Learn how to make South Indian Style Beet Greens and Stems Dal ~ Beet greens and stems cooked in a spicy and sour lentil gravy
Fresh green leafy vegetables are part and parcel of Indian cooking. With easily available spinach, coriander leaves, mint, dill leaves to special greens like fresh fenugreek leaves, red and green amaranth, Malabar spinach, drumstick leaves and wide range of seasonal and wild greens, the Indian home cooks have incorporated variety of fresh greens in their day to day cooking.
Growing up in a small town meant easy access to fresh farm produce every single day. Apart from many home grown veggies that my parents grew in our small but well maintained garden, we would get steady supply of seasonal fruits and veggies from our farm as well as many other farms and orchards of our relatives. I come from a family who have very deep and strong roots in farming and had a privilege of eating the best organically grown produce without a drop of pesticide in sight. Things that I took for granted have become a luxury now.
Last month while driving to nearby town to buy our weekly grocery, we saw a handwritten board directing to the little farm shop. We followed the sign and drove for couple of miles on the narrow muddy road with 360 degrees views of farm lands and lush greenery. Soon we reached a long timber framed farm gate and a short drive on the gravelled driveway in the end revealed a traditional stone built English farm house with sash windows and window boxes with fresh herbs. With chicken and ducks freely walking around, the cows and horses leisurely chewing grass in the distance, with trails of berries and vegetables growing in row after neat rows, I knew this is was the good place to be.
A short walk from the farm house, around the barn and many other purpose built farm buildings, we found the sigh board pointing to a small white washed structure with thatched roof serving as farm shop. Once I stepped in, I knew I was walking into a special place! Unlike in supermarkets where aisles after aisles of colourful produce from all around the world adorn the shelves, this shop had few wicker baskets of few produce picked fresh in the morning. Unlike the same supermarkets where the fruits and vegetables were nicely washed and packed in thin plastic bags, these farm produce still had some mud and soil stuck which made a welcoming sight! Unlike the veggies and fruits in supermarkets with neatly printed shorter period of misleading ‘use by’ dates, these farm produce trusted our judgment to use them wisely! This little shop, with freshest organic produce was my little piece of heaven and since the time we discovered this place, we have made it a point to visit it every week for steady week long supply of the best tasting fruits and veggies.
One of the vegetable that I have been buying every week is a big bunch of beetroots which come with a really healthy and fresh beet greens attached to them. Cooking these beet greens is really simple, but it’s the prepping them which takes a longer time. Although the farm shop owner had cleaned it pretty well, there was still enough soil/mud at the bottom of stems attached to the beetroots. Since the beets were grown without any harmful pesticides, so that one less thing to worry about and concentrate only on cleaning the stems and leaves from little sandy dirt stuck to them. I love cooking with these pretty looking beet greens in stir fries, mixing them with dough for rotis, pulao and dals. Unlike spinach or fresh fenugreek leaves, these beet greens are thick and take bit longer to cook. So I decided to cook them along with the dal and make a one pot thick stew like dish. This South Indian Style Beet Greens Dal is probably one of the easiest recipes I have ever blogged. As I said, the only time consuming thing to make this dal is cleaning and preparing the beet greens and then you literally dump everything in a pressure cooker and let it do its magic. I can’t stress enough the importance of having a pressure cooker in Indian kitchen, and for that matter in any kitchen. It not only halves the cooking time, but also is highly efficient kitchen appliance which uses far less energy making it really energy efficient. That’s the reason I own not one or two, but 3 pressure cookers which help me cook a small buffet within an hour! I highly recommend you to buy at least one pressure cooker and make it your best friend and trust me, you will never regret it!
Coming back to the Beet Greens Dal, this highly nutritious beet greens supply good amounts of protein, phosphorus, zinc, and are also a great source of fiber. Packed with antioxidants, they're high in vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese, and low in fat and cholesterol. So if you have been discarding them before, it’s time to rethink and include them in your diet. The recipe for Beet Green Dal may be simple; the flavours are anything but simple. There is a hint of sourness from tamarind and tomatoes kick of spice from rasam/sambar masala, a touch of sweetness from beet stems and jaggery and bit of bitterness from the beet greens making it perfect balance of all the flavours. And that tadka with generous amount of garlic just elevates the dish to whole new level! Serve it as a hearty soup or as a side dish with rice or rotis, this is one dal recipe that will win everyone's heart! So without much further delay, let’s start cooking this South Indian Style Beet Greens Dal.
