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Cooking Food General Indian Cooking Low FODMAPS Recipes vegan

Garden Fresh Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils)

We’ve had a very cool August this year, which has been disappointing. This has meant less paddle-boarding and fewer beach days. Moreover, our bougainvillea plants haven’t flowered quite as prolifically as they usually do.

Tropical flowers in Canada: bougainvillea

On the upside, however, this has meant that the second box of spinach we planted late this summer has been doing really well!

Growing your own food: spinach

I haven’t been cooking at all this week because on Tuesday, I had a fun adventure: I flew through an open door, towards a glass wall (I tripped on a sign right outside the door); my knee is what prevented me from crashing through the wall; as a result, it has been swollen and bruised. I am better today, though, so I thought that I’d cook up something delicious, using the “harvest” from our little urban deck “farm” and my partner as a sous chef.

Here is today’s produce:

Cooking with food from your garden

Given my life-long love affair with chillies, new found appreciation for home-grown cherry tomatoes, and inexplicable tolerance for spinach (despite my general dislike for vegetables), this was a truly exciting collection of delights! “Palak dal!!!”, I thought to myself, excitedly. And so, I cooked us up a big pot of the stuff:

Homemade Palak dal

If you’d like to give it a go, here’s what you will need:

Ingredients:

(A quick note:  You can adjust the level of spice easily. In the list of ingredients in the recipe below, I have provided a range of amounts for various spices; you can decide for yourself how much you’d like to use 🙂)

1 cup lentils (I find that a mix of lentils is great for this recipe. I use Pesara Pappu (Moong Dal in Hindi); Toor Dal, and/or Masoor Dal)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

3-4 cloves of garlic, skinned

2-3 tablespoons of oil (I use either avocado oil or sunflower oil)

1 medium-sized onions (red or yellow) chopped (I prefer red onions, they seem to be more pungent)

1 teaspoon grated ginger

3-6 fresh chilies, chopped or cut length-wise (You can reduce this amount if you don’t want the dal to be too hot/spicy)

1.5 – 2 cups of cherry tomatoes, halved (you can also use two medium sized tomatoes)

1/2 – 1 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 – 1 teaspoon coriander (cilantro) seed powder

1 – 3 teaspoons red chilli powder

1/2-1 teaspoon of garam masala (optional)

2 cups of baby spinach (250 g)

Salt to taste

Ingredients for the popu/tadka/baghar:

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

3-12 dried red chilies, torn in half (depending on how hot you’d like the dal to be)

2-4 peeled garlic cloves, halved

2 pinches of asafoetida (optional)

2-3 tablespoons of oil or ghee (You can get ghee at an Indian store. However, I would recommend making your own, if you have the time. Here is my recipe, if you’re interested. If you don’t have ghee, or want to make your dal vegan, you can use sunflower oil, vegetable oil, or really any oil with a high smoking point. DO NOT USE BUTTER, it will smoke and burn before the spices are properly fried).

Method:

1. The first thing to do is to prepare the dal (lentils). Even if you don’t live in India, you should be able to get most lentils at an Indian store. I normally soak lentils for about 30 minutes, drain the water out, and add fresh water in, before I cook the lentils (this helps them cook faster and apparently helps to reduce bloating and gas: I am still looking for studies to back this up, which I will cite here when I find them). If you don’t have the time to do this, you can skip this step.

2. I tend to cook my dal in an instant pot. If you don’t have one, you can boil the dal in water until it is cooked. Add half a teaspoon each of turmeric and salt, as well as 3-4 cloves of skinned garlic to the dal before you cook it. Once it’s cooked it should look like this:

Cooked moong dal

3. I like to purée the cooked dal in a food processor/blender/mixie in order to make it into a smooth paste. This makes the texture of the dal smoother and distributes flavour more evenly. This step is completely optional. You can skip it without much consequence to the taste of your dal if you do not have either the necessary equipment or the time.

Making dal at home

4. Next, heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan. When it’s hot add the chopped onions and sautĂ© them until softened and lightly browned.

Cooking onions in Indian foodCooking onions for Indian food Sautéing onionsCooking onions for Indian food

Sautéing onions

5. Now add the ginger and fresh chillies to the onions and sautĂ© everything again until the ginger is cooked (it should no longer smell raw). Then, add the cumin powder, coriander powder, red chilli powder, garam masala (if you are using it), and half a teaspoon of salt to the sautĂ©ed onions-ginger-chilli-mixture (hereinafter referred to as “stuff” :P) and continue to sautĂ© all of this for about 5 minutes on low-medium heat.

