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Authentic Sri Lankan Dhal Recipe: A Step-by-Step Guide to Cooking the Perfect Creamy Lentil Curry

Sri Lankan Dhal is a quintessential dish that embodies the vibrant and rich culinary tradition of Sri Lanka. The dish is centred around lentils, specifically Masoor Dal, which are known for their nutritional benefits and ease of cooking. These lentils are combined with a luxurious blend of coconut cream and an array of spices, including turmeric, cumin, and coriander powder, to create a dish that is bursting with flavour. The addition of green chillies and curry leaves a fresh and aromatic dimension to the dish, while the coconut oil used in both the cooking and tempering processes adds a subtle sweetness that is characteristic of Sri Lankan cuisine.

The tempering, a crucial step in the recipe, involves frying mustard seeds, cumin seeds, garlic, and red onions in coconut oil until they release their distinct aromas. This mixture is then poured over the cooked dhal, infusing it with a rich depth of flavour and a tempting aroma that is hard to resist.

Served alongside rice or roti bread, Sri Lankan Dhal is not just a meal; it’s an experience. It offers a taste of Sri Lanka’s traditional cooking techniques, where the simplicity of ingredients blends with complex flavours to create dishes that are both nourishing and comforting. Whether you’re a fan of South Asian cuisine or looking to explore new flavours, this Sri Lankan Dhal recipe is sure to impress with its creamy texture, aromatic spices, and the heartwarming essence of coconut.

Basic Ingredients for Sri Lankan Dhal


Lentils (Masoor Dal): Lentils are a great source of protein, fibre, and essential nutrients. Masoor Dal is chosen for its sweet, nutty flavour and quick-cooking properties, making it ideal for a comforting dhal.

Coconut Cream: Adds richness, creaminess, and a subtle sweetness that complements the earthiness of the lentils. Coconut cream is a hallmark of Sri Lankan cuisine, contributing to the dish’s distinctive flavour profile.

Coconut Oil: Used for its high smoking point and unique flavour, it introduces a slight sweetness and aroma that is pivotal in South Asian cooking. Coconut oil also helps in frying spices to release their full bouquet of flavours.

Onion, Ginger, and Garlic: This trio forms the aromatic base for many dishes worldwide, adding depth, warmth, and a foundation of flavour that enhances the overall dish.

Green Chilies and Curry Leaves: Introduce heat and a citrusy fragrance. Green chillies add a spicy kick, while curry leaves offer a unique flavour that is irreplaceable in South Asian dishes.

Turmeric, Cumin, and Coriander Powder: These spices are essential for their health benefits and for adding colour, warmth, and earthiness. They work together to give the dhal its characteristic taste and vibrant hue.

Salt and Black Pepper: Seasonings that enhance the natural flavours of the other ingredients, balancing the dish.

alternative ingredients

Lentils: Red lentils (Masoor Dal) can be substituted with yellow lentils (Moong Dal) or split peas for a variation in texture and taste.

Coconut Cream: For a lighter version, you can use coconut milk instead of coconut cream, or dairy cream if coconut isn’t preferred.

Coconut Oil: Vegetable oil or ghee can be used as a substitute for a different flavor profile.

Mustard Seeds, Cumin Seeds: If unavailable, ground mustard and cumin can be used in the tempering, though the texture and flavour will vary slightly.

Preparation Tips for Sri Lankan Dhal

  • Rinse Lentils: Always rinse the lentils thoroughly until the water runs clear to remove any dust or impurities.
  • Simmer Gently: Keep the dhal on a gentle simmer to prevent the lentils from becoming mushy and to allow the flavours to meld together beautifully.
  • Tempering: Prepare the tempering just before serving to ensure the flavours are vibrant and aromatic.

Serving Tips for Sri Lankan Dhal

  • Accompaniments: Serve with basmati rice or roti for a complete meal. A side of pickles or fresh cucumber salad complements the creamy dhal perfectly.
  • Garnish: Use the reserved tempering as a garnish before serving to introduce a crunch and an extra burst of flavor. Fresh coriander leaves or a squeeze of lemon juice can add freshness and zing.

storage tips

Refrigeration: Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. The flavors will continue to develop, making it even more delicious the next day.

Freezing: This dhal freezes well. Cool it down completely and store in freezer-safe containers for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.

Reheating: Gently reheat on the stove over low heat, adding a little water or coconut milk to adjust consistency if necessary.

Sri Lankan Dhal

Servings: 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 28 minutes


  • 1 ½ cups lentils (Mansoor Dhal), washed and drained
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 tsp ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • 2 green chillis, slit
  • 2 sprigs curry leaves
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • salt, to taste
  • ½ tsp black pepper


  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • 1 sprig curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp red chilli paste, (optional)
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes


  • In a medium-sized pot, heat 2 tbsp coconut oil. Add the diced onion and fry until golden brown. Add minced ginger and garlic, and sauté until fragrant.
  • Add lentils, green chillies, curry leaves, turmeric powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, salt, and black pepper. Stir well.
  • Add water, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Allow it to simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Stir in the coconut cream and simmer for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.
  • To prepare the tempering, heat 3 tbsp coconut oil in a nonstick pan. Fry the sliced red onions and garlic until golden brown. Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, dried Kashmiri chili, chili flakes, and a pinch of salt. Cook until the mustard seeds start to pop.
  • Pour the half the tempering mixture into the cooked dal. Reserve the balance and use as garnish.
  • Serve the delicious Sri Lankan Dhal with rice or roti bread on the side. Enjoy!

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