This classic and soothing creamy red lentil Sri Lankan dal is offset by spiky “mallum,” or shredded greens cooked with onions, coconut, and fresh lime. In Sri Lanka all sorts of nutritious greens are used to make mallum, from chrysanthemum leaves to turnip tops. I use iron-rich kale here because it works harmoniously with the coconut and lime, but feel free to play around with spinach, cabbage, or whatever greens are in season.
Serves 4 as a main course
2¼ cups red lentils (1 pound)
3 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
¾-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
2 Indian green chiles, finely sliced
1/3 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ pound kale
½ x 14-ounce can of coconut milk
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
2 tablespoons desiccated or fresh grated coconut
juice of 1 lime
Wash the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear, then cover in water and leave to one side. Bash the cardamom pods with a mortar and pestle until cracked.
Put 2 tablespoons of coconut oil into a deep lidded saucepan over medium heat and, when hot, add the cardamom, cinnamon stick, and cloves. Stir-fry for a minute, then add the onions. Cook for 10 minutes, until the onions are browning and soft, stirring frequently, then add the garlic, ginger, and green chiles. Stir-fry for another couple of minutes, then remove a third of the mixture and leave it to one side.
Drain the lentils and add to the pan, along with the turmeric and 4 cups of hot water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat right down and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until the lentils are soft and creamy. In the meantime, wash the kale and chop the leaves into 2-inch strips, discarding the thicker stems. When the lentils are ready, add the coconut milk and 1½ teaspoons of salt, cook for another 5 minutes, then take off the heat. Cover to keep warm.
To make the kale mallum, put a tablespoon of coconut oil into a lidded frying pan over medium heat and, when hot, add the mustard seeds. When they pop, put the reserved onion mixture into the pan and fry for a couple of minutes, then add the kale and desiccated coconut. Stir-fry for a minute, then add ¼ cup of water and put the lid on. Leave to steam for 4 minutes, then add the lime juice and ½ teaspoon of salt and stir. Put the lid back on and steam for another 2 minutes, or until the kale is soft and tender.
To serve, ladle the dal into bowls and divide the kale over the top. Serve with rice and yogurt.