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The Fine Art of Sri Lankan Cuisine

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                                                  An unforgettable feast to your senses
                                                                                    
 
  
  
 
Sri Lankan cuisine
 
Although the cuisine can differ quite a lot from region to region, as in past times, rice is still the staple of Sri Lankan cuisine and is generally served either boiled or steamed, with a spread of curries and colourful side dishes that make use of the country’s abundant fresh seafood, coconut, tropical fruits and vegetables, and innumerable spices.

 

Sumptuous Sri Lankan Flavors

Sumptuous Sri Lankan Flavors

 
Sri Lankan cuisine ranges from mild and subtly flavoured dishes to hot and spicy ones. Soothing coconut cream is used to balance the hot and spiciness of the dish.
 
Vegetables, meat and sambals (coconut blended with lime, chili, onion and dried, salted fish)  – are everyday side dishes and excellent accompaniments to a spicy Lankan fare is coconut water .
 
Curries
 
Most curries have flavours influenced by Dutch and Portuguese cuisine and  are  mainly three  kinds of Sri Lankan  currys: white, red and black.
 
White curries are, mild, based on coconut milk and very liquid. Red curries contain a large amount of chilli powder or ground red chillies with a few other spices, whereas  black curries’ dark colour is obtained by roasting coriander, cumin and fennel spices, most of these  have ayurvedic or medicinal properties.   
 
Spices and herbs
 
Sri Lanka has long been renowned for its spices. In the 15th and 16th centuries, traders from all over the world came in search of the fragrant and aromatic cardamoms, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Some of these traders settled on the island, and as the  tastes intermingled, the result was a pot pourri of flavors.
 
Some of the  spices such as cumin, coriander, cinnamon;  and herbs such as lemon grass, pandanus and curry leaves; along with turmeric, ginger and other fresh rhizomes and seasonings like chilli, tomato, and garlic make up the typical dish.
 
Sweet offerings
 
Being a tropical country, Sri Lanka is blessed with a huge variety of fruit (bananas,mangoes, rambutan, pineapple, papaya, melon). Various sweetmeats are a legacy of the Portuguese such as the Love cake  and traditional Kiri-bath is a must on the Sinhala and Tamil New Year’s day in Sri Lanka.  Sri Lankans begin and end their day with a cuppa that cheers.
 
  
Delve into  sumptuous Sri Lankan flavors
 
If you are even remotely adventurous in your tastes, or want to experiment with delicious Sri Lankan fare, here is your opportunity. 

 
Rotis

Rotis

Rotis

Similar to the Indian flat breads, this Sri Lankan version contains fresh grated coconut or in its absence, desiccated coconut. It is a popular breakfast in Sri Lanka. Serve with curries and sambols.

Ingredients:

2 cups roti flour, self raising flour or rice flour
1/2 cup desiccated/fresh coconut grated
1 teaspoon salt
1 scant cup of water
Ghee or oil for cooking
Chopped onion and fresh chili (optional)

Method:

Mix flour, coconut, salt, chopped onion and chilies (if using) in a mixing bowl. Add enough water to form a soft dough. Knead dough until it forms a ball and does not stick to sides of the bowl. Rest dough for approximately 30 minutes. Shape dough into balls, the size of a golf ball. Pat each one out into a circle the size of a saucer. Cook on a hot griddle or in a heavy frying pan very lightly greased with ghee or oil. Serve hot.

Kaha Bath (yellow rice)

Kaha Bath

Kaha Bath

A special occasion dish in which the rice is cooked in coconut milk and delicately flavored with spices.

Ingredients:

3 cups long grain rice
4 tablespoons ghee
2 medium onions finely sliced
6 cloves
12 curry leaves
5 cups coconut milk
20 black peppercorns
12 cardamom pods bruised
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
3 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 stalk dried lemon grass (optional)
4 pieces duan pandon or rampe leaves

Method:

Wash rice and drain thoroughly. Heath ghee in a large saucepan, add onion and fry until it begins to turn golden brown. Add cloves, peppercorns, cardamom pods, turmeric, salt, curry leaves, lemon grass and duan pandon or rampe leaves. Add rice and fry stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes until rice is well coated with ghee and turmeric.  Add coconut milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat cover and cook for 20-25 minutes without lifting lid. When rice is cooked, the spices will have come to the top. Remove spices and leaves used for flavoring and fluff up the rice lightly with a fork. Serves 6-8
Pol Sambola (Coconut Sambol)

