For nearly ten years, I went every month to a hill-station, Panchgani for the landscape I had designed for an 18-acre residential school campus which was executed in stages. This entailed a monthly visit to the site and I stayed in the Principle’s bungalow, which had a few old retainers. One of them being a handsome middle-aged man Dhondiba, who had multiple roles. He was a butler, dining table attendant, co-ordinator of other staff, the lady Principle’s guard while travelling, all-in-one. Most of the cooking was done by the cook or came from the school mess, but a few recipes only Dhondiba was in charge of. This vibrant green and delicious puréed spinach recipe having a strong rural origins, is one of his signature dishes. Vatla Palak (ground spinach) is what we call it, and is eaten with bhakri ( millet flatbread) or roti. In Holland I also use it as a hearty dip with a toasted pita bread or focaccia. I use 100g spinach per person. For a dip you will require less.

For 4 persons  1tsp=5ml/1 tbsp=15ml/1 cup=225ml

Ingredients

400g spinach leaves – or in India, two large bunches- (don’t get scared of the quantity, it shrinks as you cook!)- washed and drained.
¼ cup Chana dal- soaked for 2 hours or more, in hot water (or half cup cooked tuvar dal- without the extra liquid)
1 tbsp oil- peanut oil or sunflower
1 green chili chopped +1 medium onion -finely sliced lengthwise
2-3 tbsp coriander leaves
Salt to taste
A pinch of Soda-bicarbonate
For Seasoning:
3 tbsp of peanut oil/ sunflower oil
5-6 cloves garlic finely chopped (the small cloves of small purple-tinted garlic, crushed with peels on give a great crunch)
⅛ tsp asafoetida
¼ tsp chili powder ( use cayenne if you like it hot/ or a Kashmiri/ Spanish or Hungarian mild one)

Instructions

1.Cook the Chana dal till tender and just starting to split. About 15-20 mins.Drain off, reserve the water.
2.At the same time, heat a large wide pan, add 1 tbsp oil.
3.When the oil is hot, add chilies, the onion slices and coriander.
4.Stir fry till the onion is transparent.
5.Add the spinach a little at a time and stir till it slinks- you need not cook it more. Add a tiny pinch of soda-bicarbonate for a fresh green colour.
6.Remove the spinach mix from pan & drain in a colander while allowing it to cool. (Reserve the cooking juices).
7.Chop the cooled spinach roughly, so that spinach fibers do not affect the blending.
8.Blend the cooked Chana (or Tuvar) dal and the chopped spinach mixture together, to a smooth paste. Add just enough water (from the drained Chana/ Tuvar dal or spinach) to facilitate this. Add salt to taste.
9. It should be a firm mixture that holds together, not watery. ( Like hummus)
10.Warm it in the pan before serving, keep it warm to hot.
11.Just before serving, heat the oil for seasoning in a small pan.
12.When hot add the chopped/ crushed garlic and allow to become golden. Then in quick succession add asafoetida & the chili powder and pour over the spinach mixture.
13.Serve immediately with flat breads, or with warm roasted Pita bread.