Simple Dal & Coconut curry

Sri Lankan dal curry
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Sri Lankan style

Every household has their own recipe when it comes to dal curry. It is one of the most commonly prepared dishes in a daily basis. A big pot of creamy spicy dal curry is like the ultimate comfort food to us, irrespective of what it is eaten with. We serve this with bread, roti, rice, string hoppers, hoppers you name it!. If you ever visited the island and sit down at the dining table, one thing that is guaranteed to appear would be the humble dal curry.

Having lived for so long, so far away from my motherland, with limited authentic ingredients, I had to be creative when it comes to cooking traditional Sri Lankan dishes. So just like my chicken curry, I have learnt how to create the same flavor profile using alternatives. But if you have access to the actual, real ingredients feel free to use them!

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Red Lentil – There are several varieties when it comes to dal. We use the red Masoor dal for our curry. This type is vibrant, taste better, cooks faster too. Following is what’s used in this recipe.

Curry Leaves – This is something essential for this recipe. Use fresh if you can. I mostly use dried and some times none at all. To balance this out, I have used rosemary and oregano. It is not the same without curry leaves but sometimes I have to use what I have got.

Green chili – A must. I use Thai chilies. I think this is something you will have no trouble finding fresh. If not I’m sure they’ll be available in the frozen isle of most Asian grocery stores.

Fenugreek seeds – We usually use lightly toasted fenugreek. It is a little seed that is bitter on its own. But this adds so much flavor to a curry. It is very medicinal too.

Curry powder – If you can get the Sri Lankan curry powder, then it is the best. If not Indian curry powder works too. Make sure to use the non-roasted one. We use roasted curry powder in chicken (black) curry, it is very darker in color. Following are what I normally use.

Coconut milk – Freshly squeezed is the best and that is what we used growing up. But I have been using canned coconut milk ever since I left Sri Lanka. Stick to your favorite brand. Following is what I normally use.

Onions – Shallots is what we use for cooking in Sri Lanka. But it is extremely hard to source these here in the US or in Australia and they could be expensive too, so I have been using white or red onions instead.

Yes, I have mentioned a lot of substitutes to what is originally used in Sri Lanka. These will give you a close enough experience of the authentic flavors. But if you want to taste the real thing, you will have to hop on a plane!

Make the simple dal curry a little extra special

We can elevate the flavors even more by tempering the above dal curry. Here is how to do it.

You will need,
– 1 tsp black mustard seeds
– 3 tbsp. ghee or butter (oil is fine too)
– 1 tbsp. thinly sliced shallots
– 1 garlic thinly sliced
– 1 tsp dried chili pieces (or roughly chop a dried whole chili)
– few curry leaves

Heat a pan and add oil. When oil is hot enough add the mustard seeds. They should spit and pop. Stir and reduce heat to medium. Add the rest of the stuff and fry for about a minute or until onions and garlic go brown. Pour this over the cooked dal (before adding toppings). You can either mix it or leave it floating on top for a dramatic visual effect! Tempered dal is great served with Dosa or Idli

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