Before I came to Sri Lanka I wasn’t a fan of lentils. On the few occasions I had tried them in Europe and the Middle East they were prepared in a generally bland and tasteless way and during my one experience of eating dhal with Indian friends of mine in Kuwait, the dish practically blew my head off (Goan food is on a par with Sri Lankan food for it’s heat). I also shamefully admit that eating dhal conjured up images of extremely thin hippy-vegan types with long dreadlocks standing on their heads in some insane yoga pose in those days….
In Sri Lanka dhal is a staple comfort food all year round – usually eaten with rice (it is omni-present in the rice and curry dishes), bread (I love it with bread and coconut sambol for breakfast), roti and vegetables and it is typically your British equivalent of mash, baked beans or even mushy peas, at a stretch.
Full of protein and rich in calcium, iron and B vitamins more than 60 different types of dhal are made across India alone. Sri Lanka has it’s own regional varieties and you will find that breakfast dhal is usually soupier than lunchtime dhal, which is stodgier.
The following recipe is for the authentic Sri Lanka dhal or parippu as it is also called, especially by the youngsters.
Sri Lankan Dhal Recipe – to serve 4 to 6
- 2 cups Mysore Dhal (Red lentils)
- 1 tsp turmeric (or saffron powder as some call it here!)
- 1 & 1/2 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- 2-3 green chillies halved diagonally (de-seeded if you want it milder)
- 1-2 dried red chillies, finely chopped
- 2 red (or bombay) onions, chopped
- piece of cinnamon
- 1 cup water
- 6-8 curry leaves (optional)
- 1 cup coconut milk (fresh or canned)
- 2 tsp oil (I prefer vegetable oil)
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 4-6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 1/2 lime
Salt to taste
Wash the dhal thoroughly in about 3 pots of fresh water or leave it to soak for a couple of hours.
When cleaned boil the dhal in a pan with 1 cup water (or more – you need to cover the dhal), 1/2 tbsp turmeric, the green chillies, the cinnamon, 1 onion and the garlic. When the the colour of the dhal turns from orange to yellow the dhal is cooked. Remove from the stove and set aside.
Heat oil in a frying pan and fry the remaining ingredients except the coconut milk and cooked dhal. Fry until the onions are golden brown. When done add the fried ingredients to the dhal, add the coconut milk and salt to taste and cook for a few more minutes until the dhal curry starts to boil. Turn the cooker off and add the lime juice.
A very simple and scrumptious dish. If you are preparing dhal for a special occasion you can garnish it with some deep fried onions and/or crispy curry leaves.