Dal Palak (Spinach Dal)

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In this comforting dal palak, Indian aromatics, whole spices, and spinach get toasted, then plated over an easy, protein-packed lentil dal. It’s gourmet, restaurant-quality Indian food that’s surprisingly easy to whip up!
Prep 5 minutes
Cook 40 minutes
Total 45 minutes
5 from 14 votes

Do you always leave your favorite Indian restaurant wondering how they pack a million flavors into one dish? Here’s my go-to recipe for pulling that feat off with minimal fuss: Dal Palak. Serve it for a crowd, and you’ll quickly become your friend group’s default “let’s go to their house for dinner” person. 

There are two parts to this comforting meal, though I promise it tastes like so much more. Step one: Make a super simple dal of creamy red lentils seasoned with turmeric, lemon juice, and salt—all you need is a saucepan and a whisk—and warm up some cooked rice from that big container in your fridge (you know the one). 

Step two: Whip up the tadka, which is a mix of Indian spices and aromatics cooked in hot oil, as well as baby spinach wilted to silky perfection in this version. Before serving, pour the tadka over the dal and serve with rice. 

Step three (bonus): Congratulate yourself for making a restaurant-level dinner and enjoy!! 

Table of Contents:
1. What is dal palak?
2. Why this recipe works
3. Ingredient notes
4. Step by step instructions
5. Tips for making this recipe
6. Frequently Asked Questions
7. Recipe Card with Notes

Dal palak in bowl on a table.

What is dal palak?

Dal palak, or spinach dal, is an Indian dish made with seasoned and aromatic lentils (dal) and spinach (palak). Not that this is all greens and no glory—the spinach gets seasoned with the best spices and aromatics in the game and becomes truly delicious. 

Tadka ingredients chopped and in small bowls on cutting board.

Why this recipe works

Comforting, can’t-get-enough Indian flavors

From the whole Indian spices bought alive on the stove to the best-in-class aromatics, there’s no shortage of rich and exciting Indian flavors in every bite of this dish.

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It all starts with the lentils, which soften so much after just 20 to 30 minutes that you can whisk them into a puree. A small amount of turmeric gives the lentils a gorgeous golden color (and antioxidants!) while salt and lemon add flavor.

Once you’ve cooked your dal, you’ll add the spinach tadka on top. This might be the best way to use spinach (no disrespect to my Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip)—it takes on crazy amounts of flavor and gets that totally luxurious, silky-smooth texture.

Who said comfort can’t be wholesome?

If you put on a blindfold and someone spoonfed you this dal palak (weird image but stick with me here), you’d taste pure comfort. But this dish is also incredibly wholesome

Lentils are a great source of plant-based protein and fiber, so this dish keeps you full while benefiting your digestive system. The spinach adds a boost of anti-cancer antioxidants (those leaves are powerful!), vitamins A, C, and K, iron, and calcium. It’s a much more exciting way to get your daily nutrients than those chalky vitamins and supplements building dust in your cabinets.

It’s easy like Sunday morning (or any weeknight)

I’m not saying this dal palak would slay at brunch (though I’m not not saying that), but I am saying it’s super simple to put together. Simmering lentils and whisking them into puree? A total breeze. Tossing whole spices in oil, adding aromatics you’ve lovingly chopped, and tenderly folding in the spinach? A cakewalk. Plus, it all goes over rice, which is the 101 of grains. 

It all takes around 40 minutes from start to finish (prep included), so you’ll have a gourmet dinner with maximum payoff you can enjoy on a weeknight or for a dinner party with friends. 

Dal palak in bowl on a table.

Ingredient notes

Dal palak ingredients in various small bowls on a table.


Many varieties of dal are made with split lentils, like red split lentils (masoor dal) or yellow split lentils (moong dal) because, when cooked, they become very soft and creamy. It’s like baby food if it were beautiful and delicious.

You can use regular red lentils for this recipe (sold at almost any grocery store), or if you’re making a trip to your local South Asian grocer for the spices, pick up some masoor dal, as these split red lentils cook a bit quicker. 

This recipe also works great with moong dal (split yellow lentils).

I don’t recommend using green or brown lentils for this recipe because they don’t have the same melt-in-your-mouth texture when cooked. 


