Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Spinach, Sweet potato & Channa dal curry with tangy Tamarind and Panch Phoran

I admit; I have been bitten by the sweet potato bug. This recipe however, was not just because of that. My pantry was so full, so was my refrigerator, after a trip to the local supermarket and the Indian grocery store. With so many possibilities, what's a foodie to do? I found myself in the middle of all the ideas and combinations flying around. Mustard and jeera are my default everyday spices, I wanted to try my newfound favorite, Panch Phoran.
Panch Phoran has Mustard seeds, Jeera(cumin), along with Nigella(kalonji or black caraway seeds), Saunf (fennel seeds) and Methi (fenugreek) in equal quantities. In her Cauliflower dal with Panch Phoran recipe, Susan had mentioned that you could powder the blend for a more intense flavor. I had left out the powdering part when I made the dal last week, since I was so new to Panch Phoran. Now that I knew and liked the blend, the thought of powdering it kicked in. I wondered, what if I toast it, then powder it ?

My recent sweet potato trials were both flat breads with wheat. I had started wondering, how would sweet potato taste in a gravy? I was thinking the gravy had to be somewhat spicy because it is after all, sweet potato. I had to include a legume that night, so I went for channa dal. The very fresh bunch of spinach was calling my name from the fridge, I couldn't ignore spinach!

So I got the spinach from the fridge, a sweet potato and some chana dal from the pantry and set out to make dal to go with roti. I wanted it to taste different from my regular dal, so I went for tamarind instead of tomato.
The outcome of all these randomly ordered thoughts/ideas on a Saturday night was this daal. It turned out verry good.

Ingredients -
Onions - sliced, 2 medium
Ginger - 1 inch piece , sliced into thin strips
Garlic- 1 or 2 pods, sliced
Thai Green chillies - 5 or 6, slit lengthwise into 2
Chana Dal - 3/4 cup
Tamarind - a small lime sized ball (or about 1/2 tsp concentrate)
Sweet potato - 1 medium, diced into 3/4 inch cubes
Fresh Spinach leaves and fine stems- about 1 and 1/2 cups
Oil - about 1 or 2 tablespoons
Turmeric powder - a pinch
Salt - as per your taste

Panch Phoran - 1/2 tsp for powdering + 1/4 teaspoon for tadka

Method -
Pressure cook channa dal; make sure it is cooked just right, not too mushy. Alternatively you could cook it directly on the stovetop in a saucepan for 20-25 minutes until it is done. Set aside. I like to add a pinch of salt and turmeric powder when I cook my dal.

In a small mixing bowl, add the tamarind; pour about 3/4 cup of hot water, set aside. You can skip this if you are using readymade tamarind paste. Just mix it in warm water without any lumps and set aside.

Heat a pan, when it is sufficiently hot, add 1/2 teaspoon panch phoran. Toast it dry, until the whole spices are evenly browned without burning, about 1 or 2 minutes. Remove from fire and grind it to make a fine powder, set aside. I do this grinding in a mortar and pestle. This buddy of mine is a hand-me-down, one of the indispensable gadgets in my kitchen that I treasure greatly.

In the same pan, add about 1 tbsp oil and when it is sufficiently hot, add the 1/4 teaspoon panchphoran. This is for the tadka, make sure the spices splutter without burning. Add the sliced ginger and garlic. Add the green chillies except one. Save this one for later. Sauté for a couple minutes on medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes until they almost brown. To this, add 1/2 of the powdered panchphoran and mix well. Remove from heat and transfer this mixture to a temporary bowl/plate.

Return the pan to the stovetop and add the remaining oil, the spinach leaves and a pinch of salt and turmeric powder. Saute on medium heat until the leaves are wilted. This will release moisture. Keep moving the leaves around and let the moisture evaporate, 3 or 4 minutes. Remove the spinach leaves to the same bowl/plate as the onion mixture.

In the pan, add the sweet potato cubes and add enough water to just immerse the cubes (about 3/4 to 1 cup of water). Add the remaining half the panchphoran powder, 1 slit green chilly, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of turmeric powder. Cover the pan and simmer for about 8-10 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are tender and just done. You want them cooked just right, not mushy.

While the potatoes simmer, extract the pulp from the tamarind that is soaking in water. The hot water that was poured on the tamarind should have cooled down by now. When in doubt, feel it before you dip your hand in it! If it is manageable, mash well and squeeze with your clean fingers and extract the pulp. Sieve the pulp to a bowl and discard the rest. You should now have about 1/2 cup of reasonably thick tamarind extract.

If the potatoes are tender, add the tamarind extract and bring it back to a boil. Boil it well for a good 4-5 minutes so the raw smell and taste of tamarind is lost. Add the cooked channa dal and mix well, check for salt. Now is the time to adjust the gravy to suit your liking. Add about 1/2 cup water if you want the curry to be thinner. Bring it to a boil.

When the curry starts boiling, add the stirfried onion mixture to the curry. Mix everything well. Let it boil for a couple minutes. Remove from fire to a serving bowl.

The procedure might sound a little long but actually it is not that long. I didn't want to sauté the onions, then add water and sweet potatoes to the same pan, one after the other. There will not be any trace of the onions by the time the sweet potatoes are cooked. So I sautéed them, removed them to a bowl, cooked the potatoes and then brought everything together. The curry was delicious, with crunchy onions, pretty spinach and the mellow but spicy sweet potatoes, not to mention the tangy tamarind base!
We had it with plain roti on Saturday night. One satisfying meal with cucumber and carrots on the side.I can picture us having it with plain basmati rice, topped with one big blob of ghee. Mmm.. that would be perfect as a healthy comfort food.


culinartySince this is my original creation, I am sending this to the Culinarty Original Recipes Roundup #12, hosted by Lore. My previous entrty to this same event was the outcome of an almost empty pantry a few months ago. This one is fresh from my kitchen, when my pantry and fridge were very full.
I am also linking this post to Foodista as per Alisa's request. Thanks Alisa :) Sweet Potato on Foodista


  1. Hi Vidya
    This seems to be a very interesting combination, especially with the Panch Pooran. Would love to try it and let you know !

  2. Very unusual it!!

  3. Hi Vidya, I followed you from the foodieblogroll and this looks delicious.Love the recipes you have here!Hope you wont mind,I'd love to guide our readers to your site, just add this foodista widget to this post and it's all set to go, Thanks!

  4. *Nom nom* :). Vidya you truly can make something wonderful from both a full or an empty fridge. I bet the spices were extremely fragrant, who can resist that, right?
    Thank you so much for sending your recipe my way!

  5. thanx for sharing this amzing recipes.. look delish.. cant wait to try this :)

  6. absolutely an original..cant wait to try..great recipe.

  7. I love to try out new recipes. Your recipes are great. Thanx for sharing.

  8. Just doing a Chana Dal myself. I Googled your page here and you inspired me to add sweet potato and spinach to my pot. Ummm. Thanks for sharing.


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