Red lentil dhal with cavolo nero & crispy paneer

I make some form of dhal at least once a week – it’s healthy, economical, comforting, and delicious. I’ve made it so many times I no longer use a recipe, just making it up as I go along, but when I made this one a few weeks ago it made me stop and think “this is one I need to write down!” The paneer is so crispy and deliciously flavoured with the garlicky ghee and mustard seeds, and the cavolo nero adds so much textural interest. The double cream isn’t strictly speaking essential, but it’s such a delicious addition and really rounds out the spices, so I’d really recommend you add it…

Red lentil dhal with cavolo nero & crispy paneer

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 225g paneer, cut into bite-sized cubes (I specify 225g as I buy Everest paneer which comes in a pack that size, if yours is 200g that’s fine, no need to use more than one pack)
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra for frying the paneer
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped, plus 1 extra clove to finish
  • 15g fresh ginger, peeled and very finely chopped/grated
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped (I don’t remove the seeds, but you could if you want a milder dhal)
  • 200g red lentils
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1.5 tsp garam masala
  • 1.5 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 800ml boiling water
  • 70g cavolo nero, stripped from the stalk and chopped (discard stalks)
  • 70g spinach, washed
  • 1/4 lemon
  • 2 tbsp double cream
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 20g ghee
  • 1tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 6 dried curry leaves


  • In a large frying pan, heat a splash of veg oil, then add the cubes of paneer, and fry over a medium heat, turning the pieces to ensure they brown evenly on all sides. Don’t be afraid to get them quite dark and crispy. Once cooked, tip into a bowl lined with kitchen paper and set aside whilst you prepare the dhal.
  • In a large saucepan, heat the vegetable oil. Add the onions, garlic, ginger and red chilli, and saut√© over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until the onions are softening and turning translucent.
  • Stir in the turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin and garam masala, followed by the tomato puree. Add the lentils, then stir well to coat everything in the spices. Add 800ml freshly boiled water, then bring to the boil, and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.
  • Stir in the cavolo nero, then return to a simmer, and keep simmering and stirring until the lentils are cooked. This should be another 5-10 minutes. If it looks dry at any point, add a splash more water – it should be the consistency of a thick soup.
  • Once the lentils are cooked, stir in the spinach and continue to heat just until the spinach has wilted. Remove from the heat, then add a squeeze of lemon, the double cream, and season well with salt and black pepper.
  • In a frying pan, melt the ghee, and when hot, add the mustard seeds and curry leaves, along with the extra clove of chopped garlic. Turn down the heat, and stir constantly for just a few moments, until it’s fragrant and the garlic is just softened. If the garlic looks like it’s colouring, remove it from the heat immediately. Toss the paneer in the ghee, then serve the dhal with the paneer piled on top, and make sure you scrape out all the flavoured ghee/seeds/leaves/garlic from the pan and drizzle it over the top of the paneer.
  • Serve immediately, with flatbreads, rice, or both!

Feel free to substitute the spinach for more cavalo nero, or vice versa.