Pol Sambola

Pol Sambola

 
This is generally made with shredded coconut,chille powder and paprika and adds a real punch to the meal.  
Ingredients:

1 cup desiccated coconut
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chili powder or to taste
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons maldive fish or prawn powder (optional)
2 tablespoons lemon juice or to taste
1 medium onion finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons hot milk

Method:

Combine coconut, salt, chili powder, paprika and maldive fish, if used, in a bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice, onion and milk. Mix well with the hands rubbing ingredients together so that the coconut is evenly moistened. Pile into a small bowl.
Note:
 If liked add 1-2 fresh red or green chilies seeded and finely chopped. If fresh grated coconut is being used, omit the hot milk.

Cutlis (Meat balls)

Cutlis or Meat balls

Cutlis or Meat balls

 
These meatballs can be shaped round or flat.

Ingredients:

225 grams minced beef
25 grams salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
25 ml vinegar
Oil for frying
1 egg
50 grams breadcrumbs
450 grams potato
1 onion
3 sprigs mint leaves
1 green chili
1 stalk celery

Method:

Season beef with salt, pepper and vinegar. Boil and mash potato and chop the onion, mint leaves, chili and celery. Heat a little oil in a frying pan, add the beef and cook for 3-4 minutes until browned. Add the onion, mint leaves, chili and celery and cook until the onion has softened slightly. Add mashed potato and mix well together.Roll into small balls or flat cakes. Beat egg and coat the cutlis with the egg before dipping into the breadcrumbs. Heat oil and deep fry the cutlis until browned. Drain well.

Note:

You could substitute fish (mackerel) instead of minced beef if desired.

 
Kukul Mas Curry (Chicken Curry)
Curried chicken that goes well with rice and rotis.
 
Ingredients:

1.5 kilograms chicken
3 tablespoons ghee/oil
10 curry leaves
2 large onions finely chopped
4-5 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh garlic
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon vinegar
2 tomatoes chopped
6 cardamom pods bruised
1 stick cinnamon
1 stalk lemon grass
1 cup thick coconut milk

Method:

Joint chicken. Heat ghee and fry curry leaves until they start to brown. Add onions, garlic and ginger and fry gently until the onions are quite soft and golden. Add turmeric, chili, coriander, cumin,  fennel, salt and vinegar. Stir well. Add chicken and stir over medium heat until chicken is thoroughly coated with spices. Add tomatoes, whole spices and lemon grass and cook covered on low heat until chicken is boiled. Add coconut milk, taste and add more salt and a squeeze of lemon juice if desired. Do not cover after adding coconut milk.
Mixed Vegetables Curry

Mixed Vegetable Curry

Mixed Vegetable Curry

Peas cooked in coconut milk have a very fresh and subtle flavor.
 
Ingredients:

100 grams green peas
2 carrots cut into cubes
1 onion, sliced
1 tomato, chopped
1 teaspoon ginger and garlic ground
1/4 teaspoon pepper powder
Pinch of turmeric
1 tablespoon ghee/oil
1/4 – 1/2 cup coconut milk
50 grams cadju halved
1 cup water
Salt to taste

Method:

Heat ghee. Temper cardamoms. Add all the remaining ingredients except the coconut milk and keep on fire. When the water has evaporated, add coconut milk. Bring to boil and remove from fire. 
Alla Aluwa ( Potato Halwa)

Desserts

Desserts

After a rich curry meal, serve this dessert with black coffee

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1 x 410 grams can sweetened condensed milk
125 grams ghee or butter
1 cup cooked mashed potato
1 cup finely chopped cashewnuts (optional)
2 tablespoons rose water
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)

Method:

Put sugar, milk, condensed milk and ghee/butter into a large heavy saucepan (a non stick pan is excellent for this).  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture reaches soft ball stage (To test for soft ball stage, drop a little into a cup of ice cold water, if it firms enough to be rolled into a soft ball, it has reached the required temperature). Remove from heat, add smoothly mashed potato and beat with a rotary beater until all lumps are beaten out. Return to heat and cook to soft ball stage once more. Remove from heat, stir in nuts, rose water, and cardamom and mix well. Pour into a well buttered shallow dish or baking pan. Press lightly with buttered aluminium foil to smooth and flatten surface. Allow to cool and set. Cut into pieces. Makes about 18 pieces. 
 
