This is a great A – Z guide to Sri Lankan food. Enjoy!
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?
I love eggs. My previous post was dedicated to eggs because they are just so good. No recipes or knowledge or nutritional facts, nope, just photo’s, drool-worthy images. We all know eggs are good for you bar a bit of cholesterol but all in all they’re good and cheap and just well….tasty.
Unfortunately in Sri Lanka I often come across over-cooked eggs. This is a shame – it makes them rubbery, strips them off their goodness and ends up in unappealing looking eggs with blueish yolks.
Unless you find a good Egg Hopper kade (my local shop knows exactly how I like them and gives me extra lunu miris; a hot onion and chilli sambol (recipe repeated below)), or have them at a good hotel in Colombo where you can specify how you like them. Often I have had them hard-boiled and folded, nowhere near as tasty but still ok.
Alternatively you can make them at home. They are quite time consuming to make because you need the special aluminium hopper pans and certain types of rice flour & yeast but life would not be living without some trial & error, no? 🙂
So here goes the recipe for Egg Hoppers.
Best made in special hopper pans:
For the Egg Hoppers:
- 1 tsp. active dry yeast
- 3 cups rice flour
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 2 1/2 cups coconut milk
- 1/4 tsp. baking soda
- Vegetable oil, for the pan
For the Lunu Miris
- 2 tbsp of chilli flakes
- 2 or 3 fresh red chillies (optional)
- Half a tsp of salt
- 1 or 2 red onions (very finely chopped)
- 1 tbsp ground maldive fish (optional) – again I leave this out but others swear by it.
- Juice of a half a lime or lemon (or more)
For the Lunu Miris:
- Grind the all the ingredients above except lime (or lemon) in a mortar and pestle (wangediya). Again you may find the food processor does wonders, but be sure you turn the mixture into a pulp. Crunchy is good 🙂
- Squeeze in the lime juice, mix and serve when fresh.
To make the hoppers:
- Combine yeast and 1 3/4 cups warm water (approx. 50 Celsius, 110 Fahrenheit) in a bowl; let sit until foamy, 8–10 minutes. Combine 1 tsp. salt, flour, and sugar in a bowl; add yeast mixture and stir into a batter. Cover, and let rest for about 2 hours. Add coconut milk and baking soda; stir until smooth. Chill batter for 1 hour.
- Heat a hopper pan or an 8″ nonstick skillet over high heat and grease lightly with oil; add 1/3 cup batter, and immediately swirl batter around to cover inside surface. Cook until batter begins to set, about 1 minute.
- Crack the egg into the centre of the pan. Cover, and cook until set and edges are crispy, about 2 minutes. Remove egg hopper from the pan and repeat with the remaining batter. Serve hoppers with lunu miris.
And there you have it – Egg Hoppers, food porn on a plate and it’s tastes tremendous too.
With lunu miris if you dare!
Lush for breakfast, snacks or a late dinner. ENJOY!
This dish is simplicity itself.
Kankun (sometimes written as Kangkung) is a Sri Lankan leafy vegetable (Ipomoea aquatica). It is also known as water morning glory, marsh glory, swamp cabbage (!) and water spinach. It’s good and is a rich source of vitamins (particularly A, B and C), iron, protein, calcium, amino acids and anti-oxidants.
In Sri Lanka it is often prepared as an aside to rice and curry, a kind of devilled kankun with red chilli flakes and dried fish or prawns. Whilst tasty enough (bar the dried fish which I extract from everything!) I think it is much better prepared with garlic in a stir-fry to eat with grilled fish or meat or even as a substantial dish in itself (triple the ingredients below for that!).
Stir-fried Garlic Kankun Ingredients:
- One large bunch of kankun
- 6 garlic cloves roughly chopped
- Pinch of red chilli flakes (just for a hint…remember it’s about the garlic & kankun here)
- Slug (about 1 tbsp. soya sauce)
- Oil to fry
- Pepper to taste
Wash the kankun leaves well and chop roughly. Heat some oil in a wok but do not let it get too hot (burnt garlic is not good). Add garlic and chilli flakes and stir fry for a minute or so. Add the kankun, mix well for 30 seconds. Add soya sauce and pepper, mix and cover wok for 30 seconds. Take off the fire and serve with grilled fish or meat with rice or noodles.
Cabbage is another vegetable that I think is underrated. Boiled to a pulp it is indeed bland and pretty tasteless but it need not be as the recipe below will show you.
Mallum or mallung is a Sri Lankan staple. The name literally means “mix up” and is usually a combination of shredded greens, onion, chilli, Maldive fish and coconut. I’m not a fan of Maldive fish so opt to leave it out and I find it tastes just as good. Mallums play an important part in nutrition in Sri Lanka because this is how a lot of people get their iron as beef is not commonly eaten amongst rural Buddhist folk. These green concoctions are also rich in vitamins and provides the perfect accompaniment to rice (carbs) and dhal (protein) and other meat, fish or vegetable curries.
Mukunuwenna (Alternanthera triandra Lam) and Dandelion Leaves are the local green leaves commonly used in Mallum. The most famous Green sambol (mallum) is made from fresh Gotukola (Centella Asiatica).
For Western readers – you can substitute spinach, kale or any other spring greens.
However to please everybody today I have selected cabbage which is available everywhere. Any type of cabbage can be prepared in the following way but I have chosen your run-of-the-mill normal cabbage. If you don’t like cabbage – I dare you to try this and see if it will change your mind. It’s super easy and when you have mastered the cabbage mallum you can try it with other greens. This recipe serves six as a side dish to a main meal.
