sri lankan coconut dhal


I am in England. Today has been a typical English early-summer day. Damp and grey. Feeling the need to inject a bit of Sri Lankan sunshine in to proceedings I made a Sri Lankan Coconut Dhal for lunch.

The recipe is an amalgam of ones I have learned from Sarath and Mandula. Sarath is the current chef at the house I stay at in Sri Lanka and Mandula was the chef last summer.  There is also an element of adaption around what I have in the cupboard. Dhal is a very forgiving dish to make and the spicing can be adjusted to taste.  My take is probably heavier on the coconut and the chilli than others you may come across.

The main difference between Sarath’s and Mandula’s recipes is that Sarath adds the fried ingredients at the end as a “temper” whereas Mandula cooks the lentils into them. I’ve tried both and favour the temper approach.

This dhal is delicious enough to be eaten on its own so often serve it in a soup bowl for a simple lunch or kitchen supper accompanied by paratha or chapatti type bread.  It is however more traditionally served as a side dish with a curry.


  • 220g red lentils
  • 500ml water
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 red chillies, chopped  (and deseeded if you wish)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3cm piece of lemon grass
  • 3cm piece of cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 clove
  • 1 cardamon pod
  • 125ml coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • small handful of curry leaves (less if using dried)
  • 2 teaspoons chilli flakes
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed


  1. Put the lentils in a pan with half of the chopped onion, 3 chopped chillies,  2 chopped cloves of garlic, lemon grass, cinnamon stick, turmeric, a clove and a cardamon pod. Pour in the water and coconut milk.
  2. Bring to the boil and simmer covered for about 20 minutes until the lentils are soft and tender. If it starts to look dry add more water as necessary.
  3. Meanwhile make the temper.
  4. Heat the oil in a small frying pan and add the rest of the chopped onion along with the curry leaves, chilli flakes and mustard seed.
  5. Fry until the onion is soft and starting to caramelise.
  6. Stir the temper in to the cooked lentils and serve










Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s