Instant Pot Vegan Spinach Dal (Aaku Koora Pappu)
Do you start off the week buying a huge bunch of spinach or kale with the hopes of having salads every day, and then toward the end of the week, you are left with limp, wilted leaves? Don't throw them away (use your discretion - as long as they don't smell off-putting) make this dal instead! You can use SO MUCH spinach in this dish and it won't feel overly spinach-y. I promise! It's going to taste delicious.
Growing up, my parents used to have 4-5 rice dishes every night for dinner. There were Indian spicy pickles with rice, stir-fries with rice, dal with rice, and something called sambar or rasam (another dal dish) ALSO served with rice. To top of the grand finale, we had dahi (yogurt) with more of the spicy Indian pickle. This was our typical meal. Yes, I know what you're thinking… "holy #$%^ that's a lot of carbs!" … and you're right! However, it was super delicious and I don't regret any of it.
While I have changed my diet pretty drastically ever since I moved in with my husband, and we have a variety of dishes inspired by international cuisines where there are significantly more plant-based protein sources, I still crave this type of meal from time to time. Sometimes, I just have one or two of the items. I don't think I have ever had all of them at once in my own home, though. I believe I'm a little too lazy to make that many meals!
One of the main staples I mentioned above is dal. Since I'm South Indian, we have a variety of dal that is quite different than the ones you would typically find in an Indian restaurant here in the USA. First off, the kind I am used to eating does not use any ginger or garlic, as it was thought long ago that those foods inspire passionate rage. Second, there is a lot more usage of coriander seeds as a spice. Third, the "tadka" or tempering, is also different in that we use curry leaves, channa dal, and urad dal along with mustard seeds. In the North, tempering typically consists of dry red chilies, hing and cumin seeds.
All in all, India is a very culturally diverse nation and the food reflects that. There's no typical "curry" for India. It drastically differs from North to South and East to West. The secret in South Indian Cooking, though, is that there is a trifecta of flavors, and you have to get the portions right: salty, spicy, and tangy. These components are crucial in nearly every dish that is made. As long as you have salt, acidity through lemon juice or tamarind pulp, and spice through green chilies or red chilies, you're doing a swell job!
While my ingredients are authentic for South Indian vegetarian cuisine, my method of blending them is not authentic. However, I prefer it, because it allows all of the ingredients to disperse and meld together, and instead of getting sharp notes of cumin or curry leaves, you taste it throughout the dish, which is typically eaten with … you guessed it, rice!
1 cup toor dal (yellow lentils)
1 large bunch of spinach
2 medium size tomatoes, split into quarters
4 small green chilis (use fewer if you don't like spice)
10 curry leaves (omit if you can't find them)
1 tablespoon cooking oil (olive or canola)
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon hing / asafetida
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt (adjust to taste)
Fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves to garnish
1. Soak the toor dal in two cups of filtered water for 30 minutes or up to 6 hours.
2. Blend the tomatoes, chilies, curry leaves, tamarind pulp, cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric, and hing.
3. Turn your IP to the saute mode and pour in the oil and mustard seeds.
4. As soon as the mustard seeds start to splutter, pour in the soaked toor dal, the spinach, and the blended mixture.
5. Turn off saute mode and place the lid on your IP with the sealing position. Turn on the manual mode on high setting for 20 minutes.
6. After it's finished, you may release manually and then add salt and fresh cilantro. Serve with basmati rice and enjoy!
* NOTE: You can make this without an IP. Just cook the lentils separately in a pressure cooker or in a normal pot and then add them to the rest of the sauteed ingredients and cook them for about 8 more minutes.
If you make this recipe, let me know in the comments below what you thought about it! If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a note.
Have a great meal!