Yellow Dhal Curry with Pol Sambol

Yellow Dhal Curry with Pol Sambol

by Sarah Cotterell and Aitana Infante

A wonderfully fragrant and filling dhal recipe from A La Mesa, a celebration of food from the childhoods and travels of Sarah and Aitana of The Little Cooking Pot in Clapton. A La Mesa is a joyous and mindful guide to growing, sourcing, preserving, cooking, eating and composting. This recipe was inspired by Sarah’s travels in Sri Lanka.

Sarah: Every family that I stayed with in Sri Lanka wanted to cook and share their yellow dhal recipe. It’s exciting how something so simple can have so many ways of being cooked, as each person who makes it adds a little more of this or a little less of that. I suppose this recipe is a little of each of the wonderful people that I met during that trip. It’s often served with pol sambol, an addictive lime and chilli-spiked coconut chutney and a stack of warm roti. We make dhal throughout the year, using this recipe as a base and adding whatever is in season. Carrot and cardamom is a brilliant combination, as is winter squash.

Adding fresh spinach or baby chard, just before serving, brings a vibrant freshness to the dish.

Serves 5 to 6


  • 400g Split Red Lentils, or Split Yellow or Flamingo Peas
  • 1 Red Onion, peeled & finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 Green Chillies, split in half lengthways (optional)
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick
  • A thumb of Turmeric, finely grated or 2 tsp of Ground Turmeric
  • 400ml Good Quality Coconut Milk
For the tempering:
  • 4 tbsp Coconut Oil or cold pressed, neutral Vegetable Oil
  • 2 tbsp Cumin Seeds
  • 1 tbsp Mustard Seeds
  • 1 tbsp Fenugreek Seeds
  • A handful of Curry Leaves
  • 4 Garlic Cloves, peeled & finely grated
  • A large thumb of Ginger, finely grated
  • 1 to 2 Limes
  • Pinch of Sea Salt
For the Pol Sambol:
  • 100g Desiccated Coconut
  • ½ Red Onion, finely diced
  • 1 Lime, juiced
  • A big pinch of Dried Chilli Flakes
  • A small handful of Coriander, finely chopped (if in season)


  1. Pop the lentils into a large, heavy-bottomed pan with the onion, green chillies (if using), cinnamon stick and turmeric. Pour in the coconut milk and use the empty tin to add five tins of water to the pan. Turn on the heat, bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Stir often, until the lentils dissolve into a creamy consistency, adding a little more water if needed.
  2. Once the lentils are cooked, turn off the heat, mix in a big pinch of salt and set aside. Make sure you don’t add salt before the lentils are completely cooked or you will stop them from softening.
  3. Now for the tempering. This is where all the flavour comes from. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium to low heat and add the cumin, mustard and fenugreek seeds. Gently fry the spices until you start to hear the mustard seeds popping, being careful not to let them burn as it’ll add a bitter taste to the dhal. Next add the curry leaves, garlic and ginger. Gently stir, frying until the garlic turns golden and the ginger softens. It will smell delicious.
  4. Use a spatula to scrape all of the spices and flavoured oil into the cooked lentils and mix well. Add a good squeeze of lime and have a taste, adding more salt or lime as needed.
  5. To make the pol sambol, simply combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. It’s best eaten fresh on the day you make it. If you are making this recipe in winter when coriander is not in season, avoid using it. The result will be equally tasty.
  6. Ladle the dhal into bowls and top with pol sambol.

Sarah Cotterell and Aitana Infante
Sarah Cotterell and Aitana Infante


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