Pic of Lentil dhal and tarka fried onions with spinach

Lentil dhal and tarka fried onions with spinach

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Vegetarian mains

Lentil dhal and tarka fried onions with spinach

Main Serves 2 30 min
Frying the onions and spices separately and adding to a dhal at the end of cooking is a technique known as 'tarka'. Cook your onions on a higher heat than feels normal, so they take on a golden colour. Cook the lentils on a low heat; too hot and they will stick to the base of the pan as they absorb water and thicken. Curry powder can be quite mild but, if you're unsure how spicy you'd like it, add two-thirds then the rest halfway through cooking, to taste.


  • 250g spinach
  • 150g red lentils
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tin coconut milk
  • 150g white basmati rice
  • salt and pepper
  • 125g cherry tomatoes
  • 2 large or 4 small onions
  • oil for frying
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 15g fresh coriander
  • 1 tbsp curry leaves
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 lemon
Image of Lentil dhal and tarka fried onions with spinach


Prep time: 10 min
Cooking time: 20 min
  • Step 1

    Put a kettle on to boil. Make sure the spinach is washed well. If using larger perpetual spinach, strip the leaves off their stalks and discard the stalks. Fill a saucepan with boiled water, bring to boil on the hob and cook the spinach for approx. 2 mins, until wilted. Drain, rinse under cold water, squeeze out excess moisture, then chop it up.
  • Step 2

    Reboil the kettle. Rinse the lentils in a sieve under cold water. Place the lentils in the same, rinsed out pan with the curry powder. Add the coconut milk and 150ml water.
  • Step 3

    Bring the lentils to a simmer. Leave to cook gently for approx. 20 mins, until softened. Add more water if they start drying out; you want a loose, porridgelike consistency.
  • Step 4

    Meanwhile, rinse the rice as you did with the lentils. Add it to another saucepan and cover with water from the kettle. Add a good pinch of salt and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for 15-20 mins, until tender.
  • Step 5

    While the lentils and rice cook, roughly chop the tomatoes. Add them straight to the lentils when they are ready.
  • Step 6

    Peel and slice the onions. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a frying pan. Fry the onions on a medium-high heat for 10-12 mins until they soften and start to turn golden. While the onions fry, peel and chop 2 garlic cloves. Roughly chop the coriander.
  • Step 7

    Add the garlic, curry leaves, black mustard seeds and cumin seeds to the onions. Fry for 2 mins, until the mustard seeds start to pop. Remove from the heat.
  • Step 8

    When the lentils are cooked, season well with salt and pepper to taste. A little squeeze of lemon juice will enliven it, too. Drain the rice.
  • Step 9

    Fold the spinach and half the coriander into the lentils.
  • Step 10

    Serve the dhal with the onions spooned on top. Garnish with the remaining coriander and serve the rice as a side.

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