Coconut dhal with kale

Serves 4 Starters and mains

Coconut dal with kale


For the dhal

  • 300g red split lentils or toor lentils
  • 3 garlic cloves, halved lengthways
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, bruised
  • 1½tsp salt, or to taste
  • ½tsp Sri Lankan curry powder (see recipe linked)
  • 4cm piece pandan leaf (optional)
  • 1tsp ground turmeric
  • 100ml coconut milk
  • 3–4 small handfuls kale (approx. 200g)
  • ½ lime
  • 1tsp chilli flakes (optional)

For the temper

  • 1tbsp coconut or vegetable oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely sliced
  • 10 fresh curry leaves
  • ½tsp mustard seeds
  • ½tsp cumin seeds


Tip the lentils into a pan 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, Sri Lankan curry powder and pandan leaf, if using. Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat.

Skim off any scum and turn the heat down, so the lentils are simmering. Add the turmeric and simmer for 12–15 minutes until the lentils are tender. There’s no need to stir here – just check they’re not bubbling too vigorously.

Drain off about 80 per cent of the liquid, then stir in the coconut milk and kale and allow to simmer gently for 2–3 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 a serving bowl.

In a small frying pan, make the temper. Heat the oil over a medium-high heat and, when hot, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3–5 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, taking care not to burn the spices.

Pour the whole temper, oil included, over the cooked dal. Squeeze the lime over it and sprinkle over the chilli flakes, if using, just before serving.

This recipe featured in the October 2022 issue of Food and Travel. To subscribe, click here.

Recipes and photographs taken from Rambutan by Cynthia Shanmugalingam, photography by Alex Lau (Bloomsbury Publishing, £26).
Coconut dal with kale
Recipes and photographs taken from Rambutan by Cynthia Shanmugalingam, photography by Alex Lau (Bloomsbury Publishing, £26).


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