Red Lentil Dal with Coconut Milk and Kale

January 24, 2016

This red lentil dal is another easy recipe I clipped out of Food and Wine (February 2015) during my recent magazine purge. Dal is the Indian word for dried split peas or lentils, and is also used to refer to the thick stew made from them.  We had it as an accompaniment at most meals when I visited India in 2010 (including breakfast!); I fondly remember scooping up mouthfuls with delicious homemade chapati. This recipe adds kale as a hearty green to bulk up the stew, so this would be suitable as a light main dish (accompanied by a salad and some crusty bread) as well as a side dish.

I never really jumped on the kale bandwagon of a few years ago (which still seems to be going strong, although I hear it mentioned more often now in the form of green smoothies), but I don’t dislike it and am happy to try recipes that make good use of it. This dal recipe doesn’t specify the type of kale to use; even though I have more familiarity with the Tuscan variety, I bought the more common curly-leaf variety this time. The recipe only used about half the bunch, so now I need to figure out something to do with the leftover kale in the next couple of days! The type of chile peppers is also unspecified: the recipe just calls for “small red chiles.” I ended up buying Fresno chiles, which have a kick but didn’t overwhelm the dish with spice.

Overall we really enjoyed this lentil stew! The coconut milk adds just the right amount of background coconut flavor without being overly coconut-y. Recipe has been pasted into my binder of ones to keep and make again!


Can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept refrigerated.


  • 3  tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1  teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1  teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1  teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2  onions, halved and thinly sliced
  • 3  garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2  tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2  small fresh red chiles, thinly sliced
  • 1  quart chicken or vegetable stock
  • One  14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2  cups red lentils, picked over (13 ounces)
  • 2  tablespoons chopped cilantro stems, plus chopped leaves for garnish
  • 1/2  pound kale, stemmed and leaves coarsely chopped (4 cups)
  • 1½  teaspoons fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
  • Salt
  • Pepper


  1. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil. Add the cumin, fennel, and turmeric and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and half of the sliced chiles and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Spoon half of the spiced onion mixture into a small bowl and reserve.
  2. Add the stock, coconut milk, red lentils, and cilantro stems to the saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Add the kale and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Spoon the dal into bowls. Top with the reserved onion mixture and the remaining sliced chiles. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with lemon wedges.


  1. Definitely will try this recipe. Question: When you say “lentils…picked over” what do you mean by “picked over”. Are you using the dried lentils which you then soak? Would this recipe work if I used canned/soaked lentils?

    • Sorry it took me so long to get back to you! Dry lentils may have small stones mixed in, so you just want to give them a once-over to make sure you don’t end up with anything in your dish that’ll break a tooth! Red lentils are actually a bit different than regular brown lentils – they cook really fast since they’re so small. This recipe’s timing is based on using dried lentils straight from the bag, no need for pre-soaking. Hope that helps!

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