Cariema Isaacs’s Cape Malay Dhal Curry Recipe

This Cape Malay Dhal Curry recipe is a simple and hearty dish bursting with local flavour

General info

Serves: 6-8


  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) peeled and finely grated ginger
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) red chilli paste
  • 6 fresh curry leaves
  • 1 Tbsp (15 ml) vegetable oil or ghee
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) roasted masala
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) kokhni masala
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) ground cumin
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) turmeric
  • 1 kg mutton or lamb (on the bone), cut into pieces
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) salt
  • 1 large ripe tomato, skinned and grated
  • 1 x 410 g can whole or chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) sugar
  • 2 cups (500 ml) masoor dal (red lentils)
  • 1 C (250 ml) water
  • ¼ bunch fresh coriander, chopped, for garnish


“My father loved dal curry and maintained that this particular curry created comfort and warmth, with the kind of simplicity that he always appreciated about Cape Malay cuisine. Cape Malay dhal curry is made with masoor dal, better known as red lentils. By its very nature, dal has a cloudy or dull appearance and a porridge-like texture, but it is one of those hearty and soulful dishes that also goes a long way to feeding hungry tummies.” – Cariema Isaacs

Enjoy cooking her dhal curry, Cape Malay style!

Preparing the dhal

  1. Rinse the dhal under tepid water.
  2. Cover with warm water and allow to soak for about 30 minutes or longer. Drain in a colander.

Preparing the curry

  1. Place the onion, ginger, garlic, chilli paste and curry leaves into a blender and blend until you have a fairly smooth, paste-like consistency.
  2. Heat the oil over a medium heat and add the blended ingredients. Cook for 2–5 minutes, then add the cardamom, cinnamon, masalas, cumin and turmeric and cook for at least 5 minutes.
  3. Add the meat and salt and cook over a high heat for about 10 minutes until the meat has absorbed the flavours of all the ingredients.
  4. In the same blender (no need to wash or rinse), blend the fresh and tinned tomatoes until smooth. Add this mixture to the meat along with the sugar, the rinsed masoor dal and 1 C (250 ml) water. Cook on high for 5 minutes.
  5. Turn the heat down to medium and simmer gently for about 40 minutes. Occasionally check on the curry and give it a stir to lift the sauce and dal from the bottom of the pot.

Also try out Cariema’s recipe for Cape Malay Roti

dal curry

Extracted from My Cape Malay Kitchen by Cariema Isaacs (Struik Lifestyle)

Photograph: © Penguin Random House / Nigel Deary

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