Onion-masala for dal

Onion-masala for dal

6. Then, add in the tomatoes, cover the pan, and let it all cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the oil starts to separate out from the rest of the stuff.

Onion-tomato masala for Indian cooking

7. Meanwhile, rinse the spinach. I like to use kitchen shears or a normal pair of scissors and cut up the spinach in the bowl into slightly smaller bits. If you don’t like this method, you can, of course, chop the spinach on a cutting board with a knife.

8. Add the spinach to the sauce pan, then add the lentils.

How to make dal

9. Pour in a cup or two of water, and let everything cook for about 8 minutes on high heat, stirring the pot intermittently to prevent the contents at the bottom from burning. You will see a foamy layer rise to the top of the dal. I like to scoop this out into a bowl and throw it out.

Reducing FODMAPS in dal; how to decrease bloating from dal

I have heard from some people who regularly cook with lentils in India that this helps reduce bloating and gas.

A note on FODMAPS for the lay person: FODMAPS can cause gastric discomfort in some of us. One may be sensitive to some or all FODMAPS to varying degrees. Symptoms can range from gas, bloating, abdominal pain and cramping, to, in my case, at least, acid reflux. For more general reading on this topic, this article is a great starting point.

The main FODMAPs that dal contains are oligosaccharides. Take a peek at this post about FODMAPS and how cooking legumes may help to reduce the FODMAP content in the food we eat. Of course, more research is needed to confirm this theory, but also, to determine the most effective/efficient ways of extracting FODMAPS from dal through cooking. I am not sure my method of skimming the foamy parts off the top of the dal is effective in removing/reducing dissolved oligosaccharides from it. Anecdotally, though, I have found it helps. Therefore, I do it every time I cook dal.

In addition, onions and garlic contain fructans, which are also a type of oligosaccharide (see this article for more on this). If you are particularly sensitive to onions and/or garlic, you could sauté them in oil (in step 4 of the recipe, above) and then, remove the onions and garlic pieces, leaving just the oil in the pan. Subsequently, continue with step 5. Frying the onions and/or garlic in oil results in some of their flavour infusing into the oil. Since fructans are water-soluble not fat-soluble, by removing the onions and/or garlic, you are able to reduce the amount of fructans that end up in the dal (see this article for more on this). Also, remember not to add any garlic to the lentils whilst cooking them in step 2, above. Similarly, forego adding garlic to the tadka in the step below (step 10).

10. The baghar/popu/tadka:

Heat a tablespoon or two of ghee in a little saucepan on high heat. Let the ghee get hot. To test if it’s hot enough, throw a single cumin seed into the pan. If it begins to sizzle, add the rest of the cumin seeds in and stir them about until they start to pop. When they start to pop, add the asafoetida, garlic cloves, and red chilies.

Once the red chillies darken, add the baghar to the lentils.

Popu in pulusu

Immediately cover the pot.

11. The dal is now ready! Taste it and add some salt to it if you like. Serve it with some hot rice and/or roti, dahi (yogurt), Indian pickle, ghee, and any other accompanying curries or vegetable sautĂ©. I like to eat it with brown rice (it’s more nutritious and has more fibre).

Healthy, vegan spinach lentils

Low fat Indian recipes: spinach lentils

The ratio of dal to rice is up to you. My family jokes that my plate often looks like a swimming pool of dal with a few desperate grains of rice drowning to death in it 😛 Yes, some of my near and dear have a dark sense of humour 😉

Vegan spinach lentils

In the photograph below, it is served with white rice, roti, dahi (yogurt), some pickle (Gongura pacchadi, to be precise, which you can get in most Indian stores if you live in North America) and sautĂ©ed dondakaya (Indian Ivy Gourd).

Healthy Indian lunch with lentil soup

Categories
Cooking Food General Indian Cooking Recipes

Healthy Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils)

I made chocolates today and I was going to sit down with a cup of Jasmine tea and write about them. When I looked at my blog home page, however, I realized that my last post was also about chocolate (in fact, a LOT of my posts are about chocolate). Also, Easter was just the other day, so it occurred to me that some of you are probably feeling a little stuffed, maybe even a little ill from all the chocolate eating. In thinking about how guilty and sick you might be feeling, I began to feel somewhat stuffed myself. I’ve been eating loads of homemade, cheese covered pizza and of course, tonnes of chocolate. It was time, I decided, to eat something yummy but healthy.

