Monthly Archives: November 2015

Weird and Wonderful Vegetables of Sri Lanka

Going to the vegetable market is always fun in Sri Lanka. It’s pretty much pointless to make a shopping list for me because I never stick to it. I can be convinced that I’m going to buy potatoes, onions, cabbage and tomatoes, but what I’ll actually come home with are sweet potatoes (the normal variety were small and the sweet ones SOOO purple, seriously the colours get me every time), aubergines (tomatoes weren’t fresh), courgette (zucchini – my new favourite food), limes (just because) and yes onions, always onions.

I have lived here for nearly twelve years and I still don’t know what all the vegetables in the market are.

A selection at my local market

A selection at my local market in Hikkaduwa

Don’t let the picture above fool you. I live in a tourist destination and our market caters for that so you will find many vegetables popular with non-locals (with prices to match). It makes for great shopping but what really interests me are the veggies that are so indigenous that they don’t have an English name, vegetables that aren’t well-known and have no endless recipe suggestions when you do a Google search on them, vegetables that have health benefits that only Ayurveda practitioners or Sri Lankan grandmothers (Aatchis) know. Strange vegetables. Weird vegetables. Wonderful vegetables.

Attention grabbers include the gourds (bitter gourd, snake gourd, bottle gourd, ridge gourd etc.). These are related to squashes and pumpkins but seem to have many more health benefits, such as helping to lower blood sugar and eradicating toxins. Locally these are usually made into curries and sambols.

Snake gourd

Snake gourd

Baby bitter gourd

Baby bitter gourds

Another vegetable you are not likely to encounter in an average supermarket abroad is murunga, also known as drumsticks. They are eaten in a similar way to their chicken equivalent in name, you basically hold them in your hand and suck off the edible bit. Again they are said to be incredibly healthy, not to mention an aphrodisiac.

One of my absolute favourites to use raw in a spicy sambol are winged beans, aka dambala:

Dambala

Dambala

This strange looking vegetable is so delicious fresh; simply finely chop it into a sambol with onions, tomatoes, chillies and lime (with salt and pepper to taste). Providing it is not too hot I even eat that on a cheese sandwich. Seriously good.

If you have followed this blog for a while you will know that I love aubergines (brinjals, eggplant, wambatu, whatever). So I’m in my element here in Sri Lanka because they come in all different shapes, sizes and colours! Big, long, oblong and deep purple to tiny, round and white and green.

Brinjal heaven

Brinjal heaven

Another favourite of mine are snake beans. They can be prepared just as normal beans but they are much longer and in my opinion tastier. They are less stringy than normal green beans and make an absolutely fantastic curry. Peter Kuruvita has a lovely recipe here.

Snake beans

Snake beans

Then there are all the different kinds of leaves, ranging from spinach to the more exotic gotu kola. Your more familiar vegetables such as potatoes, onions, leeks, carrots can of course also always be found and increasingly vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, courgettes, peppers etc. are available at larger markets and supermarkets.

One thing that I simply cannot imagine any Sri Lankan market to be without (other than coconuts) is the wonderful karapincha. These are curry leaves. A mere crunch of these in your hands gives off such a Sri Lankan curry smell that it is almost overpowering. They grow abundantly in my garden and I would consider them a horticultural nuisance if they weren’t so tasty and healthy!

Curry leaf tree in my garden

Curry leaf (karapincha) tree in my garden

Karapincha are indispensable in any kitchen in Sri Lanka. They are added to almost every curry recipe or even just fried briefly in oil to flavour the cooking oil. It is a hardy plant and its health properties are numerous.

There are also dedicated karapincha dishes, like karapincha mallung (or mallum) and karapincha kenda (a herby drink). Karapincha kenda is a mixture of a cup or two of finely shredded leaves, grated coconut, chopped garlic and ginger, a teaspoon of mustard powder, and pepper and salt to taste. Mix the ingredients together with water and season with lime juice. Put the same spice mix with a couple of green chillies thrown in, through a blender to make a fine and healthy karapincha dip for your potato wedges.

Of course, Sri Lankan cooking is not just about taste. Combinations of ingredients and dishes are chosen to optimise nutritional balance and health, and often to address health issues. In that sense, karapincha is somewhat of a workhorse, adding much more than flavour. The native ayurvedic medicine system lists a variety of uses for almost all parts of the karapincha tree, from its leaves to bark, roots, fruits and flowers.

Its bark and roots are used as a tonic and a stomachic, and stimulant. The raw leaves, rich with amino acids and oils, purify the blood, bring down blood pressure, prevent diabetes and aid digestion. Studies have identified a compound that slows down the breakdown of starch, making it effective for weight control.