 
Coconut Ice 

Coconut Ice

Coconut Ice

If you have a sweet tooth, then this one is just right for you.
 
Method:

Mix together equal quantities of desiccated coconut and icing sugar – eg, 12 tablespoons each. Color it as desired.

Pink – rose essence
Green – almond essence
Yellow – pineapple/banana essence

Add flavoring and enough condensed milk to make it adhere together. Pat it into a rectangular dish, and then cut into squares. Here she has used the locally available mamool mould.
 

Kiri Bath (Milk Rice)

 

A simple preparation of rice cooked in coconut milk, Kiri Bath is part of the traditions of the Sinhalese people. It is a “must” on New Year’s Day and on the first day of each month it is the accepted breakfast dish. It is usually served with hot sambols, but some people prefer it with grated palm sugar (jaggery). If you find it difficult to buy palm sugar, use unrefined black sugar as a substitute. 

Ingredients:

2 cups short grain white rice

Kiri Bath

Kiri Bath

3 cups water
2 cups thick coconut milk
2 teaspoons salt
1 stick cinnamon

Method:

Put rice and water into a pan and bring to a boil. Cover and cook 15 minutes. Add coconut milk, salt and cinnamon, stir well with handle of wooden spoon, cover pan and cook on low heat for further 10-15 minutes, when all the milk should be absorbed. Remove cinnamon, cool slightly, then turn out on to a plate and flatten smooth. Cit into diamond shapes and serve with coconut sambol. Serves 4-5
 
 
Love Cake

A very popular cake in Sri Lanka, though no one knows why it is called by this name.
 
Ingredients:

225 grams semolina, sifted
225 grams butter
225 grams cashewnuts, minced
500 grams soft sugar
150 grams pumpkin preserve, minced
10 eggs
Rind of 3 limes
2 teaspoons rose essence
2-3 teaspoons almond essence
3 teaspoons vanilla essence

Method:

Warm semolina in a dry pan. Put it into a bowl and while still hot, add the butter and lime rind. Mix and leave overnight at room temperature. Mix the minced or finely chopped cashewnuts and pumpkin preserve with the rose essence and leave aside. Beat the yolks and sugar with the almond and vanilla essence until creamy and double in bulk and until there are air bubbles on the surface. Add the semolina and butter mixture and beat until well mixed. Add the cashew and pumpkin preserve mixture and mix well together. Lastly fold in 3 egg whites stiffly beaten. Line a flat baking tray with 7 sheets newspaper and 2 sheets of oil paper. Brush the oil paper with melted margarine. Pour the cake mixture and bake in a preheated oven of 160 degrees 15 minutes and then at 150 degrees for about 45-50 minutes. When the top of the cake becomes golden brown, cover with a piece of foil so that it does not become too brown. When cooked, the center of the cake should still be moist. Remove from heat and leave in tray to get cold. Do not turn out this cake. Cut into small squares and lift each one separately on to serving plate
 

 Note: With thanks to Nazli Zuhyle, the wife of the Sri Lankan ambassador to Kuwait for sharing her knowledge of Sri Lankan culinary delights with me during a newspaper interview.

   
 
Did you know?
 
Coconut and its relatives in other European languages goes back to Spanish coco “spectre, goblin”, with reference to the three marks on each coconut which make it look like an eerie face.
 
Pandan leaf  or rampe leaf  are also known as kewra leaf. These sword-shaped leaves are about two feet long and are available in Asian supermarkets.
 
Fragrant Frangipani flowers (Plumeria rubra) are also known as temple  flowers or  champa.

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About spicerack

Full time granny, arts enthusiast, compulsive baker and a freelance writer! Practically a nomad, living out of my suitcase literally! Based in Kuwait, New Delhi, and San Diego!

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