Sri Lankan Dal – Easy to Make, Dangerously Delicious!
I’ve traveled throughout both India and Sri Lanka, and I’m convinced that this Sri Lankan Dal is hands down one of the easiest and most simple dal recipes I’ve ever encountered. It’s rich, creamy, and it goes perfectly with some coconut roti!
A Bit About Dal
Dal, put simply, is curried lentil soup/stew (the consistency can vary based on personal preference). While I was in Sri Lanka and years ago when I was in India, dal popped up on the table at breakfast, lunch and dinner time. But given how delicious it is, I never got tired of it!
To wildly overgeneralize, dal in Sri Lanka (and south India too) is going to have a base of coconut milk, and will likely use curry leaves and pandan leaves. It will likely also contain a bit of dried tuna. Dal in northern India will likely have a base of onions, tomatoes and a little water, will likely not have coconut milk/coconut products or fish products, will likely contain curry leaves but not pandan, and on occasion will be served with a small dish of plain yogurt. Regardless of the region though, typically, dal is eaten with roti, a whole wheat flat bread. However, it’s also delicious served over rice or even simply eaten by itself. Of course, if you do combine the leguminous lentils with the carbohydrates that come from rice, wheat or many other grains, you’ll be consuming a high-protein (yet vegetarian) meal as the lentils and grains provide all the amino acids your body needs to make complete proteins!!!
Just as we mentioned in our Sri Lankan sambal recipe , which is a GREAT accompaniment to this dal, the ways to make dal are as numerous as the people making it. So have fun with this recipe, adjust ingredients to your liking, and rest assured that you’re going to come up with something VERY delicious!
What You’re Going For
This recipe, put very simply, is a curried lentil soup/stew. It’s got a somewhat thick consistency and should not be very watery. It can be eaten alone, with rice or with roti. More details in the recipe below!
- Dried red lentils (250g)
- Shallots, roughly chopped (150g)
- Garlic, roughly chopped (50g)
- Green finger chilis**, roughly chopped (25g or to taste)
- Pandan leaves* (6-8 inches, cut into 2 inch pieces)
- Curry leaves* (A small handful - if compressed, about the size of a walnut)
- Dried tuna (to taste - this is mostly a source of salt, the dal should NOT have a fishy taste)
- Tumeric powder (1 tsp.)
- Curry powder - any one specifically for vegetables (2-3 tbsp.)
- Hot chili powder (1/8 tbsp or to taste)
- Salt (1.5 tsp)
- Coconut milk (1 15 oz can, or more if you'd like a richer dal - ideally have this boiling or at least very hot)
- Coconut oil (3 tbsp.)
- Boiling water (3-4 cups)
All of the amounts of ingredients are approximate. Adjust anything to taste. Also, if you'd like a more runny dal, add more coconut milk or even a little water. If you'd like thicker dal, just add less.
- In a strainer, pour your dried dal and remove any small stones. Then, rinse the dal 2-3 times.
- In two separate containers, bring your water and your coconut milk to a boil.
- In a pot that will be big enough to hold all of the above ingredients, place the coconut oil.
- On medium heat, warm the oil, and when it just begins to smoke add the shallots, garlic, and green finger chilis and salt. Sauté these until the shallots are translucent. If you'd like a sweeter dal, sauté these until the shallots caramelize.
- Add in the pandan and curry leaves. Sauté the whole mixture for another 2 minutes.
- Add in the dried tuna. Sauté for 1 more minute.
- Pour in the boiling coconut milk.
- Add the tumeric powder, hot chili powder, and curry powder.
- Boil the whole mixture for 3 minutes.
- Add in the rinsed dal.
- Add in 2 cups of boiling water.
- Bring the whole mixture to a boil for 3 minutes.
- Taste the dal at this point to determine if more salt is needed, but keep in mind, in the next step you'll be reducing the amount of liquid in the dal (via. a 20 minute simmer) and thus you'll be concentrating the salt. The take home here is, you can always add more salt later on, but you can't take it out!
- At this point, the entire mixture will need to simmer for 20 minutes on low heat. So, add enough extra coconut milk and/or water to ensure the dal will be able to simmer for 20 minutes without burning to the bottom of the pan. If you would like a thicker dal, add a bit less liquid at this point, if you'd like a thinner dal, add a bit more.
- On low heat, simmer the dal for 20 minutes, or until it reaches your desired consistency.
*Both Pandan and Curry leaves are essential flavors in this dish. Most Indian, and even some Asian, grocery stores should stock these. They are worth searching for if you don't have them already. **Green finger chilis are a semi-spicy type of chili. They are about the size of your pinky finger, thus the name. Any semi-spicy chili will suffice, if you can't find these exact ones.