Parippu: Love lentils the Sri Lankan way

Dhal curry in a white bowl with curry leaves and tomatoes

Parippu or dhal curry has to be one of Sri Lanka’s favourite dishes, served at pretty much every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a running joke in my family that every time my dad eats dhal, no matter where it’s from, he always says it’s the best he’s ever had. Every single time! He even likes to advocate that he could live off dhal alone because he loves it so much, although we’re still yet to see that happen!

The word ‘dhal’ (also known as ‘daal’, ‘dahl’, or ‘dal’) is derived from the sanskrit word ‘dal’ meaning to crack, split, or open, and as such encompasses a wide variety of split peas, lentils, beans and other pulses. It is a staple dish in Sri Lanka and most commonly made from masoor dal, otherwise known as split red lentils, which, are bright orange in colour and turn a deep yellow when cooked.

Dhal curry in a white bowl

Masoor dal is an incredible source of protein, containing over 25 g per 100 g of lentils rendering it a fantastic option for vegetarians. Similar to other pulses, it is also high in fibre and low in fat and it has been suggested that it provides numerous health benefits, including regulating blood sugar levels, controlling hypertension, reducing cholesterol, maintaining regular bowel movements, and preventing anaemia! Further still, lentils, unlike many other pulses, do not require soaking before cooking, making them perfect for cooking when time’s not on your side. And if all that isn’t enough to persuade you to jump onto the dhal bandwagon – it’s also super cheap!

For years I’ve been trying to perfect my dhal recipe but I’ve now come to the realisation that there isn’t one best way to make it – but that’s why it’s so great – simply adjust the ingredients for a different but still delicious dish every time! Garlic, ginger, chili, onions, curry leaves, cumin, coriander, cardamom, tomatoes, okra, spinach, coconut milk, yogurt, the list goes on and I’ve tried making dhal with them all. Whatever you’ve got to hand, shove it in! So there you have it – parippu – the perfect Sri Lankan speedy store cupboard dinner.

This is a basic parippu recipe but I really urge you to experiment with the ingredients, especially the tempered spices that you add at the end as that’s where most of the flavour comes from.

Serves: 4-6 (served with rice and curry)


200g red split lentils/ masoor dal
1 onion, finely sliced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp Sri Lankan curry powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp chili flakes
150-200 mls coconut milk
Salt, to taste

Tempered Spices
Oil or ghee, for frying
½ onion or 1-2 shallots
½ tsp mustard seeds
¼ tsp cumin seeds
curry leaves
cinnamon stick


  1. Wash and rinse the lentils, as you would rice, until the water runs clear.
  2. Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover with water. The water level should be slightly higher than the lentils.
  3. Bring the lentils to the boil and remove any scum with a spoon.
  4. Reduce heat and also add the onion, cumin, coriander, turmeric, curry powder and chili.
  5. Let lentils simmer until water has absorbed and lentils appear mushy and broken down.
  6. Stir in coconut milk at the end and add salt to taste.
  7. In a separate pan, heat oil and add onion or shallots. Throw in the mustard seeds, curry leaves, cinnamon and continue to fry until seeds begin to pop. Remove from heat and add mixture to lentils.

Dhal curry in a copper bowl

One thought on “Parippu: Love lentils the Sri Lankan way

  1. You are so right. There isn’t one best way to prepare dhal. This would be a great side dish to toasted bread. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

    *** one lankan to another, try to capture your photos when there is lot of natural light. :)

    Rasakama Reply

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