Swiss Chard Dal Paanch Phoron

Swiss Chard and Spinach Lentils with Indian Five Spices

There is always a first time for everything. And this time for me, it is with Swiss Chard! Good news is, what seemed like an exaggerated courageous move of buying something unknown resulted in a pleasant tasty surprise. Better news is, I am sharing it with you, so you can enjoy too..
As important vegetables were to everyday food at home, a variety of leafy greens were also a must (still is), many of whom I hardly know the English names for. So I grew up not only eating my greens but loving them too in different forms – simply sauteed, cooked with lentils, in special spice powders, chutneys, stews and what not!
Even though there are many more leafy greens to Indian cooking than the only ever popular Spinach made famous through restaurant menus blistering with a single most common side dish – Palak Paneer, sparing the Spinach, Fenugreek and Dill, an occasional Amaranth is quite a luxury too, even on the fresh produce days at an Indian or world foods market here in the US.

Notwithstanding the dearth of variety in Indian leafy greens, I had decided to seek some random solace in the locally abundant chlorophyll rich produce. Having been unfamiliar with most American leafy greens such as Kale, Collard greens or Swiss Chard, I had taken the easy route so far – simply avoiding them. Until recently neither did I really show enough interest in the equally beautiful and nutritional Swiss Chard to bring it home and explore, nor did I have the tiniest clue that they are a cousin of the colorful beet root. Their vivacious bright red stalk and broad sheeny leaves must have made the calling for me, on the day I felt compelled to buy.

{Paanch Phoron – Indian Five Spices}

Yes, I know the Chinese have their five spices too!

Paanch Phoron (pronounced as foran), which literally translates to Five Spices is a whole spice mix common in everyday eastern Indian cuisine, consisting of equal parts of Fenugreek seeds, Nigella seeds, Yellow Mustard, Fennel seeds and Cumin.

Paanch Phoron is my latest obsession and I catch myself adding it to anything and everything possible from sides to chutneys. The aroma of the spices as they pop and splutter in hot oil has such an amazing effect on the olfactory system, that craving for more is not an option, but a must!

Paanch Phoron Dal being a speciality in eastern India is the inspiration behind my version, where I include Spinach as well for known comfort. Though Swiss chard is almost invisible in the final appearance, it is much like butter that it makes its presence felt in taste, blended with the aromatic spices. Combine it with hot roti or steaming rice and a spoon of pure ghee for a comforting meal.
I always wonder why I didn’t cook with Paanch Phoron earlier. Everything has its time, I guess. If you have never tried Paanch Phoron before, take this as your calling. I bet, you’ll be mesmerized as I am..
Hats off to whoever discovered the power of seasoning whole spices in hot oil!

Swiss Chard and Spinach Lentils with Indian Five Spices Recipe

Printable Recipe
Things you’ll need:
  • 1/4 cup toor dal / pigeon peas
  • 1/8 cup split yellow lentils/ moong dal (half the quantity of toor dal)
  • 1 stalk swiss chard, chopped
  • small bunch of spinach / about 1 cup chopped ~ optional
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tomato, halved
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp red chilli powder ~ optional
  • cherry sized tamarind / juice of half lemon
  • salt
For the seasoning:
  • 4 tsp peanut oil /ghee
  • 1 tbsp paanch phoron or five spices
  • 1-2 whole green chillies
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
other kitchen equipment:
  • pressure cooker
  • whisk
How it’s done:
Soak tamarind in warm water and keep aside for about 15-30 mins, if using. Once soaked, squish tamarind into pulp.
To properly wash the leafy greens in a food-safe way to get rid of pesticides, bacteria and germs along with mud and farm residue, add some baking soda to a big bowl of water; dunk the leafy greens and give a good scrub/rinse. Rinse again or several times in clean water until visibly clean. Pat dry on a clean kitchen towel. Chop swiss chard separating the stalk from the leaf. If you do not prefer to use the stalk, refrigerate for later use in another dish. Else, finely chop the stalk into thin slices and then the leaf. Roughly chop the spinach bunch.
Cook lentilsWash toor dal and split yellow dal until water runs clear. Pressure cook the lentils with the tomato,turmeric and water enough and more to cover the lentils and tomato halves. When the cooker has cooled, whisk through the lentils and tomato to mash well for a uniform consistency. If not using a pressure cooker, cook the same in a pot stove top. Let the water come to a rolling boil and simmer partially covered until the lentils are soft and cooked or can be mashed easily.
For the seasoning heat oil or ghee in a heavy bottomed saucepan on high heat. When the oil is hot enough or shimmering, add paanch phoron, reduce heat to medium and let the whole spices splutter and crackle. Add whole green chillies, chopped onion followed by turmeric and sauté until onion turns translucent. Add chopped leafy greens and sauté until soft and cooked. Add salt, red chilli powder, tamarind pulp if using and mashed lentil mixture and simmer to a slow boil, about 10 mins. Do not bring to a rolling boil for the risk of losing the flavor of the spices. Once done, cover and set aside. If not using tamarind, squeeze lemon juice after setting aside and stir well.
Garnish with cilantro and serve hot with steamed rice and a spoon of ghee or fresh off the griddle Indian breads.
Note: Some find it very convenient to use ready made concentrated tamarind paste, use smaller quantity in that case.
Paanch Phoron is readily available in most Indian grocery stores or world food markets. If not, you could simply buy the five spices separately and mix them in equal parts. For best potency, be sure to store them in air-tight containers in a cool dark place.

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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.