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Sri Lankan dal (dhal) curry is a delicious flavorful dish that’s easy to make. This recipe is one that I learned while traveling in Sri Lanka. It’s flavored with aromatic spices and coconut milk. Naturally vegan, gluten-free and high in protein.

Sri Lankan Coconut DhalThere are countless ways to prepare dahl and this Sri Lankan Dhal Curry is inspired directly from my experience in Sri Lanka. I ate dhal almost every day when I was there.

Dhal is an umbrella term used for lentils beans and peas.   Red lentils are most commonly used to make dhal but you can make it with red, green, brown, or black lentils.  My favorite is Mung Dhal, split mung beans.  I love them because they are easy to digest and don’t create gas.

Red lentils are available in most health food stores.  Mung Dhal aka Moong Dhal is available in Indian grocery stores or online.  Lentils are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Read my full article about lentils here

Start by gathering up all your spices.  

Sri Lankan Dhal Ingredients

I use turmeric, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds and fenugreek seeds.  If you don’t have fenugreek seeds don’t worry the dhal will be fine without them.  I like their slightly bitter taste.  In Sri Lanka, they use curry leaves and they are fabulous if you can find them.  I made my dhal without them.

You can soak the dhal (lentils or beans) for 2 hours or overnight for easier digestion but it’s fine to make this recipe without any soaking.

How To Make Sri Lankan Coconut Dhal Curry

In a medium saucepan, heat water and red lentils along with the turmeric. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and cook until just cooked, about 30 minutes for red lentils, 45 minutes for the moong dhal.  Skim off and discard any foam that rises

Add coconut milk.

While the dhal is cooking prepare the hot oil spice blend known as Tarka. It is made by simmering the spices in hot coconut oil in a skillet. Tempering the spices helps to add a layer of flavour and texture to the lentils. 

Dhal Onions in pan

Add curry leaves (if using) and green chilies along with sliced onions and salt.

Sauté for 5 minutes on low heat until the onion are soft.

Add tomatoes (if using ) and sauté 2 minutes.  In Sri Lanka they often put tomatoes into their dhal but it is optional.

Add onions and spices to the cooked lentils.

Mix all together and taste to adjust salt. Enjoy!

Dhal Pot Red better

Here I served the Dhal with Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and spinach sautéed in coconut oil with garlic.

Dhal with veg 2

Here is a version I made with the same recipe but with Moong Dhal instead of the red lentils.

Dhal Pot Yellow

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Sri Lankan Coconut Dhal

Sri Lankan Coconut Dhal Curry

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

4.9 from 7 reviews

  • Author: Ingrid DeHart -
  • Total Time: 45 mins
  • Yield: 4 1x


  • 1 cup masoor dhal (red lentils) or moong dhal (split mung beans) preferable soaked
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • ½ cup full fat coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds (optional)
  • 2 curry leaves (optional)
  • ½ medium red onion sliced
  • 12 green chilies, sliced (Serrano chiles are good)
  • 1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
  • 1 tomato chopped (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice


  1. Rinse the lentils.
  2. Heat water and lentils along with the turmeric. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and cook until just cooked, 30-45 minutes. Skim off and discard any foam that rises.
  3. Add coconut milk.
  4. While the lentils are cooking, heat oil in a saute pan until shimmering.
  5. Add mustard seeds, once they start to pop add the cumin and fenugreek seeds and sauté for 30 seconds.
  6. Add sliced onions, curry leaves (if using), green chilies and salt.
  7. Sauté for 5 minutes on low heat until the onions are soft.
  8. Add tomatoes (if using) and sauté 2 minutes.
  9. Add cooked onions and spices to cooked lentils.
  10. Mix all together, add lime juice.
  11. Taste to adjust salt. Enjoy!
  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 30 mins
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Cuisine: Sri Lankan

Let me know how you enjoyed this recipe in the comments below.  I always love hearing your thoughts and feedback on making your own delicious food at home.

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  • Patty Hodge says:

    Thanks for this! I love lentils but don’t have any understanding of how to season them beyond my Mom’s Italian style. I took a chance and put my lentils in a crock pot this morning. I used the seasonings I have at home right now: mustard powder, cumin powder, turmeric, onion, sea salt, coconut oil and water. I know it will not match the taste of your recipe but I wanted to get a feel for this right away. Bon apetit.

    • Ingrid says:

      Hi Patty,
      How creative of you to get started right away. It sounds like they will be delicious. Thanks for sharing.
      Much love,

  • Courtney Washington says:

    If i just soaked them overnight, do i still have to boil the lentils or just add them to the onions ahd other spice when i sautee them?

