Palak chana dal, or Indian-spiced yellow split chickpeas with spinach, is an easy, approachable, and flavorful dal. Its porridge-like thick, creamy texture is incredibly homey, but it’s the combination of Indian spices and aromatics, fried in ghee or oil, that make this dish come alive with flavor. While you can certainly eat it with a spoon, it’s even better to tear off a hunk of roti or naan and scoop up some of the dal. A few notes on some of the more unusual ingredients: Asafetida, a spice also known as hing, may strike you as overpowering and somewhat unpleasant on its own, but as it cooks it mellows out and produces a pleasant oniony-garlicky flavor. A pinch is all you need. If you can find fresh fenugreek leaves (they can also be found frozen in many Indian grocery stores), you can add them in with the spinach. Fenugreek provides a perfumed bitterness to the dal and is often described as having a mild celery-fennel flavor.
- Sort through your beans for any pebbles or debris. Rinse under cold water three or four times.
- In a large saucepan or pot, combine the chana dal, turmeric, salt, and 4½ cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered, for 40 minutes (add more water if needed). The consistency should not be too thin or thick. If too thick, add more water. If too thin, simmer a little longer.
- Meanwhile, heat the ghee or oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds and fry for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the onion and sauté until golden, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, and green chile and continue to sauté a minute or two until the garlic is golden but not browned. Add the tomatoes.
- Stir in the asafetida, garam masala, and chile powder. Continue to cook until the tomatoes break down and are soft.
- Stir in the dried fenugreek leaves. Then add this mixture to the pot with the chana dal.
- Bring the pot back to a simmer. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted.
- Garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve with rice, naan, paratha, or roti.