1 onion
3–4 garlic cloves
4cm piece of fresh root ginger, peeled
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black onion seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
1½ tbsp solid coconut oil
3 tbsp desiccated coconut
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground turmeric
250g lentils
1 x 400g tin of coconut milk
800ml–1 litre water, as required
juice of ½ lemon

3 Coconut Dahl


I’ve been told that this recipe sounds like an address. It is certainly the route to a happy stomach. It owes its name to the three forms of coconut it contains – solid oil, desiccated flakes and the milk – which together make it textured, creamy, a little more exotic, and (accidentally) vegan.

I grew up with dahl in various forms – usually much more basic assemblages of lentils, onion and curry powder. I’m very fond of curry powder’s mild tang, so I’ve kept that in here. Use red or black lentils and remember they are thirsty (especially the black ones), so monitor your simmering potful, keep stirring and always be at the ready to add more water. Lentils also love salt; many times I’ve added what seems like too much salt to a potful like this, but they soon absorb it and just taste well-seasoned. The amount of water and salt you use is, of course, up to you. Only you know your salt threshold and ideal texture – I like decipherable lentil rounds within a satisfying gloop.

Remember that ‘to bring your dahl back to life’ as my granny did, simply add more water to it the following day and reheat. It’ll be as good as new.

1. Blitz the onion, garlic and ginger together in a blender or chop and grind to a paste using a pestle and mortar.

2. Heat a large, deep sauté pan or heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, add the cumin seeds, onion seeds and fenugreek seeds and dry fry for a couple of minutes until they become fragrant. Keep stirring them to avoid them burning.

3. Add the chilli flakes and 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil. Once it has melted, add the onion, garlic and ginger mixture. Lower the heat a little and let the mixture sweat for about 7 minutes, until it starts to develop some colour, then add the desiccated coconut and fry gently for a further couple of minutes. Add the curry powder, turmeric, the remaining ½ tablespoon of coconut oil and
the lentils. You want them to acquire a glossy coating from the oil. Stir-fry for a minute or 2.

4. Add the coconut milk and 400ml of the water, increase the heat and, once boiling, reduce to a lively simmer. Now it’s just a question of careful monitoring. Add water in 100–200ml increments as the liquid is absorbed and keep doing so until your dahl has the consistency you desire. I find it can be up to 1 litre, but you might need more, or much less. Play it by ear.

5. Add plenty of salt to taste and a drizzle of lemon juice and serve with basmati rice and yoghurt.