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Dal/lentils (Recipe: red lentil, spinach and feta salad) {vegetarian, gluten-free}


When I was in college -- okay, when I was in high school -- and my friends and I talked about mood-enhancing substances, we weren't talking about serotonin.

We weren't talking about lentils, either.

Though my misspent youth is far behind me, my body still craves all the mood enhancement it can get, and legumes (lentils, beans and peas) are a good source of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel mood-enhanced: balanced, relaxed and happy. With too little serotonin, you end up feeling cranky, sleep-deprived, a bit anxious, sugar-deficient, and in a generally bad mood.

I'm not sure why, but I call brown and green lentils lentils, and pink, white and yellow ones dal. Really, the difference isn't the color; dal are lentils that have been hulled and split.

Stored in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, dal will keep for up to two years. Some of the dal that have graced my pantry, in addition to the plain brown and Puy green lentils, are:

  • Masoor dal, lentils (red or salmon pink; the ones in the photo)
  • Channa dal, split chickpeas (yellow; I always have these)
  • Urd (or urad) dal, lentil-like beans (black or, when skinless, white)
  • Tur (or toor, or toovar) dal, pigeon peas (orange)
  • Moong dal, mung beans (cream or yellow)
  • Muth (or moth) dal, beans (brownish green with yellow interior)
  • Muttar (or matar) dal, peas (green or white)

Most often, we think of dal as fundamental to Indian cuisine, whether served thick, like a stew, or thin. But now that lentils have been identified as one of the world's healthiest foods, they're lightening up a wide range of dishes, including black bean salad, burgers, tacos and even fudge.

To me, lentils of all types and colors mean one thing: soup, soup, and more soup. And with all that serotonin, I'll be happy, happy, and more happy.

Red lentil, spinach and feta salad

Inspired by a recipe in Happy Food by Marlisa Szwillus, this nutrient-rich, picnic-friendly salad serves 2. Can be doubled.


2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary or thyme leaves
4 oz red lentils
1 cup vegetable stock or water
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 oz baby spinach leaves
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled


Heat 2 tsp olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, and briefly sauté the rosemary or thyme, just to bring out the aroma. Add the lentils and vegetable stock, cover, and simmer over lowest heat for 10 minutes or until lentils are cooked but not totally mushy.

Drain the lentils and add to a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar, salt and pepper, and 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add half to the lentils, and stir to combine. Add remaining ingredients, including remaining dressing, and mix well. Serve warm or at room temperature.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Also in The Perfect Pantry:

Punjab Five Jewels
One-of-everything lentil soup
Spiced lentils with squash and raisins
Lentils with spinach and preserved lemons
Mulligatawny soup

Need more ideas for how to create salads with pizzazz? Get Dress Up Your Salad, my e-book packed with easy mix-and-match recipes, full-color photos and a few fun videos. Exciting salad recipes from everyday ingredients can be just one click away, on any computer, tablet or smart phone, with the FREE Kindle Reading app. Click here to learn more.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I thinking of indian dal curry now! Yum!

Red lentils are my favorite, so pretty and delicious. It lifts my spirits just looking at them. I've never made a salad with them, usually use the puy variety. But, I would love this salad--thank you.

This sounds so good and must be lovely with all that great color! The red lentils the green spinach - oh and I could use a little of my purple basil I'm thinking!

A wonderful book "The Moghul Microwave" by Julie Sahni has a recipe for a very good lentil salad with cumin and citrus dressing, quite different from this one. (The book adapts Indian cooking techniques to microwave cooking with remarkable success. So it's much easier to follow Sahni's recipes than most Indian recipes. The lentil recipe is no exception.)

I had no idea legumes released serotonin but that's probably why I love beans so much.

Lentils are fantastic, Lydia. I absolutely love them - but have never tried them in salads. Great idea!

Oooh, I like this! I never have enough uses for my pretty red lentils! And with spinach... perfect.

Lentils make happy food! Ok, I shall make more lentils-based food!

I love lentils and dal, but I hardly cook with them. Now that I learned they are a good source of serotonin, I'll have to use them more often!

Tigerfish, curry flavors would be great with a salad like this, wouldn't they?

Sher, I've always cooked my dal (pink or yellow ones) into a kind of mush, and it's delicious. But salad is a whole new dimension for these beautiful lentils!

MyKitchen, the purple basil would be perfect -- and gorgeous!

Mae, cumin and citrus dressing on the salad sounds great. I will definitely try that. I have a couple of Julie Sahni books; she is an incredible teacher, isn't she?

Lisa, I didn't know either until I did some research. I was happy enough when I thought it was just good taste, but now I know it's the serotonin that's really making me happy...

Patricia, Katie, Noobcook, Chuck: Eat lentils! Be happy! Seriously, please do try this salad. It's wonderful.

I am so happy to get the explanation of the different types of dal; I'm always unsure about it. The salads sounds fantastic. I am always in favor of mood-enhancement!

what a beautiful picture! i love lentils too - dal especially. i've tried to make them a few times and failed miserbly. they always seem to go mushy on me. this recipe sounds delish i think i'll have another go!

Aria, the mushy thing happens to me sometimes, too. Definitely try to undercook them, and then turn off the heat and let them sit, covered, in the pan for a few minutes to finish. Keep tasting along the way.

Ooh I love lentils and this salad sounds mouthwatering. Great pic too.

George, thanks! I love lentils, too.

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