Sri Lankan Dahl

When I visited Sri Lanka for work a few years ago, I had many wonderful memories of the delicious food that we ate. The food was delicious and flavorful, similar to Indian food but with a different taste. I love Sri Lankan cuisine, but I had never made it myself until recently when my friend Suprit prepared Sri Lankan Jackfruit Curry for me. The jackfruit curried brought back many fond memories, and I love the food. I wanted to cook Sri Lankan food right away but first decided to try a simple Sri Lankan Red Lentil Dal. Sri Lankans love their Dal, or parippu, as it is called.

As an Indian, I cook a variety of lentil days at home. What makes Sri Lankan lentils dal unique? The main difference, I believe, is that the Dal is cooked with coconut milk. Coconut milk adds a lot of flavor and creaminess to the Dal. Curry leaves also add a different flavor to Sri Lankan Dal. Curry leaves are not usually added to the regular Indian-style dal.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is an island nation located at the southernmost tip of India. It is also known as the “teardrop” of India because of its shape. There are many food influences due to the proximity of India. Sri Lankan cuisine is full of spices and similar to Indian cooking. The Sri Lankan curries are a little more spicy than the Indian counterparts, but I’m not a shy eater, so I don’t mind at all. Sri Lankan food is based on tropical fruits, vegetables, and coconuts, as it’s an island nation. Hoppers and String Hoppers are usually eaten with curries.

The ingredients used to make Sri Lankan Red Lentil Dal

Red Split Lentil- Also called split masoor lentil in Hindi.

For this recipe, and to cook all of the split lentils, I like to soak them for half to an hour. If you’re pressed for time, you may skip this step. In the Instant Pot, increase the cooking time from 8 minutes to 10 minutes (the recipe card says 8 minutes plus soaking). Wash the lentils in Water until the water is almost clear.

Coconut Milk — This is what makes the Indian Dal so luscious. I use full-fat coconut milk in a can. Light coconut milk would work, but the flavor will be slightly different. Do not use coconut milk or Water in the refrigerator section as a dairy substitute.

Curry Leafs – Curry leaves can be found in most South Asian/Indian shops. The leaves are full of fragrance and can make a big difference in the taste of any dish they are added to. Curry leaves are used a lot in South Indian, Gujarati, and North Indian cuisines. Curry leaves are generously used in the preparation of this Dal.

Spices – The Dal is made with herbs that are warming, such as fresh ginger, garlic, and turmeric. You can find these spices at your local South Asian/Indian or regular grocery store. If you don’t want to spend money on 5-6 different herbs, you can substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons of curry powder. This will give the Dal a great flavor.

Instant Pot dal:

In this recipe, I cooked the Dal using the Instant Pot. This is my preferred method of cooking. It’s hands-off and takes a lot of guesswork out of cooking. If you don’t have an Instant Pot, you can pressure cook the Dal in a manual Pressure cooker. The same steps as in the recipe are followed. Once the lid is closed and the whistle is turned on, you can cook the Dal on medium heat for three whistles.

Cooking Dal on Stovetop: Alternative Method

This recipe can be easily made on the stovetop if you don’t have an Instant Pot. The split masoor lentil can be cooked on the stovetop.

Follow the directions on the recipe card until you reach the step of adding the Water. The amount of Water should be increased to 2 cups. When the Water reaches a rolling boil, reduce the heat to medium. Cover the Pot with the lid. The lentils should be cooked until the lentils have absorbed the water and they are fully cooked (check). It would take 15-17 minutes. Stir together the coconut milk with 1/2 cup water. Cover the Pot and simmer it for 5 minutes. The recipe card gives you the instructions for tempering Dal.

How to store and serve leftovers:

This Sri Lankan Red Lentil Dal can be served as an accompaniment with your Roti Curry and Rice Dinner. It can also be used as a soup. On a cold winter night, a bowl of this Sri Lankan Red Lentil Dal is all you need to warm up and feel comfortable.

Leftovers – Can be kept in the fridge for up to 3-4 days in an airtight container. Reheat with a microwave. The lentils will thicken as they cool, so you may need to add some water to the Dal.

Features of Sri Lankan Red Lentil Daal:

Gluten-Free, Vegan, and packed with good nutrition and protein.

You can easily make this recipe Jain if you omit the garlic and onion.

Instant Pot recipe. Instant Pot will do the rest after 10 minutes.

Serve with rice or as soup.

You can easily double this recipe. Leftovers will heat up beautifully in the microwave.


  • 1 cup Red lentil (split masoor dal)
  • 1 Tablespoon Cooking Oil
  • Half a cup of chopped onion
  • 1 Roma tomato, sliced
  • Garlic, grated, one tablespoon
  • Fresh ginger grated to 1 tablespoon
  • 2 Thai green chilies, slit lengthwise
  • 8-10 Curry Leaves
  • 1 Teaspoon Red Chili Powder
  • Coriander Powder (dhania), two teaspoons
  • Cumin powder (jeera), 1/2 teaspoon
  • Half a teaspoon of Turmeric Powder (Haldi).
  • Coconut Milk (from can) 1/2 cup
  • Divided into 2 cups of Water
  • Salt
  • Tempering
  • 1 Tablespoon Cooking Oil
  • Mustard Seeds (Rai), 1 Tablespoon
  • Curry leaves, 8-10 sprigs
  • Dry Red Chilies


  • The Dal should be washed several times until the Water is clear. Soak the Dal for half an hour to one hour in Water.
  • Sauté mode is activated by turning on the IP. Add oil and chopped onion to the heated IP. Stirring occasionally, cook the onions for about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the curry leaves, ginger, garlic, and turmeric powder. Also, add red chili powder, cumin powder, and coriander powder. Add the chopped tomatoes and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  • You can cancel the saute function. Add the drained lentils and 1 1/2 cups of Water to the onions and tomatoes. Stir the entire mixture. Make sure the seal is set on the valve and close the lid. Manually cook for 8 minutes on high.
  • After the Instant Pot has beeped and the cooking is finished, turn the valve to venting. The pressure will release in a few minutes, approximately 5-6 minutes. After the pressure has been released, open the lid carefully.
  • Instant Pots will be in Warming mode. You can cancel it out and switch it back to Saute mode. Stir in coconut milk, and if necessary, add 1/2 cup of Water to adjust consistency. Cook for 2 minutes.
  • Prepare the tempering while the Dal boils in the Instant Pot. Heat the oil in a small saucepan and add the mustard seeds, curry leaves, and dried red chilies. Cook until mustard seeds begin to sputter. Pour the tempering into the Instant Pot with the Dal and stir. Sri Lankan Red Lentil Dal is ready to serve.

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