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Dal with Kale-Coconut Tadka

Dal with Coconut-Kale Tadka

This dal is adapted from a Sri Lankan dal in Meera Sodha's Fresh India, but I have no idea if they would use garam masala in a Sri Lankan dal as I chose to. We like a lot of flavor in our food!

Course Entree
Cuisine Curry, Dal, Indian, Sri Lankan
Author The Spiced Life


For the dal:

  • 1 cup chana dal or yellow split peas
  • 1 1/4 cups split red lentils
  • 2 T virgin coconut oil, plus more in tadka
  • 1 (Ceylon) cinnamon stick
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 T minced ginger
  • 2 jalapeƱo chile peppers, seeds and membranes removed, minced
  • 1 t ground cardamom
  • 1/2 t ground turmeric
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 15-oz can full fat coconut milk
  • 1 t garam masala, plus more in tadka
  • 1 t salt, to taste
  • juice of one lime, plus more tadka

For the tadka:

  • 1 T virgin coconut oil
  • 1 t dark mustard seeds
  • reserved onion mixture from above
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut (shreds are fine too, but be sure is UNsweetened)
  • 1 10-oz bag frozen chopped kale (you can also use the equivalent fresh, be sure to remove stems before chopping)
  • 1/2 t garam masala
  • juice of 2 limes


First make the dal:

  1. Rinse the chana dal and lentils until the water runs clear.  Cover with water and place to the side.

  2. Heat the 2 tablespoons coconut oil over medium high heat in a heavy pot such as a Dutch oven. When the oil has melted, add the cinnamon stick and whole cloves.

  3. Let the whole spices fry for a minute, until fragrant. Add the sliced onions with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the onions start to caramelize. Keep some water by the cooktop and splash a little into the pan if the onions start to scorch or stick.

  4. Add the garlic, ginger and jalapeƱos. Stir and cook for another minute. Add the ground cardamom and cook, stirring, for another minute.

  5. Remove 1/3 of the onion mixture to a small bowl and set aside.

  6. Add the ground turmeric to the remaining onions and stir. Then drain the chana dal and lentils and add them to the pot with 2 quarts of water.

  7. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Let cook for 20-30 minutes--the red lentils will disintegrate and become creamy; the chana dal or split peas will become tender and creamy but probably still hold their shape. Depending on whether you use chana dal or split peas and depending on the age of the legumes, this could take a variable amount of time, so just keep checking. Add more water if the mixture starts to look dry.

  8. When the legumes are tender and ready, add the coconut milk, salt and garam masala. Stir. Then add the juice of 1 lime and taste for more salt (be aware there will be a little salt in the tadka too). Take the dal off the heat and set aside while you prepare the tadka.

Make the tadka:

  1. Heat the 1 tablespoon coconut oil over medium high heat in a medium sized skillet. Add the mustard seeds and partially cover the pan, allowing some steam to escape. Listen for the popping of the mustard seeds.

  2. When the popping of the mustard seeds slows (much like popcorn), add the reserved onion mixture to the pan and mix in.

  3. Add the chopped kale and coconut and stir for 1 minute. Add 1/4 cup of water. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium to let the kale steam.

  4. Let the kale steam for 4 minutes. Add the lime juice and garam masala with a pinch of salt. Stir. If you are using raw kale that needs to steam further, replace the lid and let cook another 2 minutes. If you used frozen kale, leave uncovered and let some excess moisture cook off. 

  5. We served this 2 ways: some tadka ladled over the dal or some tadka mixed into the dal and then also ladled over the dal. Either way is fine!