So, I made myself the healthiest lunch that I am capable of enjoying. It included one of my favourite dishes, palak dal (spinach lentils) and was served with rice and baked beets and sweet potatoes.

Palakoora pappu, palak pappu, palak pulusu, palak dal, spinach dal, lentil soup

In general, I hate eating  vegetables. The prospect of having to eat a bowl of crunchy and/or leafy vegetables makes me feel ill, miserable and hopeless. Yet, this lunch included tonnes of spinach and I still loved it! The spinach lentils shown above, are as flavourful, as they are good for you (I am no doctor or nutritionist, but I think you will all agree with me when you see the ingredient list). I think spices make vegetables not only edible, but enjoyable 🙂

Healthy Indian food, low-fat spinach lentils, palak dal

 

You can also include rotis and a light vegetable sautĂ© with the meal. I also like to eat some yoghurt along with my meal, but of course, this isn’t compulsory.

 

Indian healthy spinach lentil soup recipe

A quick note:  You can adjust the level of spice easily. In the list of ingredients in the recipe below, I have provided a range of amounts for various spices; you can decide whether you want to stay on the lower side of that range or be brave and add in the highest amount that I recommend.

If you would like to try to make the lentils, the recipe is below; I will write later about the sauté.

Ingredients:

1 cup Pesara Pappu (Moong Dal in Hindi; a type of lentil, native to India; you can also use Toor Dal, or Masoor Dal)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

2-3 tablespoons of oil (I use either avocado oil or sunflower oil)

1 large onion or 2 medium-sized onions (red or yellow) chopped

1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

3-4 cloves of garlic, skinned (you can also crush them if you don’t like having large pieces of garlic in your dal: I like the chunks :))

3-6 green chilies cut in half lengthwise (You can reduce this amount if you don’t want the dal to be too hot/spicy)

2 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped

1/2 – 1 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 – 1 teaspoon coriander (cilantro) seed powder

1 – 2 teaspoons red chilli powder

1/2 teaspoon of garam masala (optional)

About a medium-sized bunch of spinach (250 g) (I used organic baby spinach)

1/2 teaspoon brown sugar (you can use white if you don’t have brown sugar) (optional)

Salt to taste

Ingredients for the tadka, baghar, or popu:

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

3-12 dried red chilies

1 or 2 sprigs of fresh curry leaves (optional)

2-4 peeled whole garlic cloves

2-3 tablespoons of ghee (You can get ghee at an Indian store. If you want to make your own, here is my recipe. If you don’t have ghee, you can simply use sunflower oil, vegetable oil, or really any oil with a high smoking point. DO NOT USE BUTTER, it will smoke and burn before the spices are properly fried).

Method:

1. The first thing to do is to prepare the dal (lentils). I use moong dal for this recipe. If you don’t live in India, you should be able to get most lentils at an Indian store. I normally soak lentils for a few hours before I cook them (this helps them cook faster and apparently helps to reduce bloating and gas; I am still looking for studies to back this up, which I will cite here when I find them). If you don’t have the time to do this, you can skip this step. This is how the lentils look soaked:

Moong dal (lentils native to the Indian subcontinent)

2. The easiest way to cook dal is to cook it in a pressure cooker. If you don’t have one, just boil the dal in water until its cooked. Add half a teaspoon  each of turmeric and salt to the dal before you cook it. Once it’s cooked it should look like this:

Cooked moong dal

3. I like to purée the dal in a food processor/blender/mixie in order to make it into a smooth paste. This makes the texture of the dal smoother and distributes flavour more evenly. This step is completely optional, however. You can skip it without much consequence to the taste of your dal if you do not have either the necessary equipment or the time.

4. In the meantime, heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan. When it’s hot add the chopped onions and sautĂ© them until softened and lightly browned. Now add the ginger, garlic, and green chillies and sautĂ© again until the ginger and garlic is cooked (their raw smell should vanish).

5. Add the tomatoes, followed by cumin powder, coriander powder, red chilli powder, garam masala (if you are using it), and half a teaspoon of salt. Cover and cook all of this for about 10 minutes on low-medium heat.

6. Meanwhile, rinse the spinach well.

Spinach for healthy lentil soup

7. Place the spinach in a bowl and microwave for a minute, until tender.  I like to simply use a herb scissors or a normal pair of scissors and cut up the spinach in the bowl (after it has been microwaved) into slightly smaller bits. If you don’t like this method, you can, of course, chop the spinach on a cutting board with a knife (before or after you microwave it.

