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Seasons’ Eatings: Dalcha – Malaysian Lentil Curry with Vegetables

2012 March 15

By Amri Abuseman with photos by Adrian Hashimi

IngredientsNew York, NY – Winter in the city has been quite mild this year, with temperatures fluctuating between 15 to 20 degrees higher than the norm.  Despite the freakishness (and further evidence of global warming), this is a welcome change to the snowstorms of 2011.  Before we say goodbye to winter, I would like to share one of my Malaysian comfort foods that keeps me warm during the cold months: dalcha (lentil curry with vegetables).

During my prep week, most vendors at the 77th Street Greenmarket were still selling their winter vegetables.  Relaying off Stephanie’s Roasted Carrot Soup with Artisan Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, I used her main ingredient, carrots (which also inspired Karleen, Sarah and Valeria’s recipes this season), in this curry.  This recipe is versatile that it can be prepared using any vegetables you have on hand.

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Before going on to the recipe, I would like to share a quick history about my home country, Malaysia.  It is a multi-racial society comprised of Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous tribes.  The different ethnicities contribute to the rich collection of dishes that blend cultures and traditions.  Dalcha was influenced by the Indian population in Malaysia who were brought en masse from the southern parts of India in the mid-1800s by the British government as laborers to work on plantations and build railroads.  The main ingredient in this curry is yellow lentils, which was a cheap source of protein for the impoverished workers.

Today, dalcha is eaten by everyone in Malaysia and is the staple dish at gatherings (kenduri), served with rice, a beef dish and a chicken dish.  Beef trimmings are often added to the curry to enrich it and feed the large crowds.  Dalcha is also served with roti canai (paratha) for breakfast daily.

In keeping with the local ingredients, I used some carrots, potatoes and turnips from Gajeski Farm.   The curry powder I used for this curry is my mother’s trusted brand (I took some from her pantry on my last visit to Malaysia), but you can use the ones sold at the local supermarkets (add some cayenne powder if you want it spicier).  I needed to use up some string beans and eggplant in my fridge, so in the curry they went!

This dalcha is paired with Nan-e Qandi from Hot Bread Kitchen, a local non-profit organization that helps small-scale bakers by providing commercial spaces to produce their goods.  This bakery produces delicious artisanal breads like whole-wheat loaves, focaccia, challah (the best!), lavash, and m’smen, as well as tortillas and granola.  I always look forward to visiting their stand at the Greenmarket to try out the different goods.

Dalcha – Malaysian Lentil Curry with Vegetables

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hr 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


  • ¾ cup organic lentils (yellow split pea)
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 shallot
  • ½ medium onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 small blue potatoes
  • 2 small red potatoes
  • 1 medium turnip
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 3 Tablespoon curry powder
  • ½ cup coconut milk (can be substituted with heavy cream or yogurt)
  • 2 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Cooking Directions

  1. Wash the lentils to remove any dirt (or stones), and put them in a pot, cover with water and add turmeric powder.  Cook until the lentils are tender.
  2. Dice carrot, potatoes and turnip, try to keep them to the same size for even cooking.
  3. Dice the eggplant and cut the string beans to bite-size.
  4. Finely mince the shallot, onion and garlic.
  5. Heat up a heavy-bottom pot and put in the olive oil.  Add the minced shallot, onion, garlic, star anise and cinnamon stick, sautée until the mixture turns golden brown.  Add the curry powder; continue stirring to toast the spices for about a minute or so.  Then, add 2 cups water, set the heat to medium and let it come to a simmer (in about 10 minutes).
  6. Next, add the diced root vegetables: carrot, turnip and potatoes, and continue cooking until they are tender.
  7. Drain water from the boiled lentils (from step 1), and add it to the curry mixture.  Let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes before adding the eggplant and string beans (they take less time to cook).
  8. Add coconut milk, stir and let the mixture simmer through for 2 more minutes.
  9. Ladle the curry into a bowl, and enjoy it with Nan-e Qandi (or any form of carbohydrate).  The curry tastes even better the next day – if you have any leftover!

Amri Abuseman dreams about starting an organic farm and agroturismo business in the remote island of Middle Caicos when she’s tired of building and testing software.  She is also Sarah Maine’s designated Asian food ingredients person.