    • Ingrid says:

      Hi Courtney, Great question, definitely boil the lentils before add the onions and spices. The soaking just makes them easier to digest. Enjoy the recipe.

  • Rob says:

    I’ve made this and adjusted to what I remember it tasting like in Sri Lanka. The key to me was a cinnamon quill. Broken up and fried off in the oil with the mustard, cumin and fenugreek seeds and I used a lot of curry leaves. Unfortunately couldn’t find the fresh ones but I know I’ll spot them one day. Tasted great and paired with the roasted cauliflower too made for a great meal. Thanks for the recipe.

    • Ingrid says:

      Hi Rob,
      Great to hear you were in Sri Lanka. I will have to try it with a piece of cinnamon. Curry leaves have an amazing taste but are very difficult to come by, I try and make my recipes with easy to find ingredients so everyone can make them. I’m sure it was even more fabulous than the recipe written here. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anita says:

    I tried this recipe and also added a cinnamon stick and a few extra dried curry leaves and wow very nice indeed. My partner has just stated it’s the best thing we’ve eaten in a long time!

    Thank you Ingrid

    • Ingrid says:

      Hi Anita,
      Wow your partner loved it, that must make you feel so good. I love when my partner appreciates what I cook. I am going to order some dried curry leaves and make it with them and the cinnamon too. Thanks for sharing.
      Much love,

  • Hmm, I find dried curry leaves rather tasteless. We can get fresh ones in our local Indian store, and one can freeze them. They’re tastier than the dried ones.

  • Kate says:

    I found the recipe very good but thought it needed a touch of acidity to perk up the flavors. I put in a few teaspoons of lime juice and that did the trick. Otherwise good and interesting dhal recipe.

    • Ingrid says:

      Hi Kate,
      Thank you for the addition of lime juice to the recipe. Even though they don’t add it in Sri Lanka I agree with you, especially if you’re not using the tomatoes.

  • Shamala Panchacharan says:

    Yummy! Its exactly how my Ceylon Tamil mum cooks.

  • Betsy says:

    Delicious! This is the taste of Sri Lanka for us! My hubby and I just returned from a trip to Sri Lanka (which is where my grandparents are from) and the dhal was one of our favorite foods there. We are so happy to found a recipe to bring us back! Thank you!!

    • Ingrid says:

      Hi Betsy,
      Thanks for your appreciation. It’s fun to hear you and your hubby were in Sri Lanka. It’s a very magical place and it must have been very special to connect to your family heritage. We can all remember it when we eat the dhal.

  • Jessica Fitzgerald says:

    Once the lentils cook should there be any water left in the pot?

  • Jo says:

    Mine doesn’t taste like much 🙁 maybe because I couldn’t find curry leaves?

    • Jo says:

      I added the cinnamon and lime juice as others suggested. Definitely helped!

    • Ingrid says:

      Hi Jo,
      If you need more flavor you can always add additional cumin and Serrano peppers at the end. Next time add more mustard seeds too! Yes the curry leaves add flavor but it should still taste great without it. I’m glad the lime and cinnamon made it better for you. Thanks for posting.

  • bryan says:

    i found this recipe some months is absolutely beautiful.i have given this recipe to a number of friends.everone that has tasted it is of my opinion,bloody beautiful.cheers

  • Kim C says:

    I enjoyed this dish very much! I have to admit I altered things just a bit as I was also looking at another recipe (I used garlic and I didn’t use onions. I used the mung dahl and I incorporated cauliflower directly into the dish and I think I had a different hot peppers). I did actually have fenugreek seeds on hand plus all the other spices. Very easy and quite delicious! Thank you, Ingrid! Next time I will use the red lentils and onions and maybe the tomatoes too!

    • Ingrid says:

      Hi Kim, thanks for sharing your improvisations of this dish. I love hearing how you adjusted it for your own taste. I’m glad you liked it. Cooking is so much fun. We are all in this together, it’s nice to connect with you through food.

  • Alice says:

    Thanks for sharing this recipe! I’ve been convinced for the longest time that I was a failure when it came to lentils! Yourrecipe saved me, and it’s a new favorite for us.

    I did a few substitutions – replaced red for white onion, and green for red chili. Also skipped the curry leaves, fenugreek and tomatoes.

  • Vanessa says:

    This is SO GREAT!! THANK YOU FOR THIS RECIPE! IT’S GOING TO BE A NEW STAPLE FOR ME! YUM!! I added 1 Tbs of chopped garlic to the recipe and it still came out great.

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