Weeknight Cooking

Coconut Dal With Kale From 'Rambutan: Recipes from Sri Lanka'

October 28, 2022
1 Ratings
Photo by Alex Lau
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 25 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

"In war or other times of national crisis, dal is rationed out by the Sri Lankan government as one of life’s essentials. Cooked with lemongrass and, if you can get it, pandan leaf (which adds a warm, vanilla flavour) as well as coconut milk, turmeric, curry leaves, garlic and lime, this dal is distinctively light and restorative, and is worlds away from its Indian counterparts like black dal makhani made with cream, or tarka dal made with butter. There is no other dal quite like it, and I encourage you to try adding roasted squash or pumpkin or roasted sweet potato. This one is one of the ways my mum would cook it when she was too short on time to make a separate kale curry. She’d simply stir the leaves in very close to the end of cooking so they retained their bright green flavour and nutrients." —Excerpted from Rambutan: Recipes from Sri Lanka by Cynthia Shanmugalingam Bloomsbury 2022. —Food52

What You'll Need
  • Dal
  • 300 grams red split lentils or toor lentils
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved lengthways
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, bruised
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon SL curry powder (see below)
  • Optional: 4cm piece of pandan leaf
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 100 milliliters coconut milk
  • 3 to 4 small handfuls of kale (approx. 200 grams)
  • 1/2 lime
  • Optional: 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • Temper
  • 1 tablespoon coconut or vegetable oil
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • 10 fresh curry leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • Sri Lankan (SL) Curry Powder
  • It’s worth making your own batch of SL curry powder. It takes 10 minutes and will keep in the fridge in a jar for three months, but feel free to scale the quantities up or down depending on your needs.
  • 30 grams coriander seeds
  • 15 grams cumin seeds
  • 15 grams fennel seeds
  • 15 grams black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil
  • 8 to 10 fresh curry leaves
  • 70 grams dried Kashmiri or medium hot red chillies
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  1. Dal
  2. Pour the lentils into a saucepan and rinse loosely under the tap, then drain well. Cover the lentils with water until they’re submerged by about 5cm. Add the garlic, lemongrass, salt, SL curry powder and pandan leaf, if using. Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat.
  3. Skim off any scum and turn the heat down, so the lentils are simmering. Add the turmeric and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes until the lentils are tender. There’s no need to stir here, you can basically forget about them except to check they’re not bubbling too vigorously.
  4. Drain off about 80% of the liquid. You don’t want it to be too wet and soupy because you’re adding coconut milk later.
  5. Stir in coconut milk and kale and allow to simmer gently for 2 to 3 minutes until the kale is bright green. Take out a little kale to try; it shouldn’t taste raw but should be soft with a firm bite. Remove from the heat and transfer to your serving bowl.
  6. In a small frying pan, make the temper. Heat the oil over a medium-high heat (careful, it will splutter a little). When hot, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally for 3 to 5 minutes until it starts to turn golden brown. Add the curry leaves, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds and cook for a couple of minutes until the curry leaves are bright green. Be careful not to burn the spices!
  7. Pour the whole temper, oil included, onto the cooked dal. Squeeze lime over it and sprinkle over the chilli flakes, if using, just before serving.
  1. Sri Lankan (SL) Curry Powder
  2. Make sure the windows are open and the ventilation is on, because roasting the chillies will kick up an intense smell that carries through the house. In a dry pan over a low-medium heat, roast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds and black peppercorns for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring regularly, until they begin to be really fragrant, then pour them into a bowl.
  3. Add the oil to the pan, and cook the curry leaves and dried chillies for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and when cool, blitz in a spice grinder or mini food processor until fine—you can blitz it in batches if you need to. Stir in the turmeric, and put the whole lot in a jam jar.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • jacky
  • Cindy Young
    Cindy Young
  • Sucheta Mehra
    Sucheta Mehra
  • leigh frat
    leigh frat

4 Reviews

jacky March 31, 2023
Made a few modifications using the dried spices on hand: dried curry + dried smoked chili + dried cumin + red pepper flakes, fresh turmeric + fresh ginger, and coconut milk instead of cream. Served the lentils with sauteed onions, garlic, shishito peppers, spinach, and shrimp. Cooked up very fast. We ate every bit. Looking forward to making it again and will seek out more authentic ingredients
Cindy Y. October 31, 2022
Where is a good source for fresh curry leaves in the US? I ordered some from Etsy once and they were mostly all black. :-(
Sucheta M. October 31, 2022
Most Indian and / or Asian stores carry fresh curry leaves. It’s also a pretty hardy plant to grow ( it doesn’t like frost or to freeze, so must come inside in the winter).
leigh F. November 17, 2022
They turn black when frozen. My friend's Dad grows them. He gives them to me and I keep them in the freezer. They are fine to use black.