sized pot, mix dhal with 1 tsp ghee/oil, tumeric, fresh chilies and water. Boil until cooked and quite mushy, about 30 min.

Add in spinach, salt, cumin and chili powder and stir to mix well. Cover and simmer over low heat until spinach is cooked and soft.

In a separate pan, heat ghee over medium-high heat. Fry mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, and dried chile pieces until it smells awesome. (It’s ok if chilies start to turn a brown.) Add in onion and asafoetida. Saute more until onion is soft and golden brown.

Add onion mixture to the pot with the spinach-dhal. Cook for another few minutes.

Serve with basmati rice.

Yield: 4-6 servings
Time: 30-45 min


  1. Amar Pai said:
    24 January 2010 at 8:09 am

    This is the best dal recipe known to man

    • angi said:
      24 January 2010 at 6:40 pm

      ooo I have to try that one!!

  2. Sujatha Nair said:
    19 August 2011 at 9:15 am

    Hello Angi!

    I just discovered your blog and am enjoying flipping through the pages :)

    Came across the mention of ‘Parupuu Keerai’ in this blog. Being an Indian from the south of India I couldn’t resist clearing this up for you :)) So here goes – ‘paruppu’ is the word for ‘dal’ or lentils in two of southern Indian languages (malayalam & tamil) and ‘keerai’ in tamil stands for a leafy vegetable very similar to chard and I guess in the same family as spinach.

    Hope this helps :)



    • angi said:
      26 August 2011 at 10:25 am

      Hi Sujatha! Thanks for clearing up my ‘parupuu keerai’ confusion – I figured it had something to do with the different Indian languages but it’s so great for you to leave me (and other readers) an explanation. Thanks for reading!

  3. Sujatha said:
    28 August 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Any time Angi! :)

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