Coconut Dhal

By Published On: 13 Aug '21Last Updated: 25 May '24

Deliciously creamy Coconut Dhal is a protein rich, one-pot, stew-like vegetarian dish with masoor dhal. With a milk spice kick, the aroma is totally enticing and comes from the tempering. Awesome with hot steamed rice, papad and Indian pickles.


“Sumptuous and full of nostalgia… remember having it at my grandma’s in Mangalore.. Had to have a mountain of rice with this delicious dhal. Thumbs up all the way”.

– Astria

Dhal is the name given to the ingredient and the dish itself and it is the dish that gastronomically unites India. Dhal chawal (dhal with rice), dhal roti, dhal naan is the basic survival meal in India particularly for vegetarians who rely on dhal as their main source of protein. The addition of coconut milk when cooking dhal turns a normal dhal into a simply creamy Coconut Dhal. It is finger lickin’ good and I mean this!!

Comforting and the best vegetarian meal I have ever eaten, in South India dhal tends to be of soup-like consistency such as the spicy sambhar. However, it is eaten very differently in Northern India where they cook dhals like thickened stews such as, dhal makhani. Dhal gets much of its flavour from the finishing touches, the seasoning or the tadka which is made up of a few spices tempered in hot oil, which is then poured over the cooked dhal to bring the dish alive.

For many Mangalorean Catholics Dhal aka Saar in Konkani is the last option meal. My mother prepared dhal mostly during the monsoon months when fish was not available. It was almost always eaten along with omelette for a filling lunch or dinner. Dhal was also paired with spicy papads and pickles when eggs were running low or out of stock. When fish was available in plenty, dhal was and is, almost always paired with tawa fried fish (pan fried) or dried fish. Dhal and tawa fried fish is a match made in heaven. In modern times this humble dhal has also taken centre stage and is a popular item on many restaurant menus. The preparation varies from house to house and state to state, restaurant to restaurant. Every household has their favourite recipe and the seasoning will also vary slightly.

My mother prepared a straight forward dhal without the addition of coconut milk and mind you, it tasted divine. I always made dhal exactly the same way as my mother used to make until one day my husband introduced me to a rather different way to enjoy this legume. He said his mother prepared dhal with coconut milk from time to time and he remembers the taste of that dhal to be divine. He also mentioned that his cousins devoured her dhal and consumed it more like soup each time she prepared it. After tasting his mother’s version of dhal a couple of times, I was convinced that this was a recipe that I would like to share with all of you in my website. So, here goes my late mother-in-law’s comforting dhal recipe that you will enjoy time and time again but please know I make this dhal only as a treat as I know it is rich and anything rich, needs to be eaten only in moderation!!

For those who have purchased a copy of ‘Deliciously Indian’, this recipe is similar in many ways except for the addition of coconut milk. You will also need to add more turmeric powder for a brighter colour in this recipe. Also, I have used double the quantity of dhal in this version.

A word of caution, coconut milk is the ingredient that we are taught to add at the end of cooking however, in this recipe, coconut milk is added in the beginning along with other ingredients. And why is it so? Coconut milk gives dhal that extra moisture and creaminess when cooking. The dhal absorbs the taste of coconut milk and makes it rich, creamy and gives a strong coconut flavour. Of course, when my mother-in-law used to make it, she always used fresh coconut milk and she added it at the end of cooking. If you are using fresh coconut milk, add it in Step 5 in the last 3 minutes of cooking, stir well to combine and simmer for 3 minutes. For the recipe below, I have used Ayam coconut powder and diluted it with medium hot water as I rarely use fresh coconut milk in any of my cooking these days. Coconuts available in our local supermarkets or vegetable grocers are very dry in texture and do not yield enough coconut milk.

Okay, what I would now say is, if you cannot go to India perhaps bring India home by giving your old dhal recipe a facelift and discover a brand new way to enjoy this member of the legume family! Thanks to my late mother-in-law. May her soul Rest-in-Peace.

