Sri Lankan Coconut Dal

My mum is from Sri Lanka and this is one of the dishes she cooked for us when we were young- I’ve adjusted the recipe a little but it is a really comforting dish for me, somehow it tastes little different than dals we make in South India- even though all the ingredients will be familiar to you.


The masala onions part: 2 onions, thinly sliced 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped 2 green chillies, finely chopped 2 tsp mustard seeds 2 tsp jeera seeds 2 tsp fennel seeds 2 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil The leaves from a sprig of curry leaves- washed To make the red lentils: 200g red masoor dal 1 tsp turmeric powder 2 tsp cumin powder 1 tsp Himalayan pink salt (or other natural salt) 180ml coconut milk Handful palak leaves, washed


Fresh coriander leaves About a tbsp grated coconut



What To Do

  1. First wash the lentils – place in a bowl full of water, at first the water will turn super cloudy. Move them around with your hands and then drain the water out. Repeat this again, until the water is clear. This is an important step as it not only washes away dirt, but reduces how starchy the lentils will be- which would impact the texture of the dish! So don’t skip this step 😊
  2. Once washed, place the lentils in a pot, add 1 tsp of salt, turmeric and jeera powder and add 500ml of water. Stir together and place on a high flame, allow the water to boil, then turn down the flame and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes you will add the coconut milk, and continue to allow to simmer.

  3. Meanwhile, start preparing the onions. Thinly slice (not dice) the onions, and finely chop the chillies and garlic. Warm the coconut oil in a flat pan on a medium heat, and add the mustard seeds, fennel seeds and jeera seeds. When the mustard seeds start to pop, and in the curry leaves, onions, garlic and chillies. Stir well so everything is evenly distributed. The aim here is to really let these onions cook down until they are lovely and caramelised- which means they will shrink to about half their size as the water is lost from the onions, concentrating sweetness and flavour. You want them to turn golden brown colour and become a little sticky. To do this you need to cook them slow and low– for a long(ish) time and on a low heat. It could take between 15-20 minutes. Don’t rush this part by cooking them on a high heat to cut down cooking time, it won’t taste the same!

  4. Back to the lentils- check the lentils have become soft, and increase the heat just a little to allow them to thicken. This is a very thick dal, not a watery dal. This might take another 10-15 minutes after you added the coconut milk.  Therefore the lentils in total will take between 20-25 minutes – 10 minutes cooking in the water, and then another 10-15 minutes after you add the coconut milk. The onions should take about the same time, so everything comes together at the end nicely!

  5. Once the dal is nice and thick and yellow colour, stir through the handful of spinach leaves- they will cook and wilt directly inside the dal, they may release a little water – give them 2 minutes and stir well. Then stir through about 80% of the caramelised, spiced onions into the coconut dal. The remaining 20% you can use as a garnish- pile up in the centre of the dal and don’t stir it in.

  6. Further garnish with some fresh coriander leaves and some freshly grated coconut. ( or a scattering of the sambol, recipe here)

  7. Serve in a big pot on the table with red rice (which is also lovely if you grate some coconut over the top), alongside the coconut + carrot sambol (recipe here)

C H E C K   O U T   M O R E!