Let us talk about this Coconut dal with spinach recipe. It is simple, nourishing and so comforting. Perfect for spring. It is especially perfect if you are a new mom (or soon to be) and it can be a part of your postpartum freezer meals.
On April 23, 2020, I gave birth to our second daughter. It was during the thick of the pandemic. The world had just shut down and our collective understanding of this virus was limited. My mum (knowing she couldn't travel) emailed her true and tested recipes on 'what to eat after giving birth' to a bunch of my family and friends. She created a postpartum meal plan of sorts. For the first 6 weeks when I was tired and overwhelmed, as most new mamas are, this meal plan helped me in my postpartum recovery. It was real food that was nutrient-dense but also easy on my stomach.
Postpartum Recovery and Traditional Cultures
Postpartum care across many Asian cultures is holistic and helps a new mom heal both mentally and physically. Community of women (that includes moms, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers) rally in her support. Something I find very lacking in the West. The concept of 'the fourth trimester' that is popularized in North America is disturbing. It basically puts a time limit on a woman's postpartum recovery and therefore compromises her overall well-being. She is expected to magically bounce back to her old self in 12 weeks. While it does get better with every passing day, we all know, that postpartum healing is a journey that can vary drastically from one new mom to the next. After nearly 2 years of birthing a baby, I still haven't 'bounced back' - and that is not a bad thing.
For me, breastfeeding didn't start out off on the right foot, I needed a lot of intervention from doctors to treat my multiple rounds of mastitis and an abscess. All this to say my recovery was slow. Between my health and my worries about milk supply for my baby, meal prep fell to the wayside. I had many wonderful friends deliver meals, babysit my older daughter or simply drop by our front porch to have a cup of chai with me. For that, I am eternally grateful. My community was not traditional but it pulled me through this phase.
When I felt physically strong enough to cook, I learned to make this dal from Mel, another new mom I met through my social channels. It was simple and could be frozen. I have it with rice but it works well as a soup too. This coconut dal with spinach was healing it was rib-sticking amazing. I made this postpartum meal for other new moms and their families. I wanted to pay it forward to moms who were recovering and healing from childbirth.
I am almost two years postpartum now, but I still, find myself making it all the time. My whole family including my toddler loves this dal, for how wonderful it is.
WHY MAKE THIS RECIPE
- It is easy and comes together in 30 minutes, including prep and cleanup.
- This recipe can easily be made vegan with one quick swap and can suit a variety of dietary needs. Swap the ghee for coconut oil or avocado oil.
- It is easy to make this coconut dal with spinach in the Instant Pot, please check the recipe notes.
- This is a freezer meal. I often make a double batch and store extra in a zip-top bag. I have shared everything you need to know in the tips to freeze and thaw section.
- It makes an excellent postpartum meal. It is satisfying and comforting. If you make this for a sleep-deprived new mom she will be very happy.
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
You don't need a lot of ingredients to make this flavourful coconut dal and it only needs pantry staples. I have covered everything along with suitable substitutions below, but please see the recipe card for quantities.
- Split Lentils: I have used red lentil here but split moong dal will also work here, maybe even better for the early months of postpartum.
- Coconut Milk: I have used a whole can of coconut milk for this recipe. I know how annoying it is to store half a can of milk in the fridge. It gives this dal body and makes it creamy and luscious.
- Spinach: I have used a whole box of pre-washed spinach in this recipe, other leafy greens like kale would work here. Although, I do prefer spinach.
- Spices: This recipe calls for 4 main spices, Turmeric - use the best organic turmeric powder you can find/afford, if it is single-origin it is ideal. Commercially available turmeric can vary greatly in quality. The remaining spices - Clove, Cardamom and Fennel - are quite unusual in a dal recipe but the flavours work wonderfully here. I recommend restraint when it comes to using these warming spices, a little bit goes a long way.
- Aromatics - Onion and garlic are the main aromatics in this recipe. You can add a bit of ginger too if you want, it works well here.
- Hing / Asafoetida - It is hard to describe this spice, but it lends a savoury aroma to Indian curries and dal, umami booster of sorts. Its fragrance is released when toasted in oil or ghee and that is why it is so popular in tadkas. It is almost always used in dal, since it helps aid digestion. You will find both solid and powder forms of this spice at most Indian grocery store, you can get the powder since it is easier to work with.
