Spinach and lentil curry sauce
Spinach is probably the most abundant green what I can find to make curries with. Mild flavor of spinach makes it a good addition to any other dish or meal you might be preparing. I love a good simple salad of baby spinach and arugula with sliced Campari tomatoes pinch of salt, pinch of freshly crush black pepper and dash of good olive oil. That is my go-to salad snack. My kids love spinach rice with sliced hot dogs on top and creamed spinach with fried chicken. Frankly so do I. I add Spinach to make spinach and red lentil curry a lot.
It has been one of my favorite curries all time. So many options with this power green. Also, I am sure you constantly add spinach to your smoothies and soups regularly as well.
Spinach is one of the first greens to introduced when babies first start on solid food. I am sure one of the main reasons among many is how nutritious it is. Mild flavor of the spinach makes it well tolerable. It fits variety of flavor palates wonderfully.
What Is Spinach?
Spinach is wider term umbrella for several type of plants. Here in USA two most common varieties we find in grocery stores are savoy spinach (crinkled dark green leaves) and smooth leaf spinach. This plant originated from ancient Persia; ancient Persian people gave this annual its name.
Smooth leaf spinach is great for salads freezing and canning while savoy spinach is great for cooking. (3) Other varieties of spinach are New Zealand spinach and Malabar spinach. (3) New Zealand variety is native New Zealand, Australia, and central Asia. Unlike common USA Varieties this is different plant and not a true spinach. It belongs to fig- marigold family and are grown for vegetable and ornamental purposes.
Malabar spinach is what I grew up seeing near the water drains of my mom’s vegetable patch. Unlike other varieties this is a semi-tender, perennial vine. It will surprise you with its sheer ability to reach up to 33 ft with large succulent leaves as big as a salad plate, when the conditions are right. Malabar spinach belong Madeira-vine family of flowering plants ( Basellaceae.) It is native to tropics, essentially southeast Asia, Indian subcontinent. Basella alba replace true spinach in tropical climate.
Am I buying the right kind of Spinach?
You can rest assured and be happy with your own choice. All the varieties are equally nutritious and satiating, with slight differences among them. If I must pick one among them, I do love how true baby spinach looks on total nutritional profile. Strictly speaking nutritionally. All have impressive amount vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Spinach is especially high in iron, vitamin A, good number of essential vitamins from vitamin B family like Folate, niacin, and riboflavin. (2) It has a good amount of vitamin C and K. Vitamin A in is in the form of beta carotene form in this green. Beta carotene is important precursor or a provitamin A that converts into Retinol in our bodies. In addition to many health benefits Beta carotenes, it curbs the danger of accidentally consuming too much retinol.
Vitamin K in Spinach is in the form of K1. Vitamin K1 is important fat-soluble vitamin and important cofactor helps in blood coagulation. There is evidence that it helps increase insulin sensitivity as well. (1)(2)(15)
Another important antioxidant that is very high in Spinach is Lutein + zeaxanthin. Like many leafy greens, Spinach has up to 15000 µg of these vital carotenoids per 100gram of raw spinach. (2) L/Z is important part of macular pigmentation in our retina. Getting a good amount of L/Z is important for good eyesight development and to combat age related macular degeneration. (16). Along with nuts like pistachios, leafy green vegetables are going to be a major source of L/Z when you are trying to follow a plant-based diet.
After barely scratching the surface of how beneficial this wonder green is for us, lets now turn towards how to add it to our diet.
As many of you already are, we all consume spinach mostly in salads and smoothies. Salads or smoothies are very easy to make and is the best way to add raw greens to your diet. Raw spinach is the way to go when we are looking to fill up on our intake of micronutrients like vitamins and antioxidants. Process of cooking destroys some nutrients and antioxidants. Vitamin C and some of the vitamins from Vitamin B family is susceptible to cooking time, atmospheric oxygen, and cooking temperature. (2,17)
When it comes to minerals and provitamin A on the other hands, cooking really helps to absorb them better. In my opinion quick blanching/ boiling or sautéing lightly will help to get benefits of increased nutrient availability, while keeping in lot of the vitamins intact. We are going to talk about such a power meal today.
How to make rich green curry sauce with lentils
We are going to use all the information we gathered and cook a luxurious green curry sauce with spinach, which can be used with any other vegetable or legume to make a delicious side or a soup. I am going to use green lentils as a filler today for my curry. Other than green lentils, you can use tofu, paneer, eggs, boiled potatoes to customize this curry to your needs.
Savoy , Malabar or New Zealand verities will be really good choice for cooking curries. I am using two bunches curly leaf savoy spinach to make this sauce. Two bunches may seem like a lot, but leavy greens will cook down and will reduce its volume, so it isn’t going to be a lot when you make the curry.
Green Lentils curry sauce.
- One cup of boiled green lentils (salt added)
- two bunches of Savoy spinach
- One tomato diced
- One medium red onion sliced
- Teaspoon of diced ginger
- Two garlic cloves crushed
- Five curry leaves, sliced
- Teaspoon of cumin powder
- Half a teaspoon of turmeric powder
- Salt to taste
- Pinch of cumin seeds
- Half a cup of water
- Cup of thick coconut milk
- Two tablespoon of neutral tasting oil (canola or any other vegetable oil)
- One green chili (optional)
- Heat oil in a deep pot on medium heat. Add cumin seeds let them fry for few seconds and then add onion, ginger, and garlic. Let them fry until fragrant and onions are translucent.
- Add curry leaves and green chili and fry for few seconds
- Add tomato and cook until juices are released.
- Add cumin powder, turmeric powder, and salt. Mix well.
- Add spinach and add a half a cup of water, cover and let the spinach and let it steam on medium for minute or two. Gently turn over and cover again and steam until leaves turn bright green and just starting to wilt. Do not walk away from pot because wilting will happen faster than you think. as soon as Spinach turn bright green and just starting to wilt turn the heat off. Keep the pot covered for another few seconds.
- Transfer everything into a blender along with cup of coconut milk. Puree until smooth.
- Transfer the pureed green sauce back to the pot and add boiled lentils. Gently heat until sauce start simmering, and flavors are combined.
- Serve warm along side rice.
I added a tempering because I like spicy food. I gently fried couple of dry red chilies, half an inch of cinnamon, few curry leaves in mustard oil to bring up heat level in the curry. But this step is totally optional and if you like a milder taste, it tasted perfect as it is.
Inspiration for my curry sauce
My sauce recipe is influenced by Palak paneer which I love so much since my days living in India. The sauce is strikingly similar but I only customized ingredients and method to suit my needs.
I decided to make my sauce from the scratch in on pot and skip blanching to cut down nutrients leaching out to water. Also I skipped adding any diary or animal based product to keep this curry fully plant based.
I love how curries are versatile that way. if you would like to refer how to make Palak paneer easily, please click on video link below.