This Sri Lankan lentil curry (known as “daal”) traveled far to arrive at my doorstep in Washington, D.C. You see, a good friend of mine from Seattle recently returned to the U.S. after a long stint abroad. She was studying in England and then conducting field work for her dissertation in India. And now she is in New York, where she is making this delicious concoction of coconut, lime juice and curry leaves on a regular basis. Lucky am I for I visited her a few weeks ago and she mentioned in passing that this was the one dish she has been making with some frequency of late.
Given my obsession with all things food, I followed up and got the recipe. I love the idea of using coconut milk in daal. The creamy fruit goes so well in curries, such as the Kerala-inspired shrimp curry I have posted here and often make in my home kitchen. The idea of adding it to daal for richness and as a balance to the nutty spices that comprise traditional Indian tarka (the spiced oil used to finish daals) is brilliant. And the recipe really held its own.
I’ve been in a bit of a daal rut, making the same two recipes I had been taught by my mother and a good friend years back. I bet there are a 1,000 ways to make daal, and I am delighted to share this one with all of you. I’ve replicated it here with my adaptations, since I did change it a bit. Recipe after the jump.
Sri Lankan daal with coconut milk
Adapted from Maninas food blog
Start by boiling 1 cup of split lentils in 4 cups of water. As the water heats up, thinly dice 1/2 of a medium onion and 2 cloves of garlic. Toss in with 1 jalapeno or serrano pepper (optional, and any green chili will do) that has been slit crosswise to allow some of the heat and flavor to seep into the dish. Don’t worry — It doesn’t get too spicy, but feel free to omit or just drop in whole without cutting it to reduce the heat.
Once the mixture boils, reduce the pot to a simmer. Add the following spices: 5 curry leaves, a healthy pinch of turmeric, 1/2 tsp. cumin powder, 1 tsp. of fenugreek seeds, and 1 tsp. of salt. Cook until the daal is soft, about 30 minutes, adding water if needed to maintain a soupy consistency.
To finish the daal, prepare the tarka. In a skillet, heat 2 tbsp. grapeseed oil and add 1 tsp. cumin seeds, 1 tsp. mustard seeds, and 1 tsp. black cumin seeds (optional). Once the mustard seeds pop, about 30 seconds, stir in 5 more curry leaves and remove the oil from the heat. Move quickly, since the tarka can burn easily.
Pour the oil and spices into the daal along with 1/2 cup coconut milk and the juice of 1 lemon or lime.
Check the salt and add more if needed. Let the daal steep in its own heat until you are ready to serve. It will be even better when reheated. White basmati rice is the traditional accompaniment, but nutty brown rice would be just as delicious.