All the recipes at Citrus, including this one, come from my mother. But I don’t cook from written instructions – just memory and taste. I’m always trying to get the same taste I remember from my childhood.
I don’t use a lot of oil or salt in this dish. I try to get most of the flavour from the coconut milk. This is “my taste”. Our family is from Kandy, in central Sri Lanka. That’s why our restaurant logo is an elephant and a Kandyan dancing woman. The food where we’re from is not too spicy.
At home, I serve this with mallung (sauteed greens); a fish, chicken or beef curry; coconut sambol; and a few other condiments. And rice, of course.
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Red lentil curry by Shiyamalee Somaweera
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25–30 minutes
120ml vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
10 fresh curry leaves
1 pandan leaf (frozen is fine if you can’t find fresh)
½ cinnamon quill
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 brown onion finely diced
1 tbsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp curry powder, preferably Sri Lankan (I use a brand called Wijaya)
2 tsp sweet paprika
500g red lentils, rinsed and drained
400ml can coconut milk
Sea salt to taste
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the mustard seeds and cook for 1 minute. Add the cumin seeds, curry leaves, pandan leaf and cinnamon quill and cook for 1 minute until aromatic, then add the garlic, onion and turmeric and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2–3 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent.
Add the chilli flakes, curry powder, paprika, lentils and 1.5L of water, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until most of the water has evaporated.
Add the coconut milk, then simmer for a further 8–12 minutes, until the lentils are tender and the curry has a creamy texture. Add salt to taste, then remove from the heat and serve immediately.
This is an extract from the Broadsheet cookbook Home Made, which features 80 diverse recipes for home cooking, sourced from Melbourne's best cooks, chefs and restaurants. Published by Plum, the book is available for $49.95 at shop.broadsheet.com.au