Spicy, Hot Sri Lankan Dhal/Red Lentil Curry (“Miris Parippu” මිරිස් පරිප්පු)

“Miris parippu” is a Sri Lankan red lentil dish, hot due to a generous addition of red chili powder and spicy due to raw curry powder. “Miris” මිරිස් means “chili” in Singhalese while “parippu” පරිප්පු means “red lentils”, so taken together, the dish “miris parippu” මිරිස් පරිප්පු literally means “chili dhal” (“dhal’ being the more popular name in Sri Lanka for red lentils) or “chili red lentils”.

The red lentils are often soaked for at least 2-3 hours, or overnight if possible as when soaked they are easier to cook and easier to digest. Red lentil curries are quite popular in Sri Lanka where meat consumption is relatively low by world standards, particularly among vegetarians as it is believed to be a good plant-based source of protein.

As with most Sri Lankan dishes, there are no fixed recipes and ingredient ratios may vary depending on the individual’s preference. For instance, some cooks add tomatoes, while some leave it out. Some add a cinnamon stick while some may omit this. Some may like adding a few drops of juice from a freshly squeezed key lime while some prefer the dish without this (other varieties of lime such as kaffir lime are usually not used. Other citrus fruits are never used).

Regular Sri Lankan coconut oil, simply known as “pol thel” පොල් තෙල් in Singhalese (“pol” පොල් meaning “coconut” and “thel” තෙල් meaning “oil) results a in very flavorful and aromatic dish and it is strongly recommended to use this type of oil. Virgin coconut oil is has a very delicate flavor and aroma and as it thus usually not used to make this dish. Other types of flavorless oils such as canola or palm oil could work while delicate oils such as olive oil or robust oils such as peanut oil, sesame oil or soybean oil are not suitable. For the most authentic outcome, regular Sri Lankan coconut oil is the only choice.

Red onions, known as “rathu luunu” රතු ලූනු (“rathu” රතු meaning “red” and “luunu” ලූනු meaning “onion) in Singhalese are usually used for most Sri Lankan dishes. They are believed to be healthier and more delicious than their larger cousins, the onions commonly known as “Bombay onions” among Sri Lankans.

Good quality raw Sri Lankan curry powder (known as “amu thuna paha kudu” අමු තුනපහ කුඩු, “amu” අමු = “raw”, “thuna paha” තුනපහ = “three five” in reference to the three to five spices that go into making a curry powder, “kudu” කුඩු = “powder”) is imperative for a quality outcome. Sri Lankan curry powder is comprised of a distinct concoction of spices and as a consequence, curry powders from other cuisines such as those from Malaysia or India would not produce an authentic outcome. Curry powders lose their flavor and aroma with age, so fresher powders produce better results and older curry powders may require larger quantities to have the same result.

Preparing the dish according to traditional Sri Lankan coooking methods where food is cooked in an organic, unglazed clay pot, over a firewood fire, stirred and ladled with an organic, unglazed Sri Lankan coconut shell spoon is generally believed to produce a far more flavorful, nutritious and aromatic dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup red lentils – washed and soaked for at least 2-3 hours, preferably overnight
  • 3-4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 8-10 red onions – peeled and sliced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic – peeled, sliced lengthwise
  • 2 dried red chilies – cut to 1-inch pieces, soaked in a concentrated salt water solution
  • 2-4 fresh green chilies – slit down the middle
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh curry leaves
  • 1 fresh pandan leaf
  • 1- 1 1/2 tablespoons red chili powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon red chili flakes
  • 1 – 1 1/2 tablespoons raw Sri Lankan curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • Salt as desired

Method:

Lightly heat a clay pot over medium heat.

Add coconut oil and let it heat up.

Add black mustard seeds and let splutter.

Add shallots, garlic, red chilies, green chilies, curry leaves and pandan leaf. Cook until onions and garlic are fragrant and slightly brown.

Lower heat to low.

Add red chili powder, red chili flakes, raw curry powder and turmeric powder. Roast, slowly over low flame until the spice powders are aromatic, stirring frequently, be careful not to burn. The mixture should turn into a deep, brownish-maroon hue.

Once spice powders are roasted, add lentils and water as required, to completely cover the lentils plus just a bit more.

Cook until the lentils are soft and mushy, stir every now and then.

Once cooked, add salt as desired.

Serve hot with rice, roti or bread.

Note:
For a version with coconut milk, follow the recipe as above but add about 1/4 cup of fresh, thick coconut milk after the red lentils have been cooked till soft and mushy. Let stew until the mixture thickens slightly then add salt as desired.

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