A clean, earthy, vibrant, and restorative soup. This makes an intriguing first course for an Indian meal, and can also stand on its own for a healthful supper. This evening I ate two bowls of it in the backyard.
I adapted this soup from a dal recipe in Yamuna Devi’s cookbook, The Best of Lord Krishna’s Cuisine. I have doubled the amount of spinach which I have proclivity to do. I also have substituted lime juice instead of lemon, and have quadrupled the amount of the juice. You are welcome to serve this over rice, but because of its thin consistency I prefer to eat it straight as a soup.
A small amount of asafoetida powder gives this soup an intoxicating twist. You might need to visit an Indian deli/grocery to find it. Be forewarned that when you unscrew the lid of the jar, the raw asafoetida powder will smell a little weird. But relax: once the asafoetida cooks, its weirdness will calm down, and dissolve into the soup as merely assertive and interesting.
This soup calls for split “mung” (or “moong”) dal, which is apparently the most popular dal in Northern India. If you can’t find split mung dal nearby, you can easily substitute normal orange lentils. I’ve done that substitution a few times in a pinch, and it works fine.
SPINACH DAL SOUP WITH LIME
2/3 cup split mung dal
6 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons grated ginger
quick dollop of olive oil or vegetable oil
1 lb. fresh spinach (Yamuna Devi uses 1/2 lb.)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne
juice of 1 lime (roughly 2 tablespoons)
Sort, wash, and drain the mung beans. Place them in a heavy saucepan, along with the water, turmeric, ground coriander, grated ginger, and a quick dollop of olive oil. Stirring occasionally, bring to a full boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and gently boil for 1 hour. The dal should be soft and fully cooked.
While this is cooking, roughly chop the spinach. I admit that I rather enjoy getting out my big Chinese cleaver and chopping a huge pile of spinach. The movement feels as soft as cutting marshmallows, and works well to calm the nerves.
When the dal has cooked for an hour, off the heat, uncover, and add the salt. Beat with a wire whisk or hand-held immersion blender. Add the fresh spinach, cover and boil gently for 5-8 minutes more.
Have your cumin, asafoetida, and cayenne measured out so that you’ll be able to work quickly. Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a small saucepan or skillet over moderate to moderately high heat. When it is hot, pour in the cumin seeds and fry until they are brown. Add the asafoetida and cayenne, and fry for just 1-2 seconds more. Then quickly pour the fried seasonings into the soup. Cover immediately.
Let the seasonings soak into the hot dal for 1-2 minutes. During this time, juice the lime. Add the lime juice, and stir. Taste for salt. I often add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon more salt at the end, but it’s safer to start with less, and work up to what you need.