This is a great A – Z guide to Sri Lankan food. Enjoy!
Now unless you live in Sri Lanka, I am 99% sure that you will have absolutely no idea of what I am talking about except for the prawn curry bit.
Basically, Sri Lanka has had some “issues” with island-wide electricity supply since Sunday the 13th of March when the entire country was without power for around 8 hours due to an explosion at a major power station. This caused another major power station to malfunction and (so we have been informed by various media sources and politicians here – make of that what you wish) that the latter power station was not built according to international standards and hence it is needing huge repairs, so daily power cuts of seven and half hours have been imposed throughout the country. Five and a half during the day and two at night. The citizens, residents and I expect the tourists not lucky enough to be in hotels with a generator are pretty pissed off. And with the power cuts come water cuts. A whole big barrel of laughs NOT.
People do take things like this in their stride though and Sri Lankans, who are notoriously laid back (in a great way) particularly so. People flocked to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with funny photos, comments and memes (#PowerCutSL). I meanwhile decided, as I didn’t want my laptop battery to die, to cook a yummy prawn curry. I had plenty of gas for cooking and plenty of candles (and wine!) so it really made the night time power cut bearable. Therefore, I thought I would share the recipe with you.
Power Cut Prawn Curry Recipe (serves 2 as a large portion or 3)
- 20 large prawns, shelled and keep some heads aside
- 6 garlic cloves, sliced
- 3 – 4 stems of curry leaves or 30 to 40 leaves
- 1 thumb size of fresh ginger, sliced
- 3/4/5 long green chillies, sliced (up to you!)
- 2-3 small red onions, sliced
- 4 cardamom pods, squashed
- 1 tbsp. fenugreek seeds
- 1 cinnamon, stick broken
- 4 cloves
- 1 tsp. fennel seeds
- 2 tbsp. ground cumin
- 2 tbsp. ground coriander
- 1 tbsp. red chilli powder
- 1 tbsp. ground turmeric
- 1L coconut milk (fresh is best, but I used the powdered milk and cans will be just as good)
- Oil (I used virgin coconut oil)
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Lime to taste
- In a large frying pan, add a little oil and cook the prawns in batches of 8 to 10 at a time, or about 1.5-2 minutes depending on the size of the prawn. Keep aside to cool
- In a large saucepan, heat the whole spices and cook until toasted and aromatic. Add your oil to the pan and then add the garlic, curry leaves, ginger, chilli and shallots. Cook for 2 mins.
- Deshell the prawns and put the prawn heads in the saucepan with the spices.
- Add the rest of the powdered spices with the coconut milk and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain to remove prawn heads.
- Pour the sauce over the prawns in the frying pan, and season with salt, pepper and some fresh lime juice and you are ready!
Serve with rice and wedges of lime.
There is always a silver lining behind every cloud! 🙂
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
- 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
- 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.
- Meanwhile place the potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and cook until tender. Remove from heat and drain.
- Combine the cooked tuna and potatoes in a bowl and mash until smooth but still reasonably dry. Season with salt and pepper.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- To make the crumbing mix, whisk the flour, eggs and water in a bowl and set aside.
- 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.
- Coat a roll in the flour and egg mixture, and then the breadcrumbs. Repeat with remaining rolls and set aside until ready to fry.
- 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.
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?
The Exotic Delights of this Fruitful Island
From the humble banana to the notorious durian Sri Lanka boasts numerous exotic fruits and the local markets are awash with colour.
Fresh fruit – especially the ever-popular pineapple, banana and papaya – often comprise dessert in Sri Lanka. Yet, there are so many other, more exotic varieties available, as a visit to any pola (market) will confirm. If you have not yet acquired a taste for tropical fruit then Sri Lanka is a great place to do so. Below is a check list of just some of the fruit grown on the island.
