Curry leaves add a punch of flavor to this Sri Lankan dal

This Sri Lankan dal of tender lentils, like other dals on Sri Lankan tables, are central to every meal and usually served with several other dishes, such as kukul mas maluwa (chicken curry). Because it is part of a larger meal, dal is often seasoned simply. This version is as well, but it is richer in taste from curry leaves, which infuse the lentils with their flavor. Dry or frozen curry leaves are fine substitutes if you can’t find fresh ones. You can add some cumin or coriander powder, too, if you’d like, or skip the Maldive fish flakes for a vegan dish. This dal is easy to cook and can be refrigerated in a covered container for up to three days. Serve with long-grain rice, bread or any of your favorite roti or other Indian flatbreads.

By Zinara Rathnayake

Parippu Themparaduwa (Dal With Curry Leaves)

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 45 minutes


1 1/2 cups masoor dal (red lentils)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cayenne

2 teaspoons Maldivian fish flakes (optional; see tip)

3 tablespoons coconut oil

20 fresh curry leaves, plucked off the stems (1/4 cup), or use dried or thawed frozen curry leaves

1 small red onion, sliced ​​thin

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger


Cooked rice or roti, for serving


1. Put masoor dal in a medium bowl, cover with water and rinse thoroughly. Drain and repeat twice more until the water runs clear.

2. Transfer dal to a medium saucepan and add 3 cups water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the water has absorbed and the dal has cooked through and softened, about 15 minutes.

3. Turn off the heat and add ground turmeric, cayenne and fish flakes, if using. Mix well.

4. In a large nonstick pan, heat coconut oil over medium. Add curry leaves and onion, and cook, stirring often, until the onion has softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the dal mixture and stir well. Add 1/4 cup water, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and serve with rice or roti. The curry leaves aren’t meant to be eaten but can be served with the dal, then discarded after the meal.

TIP: Maldives fish flakes come from dried and cured tuna. They’re similar to dried anchovies, dried shrimp and bonito flakes. Packed with umami, they are frequently used in sambals and curry dishes in Sri Lanka and can be stored in a tightly sealed jar for up to 1 year. You can find them in Indian or Sri Lankan grocery shops or online.

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