A small amount of ground turmeric is stirred into the lentils as they cook to give them a golden color and a subtle warm flavor

If you want to maximally absorb turmeric’s anti-inflammatory compound, curcumin, stir a pinch of ground black pepper into the simmering lentils when you add the turmeric. Black pepper contains piperine, which is the key that opens curcumin’s padlocked, steel-reinforced door.

The Holy Quaternity

The four core aromatics of Indian cooking (at least in my definition) impart incredible flavors that will delight your taste buds. Onion, garlic, ginger, and chile peppers lend a baseline of rich, savory, and spicy-ish flavors to this dal palak and plenty of other Indian dishes such as my Chickpea Curry.

Substitute: I use both fresh green chile peppers (serranos or jalapeños) and dried red chile peppers to give the tadka some heat. Fear not though, my Babymouths! You can remove the membranes and seeds from the fresh peppers, omit the dried red chile peppers, or leave out all the peppers (or give them to me because I use them in everything).

Curry leaves

Although fresh curry leaves (no relation to curry powder, not even distant cousins) are optional in this dal recipe, their bright, citrusy, earthy, and complex flavor adds SO much to this dish. 

They’re worth the run to your local Indian grocery store, which is probably full of other modestly priced kitchen staples too—dried chickpeas, kala namak (aka black salt, the star of my seriously amazing tofu scramble), giant containers of turmeric, the list goes on.

Tip: Can’t find fresh curry leaves? Try ordering dried curry leaves online (affiliate link). They’re not as pungent, so double the amount.

Store fresh curry leaves layered in paper towels in a ziploc bag in the crisper; they’ll stay green and gorgeous for at least two weeks. Freezing them instead? Don’t be alarmed if they lose some color—they’ll still taste delicious. 

Whole spices

These aren’t the ground spices you buy in tiny little containers at your local supermarket. They’re the full seed, directly from the plant, and they’re packed with absolutely outrageous amounts of flavor.

I use black mustard seeds and cumin seeds—two more Indian grocery store highlights—in this dal palak. Let them sizzle in some hot oil for a bit, and once the mustard seeds start popping and the cumin seeds darken in color and become super fragrant, you know you’ve unlocked those next-level Indian flavors (and it’s also a sign that it’s time to add the next ingredient). 

Where to buy: Your local Indian grocery store, but if not possible, buy them online. Well-stocked grocery stores will sell cumin seeds and, sometimes, yellow mustard seeds (not commonly used in Indian cooking but an acceptable substitute). 

Substitute: Struggling to find whole mustard or cumin seeds? Customize the tadka with other whole spices. I have lots of ideas for you in the Tips section.

Asafoetida (Hing)

A little asafoetida goes a long way. Just a pinch in the tadka lends a quintessentially Indian flavor that sets this dish apart. It does smell very funky when you open the bottle, but the odor gets cooked off, and then you’ll get to know this powerful seasoning for who she really is: a not-at-all-smelly superstar.

Tip: To avoid the funky aroma from pervading your spice cabinet, don’t fully open your bottle of hing. Instead, take a knife or fork and poke just a tiny hole in the jar, if possible. And keep it sealed whenever you’re not using it! 

Where to buy: Find asafoetida at your local Indian grocery store or buy it online (affiliate link)

Gluten-free? Skip the asafoetida. Most varieties contain small amounts of gluten.

Baby spinach

Oh baby does the baby spinach in this tadka get silky and beautiful! Add it in batches and toss it with tongs so it wilts just enough to still hold up while getting coated in all those lovely Indian flavors. Serve it over the dal and you’re all set!

Substitute: Not a spinach stan? Just like in my Saag Aloo recipe, you can substitute the spinach for any leafy greens you like, such as baby kale or other tender greens that will cook quickly. 

Step by step instructions 

Want video instructions? Check out my YouTube video here!

After rinsing the lentils, add to a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Add the turmeric and partially cover; simmer until soft and tender

Whisk the lentils vigorously until somewhat pureed. 

Cook for a few minutes until completely mashed and thickened. Stir in salt and lemon juice to season. 

While the dal cooks, prep your Spinach Tadka ingredients. 

