In 1672 Dutchman Philip Baldaeus wrote, "The Helen of this Isle is the finest and purest cinnamon." It is the spice that drew the attention of colonial powers to the island, becoming the main article of trade for the Dutch East India Company. Sri Lanka has long been associated with this spice and not surprisingly, it features heavily in its cuisine. Generally served as part of a larger shared meal, there are as many variations of this dish (known as paripoo) thoughout the country as there are people who make it. The use of coconut milk, dried Maldive fish, fresh curry leaves and of course, cinnamon, lend a distinctively Sri Lankan flavour to this recipe.






Skill level

Average: 3.2 (108 votes)


  • 250 g (1¼ cups) red lentils, rinsed, drained 
  • 1 onion, finely chopped 
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed 
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric 
  • 1 tbsp Maldive fish pieces (see Note)
  • 1 tsp Sri Lankan curry powder 
  • 6 fresh curry leaves 
  • 1 long green chilli, sliced 
  • 1 cinnamon quill 
  • 500 ml (2 cups) coconut milk 
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) coconut cream 
  • steamed rice, coriander leaves, coconut sambol and Jaffna goat curry (optional, see Note), to serve 


  • 80 ml olive oil 
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds 
  • 1 cinnamon quill 
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped 
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 5 fresh curry leaves 
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Drink Kingfisher Lager ($15 for a six-pack)

Place all ingredients except the coconut cream in a saucepan with 250 ml water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, for 25 minutes or until lentils are tender and broken down; add more water if necessary. Season with salt.

Meanwhile, to cook the temper for the dhal, heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat, then add the remaining ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes or until onions are soft and browned. Remove from the heat and set aside until the lentils are ready.

Stir the temper into the lentils, then add the coconut cream, stirring to combine. Serve with rice, coriander, coconut sambol and Jaffna goat curry, if desired.


• Maldive fish is dried fish pieces, available in packets or tins from Sri Lankan and selected Indian food shops; grind any bigger pieces in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. 
• Coconut sambol is available in jars from Indian food shops. 
• Search the website for Peter Kuruvita’s Jaffna goat curry recipe.

As seen in Feast magazine, Issue 11, pg67.

Photography by Derek Swalwell.