8. Add the spinach to the sauce pan, then add the lentils and sugar (if you are using it). Let everything cook for about 5 minutes.

9. The baghar/popu/tadka:

Heat a tablespoon or two of ghee in a little saucepan like this:

Hot ghee

Let the ghee get hot. To test if it’s hot enough, throw a single cumin seed into the pan. If it begins to sizzle, add the rest of the cumin and stir the seeds about until they start to pop. When they start to pop, add the curry leaves, garlic cloves and red chilies.

Baghar
Tadka, popu or baghar

Once the red chillies darken like this:

Baghar, tadka or popu

Add the baghar to the lentils.

Making Hyderabadi Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils)

Immediately cover the pot.

The dal is now ready! Serve it with some hot rice and/or roti, dahi (yogurt), Indian pickle, ghee, and any other accompanying curries or vegetable sauté.

In the photograph below, it is served with rice , roti, dahi (yogurt), some pickle (Gongura pickle, to be precise, which you can get in most Indian stores if you live in North America) and sautéed Dondakaya (Indian Ivy Gourd).

 

Healthy South Indian lunch with lentil soup

 

Categories
Cooking Food General Recipes

Deceptively Delicious Super Smoothie

If you know me well, you should be sitting down for this post. In fact, I would advise strewing some cushions about the floor, just in case you should fall over in sheer shock. You see, this smoothie is not just pretty good, it’s actually ridiculously healthy, but most importantly, it contains a vegetable! Yes! A real vegetable! And I, enemy of vegetables, find it quite edible, enjoyable even!

I must warn you, it doesn’t look all that delicious.

But don’t be fooled by how unattractive it looks, it’s actually more than palatable. Remember my post about the strawberry-banana smoothie that I am now sweet on ;)? Well, this is a variation on that smoothie that I was brave enough to try out. And I am so glad I did! I get spinach into my diet now, and it’s easy and yummy! Much easier than having to find a way to stomach (literally and metaphorically) a salad!

Here’s what you need:

5-6 Organic Strawberries

A banana

A handful or so of raw, organic spinach

3-4 tablespoons of yogurt

A few splashes of milk, depending on the consistency you prefer

Two pinches of cinnamon powder

Method:

Hull the strawberries:

Wash a handful of spinach, this is about how much I used:

Now, throw the strawberries, peeled banana and spinach into a blender, along with the yogurt, milk and cinnamon powder.

Super smoothie recipe

And blend it all until even and smooth. You can add more or less yogurt and milk, depending on the thickness/consistency you prefer.

And there you have it, a perfect little drink between study breaks:

It doesn’t look all that appetizing, but I promise you, you can barely taste the spinach. All it tastes of is strawberries, banana and cinnamon.

I make sure to use organic fruits and vegetables for this smoothie because I figure there is a decent chance that they will have less pesticides than the non-organic ones. I am aware of course, of how little the use of the term ‘organic’ is regulated in the food industry.

I’ve also made a chocolate variation of this by adding a tablespoon of cocoa to the mix. I find it tastes fine without the chocolate however; I almost feel like there are too many flavours interacting with one another in the chocolate version.

Categories
Cooking Food General Indian Cooking Recipes

Heavenly, Healthy Hyderabadi Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils)

I made some absolutely delicious truffles today, and I was all set to write a post about it. Then I looked at my blog home page and realized that my last post was also about truffles. (In fact, a LOT of my posts are about truffles.) Also, Easter was just the other day, so it occurred to me that some of you are probably feeling a little stuffed, maybe even a little ill from all the chocolate eating. In thinking about how guilty and sick you might be feeling, I began to feel somewhat stuffed myself. I’ve been eating loads of homemade, delicious but cheese covered pizza and of course, tonnes of chocolate. It was time, I decided, to eat something yummy but healthy. And so, I made myself the healthiest dinner that I am capable of eating. I have difficulty eating leafy vegetables you see, they literally make me feel unhappy and hopeless. But this particular magical recipe for spinach lentils that I am about to share with you is as spicy and flavourful, as it is good for you. I am no doctor or nutritionist, but I think you’ll all agree with me when you see the ingredient list.