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat with the oil. Toast the cumin seeds and mustard seeds until the mustard seed pop and the cumin seeds turn darker brown.

Add in the onions; reduce the heat to medium. Cook until golden brown, stirring occasionally. 

Add in the garlic, ginger, and fresh green chile peppers. Stir for 1 to 2 minutes. 

Add the dried red chile peppers, curry leaves, and asafoetida. Stir for 30 seconds. 

Finally, add in the baby spinach in batches, seasoning with a bit of salt. Use tongs to stir; cook until just wilted. 

Pour the spinach tadka on top of the dal; garnish with cilantro.

finished dal palak in a bowl.

Tips for making this recipe

Switch up the spices

The beauty of a tadka is that you can get creative. While I stand by my choices of whole spices, fresh curry leaves, and aromatics, go ahead and mix things up (and tell me how it goes for you in the comments!).

Some fun ideas for your consideration:

  • Use shallots instead of onion.
  • Add whole fennel seeds or a few whole cardamom pods when you add the mustard seeds.
  • Add a whole cinnamon stick, broken into pieces (add before the mustard seeds).
  • Skip the curry leaves but fold in a tablespoon of dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi).
  • Add a few pinches of ground cumin or coriander (after the curry leaves, to prevent them from burning).

🎶 Don’t stop believing (I mean, stirring)

The spices in a tadka can burn very easily. Once they’re sizzling in the pan, don’t stop stirring or shaking the pan.

Make it more weeknight-friendly 

Let’s be honest: After a typical workday, the energy’s just not always there to make a whole meal completely from scratch. But what if you only had to do a fraction of the work to get the same delicious dinners on the table? Ah, the magic of Sunday meal prep.  

With Meal Plans by Rainbow Plant Life, you’ll learn how to spend 60 to 90 minutes on Sunday preparing components for three fabulous weeknight dinners, including this Dal Palak. 

When dal palak night rolls around, this meal will come together even quicker and with less fuss. It’s all the flavor you want with none of the extra weeknight effort.

Every week, you’ll get three hearty, comforting meals and a side (this dal palak will be featured in a meal plan in June) as well as a full grocery list (with a sister list broken down by recipe), handy substitutions, and emergency meal ideas for nights when you just don’t have the time. No more scrounging the internet for far too long to find new and exciting dinner recipes or scrambling to build a whole grocery list. Instead, you’ll make weeknights fun again. 

Try it out with a 7-day free trial!

Dal palak in bowl on a table.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of lentils should I use for dal?

Dal is typically made from split lentils or split peas, although other recipes use split chickpeas (chana dal) or kidney beans (rajma dal). For this recipe, I recommend sticking with red split lentils (masoor dal), yellow split lentils (moong dal), or even yellow split pigeon peas (toor dal) if you have them on hand (affiliate links). The cook time will vary slightly depending on which one you choose. 

And of course, you can always use regular red lentils, sold at most grocery stores (they take just a bit longer to cook and soften).

Do you need to soak the lentils?

Soaking your lentils in cold water for 15 to 20 minutes before cooking can help them cook quicker, but it’s not necessary. Part of why I love this recipe is that the lentils cook so quickly even without soaking! If you do soak them, though, cook the lentils in fresh water, not their soaking water. 

Can I make this ahead of time? Can I meal prep it? 

You can certainly make the dal itself ahead of time. Once it cools down a bit, store it in a container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days, and reheat on the stove, stirring occasionally. The tadka is best made fresh if you have the time. If you meal prep the dal, then this dish will come together in less than 30 minutes! 

What should I serve with this?

The most traditional (and easiest) way is to serve the dal palak over cooked white rice. But you can also scoop up each bite with an Indian flatbread like my homemade Vegan Naan (easier than it sounds!) or even store-bought vegan naan or good-quality fluffy pita. A scoop of plain vegan yogurt or homemade Vegan Raita adds a super cozy cooling touch too.

Is dal palak good for you?

Oh yes. Dal palak is Monopoly-Man-rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants thanks to the lentils, spinach, and the superfood turmeric in the dal. Plus, garlic, ginger, green chiles, and curry leaves are all rich in antioxidants. So yes, it’s absolutely great for you, and it tastes absolutely great too.

How do you store the leftovers? Can you freeze it?