A visit to the vegetable market in Sri Lankan is therefore so much more than a shopping trip.

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

Peter Kuruvita’s Egg Rolls & Why Eggs are So Good

You know all those stories about eggs in excess being bad for you because they lead to high cholesterol? It’s all rubbish. The nutrition and especially the diet industry have in the last few years done a big u-turn and we are now told that fats do not make us fat after all, and eggs are in fact a superfood.

Having been on my own recent voyage of discovery regarding healthy foods for me (dealing with Hashimoto’s disease and pernicious anaemia – both auto-immune issues) I have come across multiple sources advocating up to four eggs a day. Yay. I love eggs 🙂 – and have drooled over them previously here, here, here, here and here etc.

So, how to incorporate eggs everywhere? Another thing I love is Sri Lankan street food, aka short eats and egg rolls have got to be in my top 10 Sri Lankan foods. So here a quick recipe borrowed from Peter Kuruvita. Peter’s street food inspired Sri Lankan egg rolls are made with spiced tuna and potato, wrapped in pancakes, crumbed and deep fried:

INGREDIENTS

  • 200 g tuna steaks, cut into chunks
  • 200 g new potatoes
  • 4 hard boiled eggs
  • 300 ml vegetable oil, for frying

For the pancakes

  • 150 g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 300 ml milk
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil

For the tempered spices

  • 100 ml vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 chillies, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 sprig curry leaves, leaves picked from stem

For the crumbing mix

  • 75 g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 100 ml water
  • 300 g breadcrumbs

METHOD

  1. Place the tuna, half a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of roughly ground black pepper in a pot, and cover with water. Place over medium heat until the tuna has cooked through. Drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile place the potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and cook until tender. Remove from heat and drain.
  3. Combine the cooked tuna and potatoes in a bowl and mash until smooth but still reasonably dry. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. For the pancakes: whisk the flour, eggs and milk until smooth then stir through the vegetable oil. Set aside for 10 minutes until ready to fry
  5. For the tempered spices: heat the oil in a pan over a high heat. Add the cayenne pepper, chillies, onion, garlic and curry leaves and fry until the onions are golden brown. Remove from the heat and combine with the fish and potato mixture. Set aside.
  6. Make the pancakes by heating a little oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Once the oil is hot, spoon a ladelful of the mixture into the pan and swirl to coat.
  7. Once the pancake is loose enough to come away from the pan, flip it over and cook the other side. You dont want the pancake to crisp it should still be soft enough to fold without tearing. Repeat with remaining batter. Once all the batter has been used, set the pancakes aside.
  8. To make the crumbing mix, whisk the flour, eggs and water in a bowl and set aside.
  9. To assemble the egg rolls, lay a pancake on a clean work bench. Top with a small amount of the fish and potato mixture. Place an egg half on top. Fold each side of the pancake into the centre to form a square parcel. Use some of the egg and flour mixture to help the edges stick if necessary. Repeat with remaining pancakes and filling.
  10. Coat a roll in the flour and egg mixture, and then the breadcrumbs. Repeat with remaining rolls and set aside until ready to fry.
  11. To cook the rolls, heat the oil in a pot over high heat until it reaches smoking point. Add the rolls, one at a time one, and fry until crisp and golden. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Serve with a nice cold beer.
Peter Kuruvita's Egg Rolls

Peter Kuruvita’s Egg Rolls

Other than the fact that these have been deep fried in vegetable oil these are extremely healthy. For gluten free, skip the flour & breadcrumbs and use coconut flakes instead. For less calories – shallow fry in extra virgin olive oil.

Why are eggs suddenly the latest super food? Just think about it… one egg contains all the nutrients and building blocks required to grow an entire baby chicken.

Eggs are loaded with high-quality proteins, vitamins, minerals, good fats and various trace nutrients.

A large egg contains (details):

  • Only 77 calories, with 5 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein with all 9 essential amino acids.
  • Rich in iron, phosphorous, selenium and vitamins A, B12, B2 and B5 (among others).
  • One egg contains 113 mg of Choline – a very important nutrient for the brain, among other things.

Eat the yolks, they contain pretty much all the nutrients!

Bottom Line: Eggs contain all 9 essential amino acids, are highly concentrated with vitamins and minerals and are among the best sources of choline you can get. Omega-3 enriched or pastured eggs are best. Eggs also contain large amounts of the antioxidants Lutein and Zeaxanthine, which dramatically lower your risk of age-related eye disorders. Despite the fear mongering of the past few decades, eating eggs and cholesterol has no association whatsoever with heart disease.

So what are you waiting for?

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Filed under Healthy food, Snacks, Sri Lankan food & recipes