Pick and rinse pigeon pea lentils (tuvar dal or arhar dal) a couple of times in water. Drain all the water. Keep aside.
Press the sauté switch on normal on the Instant Pot and set the timer to 10 or 12 minutes. Add oil and let it become hot. You can also use ghee or butter instead of oil.
Add cumin seeds and fry them till splutter and become fragrant.
Add chopped onions or sliced shallots and stirring often sauté till translucent or light brown.
Now add crushed ginger or ginger paste, crushed garlic and green chilies (sliced or chopped).
Saute for 4 to 5 seconds till the raw aroma of ginger and garlic goes away. You can also use the less mode of the IP while sautéing.
Next, add ⅓ cup chopped tomatoes and sauté till they soften and become pulpy. Stir often when sauteing tomatoes.
Then add a pinch of asafoetida, turmeric powder, red chilli powder and coriander powder. For a spicy dal, you can increase the quantity of green chillies and red chilli powder.
Mix very well.
Add the rinsed pigeon pea lentils and mix them very well. Deglaze removing any bits or pieces of ingredients stuck to the bottom of the pot.
Pour 1.5 cups water. Mix very well. Deglaze if required.
Use the pressure cooking mode and set the timer to 15 minutes on high pressure.
Meanwhile, when the lentils are getting pressure cooked, rinse the spinach leaves in a colander. Drain all the water. Chop them finely and keep aside.
When the pressure cooking is complete, allow a natural pressure release for 10 to 12 minutes. If there is still pressure in the Instant Pot, then lift the valve for the steam to be released. Open the lid and check if the lentils have cooked and softened. They should be mushy.
Mash the lentils with a spoon.
Add the chopped spinach, garam masala powder, kasuri methi (dry fenugreek leaves) and salt as per taste to the cooked lentils. Kasuri methi is optional and you can skip it.
Stir and mix again.
Press the sauté button on normal and set the timer to 6 or 7 minutes.
Begin to simmer the lentils till the spinach leaves wilt. This takes about 6 to 7 minutes. Stir often.
Once the spinach leaves have wilted, the dal is ready to be served. Check the consistency. Add ¼ to ½ cup hot water if the dal becomes thick. If you prefer a thicker dal, simmer for a few more minutes. For a thin dal, you can add some hot water. This recipe yields a palak dal having a medium consistency. At this step, you can even drizzle ½ to 1 teaspoon lemon juice in the dal.
Serve Dal Palak with steamed rice, cumin rice, roti or bread.
On Spinach: You can use the stems if they are tender. If the spinach leaves are too large and the stems are fibrous and dense, then only use the leaves and do not add the stems.
Frozen Spinach: When fresh spinach is not available, replace with frozen spinach.
Cooking Lentils: When cooking lentils, always use lentils which are fresh and in their shelf period. Aged or old lentils will take more time too cook. In this case, if the lentils are undercooked, then add some more water and continue to pressure cook in the Instant Pot for 10 or 15 minutes more.
Different Lentils: The same recipe can be made wholly or in a half-half ratio with lentils like - mung lentils, red lentils and split chickpeas. For split chickpeas, soak them in water for 30 minutes before pressure cooking.
Consistency: You can make the dal thin or thick by adding less or more water once the dal is cooked. When pressure cooking the dal, add the 1.5 cups water as mentioned in the recipe.
Taste & Flavor: Increase the green chillies, garam masala powder and red chilli powder for a spicy dal. For a less spicy version you can decrease these spices. A bit if lemon juice added to the dal gives a nice tang.