Banana – In Sri Lanka the name plantain is often used interchangeably with banana. This fruit is a general favourite, served to complete any meal and at special occasions. Usually it is eaten straight from the skin at the table. Bananas come in many sizes, and can be green, yellow or even red in colour. Some of the most popular varieties are:
Ambul – small, yellow when ripe: sweet and sticky
Kolikuttu – yellow when ripe: sweet and starchy
Anamalu – long, bright green when ripe: slightly floury
Seeni kesel – small, yellow when ripe: very sweet
Rath kesel – thick, red when ripe: very fleshy
Custard apple – Four varieties of custard apple are grown in Sri Lanka and each has an unmistakable flavour, whether sweet or tart. The custard apple is a lumpy light green fruit with a sweet, custard-like white pulp embedded with black seeds. The bullock’s heart is a lumpy pink fruit, which is not as popular as the other varieties because of its granular texture. The cherimoya is a lumpy, green fruit with a pulp similar to the custard apple but with a more subtle fragrance. The soursop is a green, kidney-shaped fruit with a pulp redolent of the custard apple, but having a more characteristic texture.
Durian – The durian is probably the most notorious of tropical fruits due to its unpleasant odour. This fruit, which is round to ovoid and covered with sharp spines, has a white, custard-like pulp regarded as an aphrodisiac. It is one of those things in life you either love or hate. You either find the fruit delicious, or you loathe it without eating it, unable to surmount the olfactory barrier. For the uninitiated, it is best to try it creamed as custard.
Mango – The premier fruit in the island must surely be the mango, which also comes in a wide variety. Outlines can vary from the classic mango shape, as depicted in the paisley pattern in textiles, to an almost perfect sphere. Size also varies. For instance, the wild mi-amba is tiny, while the pol-amba (pol = coconut) is truly as large as the nut it is named after. Much the same can be said for the skin, which can be green, yellow, orange, pink, or even scarlet. The juicy peach-like flesh can be sweet or have a hint of tartness. Some of the most popular varieties are:
Pol amba – large round fruit with small stone: very fleshy
Kartha kolabun – long ovoid: rich and sweet
Yapanne amba – long, narrow mango: very sweet
Gira amba – tip shaped like a parrots beak
Mee amba – one of the smallest: very sweet
Vilard – red when ripe
Mangosteen – Mangosteens are a particularly striking fruit, with a perfectly round shape, deep purple skin and crowned by a contrasting green calyx. Broken open between the palms of the hand, the fruit reveals a nest of delicious, sweet-sour fleshy white segments with the flavour of strawberry and grape. Mangosteens are commonly sold by the roadside at Kalutara and Peradeniya.
Papaya – Considered one of the classic tropical fruits, papaya or papaw can be small or large. When cut lengthways, a golden melon-like flesh is revealed, lined with a mass of black seeds. After sweeping off the seeds with a spoon, squeeze half a lime over it and enjoy the sweet yet subtle taste of this unique fruit, which is considered excellent for the health. Papaya is often served at breakfast having been first chilled in the fridge. It is also pickled and used in curries when unripe.
Pineapple – Pineapples in Sri Lanka are generally small but thirst-quenching. The medium-sized Mauritius variety, with its slender body and amber coloured skin, is an ideal balance between sweetness and tartness. The larger Kew variety, squat and green, is canned, and also used for making pineapple jam and pineapple juice. A variety of pineapple known as ‘rock pineapple’, which is green and smaller than the Mauritius or Kew, grows wild in Sri Lanka.
Rambuttan – This fruit, whose Malay name means ‘spiny’, is scarlet, maroon or golden-skinned and covered with short, fleshy hairs. Inside there is a mouth-watering translucent, sweet-sour pulp, which like that of its relative, the better-known lychee, covers the single seed. The pulp is sweeter in the better varieties, those in which it easily peels off the seed being preferred.
Woodapple – The woodapple is a hard-shelled fruit, a favourite with elephants. In fact it is so hard a hammer has to be used to break it. The truffle-like pulp within has a pungent smell, but it has an agreeable, slightly sweet-sour taste. The pulp is eaten with salt, although the most popular preparation is a drink called divul kiri made with the pulp, treacle and coconut milk. A fruit cream made with the pulp and condensed milk is also popular, as is woodapple jam.