Hyderabadi Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils) with RiceOh and as you can see from the title, this is a Hyderabadi recipe. Hyderabad is the capital of a southern State in India: Andhra Pradesh. It was the seat of the Nizams, who ruled Hyderabad for about 2 centuries. The word Nizam or Nizam-ul-mulk means ‘administrator of the realm’ or ‘governor of the nation’ in Urdu. This is because the first Nizam was originally appointed by the Mughal emperor to oversee and govern Southern India on his behalf. As the Mughal empire began to crumble (for a brief overview of Mughal history go here), Asaf Jha who was a Mughal noble and a Nizam, declared independence from the Mughals and founded his own dynasty, the Asaf Jha dynasty, also known as the Nizams.

The history of the Nizams is of course more complex than this little paragraph intimates. It is full of battles, intrigue and all the other stuff that good history is made of. But this post is about food, also I am not a historian. I just wanted to give you this brief little background so you can understand Hyderabadi cuisine better. I would recommend reading more about the Nizams though, about their food, jewellery and architecture in particular.

Because the Nizams were essentially nobles from the Mughal court, their food was strongly influenced by Mughlai cuisine. But South Indian food, more precisely Andhra food, i.e. the food the locals ate (and continue to eat today) before the Nizams came to Hyderabad, is also delicious and distinctive. Typical Andhra foods include: spicy peppery Rasam; Chappala Pulusu (fish curry); and Erra Avakaya. So it isn’t surprising that Hyderabadi food blends Andhra and Mughlai styles. Andhra food itself can be broken down into several different types based on different regions of the State. There are also hints of Arab, Turkish, Parsi and other influences in Hyderabadi food. So you see, it is bastardized, pluralistic, and historically rich.

It is also amongst the most delicious cuisines on earth. I kid you not. It’s as spicy as South Indian Andhra food, its magnificence equals Mughlai food (like dal Makhani), and it’s as rich and flavourful as Italian food can be.

(And while I am not appointing myself final arbiter of the best food known to man, I think a woman who has a blog (mostly) about food, a woman who goes into raptures about food, a woman whose very mental stability depends on the availability of a delicious meal, in short a food-crazed woman, should be taken very seriously.)

Anyway, now that you’re sold on its deliciousness, here it is, a spicy palak dal- Hyderabadi style:

Ingredients:

1 cup of moong dal (a type of lentil, native to India)

1/2 teaspoon haldi/pasupu/turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon crushed garlic

About a medium sized bunch of spinach

1/2 tablespoon dried mango powder (Amchur)

5-6 green chilies cut in half lengthwise

2-3 sprigs of coriander/cilantro

Salt to taste

(The following are the ingredients for the tadka baghar or popu)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

5 dried red chilies

5-6 fresh curry leaves or about 10 dried ones

4 peeled whole garlic cloves

2-3 tablespoons of ghee (you can get ghee at an Indian store; if you want to make south Indian ghee, you can read my recipe here)

Method:

The first thing to do is to prepare the dal (lentils). I use moong dal for this recipe. You should be able to get these lentils at an Indian store, if you don’t live in India. I normally soak lentils for about 20 minutes before I cook them. If you don’t have the time to do this, you can skip this step. This is how the lentils look soaked:

Moong dal (lentils native to the Indian subcontinent)The easiest way to cook dal is to cook it in a pressure cooker. If you don’t have one, just boil the dal in water until its cooked. Add half a teaspoon of turmeric and some salt to the dal before you cook it. Once it’s cooked it should look like this: Cooked moong dalNext, heat one tablespoon of oil in a saucepan. When it’s hot add the ginger and garlic. Fry the ginger and garlic until cooked (slightly browned, but not burnt). Add the spinach to the ginger-garlic and let it cook, stirring occasionally. Once the spinach is tender, add the lentils.

Hyderabadi Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils)

Let this cook for about 10 minutes. Then add half a tablespoon of dried Mango powder (Amchur), the green chillies and the coriander sprigs to the pot and again, let the dal cook. After about 5 minutes we’re ready to add the tadka or baghar (tempering of spices in oil).

The baghar:

Heat a tablespoon or two of ghee in a little saucepan like this:

Hot ghee

Let the ghee get hot. To test if it’s hot enough, throw a single cumin seed into the pan. If it begins to sizzle, add the rest of the cumin along with the mustard seeds and stir them about until they start to pop. When they start to pop, add the curry leaves, garlic cloves and red chilies.

BagharOnce the red chillies darken like this:

Baghar, tadka or popu

Add the baghar to the lentils.

Making Hyderabadi Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils)

and immediately cover the pot.

The dal is now ready! Serve it with some hot rice, yoghurt and a papad.