South Indian Style Beet Greens and Stems Dal (Beet greens and stems cooked in a spicy and sour lentil gravy)Prep Time: 10-15 mins
Cooking Time: 20-30 mins
Recipe Level: Easy/Beginner
Spice Level: Medium
Serves: 5-6 people
Shelf Life: Best served fresh but can be refrigerated for 2-3 days
Serving Suggestion: On its own as a hearty soup or with rice or with any Indian flat breads
5-6 packed cups Beet Greens and Stems, chopped to 1 cm pieces (Read notes)
1 large Onion, peeled and cut into halves and each halves cut into quarters
3 large or 4 medium Tomatoes, cored and
5-6 large cloves of Garlic
1 cup Toor Dal/Pigeon Peas
½ tbsp. Jaggery/Cane Sugar (Optional, but recommended)
1 large gooseberry sized Tamarind Pulp
Salt to taste
½ tsp Haldi/Turmeric Powder
1-1½ tbsp. Rasam/Sambar Powder (Adjust as per taste)
1 tsp Mustard Seeds
1 tsp Jeera/Cumin Seeds
2-3 Dried Red Chillies, halved
¼ tsp Hing/Asafoetida
5-6 large cloves of Garlic, chopped
1-2 springs of Curry Leaves
1½ tbsp. Oil or Ghee (I used coconut oil)
- Rinse and wash toor dal 4-5 times until the water runs clear. Keep them soaked in 4 cups of water until needed.
- Soak the tamarind pulp in ½ cup of hot water for 10 minutes. Squeeze the pulp to extract the juice and discard the fibres by passing the extracted juice through sieve.
- Use the green, healthy looking beet greens. Nicely wash the beet greens and stems to remove any mud or impurities. I usually wash one leaf at a time, gently scrubbing the leaves and the stems with my fingers, to remove the mud stuck to them.
- Once washed and clean, separate the leaves from stems by cutting them with a sharp knife. With knife remove the skin/strings on mature stems by peeling them. If the stems are thin and tender, you can simply chop them into 1 cm long pieces without peeling the skin or removing the strings. Chop the leaves as well into 1 cm thin strips. Keep them aside until needed.
- Peel and halve the onion and then cut each halves into 4-6 pieces. Core the tomatoes and make ‘+’ mark by slit on top by 1 cm deep by simply running the knife. Peel the garlic cloves and keep them aside.
Proceed to cook:
- Take chopped beet greens and stems, onion, tomatoes, garlic clove and soaked dal along with the water in which it was soaked in a pressure cooker or heavy bottomed pan with lid. Add turmeric powder, jaggery and cover and cook for 2 whistles in a pressure cooker or for about 15-20 mins if using heavy bottomed pan (until the dal is cooked well and becomes mushy) on a medium flame. Pressure cooking is the best way to cook dals as they halve the cooking time. Let the pressure cooker sit for 5-7 minutes until the pressure is released.
- Mash the dal, greens and tomatoes in a pan using a masher or back of ladle. Bring the pan back on the hob and add tamarind extract, rasam/sambar powder and salt to taste. Add a cup or two cups of water (depending on how you thick you prefer the dal). Bring the dal to boil by cooking on a medium flame. Once it comes to boil, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 5-8 minutes.
- While the dal is simmering, prepare the tadka by heating oil or ghee in a tadka pan. Once hot, add chopped garlic and fry them on medium flame until they turn golden brown. Next add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, dry red chillis, hing and curry leaves. Once the mustard seeds pop and splutter, transfer the tadka to the dal and mix well.
- Turn off the heat and cover the pan. Let it sit for 5 minutes for the flavours to blend well before serving it hot with rice or any rotis with a dollop of ghee and enjoy! It tastes even better on next day.
- You can replace the beet greens with other greens like spinach, amaranth, kale etc.
- Pressure cooking is the best way to cook lentils as it not only halves the cooking time, but also is more energy efficient.
- If you like the dal spicier, add 2-3 slit green chillies along with other ingredients when cooking the dal.
- You can replace the rasam/sambar powder with garam masala.
- You can also substitute the tamarind extract with 2-3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice. But make sure that you add lime juice in the end after turning off the flame as if added early, the lime juice will make the dal taste bitter.
- You can use ghee for making tadka which elevates the taste and flavour of this South Indian Style Beet Greens Dal or simply swirl in a table spoonful of ghee in the end.