The Hindi word dal is a catchall name for over 60 varieties of dried peas, beans, and lentils, as well as the name of the vegetarian dish they appear in. In this version, yellow split peas are simmered in water until completely broken down, and brightened up with lemon juice. Then, cumin seeds and turmeric are sizzled in butter along with garlic, ginger, and serrano chile to add color, heat, and texture to the dish. Add some chopped spinach to the infused butter, cook until wilted, and stir it all into the dal. This filling recipe makes a generous amount, so be sure to steam plenty of rice for leftovers.

What to buy: This dal is made with yellow split peas (called channa dal), but you can substitute other varieties like red or green lentils or split chickpeas. Find them in the bulk or ethnic section of most well-stocked grocery stores or online. Just make sure to taste the dal for consistency while it’s simmering and adjust the cooking time as needed.

Game plan: This dal recipe has mild spicing, but if you want to crank up the heat, add another serrano or two.

  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Total: 1 hr 10 mins 
  • Active: 25 mins 

Ingredients (12)

  • 2 cups yellow split peas (about 14 ounces)
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1 medium lemon)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 5 medium garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger (from about a 4-inch piece)
  • 1 medium serrano chile, stemmed and finely chopped
  • 8 ounces baby spinach, washed and coarsely chopped
  • Steamed rice or naan, for serving


  1. Place the split peas in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Transfer to a large saucepan, add the measured water, and bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally and skimming any scum off the surface with a large spoon, until the peas are completely soft and the consistency of split pea soup, about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and measured salt; set aside.
  3. Heat the butter in a medium frying pan over medium heat until foaming. Add the cumin seeds and turmeric and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cumin seeds are toasted and fragrant and the butter is very foamy, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and serrano; season with salt; and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the spinach, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is completely wilted, about 4 minutes.
  4. Transfer the spinach mixture to the reserved saucepan with the split peas and stir to combine. Serve immediately with steamed rice or naan on the side.