Instant Pot Dal Palak (Spinach Dal)

May 28, 2020 By Aneesha |

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This Dal Palak recipe is a blend of split lentils and delicate baby spinach quickly prepared in the Instant Pot, then tempered with nutty ghee and warm Indian spices. It’s a quick, easy and protein-packed vegetarian meal best served with rice or flatbread to scoop up all that deliciousness.

lentils and spinach in black bowl with tempered ghee and Indian spices

Quick and Easy Spinach Dal Recipe

Dal is a very common dish in most Indian homes. And we make a variety of lentils.

But this particular spinach dal goes back to my roots. The gentle aroma of sweet and nutty ghee with smokey cumin (known as tadka) running throughout the house brings up memories of my mom cooking dal on the stovetop.

Preparing lentils takes time and effort, so mom always used her stovetop pressure cooker for all lentil and bean recipes.

I adapted her traditional Dal Palak recipe and turned it into a quicker and easier recipe using the Instant Pot.

Plus, this recipe is naturally Gluten-Free, Vegetarian and also High in Protein as lentils are packed with an abundance of plant-based protein (along with high amounts of fiber and iron).

It’s a nutritious and delicious weeknight meal I make often since I can get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes. All it needs is a plain side of rice or homemade roti to scoop up all those wonderful flavors.

dal with spinach in black bowl

What Is Dal Palak? What is it called in English?

Dal Palak, also knows as Palak Dal, is lentils (mung, red, or a combination) cooked with spinach and tempered with mild Indian spices.

Dal Palak literally translates to ‘lentils with spinach’. Dal is the Hindi word for lentils and Palak refers to spinach in Hindi. This dish is also referred to as Spinach Dal, or Spinach & Lentil Curry.

It is made in just about all regions of India with slight variations. In this recipe, I cook my mom’s authentic Punjabi-style (north-Indian) Dal Palak in the Instant Pot.

Electric pressure cookers are a wonderful way to cook dal (or lentils in general) since they cook in a fraction of the time and make the process mostly hands-off. The method is so simple and straightforward with no fuss or muss.

Adding Spinach to Indian Foods

You can do so much with spinach in Indian cuisine. There are so many palak recipes in my repertoire, it’s hard to get bored.

It’s a great way to sneak in dark greens into comfort foods that even picky eaters can enjoy. One of my daughters dislikes spinach, but she loves this dal and Palak Paneer.

Adding spinach to curries or rice is also a great way to make one dish which covers two food groups. For example, this Palak Chicken and Palak Paneer includes both, veggies and protein. Spinach Rice or Palak Paratha includes veggies and carbs – the options are endless.

I also like including spinach in Indian crispy snacks such as No-Fry Onion Spinach Pakora. It adds that extra boost of nutrition, even while indulging 🙂

Ingredient Availability & Substitutions

The ingredients to make this easy spinach dal include a blend of red lentils (masoor dal), yellow lentils (mung dal), ghee, cumin seeds, onions, serrano chili, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, water, salt, turmeric, garam masala, red chili powder, baby spinach and lime juice.

For a special finishing touch (Tadka), you will also need more ghee, heeng, cumin seeds and cayenne.

red and yellow lentils in stainless steel bowl
Masoor dal (left) and Mung dal (right)
  • Lentils: I love the combination of red and yellow lentils, but you can simply use 1/2 cup of masoor (red) or mung (yellow) dal. Toor dal (split pigeon peas) is another great option. Be sure to rinse the lentils 2-3 times in a bowl or fine-mesh sieve and run under cool running water. Wash thoroughly until the water runs clear to rid of excess starch, small stones, clumps of dirt or other foreign objects that can cause indigestion.
  • Baby Spinach: Use small, tender baby spinach leaves widely available in the supermarket. I typically purchase a few 5-6 oz bags from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Roughly chopping the spinach leaves keeps them from becoming stringy once wilted. Add at the end of cooking as that helps lock in the beautiful green color and prevents overcooking.
  • Heeng: Or Hing is the Hindi word for asafetida (sometimes spelled asafoetida). It is a dark brown, resin-like ingredient derived from the root of the ferula plant. And very popular in Indian cuisine. In Ayurveda practice, it is an age-old medicine used to combat stomach issues thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. Today, it is a key ingredient in what is known in Indian cuisine as a tadka (or tempering).

