Monthly Archives: September 2013

Cucumber Curry and a Cool Cocktail

Did you know the cucumber originates from Southern Asia, but now grows on most continents? Many different varieties are traded on the global market.

The cucumber (cucumis sativus) is one of the most important market vegetables in the tropics and it is also the basis of an extensive pickling industry. In Sri Lanka, cucumbers are mainly grown in the dry zone (North and East of the country). They are abundant and come in different varieties as you can see in the bottom left-hand side of this market stall:

Vegetable stall in Sri Lanka

Vegetable stall in Sri Lanka

Cucumbers have not received as much press as other vegetables in terms of health benefits, but this widely-cultivated food provides us with a unique combination of nutrients. At the top of the phytonutrient list for cucumbers are its cucurbitacins, lignans, and flavonoids. These three types of phytonutrients found in cucumbers provide us with valuable antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer benefits.

Cucumber Curry

I know the concept of a cucumber curry sounds weird but trust me it’s delicious. Most varieties of cucumber can be used but I would recommend a variety with few seeds. Most Sri Lankan varieties do not have a lot of seeds so for this recipe I am using the common very pale green cucumber. Kekiri cucumber (aka cooking melon) can also be used.

Peel 2 local cucumbers and seed them. 
Then slice the cumber into half moons 
Gently fry the following spices:

  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 1 green chili seeded and chopped
  • 10-12 curry leaves
  • 1/4 tsp of turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp of fenugreek seeds

Other ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of water
  • Salt to taste

In a large pan add all the above ingredients and allow to cook on medium-high heat. Cook until the cucumbers become fork tender (but not mushy).

Then blend together:
5 cloves of garlic
2 tbs of raw rice (rinsed)
1 tbs of mustard seed
1/2 cup of coconut milk

Add the garlic/mustard paste and the milk into the cucumber curry. Stir well and allow the curry to cook for another few minutes until all the flavors are combined well.

Cucumber curry

Cucumber Curry

Feeling hot this weekend? Fancy a refreshing drink with a kick to cool you down? Then I have just the thing.

A cool cucumber cocktail!

This refreshing update on the classic gin & tonic is an easy sipper, thanks to summery cucumber slices and plenty of lime juice. A note on the cucumber slices: it may be tempting to nibble them out of your drink right away, but try to resist the urge. After several minutes’ contact with the lime juice, gin, and sweet tonic water (about as long as it takes to finish the drink) they pickle ever so slightly, taking on a lovely crisp flavor.

Makes 4 drinks:

  • 8 oz gin 
  • 8 tbs fresh lime juice (or more depending on your taste)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced cucumber (scrubbed but not peeled)
  • Tonic water
  • Some thicker cucumber slices and rosemary, for garnish

Fill four glasses halfway with ice. In a cocktail shaker, combine gin, lime juice, cucumber slices, and a small amount of ice. Shake vigorously for 1-2 minutes, and pour into ice-filled glasses, making sure cucumber slices are evenly distributed.  Top with tonic water; garnish with a slice of cucumber and a sprig of rosemary.

Cucumber Cocktail

Cucumber Cocktail

14 Reasons You Should Start Eating Cucumber 

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Filed under Drinks, Sri Lankan food & recipes, Sri Lankan life, Vegetarian recipes

Odd Things About the Dutch Language

Dutch is a difficult and challenging language that has some odd unexpected surprises, such as phrases from other languages and extremely difficult spelling. 

Dutch & Other Languages

You may be surprised to learn how many Dutch words are borrowed from other languages. French used to be considered the height of elegance in the Dutch-speaking world, leading to a lot of French words being adopted into Dutch, such as paraplu (umbrella), bureau (desk or office) and horloge (wrist watch) etc.

Almost equal in the number of borrowed words is Hebrew, which is often perceived as strange until you consider the large Jewish populations in Holland from the Middle Ages onwards. The Jews developed their own versions of local languages (e.g. Yiddish) but also contributed to Dutch by process of linguistic osmosis. Today most of the Hebrew words are part of the ‘street’ or slang language in Amsterdam, such as bajes (jail), jatten (to steal), and kapsones (arrogance).

Dutch Words

Dutch is a curious language in three main aspects that make it look most odd to native English speakers (or, frankly, natives of most other countries except for Dutch speakers!).

For one, Dutch is very hard to pronounce. It contains a lot of very hard consonant sounds that can be very rough on the throat. When you first start learning Dutch, it’s not unusual for your throat to start to hurt as you try chewing through words like Scheveningen (beach resort town in Holland). If you think German is a tough language to pronounce well, prepare yourself, because the Dutch hit those hard consonants even harder. The difference is great enough that in World War II the Dutch would identify German spies by the way they pronounced Dutch words.

Scheveningen

Scheveningen

 

Dutch also contains some extremely long words. More than thirty letters isn’t uncommon, like the word for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: chronischevermoeidheidssyndroom. Yes, whereas English uses three words, the Dutch simply have one enormous word. Not only are these words long, but many Dutch words also have a lot of consonants, which can make for difficult reading and speaking. Take slechtstschrijvend (writes the worst) for example. After trying to learn and pronounce words with nine or more consonants in a row, you’ll need a drink to soothe your throat (quite possibly a stiff one!).

So, if you have always thought us Dutch were somewhat odd….you’re not far off!

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Filed under Holland life, Just stuff, Translation titbits

Gotu Kola – a Wonder Herb

The recent heavy monsoon rains have turned the bottom of my garden into somewhat of a marshland and this has  meant an explosion of gotu kola sprouting up everywhere. Intrigued I started reading up on this herb and wow what a herb it is! In fact it’s so bloody good for you, they sell it in capsules, as tea and concentrated oils in Health food shops worldwide at silly prices. I have an abundance of it so feeling just a little smug, let me tell you a little about it and give you some recipes for the fresh stuff if you can get your hands on it (I’m guessing Asian groceries in bigger cities if you are not lucky enough to find it in your garden – ok enough smugness for now 😉 ).

