No Sri Lankan meal would be complete without these high-protein legumes, also called dahl, which soak up the flavors of coconut milk, lemongrass and cinnamon. Smooth and creamy, they comprise a perfect protein when eaten with rice. You can vary the consistency of the lentils from thick as oatmeal to watery as soup, depending on how much water you add. You may also add some fresh greens like spinach to the pot at the end for a healthy, colorful variation.
Tempering is a typically Sri Lankan technique that involves infusing a dish with a burst of flavor right before serving. I have read that it comes from the Portuguese, but I see no evidence of this fact in Portuguese cuisine. When we temper the dahl, we add fried onions, curry leaves, some dried chilies and black mustard seeds (which are considered an anti-flatulent, and therefore perfect for legume dishes). I also like to add a about a teaspoon of raw curry powder, for some added taste. You may purchase both my raw and roasted Sri Lankan curry powder at www.foodoro.com.
1/2 lb. (225 g) red lentils
2 cups (500 ml) water
1/2 onion, chopped
2 to 3 green chilies, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1-inch (2.5 cm) piece pandanus (optional)
1-inch (2.5 cm) stalk lemongrass
1-inch (2.5 cm) stick cinnamon
1 cardamom pod
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup (125 ml) coconut milk
salt to taste
tempering: 2 tablespoons oil
1/2 onion, sliced
1 sprig curry leaves
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 whole dry red chilies
1.) Wash and drain lentils (removing any stones or chaff).
2.) Bring water to boil in a medium-sized pot. Add lentils, onion, green chilies, garlic, pandanus, lemon grass, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and turmeric. Cover and simmer until lentils are soft (about 20 minutes).
3.) Add coconut milk and salt. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4.) In another pan, heat oil. Sauté onions and curry leaves until onions are translucent. Add mustard seeds and dry chilies. Fry until mustard seeds start to pop. Pour over lentils and mix well.
Makes 4 to 6 servings