This vegan red lentil dal with spinach is packed with fiber and protein, anti-inflammatory spices, and hearty vegetables. Ready in under an hour.
As odd as it may sound, this recipe was inspired by my beloved spice rack. I’d always dreamed of having that Pinterest-perfect spice rack prominently displayed in my kitchen – because historically, my spices have been either haphazardly packed into a too-small cabinet, or stored in a too-big drawer, with the bottles rattling around each time I opened or shut it. Not ideal…
When we moved into our current place, I decided to invest in this area of my kitchen. I bought wooden shelves from Ikea, matching glass jars on Amazon, and fuschia masking tape for labeling. (I get my spices in bulk from Atlantic Spice Company, btw). And now, whenever I walk past the shelves, my inner Marie Kondo’s joy is very much sparked!
When I finally got everything organized, though, I realized that I’d amassed a sizable collection of spices… and actively used only about three of them. I started thinking of ways to experiment with the rest and the first concept that sprang to mind was Indian red lentil dal with spinach (sometimes dahl or daal).
What’s In This Red Lentil Dal with Spinach
This soup primarily consists of red lentils (a.k.a. masoor dal). It starts with a base of sauteed vegetables – onion, carrots, and cremini mushrooms – and cauliflower florets go in toward the end. As the final step, you stir in spinach as well as the tadka (also tarka = spices warmed in oil). This dal cooks super quickly, making it perfect for weeknights.
“Dal” refers to lentils themselves, as well as to lentil-based stews. (There are lots of different dals in Indian cooking but I’m far from an expert on Indian food.) Red lentil dal does not typically have vegetables in it but this is how I make mine since I like the chunkiness they contribute.
Health Benefits of Red Lentil Dal
In a nutshell, dal is very good for you. In Ayurveda (the ancient Indian holistic wellness system), dal is considered detoxifying and balancing. The spices – typically coriander, cumin, fenugreek, mustard seeds, turmeric, chilies, and ginger – are believed to fire up the digestive system, making lentils easy to digest. This “digestive fire” is thought to help with overall toxin elimination. Ginger and turmeric, in particular, are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, which help prevent illness.
Make the Base: Start by heating some oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot and adding the carrots, onions, and mushrooms with salt. Cook until they’re softened and the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes.
Rinse the Lentils: While the veg are cooking, place your lentils in a mesh strainer and pick through for loose stones/dirt. Then rinse well under running water. (Note: You do not need to soak red lentils before cooking.)
Simmer the Soup: Add lentils to the pot, along with broth and turmeric. Cover, bring to a boil, then simmer gently until the lentils are broken down – about 15 minutes. Then add cauliflower florets and cook until they’re tender and the soup has thickened, 5 to 10 minutes more.
Make the Tadka: Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat up a bit of oil. Add minced garlic and ginger, as well as all the dried spices, and warm until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
Finish the Soup: Stir in the spinach and cook just until wilted, about a minute. Turn the heat off and stir in the tadka and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt.
The long list of spices here is key. Together, they create a well-rounded, incredibly fragrant soup. If you’re a fan of Indian flavors, I recommend investing in all the spices because I suspect you’re gonna want to make this soup more than once.
But! Don’t let the lack of certain spices deter you from making this. Just compensate with more of whichever ones you do have for the ones you don’t have.
More healthy soups this way…
- Spicy Tomato Chickpea Soup
- Smoky Tempeh Chili
- Tofu Kimchi Stew
- Moqueca with Plantains and Hearts of Palm
This red lentil dal with spinach is packed with fiber and protein, anti-inflammatory spices, and hearty vegetables. (This recipe has been updated from its original January 2021 version)
For the Soup
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil, like avocado, organic canola, or refined coconut
- 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- Fine sea salt, to taste
- 6 cups vegetable broth or water
- 1 1/2 cups red lentils (masoor dal)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into bite-size pieces
- 3 generous handfuls baby spinach, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Cilantro, for serving
For the Tadka (tempered spices)
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil, like avocado, organic canola, or refined coconut
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds (see substitution note below)
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, onions, carrots, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook until the vegetables are soft and the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place 1 1/2 cups lentils in a mesh strainer and pick through for loose stones/dirt. Then rinse well under running water.
- Add lentils to the pot, along with 6 cups broth and 1/2 teaspoon turmeric. Cover tightly with a lid and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are broken down, about 15 minutes.
- Add the cauliflower and simmer until it’s tender and the soup is thick, 5 to 10 minutes more.
- Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add all the spices (from garlic through black pepper) and heat until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Then remove from heat.
- Lastly, add the spinach to the soup and cook just until it’s wilted. Turn the heat off and stir in 2 tablespoons lemon juice and the spices with their oil. Season to taste with salt. Serve with cilantro.
Don’t let the lack of certain spices deter you from making this soup. Just compensate with more of whichever ones you do have for the ones you don’t have.
- Serving Size: 1/6 of the recipe
- Calories: 250
- Fat: 5.3 g
- Carbohydrates: 35.9 g
- Fiber: 16.6 g
- Protein: 14.4 g
Keywords: red lentils, dal, indian, vegan, ayurveda