Easy comfort food: Red Lentil Dal with Spinach and Red Onion


Well! Yesterday was a big day indeed. Thanks for your thoughtful words yesterday, C.L.! Our hopes will only be realized with hard work on ALL of our parts, and holding ourselves accountable (as you said). In any case, I was so wiped  yesterday that I baaaarely had enough energy to make dinner. Barely. But! Mama Manchego surprised me yesterday with one of the best things in life, like ever: The Almighty Care Package.

It was her famous annual Chinese New Year package. This year the lunar new year is happening a little early — Jan. 26 (a Monday). It’s Year of the Ox! I’m a Rat, so last year was my year, and it wasn’t even that great of a year so I have high hopes for the Ox. Characteristics of an Ox, you ask? I shall elucidate thee:

People born under the influence of the Ox are kind, caring souls, logical, positive, filled with common sense and with their feet firmly planted on the ground. Security is their main preoccupation in life, and they are prepared to toil long and hard in order to provide a warm, comfortable and stable nest for themselves and their families. Strong-minded, stubborn, individualistic, the majority are highly intelligent individuals who don’t take kindly to being told what to do. The Ox works hard, patiently, and methodically, with original intelligence and reflective thought. These people enjoy helping others. Behind this tenacious, laboring, and self-sacrificing exterior lies an active mind.

Well that’s nice. I’m definitely not an ox, but I kinda want to meet a nice boy who is — don’t they sound like the perfect Mate?  Anyway. I’m depressing myself. Let’s move on to the contents of the Package. My mom snuck in a bunch of stuff that I mentioned when I saw her last (sneaky!), and most of it is food-oriented — dried fruits and roasted nuts for salads, bottles of vitamins, high quality baking chocolate — and items that I simply can’t afford in Ithaca. A couple of things caught my eye: Trader Joes jars of cumin, coriander, and chubby sticks of cinnamon.

Inspired, I decided to make a healthy, filling red lentil dal. Here’s how I did it:

Red Lentil Dal with Spinach and Red Onion (serves 2)

  • 1 cup red lentils, picked over
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 15oz can tomato sauce (no salt added; I used the Muir Glen brand)
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp coriander
  • 1 tbsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1 tsp curry power (optional – I know some people don’t like the powdered stuff)
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 lime
  • 1 stick cinammon
  • 3-4 cups baby spinach
  • Cracked black pepper & salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter / ghee (Omit if feeling super healthy. But it’s so good here.)

Garnishes optional:

  • Handful pepitas
  • Chopped basil


Okay. Heat up a non-stick pot to medium/medium-hot and throw in the olive oil and butter. Get a diced onion in your pot and soften (but not brown). Once translucent, throw in the red lentils and stir to coat. Add all of the spices, garlic, and lime juice. Your kitchen will smell phenomenal. I’m willing to bet my leftovers on it. Add 3 cups of broth (you may need to add more later if your dal dries out, as mine did halfway through) and stir.

Bring up to an easy simmer and cook until lentils are soft, 25-35 minutes. Add the can of tomato sauce and stir. It should be a gorgeous saffron hue, thanks to the marriage of tumeric and tomato. Drooool.

Dice the baby spinach into pretty ribbons (I do this so it’s more uniformly throughout the dal) and stir until wilted. Turn off the stove and ladle. I topped mine with some salted pepitas and chiffonades of basil — both added a nice pop of flavor and color. I enjoyed this with some flax seed crackers and an ice-cold beer.

Next time, I’ll probably use half a cinnamon stick — the sugary aroma and taste was pretty strong, and I had to compensate with more salt and acid. This is also, I should stress, not at all like soup or stew in terms on consistency. So it would be good as a  main dish with basmati rice or naan. But you could make this into a soup really easily by adding twice as much chicken broth, or water. This would also be great with some kidney beans or chickpeas stirred in.

Peace out,

Manchego Mama.


2 responses to “Easy comfort food: Red Lentil Dal with Spinach and Red Onion

  1. Manchego! Thank you Thank you! I love dal! i want to try that recipe. I only know how to make it using a pressure cooker…using lentils and a ton of veggies. I’m excited for yours. However, I think you should just make it for me…. ; )

    • Oooh — I wish I had a pressure cooker! All of the slow cookers I’ve seen in stores are so huge — and I am only cooking for moi, so it never felt worth it. If I could find a smaller one, I’d buy it in a sec. But I’ve found that making dal in a pot on the stove works just as well — the lentils only need 30 minutes to cook anyway! Brown lentils cook longer, but hold their shape better, I’ve found. Red lentils get deliciously mushy and stew-like when I make dal. Mmmmm……

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