Thursday, September 15, 2016

Cooking with Bless: Lentil (Dhal) Curry and Sauted Okra

Lentil (dhal) curry, sauted okra, with beef curry and rice

Last week, I cooked a lentil curry and okra.  I don't have a recipe with specific amounts, as such, but here's how I prepared these two dishes.

Lentil (dhal) curry:  there are several different ways to prepare a lentil curry and many different varieties of lentils, but this is my preferred way.

Lentil Curry Ingredients

Red lentils, curry powder, turmeric powder, diced onions, a sprig of fresh curry leaves, a lemon.  Missing from my picture are green chilies (I was actually out of green chilies and substituted dried red chilies, instead), garlic, ginger, and cinnamon sticks.  I am not accustomed to setting out and assembling all my ingredients before I cook - I generally start cooking and then, add my ingredients as I go.  Sometimes, I will add mustard seeds; I chose not to, this time. 

Step 1 is to wash the lentils in several changes of water (at least 4) until the water is clear and not cloudy.  For this particular dish, which made enough for at least a couple of servings, I used about 1/2 cup of lentils.  I chose red lentils which do not need to be soaked first, before cooking.  I put the washed lentils in a pot and added enough water to cover the lentils with about 1/2 inch of water (I rest the very tip of my middle finger on the top of the lentils and the water should come up to the line of the first finger joint): 

Washed red lentils covered with water

Add a little salt and bring to a boil.  While it is coming to a boil, I add the other ingredients - the chopped onions, the curry leaves stripped off the stem, a half-teaspoon of turmeric, a teaspoon of curry powder, etc.:

Coming to a boil after the ingredients have been added

It was around this time that I realized that I didn't have any green chilies in the freezer and substituted two dried red chilies; leave the chilies whole if you don't want the dish to be too spicy, cut them up if you want more heat:

With the dried red chilies added

I stirred everything and boiled the lentils until they were soft and cooked.  Add more water, if needed.   Once the lentils are soft, it is time to add some milk.  I added about half a can of coconut milk.  If you don't have coconut milk, regular milk can be added.  I have not tried using other types of milk, such as soy milk, almond milk, etc., but I suppose they may be used as well.

After the coconut milk was added

After the milk is added, add some lemon juice.  In Sri Lanka, we would normally use lime juice.  I have 3 lemon trees in my garden and plenty of lemons, so I use lemon juice, rather than buy limes.  Continue to cook a bit longer, until the coconut milk is heated through and the lentil curry has a consistency you like.  Some people like it a thinner, more sauce like consistency.  I tend to prefer it a thicker consistency.  It will also thicken a bit more as it cools:

The completed dhal curry

Lentil curry used to be served almost daily, when I was growing up, as one of my half-brothers used to refuse to eat if there was no lentil curry.  It is served with bread or rice noodles for breakfast, with rice for lunch, with rice, or rice noodles, or bread for dinner.  Lentils and rice, like peanut butter and bread, is considered a complete protein.  Very often, spinach is added to the lentils and, sometimes, tomatoes. 

Sauted Okra:  Okra is known as "ladies' fingers" in Sri Lanka.  Again, there are different ways of preparing okra curries, but this is the way my mother used to cook it and my preferred way, because the final product is not very slimy.  This method of cooking is known as "thel dala" in Sinhalese (my native language), which translates as "put in oil".  I will refer to it as sauted, because, essentially, it is the same thing.


Sauted Okra Ingredients

Okra, dark roasted curry powder, diced onions, and the item I left out of the picture: Maldive fish chips.  I prefer what is known as dark roasted curry powder when I make sauted dishes, but one can use regular curry powder, as well.  Or, dry roast a couple of spoons of regular curry powder in a saute pan without any oil until a bit darker in color to make your own dark roasted curry powder.

Step 1:  Wash the whole okra, pat them dry, and slice diagonally.  According to my mother, leaving water on the okra makes them slimier.

Sliced Okra

Step 2:  Heat a table spoon or so of oil (I use canola oil for the most part, but you can use whatever oil you prefer), in a saute pan, add the sliced okra and onions, a couple of heaping teaspoons of curry powder and a teaspoon of Maldive fish chips (can be omitted; it is used in our cooking as a flavoring condiment), season with salt, and, I confess I added a bit of chili powder, as well:

All the ingredients in the saute pan

Stir and cook until the okra is cooked through and tender, but not over-cooked (probably 5 minutes or so).  I added a little bit of lemon juice at the very end, as well.

The cooked okra

This is about the only way I will eat okra and I have only made it with fresh okra.  I don't know how frozen okra will be.   

Do you think you might try making lentils and okra this way?


  1. Thank you so much for sharing these recipes! I will definitely try making your dahl. I have enjoyed almost every version of dahl I have tried, so am eager to try this one out. If I have okra on hand ever, I will also try this way of cooking it, although perhaps with slightly different seasonings. I have a hard time cooking with fish powders and fish sauces as the scent puts me off the end dish, even though by that point it's not usually discernible as a distinct flavor or odor.

    I'm curious as to how you make your beef curry -- do you use ground beef or another cut?

