How to make the perfect tempered dhal

O Tama Carey, of Lankan Filling Station, explains how to add layers of flavour to this South Asian staple.

By O Tama Carey
  • 15 mins preparation
  • 45 mins cooking
  • Serves 4
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Tempered dhal
Dhal is a thing of beauty. It's delicious and healthy, and can be eaten at any time of the day as part of a meal, or simply by itself.
Tempering is a technique used in South Asian cooking to add extra flavour: spices and other ingredients, such as chilli, onion and curry leaves, are dry-roasted or fried at the start of cooking, or are cooked separately and added to a dish at the end. The traditional method is to cook the lentils with minimal ingredients and then temper; tempering first, however, is less fuss, and only one pan is needed. For a more luxurious version, temper twice, as we've done for this recipe.
Step 1 Photo: Alicia Taylor
Step 2 Photo: Alicia Taylor
Step 2: Add coconut milk Photo: Alicia Taylor
Step 3 Photo: Alicia Taylor


  • 350 gm (2¾ cups) dried red split lentils, rinsed
  • 250 ml (1 cup) coconut milk
  • Steamed rice, to serve
First temper
  • 50 gm coconut oil
  • 1½ onions, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 10 gm ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 fresh curry leaf sprig, leaves picked
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 1 pandan leaf (see note), cut into 3cm pieces
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, bruised
Second temper
  • 80 gm ghee
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large red chilli (seeds optional), thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup (loosely packed) fresh curry leaves
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds


  • 1
    For first temper, heat oil in a wok over low heat until melted and starting to shimmer. Add onion, garlic, ginger and curry leaves and fry, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft (5-7 minutes). Add spices and stir until seeds start to pop and spices start to catch (1-2 minutes). Add pandan and lemongrass and stir to combine.
  • 2
    Add lentils, season to taste, and stir to coat. Add coconut milk with 750ml water and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils start to fall apart (10-15 minutes).
  • 3
    Meanwhile, for second temper, heat ghee in a separate wok or large saucepan over high heat until shimmering. Add remaining ingredients and stir-fry until onionis starting to caramelise (15-20 minutes). Stir temper through lentils, season to taste and serve with rice.


Fresh and frozen pandan leaves are available from select Asian supermarkets.