Urad dal has made an appearance on the blog before in its whole avatar i.e. the whole legume with its husk intact. In that form Urad looks black and hence often called Kaali/Black Dal. The whole or sabut dal gives Mahn Di Dal and Dal Makhni their characteristic dark cocoa and chocolate like color. This is yet another variation with the addition of spinach (palak), hence christened Sookh Urad aur Palak.
Vigna Mungo equals Versatility
Husked Urad is extremely versatile and frequently used to make a variety of dishes from Dahi Bhalle to their south Indian variant Vada, batters for Idli and Dosas, Pappads and as a spicy filling for Kachoris that are round, deep fired savory pastries. The husked, split urad is often cooked as a drier preparation known simply as Sookhi Dal. The name means dry dal in Hindi. This dal is served with a generous squeeze of lime juice. I remember savoring homemade sookhi dal as a child. Since the dal is drier than the usual soupy lentils, urad dal is often served as side dish along with another curried dish. And for that reason, it wasn’t cooked frequently in our home, except on special request or for a change from routine.
I was surprised to find a lover of the sookhi urad in my husband. That’s when I figured I should get a handle on making said sookhi dal. But, I couldn’t help myself and made a few changes along the way. The version I am writing about here has finely chopped spinach.
Serves: 2 – 3 persons,
Total Prep Time: 45 minutes,
Inactive: 15 minutes, Active: 30 minutes.
- Split Urad Dal – 1/2 cup (husked),
- Spinach – 1/2 cup, finely chopped,
- Tomato – 1, finely chopped,
- Olive oil – 1 tbsp (any cooking oil will do),
- Asafoetida powder – 1 pinch (Optional),
- Cumin seeds – 1 tsp,
- 4-5 Curry leaves (Optional),
- Ginger and garlic paste – 1 tsp(Optional- not necessary if using asafoetida),
- Turmeric powder – 1 tsp,
- Red chilli powder – 1/2 tsp,
- Coriander powder – 1 tsp,
- Salt to taste,
- Water as needed,
- Juice of 1 Lime,
- Coriander for garnish.
To begin, measure and wash urad dal until the water run clear. Then, while you prep the rest of the ingredients, let it soak in ample water like below.
Sookhi Urad aur Palak: A Dal that is Punjabi but by way of South India
Gather all the other ingredients. Prepare tomatoes and spinach by washing them and then chopping finely.
Take a wide wok or pan that has a lid and put it on the stove on high heat.
To the heated pot, add oil. Reduce the heat to medium high to avoid smoking the oil.
Now, add asafoetida and cumin seeds. Asafoetida is optional – it isn’t a common ingredient in Punjabi cooking but finds a place in most south Indian curries. I enjoy the flavour of heeng (Hindi for asafoetida) and find that using it often gives the gravy/dal a garlicky flavour. So in my sookhi urad I skip garlic and ginger entirely. But you can choose to use them, and if that is your preference add them at this stage.
Next, add the curry leaves. This is another flavor borrowed from southern Indian cooking. Apparently, I am merely sharing information passed on, at the turn of the last century, meethi neem (literally sweet neem) or the curry tree was abundant in Punjab. But, now it is grown as a domesticated plant for the occasional use of its leaves in cooking. I am yet to find any conclusive evidence or proof to back this claim. If you can shed more light on this or know about the use of curry leaves in food in the north-western parts of India, please share your insights.
Back to the recipe. I use curry leaves because I enjoy their flavour. Skip if they aren’t your favourite.
After this come tomatoes. Saute them until mushy and soft. Add salt, turmeric powder, chilli powder and coriander powder. Cook on medium heat until spices are aromatic.
Add chopped spinach and cook for a minute or two. Spinach wilts very quickly.
Finally, add the dal that has been soaking. Don’t add all the water. You’ll need just enough to be level with the dal and barely covering it all.
Water – a key element!
Bring this to a boil and cook uncovered. A froth will start appearing on the surface. This is normal. It is a product of the denaturation of protein in the dal and the release of saponins. There is a lot of data and scientific literature on the denaturation of proteins and how that forms foams. So I wont bore you here!
For the purpose of cooking the sookhi urad, you should try to skim off as much of the foam as possible, it is not harmful, so if you forget nothing will go wrong. It is the best stage and time to control moisture in this dal since we do want a fluffy texture.
After the first boil, reduce heat to a medium high and cook partially covered, leaving the lid ajar to allow steam to escape.
In about 10-15 minutes, you will see most of the moisture evaporate and the dal granules will puff up.
Remove the lid and check how much water is left. If most of it has evaporated, cook uncovered on low heat for another 5 minutes.
Turn off the heat and fluff the dal with a fork or spoon.
***Note: My dal is overcooked – I started out with more water than needed. So, be careful and go easy with the water!
Then transfer to a serving dish and squeeze lime juice on it. Top it off with fresh coriander and enjoy with warm chapatis.
Enjoy this lemony Sookhi Urad aur Palak Dal as a side dish or a light snack!
Some more lentil recipes to tempt you!
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Palakwali Sookhi Urad
- Wok or pan with lid.
- 1/2 cup Urad dal split, husked
- 1/2 to 1 cup Spinach washed and chopped
- 1/2 to 1 Tomato finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp Oil
- Pinch Asafetida or Heeng optional
- 1 tsp Cumin/Jeera
- 4-5 Curry leaves optional
- 1 tsp Garlic paste optional, can use fresh garlic instead
- 1 tsp Ginger paste optional, can use fresh ginger instead
- 1/2 tsp Turmeric/Haldi
- 1/2 tsp Red chilli powder/laal mirch adjust to taste
- 1/2 to 1 tsp Coriander/dhania powder
- Salt to taste adjust later, spinach is salty
- Water, only if needed see note
- Juice of 1 lime
- Fresh coriander for garnish chopped
- Wash and clean the lentils, soak while prepping other ingredients.
- Heat pan and add oil to it. Followed by asafoetida and cumin seeds.
- Once seeds are spluttering add curry leaves. Next add tomatoes, cook until soft.
- Add dry spice powders and cook until aromatic.
- Add spinach and sauté.
- Finally add lentils and water, bring to a boil uncovered.
- After first boil, reduce heat to medium and cook covered for 10-15 minutes.
- Check the water level – should be almost dry at the end of this time. If not continue cooking uncovered. Fluff with a fork and serve garnished with coriander and lime juice.
- If you do not like asafoetida, use chopped garlic and a small of ginger instead.
- Skip curry leaves if not available or not a taste you prefer.
- Do not add extra water other than the soaking liquid. Pour only enough of the soaking water to be level with the dal in your kadhai or pan. Too much water will make a mushy dal. That is the error I made!