Lentil Dhal with Poached Eggs and Roti Canai


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves



Appears in

The Vegetarian Kitchen

The Vegetarian Kitchen

By Prue Leith and Peta Leith

Published 2019

  • About

Roti canai is a Malaysian version of the better-known Indian paratha. It’s flaky and tender all at once, and it’s very hard to stop at eating just one. In Malaysia, they serve it freshly made with bowls of lentil dhal for breakfast – something I came to love while travelling there. The poached egg on top isn’t very authentic, but it is delicious. (Image.)


For the Roti

  • 200 g plain flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil plus extra for coating, shaping and frying

For the Dahl

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 cm (¾ in) piece of ginger, peeled and minced
  • a pinch of dried chilli flakes, or 1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 200 g split red lentils
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 900 ml boiling water
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • salt and black pepper to season

To Serve (Optional)


  1. Start with the roti. Combine the flour, salt and vegetable oil with 100 ml cold water in a mixing bowl to form a dough. Knead the dough for about 6 minutes until it is smooth and elastic, then divide it into four equal pieces and shape them into balls. Put them back in the mixing bowl and coat them generously with vegetable oil, so that there is oil pooling underneath them. Turn them a few times, then cover the bowl with cling film and leave it for at least 3 hours at room temperature – you could also refrigerate them overnight at this point (see Tip).
  2. Meanwhile, make the dhal. Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and sauté the onion until softened. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent. Tip the red lentils into the pan, add the turmeric, then stir to combine.
  3. Pour half the boiling water into the pan, then add the cumin, coriander, garam masala and tomato. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. When the water level starts to look low, add the rest of the boiling water, a little at a time. After 20–25 minutes, taste to see if the lentils are cooked – they should be completely tender. Once the lentils are done, remove from the heat and season with salt and black pepper.
  4. Shaping the roti is a messy job, so make sure you have everything you need to hand before you begin. Set a large frying pan on the hob with a little oil in it, but do not turn it on just yet. Clean and dry a large area of work surface, then oil it lightly.
  5. Take one piece of the roti dough and press it down onto the work surface. There should be plenty of oil all over the dough, your hands, and the work surface, so nothing should stick. The aim is to stretch the dough out into a wafer-thin sheet, so press down firmly while pushing it outwards with both of your hands, working in circular motions. You can also lift the edges and stretch it a little, but be careful not to tear it.
  6. Once you have stretched it out as large and as thin as you are able to, take the right third of it and fold it in towards the centre, trying to trap as much air in the fold as possible. Then take the left third, and bring it over the centre piece, again, trying to catch air as you go – do not press down to deflate it once it is folded. It should now look like a tall rectangle, so take the upper third and bring it down towards the middle, then bring the lower section up over the middle, so it should now be more square. Repeat this process with each piece of dough.
  7. Heat the frying pan with a little oil in it over a medium–high heat, and when it is good and hot, lower one of the rotis into it. Cook for 1–2 minutes on each side until the rotis have deep golden patches. Once it looks crisp and well-coloured, take it out of the pan and place it on a wooden board. As soon as you can bear to touch it with your hands, bring your hands together in a clapping motion on either side of it, essentially scrunching it up between your hands. This helps to make it even more flaky. Repeat with each roti.
  8. Serve the roti immediately with a piping hot bowl of dhal, and a poached egg sitting on top of the dhal. Serve with Curried Pea and Potato Samosas, if desired.