Gotu kola, also known as Centella Asiatica, is a low growing trailing herb that loves moist areas. It has rounded simple leaves, slender stems and inconspicuous flowers that form in short clusters. It is part of the parsley family native to tropical Asia (specifically Sri Lanka & India where it is grown commercially) and is also found in Hawaii and other tropical regions.

Gotu kola is a rejuvenative nervine recommended for nervous disorders, epilepsy, senility and premature aging. As a brain tonic, it is said to aid intelligence and memory. It strengthens the adrenal glands and cleanses the blood to treat skin impurities. It is said to combat stress and depression, increase libido and improve reflexes. It has also been indicated for chronic venous insufficiency, minor burns, scars, scleroderma, skin ulcers, varicose veins, wound healing, rheumatism, blood diseases, congestive heart failure, urinary tract infections, venereal diseases, hepatitis and high blood pressure.

Gotu Kola

Gotu Kola

In India, gotu kola is regarded as perhaps the most spiritual of all herbs. Growing in some areas of the Himalayas, gotu kola is used by yogis to improve meditation. It is said to develop the crown chakra, the energy center at the top of the head and to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain, which the leaf is said to resemble. It is regarded as one of the most important rejuvenative herbs in Ayurvedic Medicine. Sri Lankans noticed that elephants, renowned for their longevity, munched on the leaves of the plant. Thus the leaves became known as a promoter of long life. It is said to fortify the immune system, both cleansing and feeding it and to strengthen the adrenals. It has been used as a pure blood tonic and for skin health. It has also been used to promote restful sleep.

It is also mild diuretic that can help shrink swollen membranes, lessen edema and aid in the elimination of excess fluids. It hastens the healing of wounds.

Gotu kola has a positive effect on the circulatory system. It improves the flow of blood while strengthening the veins and capillaries. It has been used successfully to treat phlebitis, leg cramps, and abnormal tingling of the extremities. It soothes and minimizes varicose veins and helps to minimize scarring.

It reduces scarring when applied during inflammatory period of the wound. It was found effective when applied on patients with third degree burns, when the treatment commenced immediately after the accident. Daily local application to the affected area along with intramuscular injections, limited the shrinking of the skin as it healed. It is known to prevent infection and inhibit scar formation. It is also useful in repairing skin and connective tissues and smoothing out cellulite. HEAR THAT LADIES?!?

Gotu Kola - Miracle Herb

Gotu Kola – Miracle Herb

So, how can we consume this leafy wonder  food? Traditionally the dried leaves were prepared as tea.

In Sri Lankan cuisine it is most often prepared as a mallum (මැල්ලුම), a traditional accompaniment to rice and curry, and goes especially well with vegetarian dishes, such as dhal, and jackfruit or pumpkin curry. In addition to finely chopped gotu kola, a mallum almost always contains grated coconut, and may also contain finely chopped green chilies, chili powder, turmeric powder and lime (or lemon) juice.

A very traditional dish is Kola Kenda.  This is an ancient Sri Lankan herbal porridge made up of fresh juice of herbal green leaves, coconut milk and red (or white) raw rice.

Recipe for Kola Kenda (with Gotu kola)

Ingredients:

  • Gotu kola leaves loosely packed in a 500ml container.
  • 1 1/2 cup of well cooked rice (prepared from white or red raw rice)
  • About 1 L of water
  • 7-8 tbsp (heaped) of coconut powder (for convenience, see note (*) below if you wish to use scraped fresh coconut)
  • 1 tsp of salt

Method:

  1. Crush the cooked rice with 1 cup of water for 10 second in an electric blender (or pestle and mortar) and put into a sauce pan.
  2. Dissolve the coconut powder in 1/2 cup of water and add to the rice.
  3. Add salt and bring to boil in medium heat.
  4. Blend the gotu kola with 1-2 cups of water in an electric blender and strain the juice well.
  5. Add the juice to the boiling mixture and stir continuously.
  6. Add the rest of the water.
  7. Remove from fire when the kola kenda starts to boil. Leave for few minutes to cool.
  8. Enjoy with a piece of jaggery to counteract the bitterness.

* If you prefer to use fresh scraped coconut skip point 2) above and add the scraped coconut to the gotu kola in point 4) instead.

** Some add pepper, lime (or lemon) juice, finely chopped onion and/or garlic for added taste.

Kola Kenda

Kola Kenda

Other  leaves used in kola kenda other than gotu kola can include:

  • Iramusu – Hemidesmus indicus
  • Mukunuwenna – Alternanthera sessilis
  • Karapincha – Murraya koenigii
  • Hatawariya leaves and roots – Asparagus racemosus
  • Welpenela – Cardiospermum halicacabum
  • Polpala – Aerva lanata
  • Ela batu leaves – Solanum melongena
  • Monarakudumbiya – Vernonia cinerea
  • Wel thibbatu leaves – Solanum trilobatum
  • Heen Bowitiya – Osbeckia octandra
  • Neeramulliya – Asteracantha longifolia
  • Kohila leaves and stem – Lasia spinosa
  • Heen Undupiyaliya – Desmodium triflorum
  • Divul leaves – Limonia acidissima

Even if the initial taste is not to your liking, it grows on you. Try it!

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Filed under Healthy food, Sri Lankan food & recipes, Sri Lankan life, Vegetarian recipes