This type of dal is East Indian comfort food at its best. It is something like 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' the Indian way. It comes together in less than 30 minutes and is inexpensive, nutritious, and filling.
If you don't have Masoor dal on hand, you could go ahead and substitute another type of Indian lentil, or you could also go ahead and use the regular supermarket variety brown lentils (these will take a bit longer to cook though). As go the greens, you could use other leafy greens instead, but if you ask me, there is something very special about the silkiness of spinach in this dal.
The last step of this recipe calls for tempering. This is called 'tadka/vaghaar/chounk' in Hindi, and basically involves heating ghee or oil with spices and then adding the intensely flaovored oil to the dal as a final touch. I cannot explain the magic of tempering. It is a must to elevate this simple dal to something spectacular.
Masoor Dal with Spinach
Serves 4 - 6
1 tbsp peanut oil (or other vegetable oil)
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
1 serrano chili pepper, chopped
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 large bunch fresh spinach, washed and chopped
1 cup masoor dal
4 cups water
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp salt (plus more to taste)
1 tbsp ghee or oil (ghee highly recommended)
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3 dried red chilis (broken in halves)
1 pinch asafoetida (or hing)
6 - 8 curry leaves (kadipatta)
1. Heat oil in a deep saucepan. Add onions, chili pepper, ginger, and garlic. Saute till fragrant. Add turmeric and saute 1 minute longer.
2. Add spinach and cook till wilted. Add washed dal and water. Add salt and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook till done, approx 20 minutes. Check seasonings. Add more salt if needed.
3. For tempering, heat ghee/oil in a small saucepan. Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and red chilis. Heat till seeds splutter. Add asafoetida and curry leaves. Wait 10 seconds. Pour the seasoned oil on the dal, mix, and serve with rice and/or roti.