Recipe: White Dal Curry

My friend Ruby grew up in Sri Lanka and spent the better part of her 40th birthday making sure I learned everything there is to know about the food.

Here she is drinking Ceylon Tea, grown in … you guessed it… Sri Lanka!


Ruby isn’t keen on cooking (or so she claims), so she supervised while her dear friend Iona showed me the ropes.

Iona blew me away by whipping up not one, not two, but three curries. I fell in love each steaming, fragrant batch. There was everything from beef to chicken. But I left most excited about making this White Dal.


Because what tastes amazing and what I actually have time to make … well, they rarely come together.

White Dal is something that can be thrown together very easily with a minimum of ingredients, which fits perfectly into my mom schedule. It also happens to be vegan, which is an added bonus..

The flavor is outstanding thanks to three simple ingredients: pandan, curry leaves, and a cinnamon stick. These first two can be purchased at Asian markets and some Indian markets. My Pandan was found in the freezer section of Nam Hai, right here in Tulsa.

Coconut milk adds the finishing, smooth-as-silk touch. Use just a splash, or up to a can, if you’re feeling really indulgent.

TIP: After using what you need from the curry leaves and the pandan, freeze the rest in zip lock baggies (use a straw to suck out the extra air). This way you can make more White Dal at the drop of a hat.

NOTE: If you want to make this dal spicy, just add small chili peppers, to taste.

Yum yum.

Serves 4


vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp whole fenugreek
2 cups masoor dal
4 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 pandan leaves
5-8 curry leaves

1/4 cup – 15 ounces cococnut milk


First, rinse the dal, pick through it for any odd bits, and drain.

washing dal

Nothing but dal here…washing dal2

Next, fry the onion and garlic in vegetable oil. Add the turmeric and fenugreek and cook until the house smells like ‘happiness.’

Then (and only then), add the remaining ingredients (let the curry leaves and pandan toast a bit in the oil, if possible).

Stir well, so that all the fragrant leaves and cinnamon get under the dal to infuse.

Cover and simmer gently until tender … the longer it cooks, the more the flavors infuse from the curry leaves and pandan.

I’d say let it work for no less than 45 minutes… stirring once or twice as you go and adding more water, if needed. I like mine to cook about an hour and fifteen minutes.

(I have a feeling this would be awesome in a crock pot.)

Right before serving, splash a bit of coconut milk into the dal, to taste.

Check seasonings and add salt as desired.
Eat with a smile and a bit of Sri Lankan wisdom.


P.S. I’m curious… What’s the kindest thing someone has ever said to you? 

For me, it’s when my husband says “I believe in you” during my weakest, most doubt-filled moments… his gentle encouragement is so contagious…  I soon find myself believing again.

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  1. Ruby Libertus says:

    So speaking of kind words (and world peace related)-Fmr SL President J.R. Jayawardena after WWII and nations around the world wondering what to do about Japan and he suggested sort of (paraphrasing here) an eye for an eye as punishment would make the whole world blind and for that the Japanese have been closely allied with this island and even have a memorial monument to that President.

  2. aunty eileen says:

    There are many ‘kind’ words people and my husband and children have said of and to me over my long life. There are a few that I particularly treasure hearing and knowing: ‘trusted’ and ‘very considerate/thoughtful and caring’.

    • aunty eileen says:

      ….if people are trying to put you down, or it seems as if people are trying to put you down… it is always very helpful to be reminded or to be able to remind yourself of the good qualities you know you have. In this way, you are thus able to always hold your head up high… for looking up at the moon and even the stars…

      • aunty eileen says:

        And, there will always be barking and noise around us… until the world learns to work as one and in harmony….. it is our only hope. And, ‘it’ must start with our self developing and living with great and good ‘qualities’ only.

        A poem… by me

        It’s not about me
        It’s not about you
        It’s not about an entity…
        It is about all of it working as one…

        It’s not about me
        It’s not about you
        It’s not about an entity…
        It is about all of us living in harmony.

        All my words in these 3 posts are all I have to offer… for our work towards ‘world peace’….

  3. Ruby Libertus says:

    Ja that eye for an eye is very much a religious philosphy in Asia, but really exemplified Gandhi’s movement.

  4. This dal sounds so good! I haven’t ever come across pandan before, but if you can find it in Tulsa, I firmly believe that I can find it in the many Asian markets of Silicon Valley. :) HOoray!

  5. Ruby Libertus says:

    As I am sure Sasha mentioned in SL they call it rampe.

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