After the leftover dal and tadka have cooled to room temperature, store them together in an airtight container. They’ll stay fresh in the fridge for up to 3 days. Dal also freezes well for up to 6 months, though the texture of the tadka is best fresh. 

Let the leftovers thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating in the microwave or a saucepan on the stove. Going the stove route? Stir the dal semi-frequently so it doesn’t burn.

Dal palak in bowl on a table.

More comforting Indian recipes

Dal Palak (Spinach Dal)

5 from 14 votes
In this comforting dal palak, Indian aromatics, whole spices, and spinach get toasted, then plated over an easy, protein-packed lentil dal. It’s gourmet, restaurant-quality Indian food that’s surprisingly easy to whip up!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Indian
Diet Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Serving size: 4



  • 1 ½ cups (300g) red lentils, split red lentils or split yellow lentils
  • 4 cups (960 mL) water
  • ¾ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 ½ heaping teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • Spinach Tadka (recipe follows)
  • 1 handful (12g) cilantro leaves and tender stems, chopped
  • For serving: cooked rice to serve 4

Spinach Tadka

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil (see Note 1)
  • 1 ½ teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
  • 1 ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 4 fat or 6 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped or thinly sliced
  • 1 ½- inch (4 cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into thin matchsticks
  • 1 serrano or jalapeño pepper, finely chopped (optional; see Note 2)
  • 2 to 5 dried red chile peppers, torn in half (see Note 3)
  • 20 fresh curry leaves (optional but highly recommended, see Note 4)
  • A couple pinches of asafoetida, (AKA hing) (optional; omit if GF; see Note 5)
  • 5 ounces (140g) baby spinach


  • Make the dal. Rinse the lentils in a fine-mesh sieve until the water runs mostly clear.
  • Add lentils to a medium saucepan and cover with the water. Bring to a boil, and use a spoon to skim off foam as it comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, stir in the turmeric, and partially cover the pan.
    Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes (split lentils should be done around 20 minutes), or until lentils are soft and tender and mostly broken down.
    Note: While the lentils cook, prep the ingredients for the Spinach Tadka.
  • Now whisk vigorously until the lentils are somewhat pureed, about 1 minute. (If they aren’t easily pureed, cook for a bit longer.) Cook for a few more minutes, whisking occasionally, until the lentils are completely soft and mashed and the dal has thickened.
  • Stir in the salt and lemon juice. Taste, adding more salt or lemon as desired. Keep the dal warm over the lowest heat while you cook the Spinach Tadka.
  • Make the Spinach Tadka. Heat a medium or large frying pan over medium-high heat with 3 tablespoons of the coconut oil.
  • Once the oil is hot and shimmering, add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Shake the pan back and forth or stir frequently. Once the mustard seeds start popping (it should happen pretty quickly), add the onion and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are nicely golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes.
  • Add in the garlic, ginger, and serrano if using. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add in the dried chiles, curry leaves and asafoetida, if using. Cook for just 30 seconds, stirring frequently.
  • If the oil has dried up, add 1 tablespoon more coconut oil. Add about half of the spinach and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Use tongs to toss the spinach and stir very frequently. Once wilted, add the second half of the spinach and stir fry until it’s all wilted.
  • Immediately take the spinach tadka off the heat, and pour over the warm dal, stirring in.
  • Taste the dal, adding another squeeze of lemon juice and season with salt as needed. Garnish the dal with cilantro. Serve with rice.


General note: The prep time is listed as 5 minutes since you can prep all of the Spinach Tadka ingredients while the dal is simmering.
  1. I think the flavor combo of coconut, mustard seeds, and curry leaves is fantastic, but if you don’t want to use coconut oil, use a neutral-flavored oil or a light-tasting olive oil.
  2. If you want just a little heat, remove the white membranes from the green chile pepper first.
  3. Dried red chile peppers are often used in tadkas (the tempered spiced oil poured on top of many kinds of Indian dals). For mild heat but great flavor, you can use mild chiles like Kashmiri chiles, anaheim peppers or guajillo chiles. For spicy, use chiles like chiles de arbol or dried Thai chiles. You can find a variety at both Indian and Mexican grocery stores.
  4. Fresh curry leaves bring the most incredible flavor to the tadka. Find them at Indian grocery stores. Or, you can buy dried curry leaves online; they’re less pungent, so use more, about 30 leaves.
  5. Asafoetida (known as “hing” in Hindi) brings a quintessentially Indian flavor that is hard to describe but a little funky and umami-like. It’s optional, so feel free to skip. Most varieties have small amounts of gluten.