A note about Postpartum meal prep
l am no postpartum nutrition expert but the women in my life (ie. my mom, my mother-in-law, grandmothers) know a thing or two about postpartum meals. Their recipes always include foods that are rich in healthy fats (like ghee and coconut oil), leafy greens, and easy-to-digest lentils. A lot of my meals also included garlic, fenugreek, and fennel, for boosting milk supply.
Here is another spinach dal my mum made for me soon after I had my first daughter - It is similar but different. This coconut dal with spinach recipe, however, is not traditional it is not a part of the ritual meals served in India to a new mother.
This coconut dal is so easy, it practically makes itself.
Wash and cook the dal
Wash the dal a few times till the water runs clear. Add the dal to a pot along with water, turmeric and salt and let it cook over medium heat for 15 - 20 minutes. Ensure there is enough water in the pot, you can add more water if needed. At this point, the dal should be soft and cooked through. The best way to check this is to scoop a little dal into your ladle and mash it with a spoon. It should cave and fall apart. If you encounter resistance while mashing, let it cook for a few more minutes. Add water if needed.
Prepare the tempering or tadka
While the dal is cooking you can prepare the tadka. Heat a little or a lot of ghee or coconut oil in a frying pan. When it is hot add the onion and let it sweat till it is translucent. Add in garlic, ginger (if using), hing, clove, fennel, and cardamom to the pan. Let it sizzle and cook for another minute till everything is fragrant. Take it off the heat.
Finish the Dal
To the cooked dal, add a whole box of spinach and let it cook for about 2 minutes or until it wilts. Add the tadka and a whole can of coconut milk. Let it simmer for a minute or two. Take it off the heat, garnish with freshly chopped cilantro and serve.
Tips to Freeze and Thaw
This dal is extremely freezer-friendly. You can make a double batch and store it in the freezer for a couple of months. (It is a great project for the nesting phase of your pregnancy or for any busy season of your life).
Pack it flat in pre-labeled zip-top bags, and stack the bag one on top of the other. This will keep your freezer looking neat (a tip I learned from Chef Christine Flynn).
To thaw, remove the zip-top bag from the freezer and place it in a large bowl in the sink. Run it under room temperature water (it should not be hot or the plastic might wrap). Within a few minutes, you can take the dal from the bag and place it in a pot over the stove. Let it simmer gently, you can add some water if it looks too thick. Garnish with fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice before serving.
- 1 cup (200 g) Red Lentils or Masoor Dal
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1 bag/box pre washed baby spinach, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon ghee or coconut oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
- ½ inch piece ginger, grated
- A few dashes of hing/ asafoetida
- 2-3 cloves
- ¼ teaspoon fennel
- 3-4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed using a motar and pestle
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- A small bunch of freshly chopped cilantro for garnish
- Wash the dal a few times till the water runs clear. Add the dal to a pot along with 4 cups of water, turmeric, and salt. Let it cook over medium heat for 15 - 20 minutes. Ensure there is enough water in the pot, you can add more water if needed.
- While the dal is cooking prepare the tadka. Heat ghee or coconut oil in a frying pan. When it is hot add the onion and let it sweat till it is translucent. Add in garlic, ginger, hing, clove, fennel, and cardamom to the pan. Let it sizzle and cook for another minute till everything is fragrant. Take it off the heat.
- When the dal is cooked, add the chopped spinach and let it cook for 2 minutes until it wilts.
- Next stir in a whole can of coconut milk.
- Add the tadka to the dal and let it simmer for a minute or two. Take it off the heat, garnish with freshly chopped cilantro and serve with steamed rice.
- To cook this dal in the instant pot, I recommend starting with the tadka. Set your Instant Pot in sauté mode and let it heat. Add ghee or coconut oil to the Instant Pot. When hot, add the onion and let it sweat till it is translucent. Add in garlic, ginger (if using), hing, clove, fennel, and cardamom to the pan. Let it sizzle and cook for another minute till everything is fragrant.
- Add the washed dal to the tadka along with 4 cups of water, turmeric, and salt. Stir till everything is well combined.
- Press cancel and close lid with vent in sealing position. Change the instant pot setting to manual or pressure cook mode at high pressure for 5 mins.
- After the Instant pot beeps and switches to keep warm mode. Let is pressure release for 5 minutes. Then manually release pressure.
- Carefully open the lid, Switch the Instant Pot to sauté mode. Add in the spinach and close the light to wilt the spinach for about a minute.
- Stir in the coconut milk. Let it come to a simmer then turn off the Instant Pot.
- Garnish with cilantro and serve with steamed rice.
For Instant Pot