Both the calendar and the weather tell me it’s still officially summer, but I’m starting to flirt with thoughts of fall. That has me looking forward to warming comfort food like this Red Lentil Coconut Dhal with Sweet Potato & Kale. I’ve made this many times, both in the city and at the lakeside cottage I rent — it’s a winning dish no matter where you make it.
Watching an episode of My Kitchen Rules one evening in 2014, my fancy was struck by one of the teams making a dhal with coconut milk as an accompaniment for butter chicken. That was enough to get the recipe-developing section of my brain humming along and planning my own version.
My Kitchen Rules was a new discovery for me that year, and I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s like a combination of Top Chef and Masterchef, but with marvellous Australian accents and a way of cooking that’s often fresh for me.
One of my favourite quick dishes for lunch or dinner is Fragrant Red Lentil Dhal, a robust mixture of red lentils cooked to the consistency of mashed potatoes and redolent of onions, garlic and curry spices. It couldn’t be simpler, especially since I make it with water. I used that recipe as a jumping-off point to explore the inspiration from the cooking show.
Red Lentil Coconut Dhal
Using coconut milk instead, I wanted to make a version that’s creamy and more stew-like. Caramelized sweet potato adds a touch of sweetness and body, and chopped kale brings a flash of green as well as added nutrients. Fresh red chili pops with both colour and spiciness. I like to cook it just until the red lentils are softened but still have a bit of texture to them.
Consider the spicing in the recipe below as a starting point, dialling the heat up or down to your taste. It’s written to reflect the first time I made it, when the curry had just the right combination of complex flavour and heat level. For me, that’s just below the point where I’d be reaching for relief from my beer glass, but then again, I’m admittedly a bit weenieish when it comes to spice levels.
The next time I made this dish was at the cottage. While I brought a good selection of spices with me, I didn’t have any garam masala. I did throw in about a teaspoon of both chana masala and ground cumin, and also substituted dried red chili flakes for the fresh chili. It turned out a little less spicy than the first time, but every bit as delicious.
As you might be able to tell from the photos, my beach version of the Red Lentil Coconut Dhal turned out a bit creamier than my city version. Both, I assure you, were delicious, but I do prefer it creamier. That’s the beauty of a recipe like this: you can just go with the flow and make it to your preference (or the dictates of your pantry). Enjoy!
Coconut milk makes this Indian-inspired dish creamy and stew-like. Caramelized sweet potato adds a touch of sweetness and body, chopped kale brings a flash of green, and red chili lends a pop of colour and heat.
- 1-1/2 to 2 tbsp coconut oil
- a smallish sweet potato, chopped small (about 1-1/2 cups)
- 1/2 to 1 onion, chopped (at least 1/2 cup)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red chili pepper, seeded, halved lengthwise & sliced thin
- 1 cup chopped kale (leafy part from 1 or 2 stalks)
- 2 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 tsp kalonji (also known as nigella seeds)
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp kashmiri chili powder
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 398 ml can coconut milk
- 200 gr red lentils, picked over and rinsed
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup water (plus more if required)
Heat the oil in a large cooking pot (smaller than a Dutch oven), and sauté the sweet potato for about five minutes over medium to medium high heat, stirring from time to time, until nicely caramelized. Add the onion, garlic and red chili pepper and stir well.
After a couple of minutes sprinkle in the spices. You want to cook this for a few minutes, stirring frequently, to develop the flavour of the spices. If the mixture looks too dry, add the remaining 1/2 tbsp of coconut oil.
Stir in the kale, and then add the coconut milk, a half cup of water and the red lentils. Stir well, cover and and bring to a boil, then put the heat to the lowest setting. If the mixture looks too thick, add the remaining water. Taste and adjust the seasonings as required. Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
The final texture should be creamy, with the sweet potatoes tender and almost melting about the edges. The lentils, to my way of thinking, should have just a bit of bite to them.
Looking for More Indian-Inspired Dishes?
I don’t claim to be an Indian food expert, or that my recipes are in any way authentic. Instead, they’re what I call Indian-inspired, exploring the spices and herbs used in Indian cuisine in ways that work for me. You may enjoy: Beef Curry with Potatoes, Red Pepper and Spinach; Lentil Cauliflower Curry; and, Fragrant Red Lentil Dhal.
First Published 2014 08 31
Republished 2020 09 02