Calories: 405kcal | Carbohydrates: 54g | Protein: 20g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 453mg | Potassium: 1109mg | Fiber: 13g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 181IU | Vitamin C: 32mg | Calcium: 79mg | Iron: 7mg

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5 from 14 votes

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26 comments on Dal Palak (Spinach Dal)

  1. Chris

    5 stars
    Wow…OK this recipe is incredible! Sooo good, particularly with the fresh curry leaves. Next time a double batch for sure. Thanks so much!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Woohoo, those words are music to our ears, Chris!

  2. Rogers Wendy

    5 stars
    This is delicious— comfort food with my favourite Indian spices. I should have made a double batch.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback! :)

  3. Kaiya Papaya

    5 stars
    This dish reminds me of one of my favorite dishes, Filipino mung bean soup and I’m in love! Quick and simple to make but jam packed with so much flavor! Thank you Nisha for another delicious recipe!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Kaiya!

  4. Sissel

    5 stars
    I made this recipe as it is a part of the meal plan this week. I really liked it! It is good on its own paired with rice. However, I would also like to be able to pair it with a simple salad and a more vegetable heavy dish in the future. Can you recommend a warm vegetable dish that goes well with the dahl? Thank you!

    1. Lisa

      5 stars
      I just made this and it’s very good! Thank you, Nisha! Sissel, it seems like it would be great served with steamed broccoli — maybe with a little lemon juice squeezed over the broccoli, maybe not.

  5. Laurie Brown

    5 stars
    This was an amazing Dal. My husband woke up craving a Dal, so I decided to give it a try. It went together so easily. It was literally the best Dal I ever ate (either homemade or restaurant.
    I am a huge fan of your recipes, and this one was amazing! Thanks for sharing

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Your review made our day, Laurie! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and for trying out the recipe.

  6. Sisyphee

    5 stars
    Didn’t have the curry leaves or mustard seeds but used mustard oil instead..loved it!!!!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Sisyphee. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  7. Sneha

    5 stars
    Is it possible to use chilli flakes instead of dried red chiles & how much flakes would I use in this recipe?

    1. Nisha

      Hi Sneha, if you want more heat, I would just increase the amount of fresh green chilies, maybe 1 1/2 peppers instead of 1 pepper. If you would prefer to add chili flakes instead of the dried red peppers, it’s really up to you and how spicy you like things. 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes will add just a little kick, or you can use 1/2 teaspoon for something more noticeable.

  8. Cynthia

    5 stars
    Really good and quick to make!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Cynthia!

  9. El

    5 stars
    A new favourite and will become a staple, thanks Nisha for an incredible recipe which was easy to make, completely authentic, and absolutely delicious!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi El, thank you so much for your kind review!

  10. David Thrower

    5 stars
    I can’t wait to make this!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We can’t wait for you to either, David!

  11. Allinson

    5 stars
    Thank you for providing a Dal recipe that mirrors exactly what I want to eat. So many recipes & supermarket products are too spicy, tasting, & looking more like curry sauce than a simple “yellow” Dal.
    I have stomach issues at the moment & this, unfortunately means that I can’t easily manage rice as well. So I treat myself to having coconut nan instead😄. Will try this next weekend.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Sounds like a lovely pairing, Allinson! We’re happy you’re excited to try the recipe :)

  12. Renata

    5 stars
    I couldn’t believe how flavorful this was! It was a hit with my omnivore sister and brother-in-law too. I went easy on the chili peppers (just 1 dried red one) for them but next time I’ll add more for myself ;)

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Renata, thank you so much for your kind review!

  13. Shaina

    5 stars
    I made this after you posted it on YouTube and it’s since become a new favorite. And my husband doesn’t even realize he’s eating spinach and lentils, two foods he says he doesn’t like!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We’re over the moon to hear you enjoyed the recipe, Shaina. Thanks for your kind words!

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