    1. Laura, you can definitely leave out the fish powder. I cook my green beans the same way I cook the okra, except I add a little water to the pan so the beans can get a bit softer. I cook cabbage this way, too. Here's a post where I showed how to cook the cabbage:

      For my beef curry, I usually buy chuck steak/roast or London broil. Basically, which ever cut of beef that is on sale! Even those packages of cut up pieces labeled "stew meat" will be fine, too. I cut up the meat into small pieces, add the spices (curry powder, chili powder, cloves, cardamom, a couple of pieces of cinnamon stick, garlic, ginger, etc.), leave it to marinate for 30 mins. or so, saute in a bit of oil, then add some water and cover with a lid and let it cook until the meat is soft (depends on cut of meat, it can take some time). Once soft, add some milk to thicken the gravy. I add curry leaves, but if you don't have curry leaves, you can substitute a couple of bay leaves. If you have lemon grass, add that, too. I also usually add tamarind to my meat curry (it is a meat tenderizer). If you don't have tamarind, you can add tomato. If you can get pandan leaves (I buy mine frozen from the Asian grocery stores), add a couple of pieces of that, too, but you can still make a good beef curry without it. Some people don't saute the beef before boiling it, but I think the curry tastes better when the meat is sauted first and then boiled.

    2. Thank you so much, Bless! I've copied this into a file and will have to try it out when I find a good sale on beef.

  2. I love lentils! Could I use curry paste if I don't have the dried peppers? Is that similar? I have green and red curry paste.

    My next task after publishing this comment is finally cracking open one of the Sri Lankan cookbooks I borrowed from the library last week!

    1. Nathalie, to be quite honest, I've never used curry paste, so I don't know if it would work or not. But I suppose a bit of the red curry paste would be OK in the lentils. However, I used the dried chilies only because I didn't have fresh green chilies. You could use one or two of the serrano chilies you have growing in your garden, instead.

  3. I looked to put okra on my shopping delivery but they only had frozen. I'm definitely going to get some next time I go on the market. Thank you! x

    1. You are welcome, Lyssa. As I mentioned in my reply to Laura's comment above, I cook green beans the same way, except I add a bit of water so the beans can cook all the way. You could use frozen green beans, too.

  4. Ah! I thought your dhal was going to be just like ours, but we don't add the lemon or coconut milk (or any milk). I'd like to try your version though. When I was small, I remember mum made the dhal very thick, almost like a paste, but after one of her aunties visited, she taught mum several of her mother's (auntie's sister's) recipes and also told her to make the dhal much funnier. Now we have runny dhal. I don't mind - I tip it over the whole plate as a sauce!

    1. Oh, that's interesting! I don't know much about Goan cooking! But, I am going to check some recipes to see. The Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka in 1505 and, although later displaced by the arrival of the Dutch and the British, there are still several names, words, and a few dishes that can be traced back to the Portuguese rule. :)

    2. Very interesting indeed. I didn't know the Portuguese had been in Sri Lanka as well. Is this why much of your family is Catholic? I must say I have been enjoying "chatting" to you about this stuff and it makes me think I should find out more about the relevant history and traditions.

      I have been to Goa once and tried to take in as much as I could but what I did learn is pretty foggy now. I do know that somehow I had got the impression from Mum that the whole state was predominantly Catholic, but in reality I discovered a large Hindu population too. I remember being told that the Hindus grew tulsi outside their houses for protection, and you could identify a Hindu house easily that way. I can't remember what signified a Catholic house ... there was something ... possibly simply a cross or Madonna I suppose. Something else to read up on! Sorry for drivelling on.

      (And I suppose you worked out that Auntie's advice was to make the dhal runnier, not funnier ... although TBH I could do with a laugh just now!!)

    3. Yes, many people converted to Catholicism under the Portuguese (there were many reasons for doing so, including economic and social). My mother's maternal side of the family trace their origins to Dutch ancestors; her father's side of the family were Sinhalese. My father's side were also Sinhalese, but, one of his cousins from his maternal side mentioned a grandmother or a great grandmother who was from Northern India (but, I don't know this as a fact). Most Catholic houses in Sri Lanka used to have a cross just above the front door on the inside of the house; nothing on the outside as far as I remember.

      Ah, yes, about the funnier dhal - I did laugh when I read that, but, I figured you meant runnier. :D

    4. Ah, mum was born in northern India too! I remember the crosses over the front door as well as many Jesus or Mary paintings in Indian homes. I think what I recall from the Goan tour was seeing the old Portuguese homes, with stone crosses outside in front of the entrance or in the courtyard. In contrast, the Hindu homes had a tulsi vrindavan, which I never remember seeing in the cities.

      Your previous response reminded me that when I was little we had a family holiday in Portugal and mum was able to communicate very simply if she spoke slowly in Konkani and they spoke slowly in Portuguese. What a surprise!

    5. How cool was that? I guess Konkani had a lot of borrowed Portuguese words!

    6. Hi again. Just came back here to say that I saw my parents today. It is Dad's birthday so I delivered my gift and had a chat on the doorstep. I told Mum about this post and how your dhal differed from ours. Dad said "Oh that sounds nice!" So now I have copied your recipe to give to Mum and we can try your version!

      I reminded her that Goan dhal has burnt onions in it and she said, "Yes, but I don't tend to do it that way as it stinks the whole house out!"

      (They are having curry for the birthday dinner tonight, including chicken dopiaza and homemade chapattis. I am getting a portion packed up and sister will deliver it for me to eat tomorrow.)

    7. Happy birthday to your Dad! I hope your parents and you will like my version of the dhal. Some versions of Sri Lankan dhal also has the "tempered onions" added to it! Onions, curry leaves, mustard, and dried red chilies are sauteed and stirred into the cooked dhal at the very end. But, I don't do that, myself, because it is one extra step and I am a lazy cook! :D

      I don't think I've had chicken dopiaza! I had to look it up! Maybe a new dish to try! Glad you will be receiving a portion of your Dad's birthday dinner delivered to you. :) Enjoy!


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