The Vegetarian

Lentil Curries

Easy Sri Lankan Lentil Curry

Tempered Lentil Curry

Indian Lentil Curry

I have written these recipes for red lentils (masoor dahl), but the same recipes will work mung dahl and channa dahl, just add some extra water and boil a little longer.

Easy Lentil Curry

- Sri Lankan style

This is for everyone out there who doesn't know how to make lentils.  Of course if you are from anywhere on the subcontinent... Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh etc... eating lentils with your rice or even your bread is just natural... but for everyone else.. yes, lentils are very good for you and very easy to make!

I've listed the ingredients in order from most essential to not so essential... except salt which is always essential. The more ingredients you use... the better the curry... but if you don't want to buy multiple ingredients just to try something out... then just start at the top of the list.

1/2 cup Red lentils (also known as masoor dahl)... these are the quickest and easiest to cook.
    -check if they are fresh by their smell... they should smell sickly sweet.. if they smell like dry fish or old socks that means they are either old or have fungus on them (unless you've been keeping them in your dry fish tin or in an old sock)
1 cup of water
1/2 an onion sliced
1 to 2 teaspoons of cumin powder
+/- 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
+/- 2 teaspoons of coriander powder
(or use a curry powder instead of cumin, coriander and cinnamon)
+/- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
+/- red chili powder
+/- sliced up fresh green chili
+/- 1 to 2 tablespoons coconut milk
+/- a few curry leaves
salt to taste

First wash the lentils... swish them around in water and pour off the water 3 times to get rid of any dust and debris. BEWARE if you buy lentils from Asian shops you may have to also search for stones in the lentils (otherwise you will end up biting on stones when you start eating). Try to buy good quality lentils to begin with unless you want to learn to search for stones.

Place the lentils in a pot with the water and onions and bring to the boil... then turn down to a fast simmer and add the cumin and cinnamon. (you can also add turmeric and red chili at this point, but it's not essential to the taste). If your cumin is fresh then 1 teaspoon is enough.. but if it is old and starting to lose it's flavour then try 2 teaspoons. The rule with curry powders (e.g. cumin) is to add more until it smells nice.

Note... when you boil lentils a collection of foam will always collect on the top of the water no matter how well you washed them... you can scoop out the foam if you like... but you don't have to... by the end of the recipe the foam will have dissipated.

After a few minutes of simmering you will notice the lentils are soft on the outside but still have a visibly hard centre... stir and check if you need to add more water... if there is very little water then add a little more water until the lentils are swimming around easily. Don't add too much water.. go little by little! When the hard centres are just disappearing the cooking process is done! How much water you add depends on whether you like your lentils soupy or dry... soupy is easier to begin with.. but don't put too much water in (you want some soup with your lentils.. not lentils with your soup).

Add salt and stir... taste test... keep adding salt until it tastes yummy. This is pretty much the key to adding salt to curries... keep adding bit by bit until it tastes right. If you accidentally add a little too much then add a bit of water.

While the lentils are still boiling hot... you can think about adding some coconut milk, sliced green chillies and some curry leaves... it tastes yummier with them but if you don't have them.. it's still yummy. Take off the heat after you've stirred through the coconut milk and curry leaves... they will cook in the heat which remains in the pot.

Eat with rice... or just dip your bread into it.

Note that you can adjust it from quite dry and almost rice-like to very watery and soup like according to your own preference.



Tempered Lentil Curry

- Sri Lankan style.
This is the "tempered" version... which possibly only has a meaning in Sri Lankan English.. where "tempering" is a method of cooking. Read the "Easy Lentil Curry" recipe first so that this variation makes sense. This method is great for other types of lentils which take longer to cook such as "channa dhal" which in english is "yellow split peas".

same as for "Easy Lentil Curry"
+ 2 teaspoons of black mustard seeds
+ 1 tablespoon of olive oil (olive oil or macadamia oil because it is healthier, but otherwise coconut oil)
If you are making "yellow split pea" lentils rather than red lentils, consider using whole spices rather than the ground up variety. For example use cinnamon sticks and cumin seeds rather than powders. Use whole dried red chilies rather than chili powder, and omit the fresh green chili.

Boil/simmer the lentils in the water until just soft, but do not add any curry powder or other ingredients to it. When the lentils are soft set aside.

In a large frying pan fry the onions and mustard seeds (+/- curry leaves and red chili) in the oil, until the onions brown.

Then add the curry powders (cummin, +/- cinnamon, +/- coriander, turmeric) fry for a few seconds and pour the cooked lentils into the same pan. You may need to add some extra water at this point and consider some coconut milk. Cook for just a minute and turn off the flame. Add salt until it tastes yummy... and then serve.

Note: you can use whole grain mustard from a jar instead of dry mustard seeds... but in that case fry the onions first and add the mustard just before the lentils go in... it will taste different.. but still yummy.


 Indian style tempered lentil curry

- Indian Style


1/2 cup Red lentils (also known as masoor dahl)

2 cups of water

1/2 a tomato - diced

inch of ginger cut into large pieces

1 teaspoon of turmeric

1 tablespoon vegetable oil or ghee

a pinch of ground asafetida

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

2 whole dried red chilies 

handful of fresh coriander leaves
salt to taste

Wash the lentils until water runs clear. Bring to the boil with the water and then simmer with the ginger and turmeric, adding the tomato just before the lentils are done. This recipe usually calls for the lentils to be cooked until mushy, but you can alter this according to your taste. If cooking until mushy, remember to stir otherwise the bottom will stick and burn. Add salt and taste test... add salt to taste.

When the dhal is almost done- heat up the oil separately, and fry the asafetida, cumin and chili - only for a few seconds. Pour the whole lot immediately over the dhal. Stir in and let it simmer for a minute and then remove from the flame.

Break up the coriander leaves by hand into rough pieces... and place on top... stir it in as the dhal cools.

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