Spiced Red Lentils with Caramelized Onions and Spinach

Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Karen Shinto

This gently spicy dish uses a North Indian technique called tadka or chaunk: seasonings are sizzled in hot oil or clarified butter, then swirled into the lentils right before serving for a massive flavor boost.

Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: 1 cup)
Recipe from Sunset

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Recipe Time

Total: 45 Minutes

Nutritional Information

Amount per serving
  • Calories: 510
  • Calories from fat: 21%
  • Protein: 19g
  • Fat: 13g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5g
  • Carbohydrate: 82g
  • Fiber: 8.3g
  • Sodium: 431mg
  • Cholesterol: 0.0mg


  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 large onions, halved and cut into thin half-moons
  • About 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed well and drained
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1/2 serrano chile, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 bunch (10 oz.) spinach (not baby), stems finely chopped and leaves cut in half; or use thawed frozen spinach
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups cooked brown basmati rice or couscous


  1. 1. Heat 2 tbsp. oil over medium heat in a large nonstick frying pan. Add onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and very soft with crisp edges, about 30 minutes. Transfer half to a bowl and set aside.
  2. 2. Meanwhile, put lentils in a saucepan with 3 cups water and the bay leaves. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, uncovered, and skim foam. Simmer just until tender, 5 to 10 minutes (they'll fall apart a little). Remove bay leaves and set lentils aside--don't drain.
  3. 3. Stir chile, ginger, coriander, turmeric, and 1 tsp. salt into pan of onions and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add spinach and cook, stirring occasionally, until completely wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir onion-spinach mixture into pot of lentils and wipe frying pan clean.
  4. 4. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in pan over medium heat. Add cumin and garlic and cook, stirring, until seeds are sizzling, about 1 minute; stir into lentils. Season with salt. Top lentils with reserved onion and serve over rice.
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