How To Make Spinach Dal in the Instant Pot

A super quick spinach dal is ready in no time with an Instant Pot. This plant-packed Vegetarian meal can be on your table in only 30 minutes! Simply:

cumin seeds in small bowl, chopped onions and chile, garlic and ginger in small bowl, chopped tomatoes in small bowl
  • Rinse lentils 2-3 times, until the water runs clear.
  • Select Saute on your Instant Pot and wait for it to heat up, about 30-40 seconds. Add ghee or oil and cumin seeds (Pic 1).
  • When the cumin begins to sizzle, add chopped onions and green chili, and saute for 3 minutes, until onions soften (Pic 2).
  • Add minced ginger and garlic and saute another minute. Next, add chopped tomato, salt, spices and saute for 2 minutes, until tomatoes break down (Pics 3 & 4).
pouring lentils into instant pot, dal in instant pot, sliced spinach over dal
  • Add rinsed lentils, water and stir everything while deglazing the bottom of the pot. Cancel Saute and lock the lid in place (Pics 5-7).
  • Select Pressure Cook or Manual and cook for 3 minutes at HIGH pressure, on sealing mode. After the cooking is complete, wait for 5 minutes of natural pressure release, followed by quick release instructions. Open the lid after the pin drops.
  • Select Saute and add the chopped baby spinach leaves. Stir and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the spinach wilts down to your liking. Cancel Saute. Check for seasoning and squeeze in the lime juice (Pic 8).

Tempering for Dal Palak

Tadka, or tempering, is a technique in Indian cuisine when whole or ground spices are quickly simmered in fat to bring out their essential oils and natural aroma. The mixture is then spooned on top of the finished dish, adding richness, texture and color.

ghee, chili, whole spices in ceramin skillet

To properly execute a tadka, simply:

  • Heat a small frypan on medium-high heat. Add ghee, heeng and cumin seeds. When the cumin begins to sizzle, add cayenne and turn off the heat.
  • Carefully add this hot seasoned ghee to the dal just before serving and mix. This step is optional, but really enhances the flavor of the dish.

Variations

Feel free to change up the spinach dal recipe with a few simple variations. Try:

  • Pumpkin: Add 1/2-1 cup cubed pumpkin when you add the onions and chile
  • Dark, Leafy Greens: Replace the spinach with an equal amount of sliced kale, collards or turnip greens.
  • Without Onion and Garlic: Omit the onion and garlic aromatics for a cleaner flavor with a subtle aroma of ghee tempered with cumin and ginger

Serving Suggestions – Palak Recipes For Rice or Flatbread

This comforting dal recipe is best enjoyed as a stew or curry with a side of plain basmati rice. This is a great blank canvas that allows the buttery, warm flavor of the spinach dal to shine.

If you’d like to enjoy it as a thicker semi-dry preparation, reduce the water to 2 cups in the recipe preparation. Then, add the spinach at the end and give it a good stir. Serve as is with Indian flatbread such as phulka, chapati or roti.

dal and spinach in black bowl with tempered ghee and Indian spices

Dal Palak Soup – What To Do With Leftovers

I also like to enjoy leftovers the next day as soup. All I have to do is warm a bowlful of spinach dal in a microwave-safe dish in 1-minute increments or in a small saucepan over medium heat on the stovetop and enjoy it with a slice of toasted baguette.

It’s a healthy and satisfying meal that will keep me full until dinner time. 🙂

Another common way I use leftover dal is by kneading dough (atta) using it instead of water. I use this dough to make Dal Paratha.

Recipe Tips:

  • Use a combination or one kind of lentil. I love the combination of lentils, but you can use 1/2 cup total of red (masoor), yellow (mung) or split pigeon pea (toor) dal.
  • For a Vegan spinach dal, use vegetable or olive oil instead of ghee in the dal and tadka recipe.
  • Reduce the water to 2 cups for a thicker dal. This makes it into the consistency of a sabji (semi-dry vegetable preparation) rather than a stew or curry.
  • For a creamy consistency, blend 1/2 of the spinach with a few tablespoons water. Add at the very end along with the rest of the spinach.
  • Serve with plain rice or flatbread. These side dishes offer a wonderful blank canvas to really highlight the buttery, spiced goodness of spinach dal.
  • Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. The dal palak will keep for up to 4 days. Leftovers are even better the next day. Simply reheat in 1-minute increments in the microwave or over medium heat in a small saucepan on the stovetop.

