Red Lentil Coconut Dhal with Sweet Potato & Kale

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.

Red Lentil Coconut Dhal |© Urban Cottage

Finding Inspiration

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!

Red Lentil Coconut Dhal |© Urban Cottage
Red Lentil Coconut Dhal with Sweet Potato & Kale

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.

Category: Main Course
Keyword: red lentil coconut dhal
Author: © Marlene Cornelis/ 2014–2020
  • 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)
How To Make This Recipe
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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


  1. Oh wow!!! I really need to make this. I can smell it already. It sounds fantastic. I have never heard of kalonji, what does it taste like? And if I do not have it is there something I can use in it’s place? Would it make a huge difference if it was left out completely?

    Thanks Marlene

    • That’s great to hear, Redawna. You’re such an amazing cook, I’m honoured you’d like to try my recipe! Here’s a link to an article I wrote for a local paper that tours my masala box, and describes kalonji:

      In summary, kalonji is also known as nigella seed, and it has an intense carroty flavour that’s somewhat peppery. If you can’t find this, I would go ahead and make there recipe without it. I can’t think of a substitution, but a good curry is all about a balance of spices that you like. Let me know what you come up with! But, you should be able to find kalonji in an Indian/Asian grocery, if there’s one near you. If not, let me know and I’ll bring some to the conference!

  2. You always impress me, Mar, with the range of dishes you prepare, Your lentil dishes always sound so good — even if I’ve yet to make one. I really need to change that. I can start by spending a little more time at the Indian spice shop. With Little India a mere half-mile away, there really is no excuse.

    • Thanks for the compliment, John. Yes, I’m really into lentils, and there are so many different ways to use them! Cheap, full of nutrients and even patriotic for us Canadians since something like 90% of the world’s lentils are grown here. I was surprised to learn that! I think it’s about time I do an Italian-inspired recipe with them; wouldn’t you agree? 😊

  3. I have no such market anywhere near here. If you bring some to Vancouver I would forever be grateful! I have snow in my forecast tonight so thought it would be the perfect time to make this. I will let you know how it goes. Thanks Marlene.

    • Snow! I’m lucky to be enjoying late summer/early fall weather here in Ontario. The earliest I’ve known it to snow here is October, but usually it’s well into November. We’ll see what happens this year.

      It’ll be my pleasure to bring some kalonji with me to the conference. I do realize how fortunate I am to have access to such a diversity of food, living as I do in a city of over 350,000. (Although I know there’s much more to be found in larger centres like Toronto or Vancouver.) I had a good reminder of that last week when I went shopping at the grocery store in the town near the cottage I’ve been staying at. Fresh herbs are quite limited (no cilantro for my corn soup!) and I couldn’t find dried red lentils either, something I consider a staple in my pantry. And that was a large and well-known chain grocer. It made me realize that some of my recipes are not as accessible for people as I like to think. Perhaps I should talk more about substitutions.

  4. Thank you so very much for this amazing recipe.. I had frozen chopped kale, dry lentils, and one sweet potato in the house. I googled recipes for these items and your recipe looked delicious. My daughter picked up some long grain rice and a can of coconut milk and we had an amazing restaurant quality dinner.. I always have spices and coconut oil the only change was yellow mustard powder in place of mustard seed but it was amazing.. And surprisingly easy to prepare.. Thank you again and God bless.

    • Hi Donna, it’s always lovely to hear from you! If you put “fennel” into the search bar, three recipes will pop up: a fennel and orange salad, a fennel and golden beet slaw, and a wonderful (if I may say so) turkey, cabbage and squash soup with fennel seeds, which add such lovely flavour. I hope this helps!

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