Palakura Pappu | Palak Dal – Andhra style Spinach and lentils

Andhra style Cooked Spinach and Lentils with Garlic tempering

[paala koora pup pooh] (Telugu)

{L -> R – cumin and mustard seeds, garlic, red chillies, tamarind pulp, toor dal, spinach, split yellow dal}

Pappu meaning “Cooked lentils” (in Telugu) has a special place in South Indian food culture, especially the Andhra cuisine. It is not surprising as lentils play a vital role as one of the main sources of protein for vegetarians in South India.
A homely Andhra meal is never complete without a portion of “pappu”, be it just plain cooked lentils out of the cooker or one, slightly elaborate. So much so that, in fact, in colloquial Telugu “Pappu suddi” is a term coined and often times used humorously to refer to someone as a simpleton or “one who does not know beyond his pappu”, to be precise.
Pappu is usually served as part of the main course preceded by some spice mixes or “Podi” to be eaten with steamed Rice and a spoon of Ghee and succeeded by Rasam/Sambar and ‘Koora’ – vegetable curry and finished with ‘Perugu Annam’ or Curd (yogurt) rice with a pickle. Plain pappu eaten with Avakkai – a kind of mustard based pickle typical to Andhra, is a popular combination, the topic on which is a Pandora’s box in itself. Just like how Kannadigas are adept at churning out chutneys of every other vegetable, Andhrites are experts in their own right in concocting myriad vegetables and leafy greens with lentils. Think of any vegetable or leafy green and there will be a pappu made with it. Brahmin versions of pappu come with “inguva” (asafoetida/hing) “popu” (tempering) as opposed to garlic and onion.
Andhra is well-known for its spicy cuisine, but this lentil and spinach dish however is neither exorbitantly spicy nor way too dull. Simple, wholesome and completely satisfying is how I would describe this Spinach dal, where the garlic tempering brings out the spinach flavor in a brilliant way. The same recipe can be conveniently adapted to cook with several different leafy greens.
Many prefer to include tomatoes too, as spinach and tomato are such a tasty blast in combination. I know some others who refrain from combining the two as it is believed to have an opposite effect on each other when coupled. Not that I give in to just about any hear-say, but I was told, it seems the condition precipitates in those with a tendency of kidney stones.
Should tomatoes and Spinach not be eaten combined? Is there really a scientific reason behind this, may be something to do with acid and alkali pH balance? Yet to figure out how much meat is there to that.
Do you believe or practice some kind of food combining? Tell me what you think or know about this food combination. Use the comments box.

Things you’ll need:
To pressure cook:
  • 1/2 big bunch of spinach, washed and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup Toor dal
  • 1/4 cup Yellow dal/split moong dal
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
for tempering:
  • 2-3 tsp peanut oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp jeera/cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp urad dal
  • 2 red chillies seeded and torn into 2″ pieces
  • lime-size tamarind soaked in lukewarm water
  • 1 tsp jeera / cumin powder
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder (adjust according to taste)
  • salt
How it’s done:

  • Wash the lentils with water until the water runs clear. Pressure cook all the ‘to pressure cook’ ingredients for 3 cooker whistles and keep aside to cool.
  • When the cooker has cooled, give the lentils and spinach a good stir to blend and mash well.
  • Place oil in a medium pot over high heat. When the oil is hot enough, add mustard seeds. When they start to splutter, reduce the heat to medium-high and add cumin seeds, minced garlic, urad dal, torn red chillies in that order and sauté until garlic and urad dal turn golden brown. Do not let the garlic burn.
  • Pour in the lentil-spinach mixture over this tempering onto the sides, carefully avoiding the sizzling oil and rising steam.
  • Squish the soaked tamarind with your fingers to get a nice pulpy juice. Add this to the lentils, then add jeera/cumin powder, red chilli powder and salt and give it a good stir. Add more water if needed or if the dal is very thick. Bring it to a boil and simmer for a few mins stirring in between (to avoid the lentils from burning at the bottom).
  • Serve hot with steamed rice and “appadum” (papad) or chapati/roti.

Alternatively, bring the spinach lentils mixture to a boil along with tamarind juice, cumin powder, red chilli powder and salt and simmer. In a kadai or small pan, prepare the garlic tempering and pour the hot tempering over the simmering dal and cover immediately. Switch off and keep aside.
This dramatic technique of dunking tempering into the liquidy dal infuses the aroma of the seasoning ingredients like no other which is why “tempering” a typical Indian term I so often find myself using or encounter on other Indian food blogs, is the signature of South Indian cooking.
The only reason I sometimes don’t take this approach is backed by an ounce of laziness or smartness to save myself from washing an additional utensil, whichever!


  • Use baking soda in water to thoroughly wash spinach (or any leafy greens). In earlier days though, I remember my mom washing leafy greens with potassium permanganate.
  • If you do not like, substitute garlic with a pinch of hing.
  • A small cast iron wok / kadai works really well for tempering.

8 thoughts on “Palakura Pappu | Palak Dal – Andhra style Spinach and lentils

  1. Srikanth says:

    Good see this… I think you can reduce the quantity of spinach to a 1:1.5 ratio and till will taste a little diffrently with more dal flavour… I like it that way…

  2. snig says:

    for tempering do i need urad dal ?
    lol im a south indian and pappu at my place is really bland, i want to try out this recipe 😀

  3. Can You Stay for Dinner says:

    Hi Radhika,

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  4. Manjusha says:

    Simple but unique recipe. Being a Maharashtrian, I never tried cooking spinach with tamarind! Now I know the perfect portions……on my menu for this weekend 🙂

    • Radhika says:

      Heather, I’m happy you liked it. I have a few American friends who absolutely love Indian food too…
      When you do try, I’ll be eager to know how it turned out!

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