More Instant Pot Dal Recipes From My Kitchen

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lentils and spinach in black bowl with tempered ghee and Indian spices

Dal Palak / Spinach Dal in Instant Pot

This Dal Palak recipe is a blend of split lentils and baby spinach quickly prepared in the Instant Pot then tempered with sweet ghee and warm Indian spices.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate Recipe
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 13 minutes
NPR: 5 minutes
Total Time: 28 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Calories: 169kcal

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup red lentils (masoor dal)
  • ¼ cup petite yellow lentils (mung dal)
  • 1 tablespoon ghee or oil
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ cup chopped onion (about ½ medium onion) (optional)
  • 1 serrano chili stemmed, halved and seeds removed
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger (½-inch piece of ginger)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
  • ½ cup chopped tomato (1 roma tomato)
  • cups water (reduce to 2 cups for thicker dal)

Spices & Seasoning

  • ½-¾ teaspoon salt (add ½, adjust after cooking)
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon garam masala
  • ¼ teaspoon red chili powder (cayenne) reduce to ⅛ for mild, or skip

For Finishing (Add After Pressure Cooking)

  • 2 cups baby spinach chopped roughly
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice fresh (or lemon)
  • ¼-½ teaspoon garam masala (optional)

Tempering (Optional Finishing Step)

Equipment

Instructions

  • Rinse lentils 2-3 times, until the water runs clear.
  • Select Saute on your Instant Pot and wait for it to heat up, about 30-40 seconds. Add ghee or oil and cumin seeds.
  • When the cumin begins to sizzle, add chopped onions and chili pepper, and saute for 3 minutes, until onions soften.
  • Add minced ginger and garlic and saute another minute.
  • Add chopped tomato, salt, spices and saute for 2 minutes, until tomatoes break down.
  • Add rinsed lentils, water and stir everything while deglazing the bottom of the pot. Cancel Saute and lock the lid in place.
  • Select Pressure Cook or Manual and cook for 3 minutes at high pressure, on sealing mode. After the cooking is complete, wait for 5 minutes of natural pressure release, followed by quick release instructions. Open the lid after the pin drops.
  • Select Saute and add the garam masala (optional) followed by chopped baby spinach leaves. Stir and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the spinach wilts down to your liking. Cancel Saute. Check for seasoning and squeeze in lime juice.

Preparing Tadka (Finishing tempering) for Dal (optional Step)

  • To make the tempering, or tadka, heat a small fry pan on medium-high heat. Add ghee, heeng and cumin seeds. When the cumin begins to sizzle, add cayenne and turn off the heat. Carefully add this hot seasoned ghee to the dal just before serving and mix. This step is optional, but really enhances the flavor of the dish.
    Preparing tadka by tempering ghee and spices

Video

Notes & Recipe Tips

  • Use a combination or one kind of lentil. I love the combination of lentils, but you can use 1/2 cup total of red (masoor), yellow (mung) or split pigeon pea (toor) dal.
  • For a Vegan spinach dal, use vegetable or olive oil instead of ghee in the dal and tadka recipe.
  • Reduce the water to 2 cups for a thicker dal. This makes it into the consistency of a sabji (semi-dry vegetable preparation) rather than a stew or curry.
  • For a creamy consistency, blend 1/2 of the spinach with a few tablespoons water. Add at the very end along with the rest of the spinach.
  • Serve with plain rice or flatbread. These sides offer a wonderful blank canvas so as not to compete with the buttery, spiced goodness of spinach dal.
  • Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. The dal palak will keep for up to 4 days. Leftovers are even better the next day. Simply reheat in 1-minute increments in the microwave or over medium heat in a small saucepan on the stovetop.
 
Note: The nutrition facts below are my estimates.  If you are following any diet plan, I recommend cross-checking with your preferred nutrition calculator.

Nutrition

Calories: 169kcal | Carbohydrates: 20g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 16mg | Sodium: 361mg | Potassium: 292mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 1585IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 51mg | Iron: 2mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: dal palak recipe, Instant Pot Dal Palak, Spinach Dal
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HEY! NICE TO MEET YOU!

Aneesha holding a glass of white wine Hi, I'm Aneesha, a foodie by birth and the mind, body and soul behind Spice Cravings. Here I share quick, easy & healthy Indian & global recipes that are low in effort and big on taste! A recipe doesn't make it on the blog unless it is tested multiple times and gets a thumbs-up from my taster-in-chief, my husband, and my teen-chefs, my twin girls!

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