Oh it’s damn dhalicious served with Beef Jalfrezi (chilli fry) or Mangalorean Prawn Chilli Fry, if you are looking for a meaty or fish combo with this Coconut Dhal!!!. I think you are gonna love it!

If you have tried this recipe, I would love to hear your feedback. Please be sure to rate the recipe and/or leave a comment below. If you want to see more recipe inspirations, you can follow me on instagram @lavina_mendonsa.

Coconut Dhal

Coconut Dhal

Catherine Lavina Mendonsa
Coconut dhal is a quick, one pot stew-like vegetarian dish made with masoor dhal (split red lentils).  It is a pure protein dish, where the dhal is cooked with creamy coconut milk, some spices and herbs.  This dhal is simple with a gentle spice kick, the enticing aroma of the tadka/tempering/seasoning is what brings this dhal alive. Makes a hearty and healthy vegetarian mid-week meal with hot steamed rice, papad and Indian pickles.  Simply dhalicious!     
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Resting time 5 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian, Mangalorean
Servings 4 people


  • cup Masoor dhal or red split lentils
  • 800 mL water
  • 4 medium garlic cloves thinly sliced
  • 1 medium tomato thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion thinly sliced
  • 2 medium potatoes cubed
  • 3 green chillies slit or to taste
  • 2 tsp. salt or to taste
  • 25 g coconut milk powder
  • 200 mL medium hot water
  • tsp. turmeric powder
  • ½ - ¾ tsp. sugar
  • 1 cup coriander leaves for garnish optional

For the Seasoning

  • 4 tbsp. oil
  • 2 tsp. black mustard seeds
  • 1 strand curry leaves


  • Rinse dhal well under cold running water until water runs clear.
  • Combine the first 8 ingredients in a deep, heavy based saucepan with a lid.
  • Combine coconut milk powder with hot water. Add to the saucepan.
  • Place the saucepan on medium heat with the lid on and bring to the boil. Add turmeric powder and stir to combine.
  • Simmer uncovered and cook for 6-8 minutes or until potatoes are cooked stirring from time to time. Do not overcook the dhal. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • For the seasoning, heat oil in a small frying pan. Add mustard seeds, when they pop, add curry leaves (only the leaves and not the entire strand). Stay clear of the pan as the curry leaves will spit as soon as they hit the hot oil.
  • Add the seasoning to the dhal and close lid for 5 minutes.
  • Open lid and stir to combine the seasoning with the dhal. Garnish with coriander leaves (optional).
  • Serve immediately with hot steamed rice, papads and your choice of pickles. Can be served with a variety of Indian breads and any choice of cooked vegetables.


  1. Just by way of information, I use Ayam coconut milk powder which I buy from my local Woolworths Supermarket.  If you are using coconut milk extracted from freshly grated coconut, add it in Step 5 in the last 3 minutes of cooking, stir well and simmer ensuring that the dhal is not overcooked.  
  2. I love my dhal with tawa fried fish (flounder in the photo above) alongside stir fried greens with hot steamed rice.  
Keyword dhal, Indian Dhal, Lentil Stew, Vegetarian, Vegetarian Dhal
Lavina with Deliciously Indian

Hi, I’m Catherine!

I’m all about creating tasty Indian dishes with whatever’s on hand, even when I’m short on time or budget. I love turning simple ingredients into flavorful delights. Join me on this culinary adventure where we’ll explore the magic of Indian cuisine, one delicious dish at a time!

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  1. Astria Bothello August 24, 2021 at 9:07 pm - Reply

    5 stars
    Sumptuous and full of nostalgia… remember having it at my grandma’s in Mangalore.. Had to have a mountain of rice with this delicious dhal. Thumbs up all the way.

  2. Catherine Lavina Mendonsa August 25, 2021 at 10:11 am - Reply

    Hi Astria

    Lovely to hear from you and know that you enjoyed my Coconut Dhal with a mountain of rice. Thank you for trying this dhal and your feedback.

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