Ingredients for Sri Lankan Cabbage Mallum (or Mallung):
- 2 tbsp oil (coconut, vegetable or sunflower)
- ½ tsp black mustard seeds
- ½ a cabbage, finely shredded
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1–2 (or 3) green chillies, seeded and chopped
- ¼ tsp ground turmeric
- 20g scraped coconut (fresh is best, frozen is ok…if you only manage to get the dry stuff I suggest soaking it in some coconut milk first)
- 2 limes, juice of 1, plus 1 cut into wedges to serve
- curry leaves (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat a frying pan or wok until it smokes. Add the oil, then the mustard seeds. Add the cabbage, onion, chillies and curry leaves if using and stir-fry for about 2 minutes.
- Add the turmeric and coconut; stir-fry until the coconut has a dry texture (take care not to burn it). Quickly take off the heat, stir in the lime juice and a little salt and pepper, and serve.
I happily eat this with paratha roti but it is usually served as part of the rice and curry meal as an accompaniment.
Pumpkins are not just for Halloween, they are an extremely healthy vegetable and eaten regularly in Sri Lanka (where they are called Wattakka). Pumpkins are very low in calories (around 20 calories per 100 g). This makes it the perfect food for those watching their weight. They are extremely rich in potassium and have a lot of magnesium and iron as well.
The bright orange fleshy part of a pumpkin is loaded with beta-carotene, which is an important antioxidant that helps us fight toxins and free radicals in our bodies.
Whilst buying pumpkins for cooking a curry, choose the ones with a complete stem attached to the top. This usually means that the vegetable is fresh and will store for longer without going off.
Ingredients for Sri Lankan style Pumpkin (Wattakka) Curry:
- One large pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
- 2 tablespoons of rice
- 2 tablespoons of grated coconut (fresh is best but frozen is ok too – ensure you defrost before using)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 green chillies, finely chopped
- Sprig of Curry leaves (optional; 3 or 4 bay leaves are an alternative)
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp curry powder (the normal variety, not the darker roasted one which is more for meat dishes)
- 1 piece of cinnamon (optional)
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped
- 1 cup (half pint) of coconut milk
- 1 tbsp of ground mustard seeds
- Salt and pepper to taste
- First roast the rice and grated coconut in a pan till golden brown but not burnt. Let it cool.
- Stir fry the onions, green chillies, garlic, curry leaves, fenugreek, cinnamon, chili powder, curry powder and turmeric for a few minutes. Add the pumpkin pieces. Stir fry for a couple of minutes. Season with salt. Add a cup of water. Cover and cook for a few minutes.
- Now grind the rice, coconut mixture into a powder. Dissolve in coconut milk and add to the pumpkin. Add the ground mustard and cook a couple more minutes. Adjust salt to taste.
- Serve hot with rice.
I love most Sri Lankan foods, especially curries. I have yet to dislike a vegetable curry here, even beetroot which I hated as a child.
Below, I’ve listed five of the simple foods that I could happily eat all day, every day!
1. Pol roti (coconut roti…like crispy flatbreads) – it’s delicious when fresh and I can eat unlimited amounts of the small ones with lunu miris (a very spicy onion and chilli chutney), pol sambol (see below) or just butter
2. Pol sambol – a grated coconut side dish which is a staple here in Sri Lanka. It is made with coconut, red chilli flakes, sliced green chilli, finely chopped onions, lime juice and salt. I even have this on sandwiches which makes my Sri Lankan friends laugh because it considered a poor mans dish to consume it this way. I think this tops my list – I can eat it straight out of the bowl, with pol roti, bread, rice, curry and even on pizza.
3. Dhal – quintessentially Sri Lankan, just as pol sambol is. It can be eaten with fresh bread for breakfast, with rice and curry for lunch and poured over your take-away paratha roti at night.
4. Egg hoppers – simply delicious when cooked fresh with a sprinkle of black pepper. A crispy pancake with a fried egg in the middle. In my opinion best eaten half-boiled as they call it here (soft boiled)…then crack the crispy edges and dip into the egg yolk. Hmm. Simple but so special. I will blog more on the virtues of hoppers soon.
5. Pumpkin curry (aka Wattakka curry) – one of my favourites, it’s so tasty, not too spicy and super healthy. I love all veggie curries but this one is at the top of my list.
These are the one’s that I find horrid:
- Animal Body Parts — I don’t mind eating meat, but I draw the line at body parts. Sucking the marrow out of a bone, chomping on a fish head, rolling fish eyes around in your mouth before that disgusting bite which releases all the goo, chewing on offal etc. Yuk! I find it even more troubling that I’m usually offered these delicacies as a treat. Fortunately, my partner has come to know how I feel and he happily grabs the offending items off my plate, before I even get a chance to poke at it in disgust or our hosts notice!
- Curd — For one who loves cheese and normal yoghurt this troubles me sometimes. The smell of curd makes me want to vomit. I’m quite repulsed by the way Sri Lankans love gulping it down after a spicy meal. I think it’s the sourness…like milk gone off which induces a gag reflex in me.
- Dried fish (aka Maldive fish) – Sri Lankans love using dried fish to add flavour to curries (usually small sardine like fish) and sometimes even as a main ingredient in the curries (chunks of dried tuna). Ewww. It is an overpowering taste. Can’t stand the smell or taste.
- Sri Lankan wedding cake – I honestly do not care how well or tastefully it is offered (you always get a little parcel to take home in a cute packaging design). Mine are always deposited into my handbag and given to the children I know at the soonest opportunity. Sugary gooey mess usually with marzipan icing. Absolutely disgusting.
- Malu paan (malu = fish, paan = bread) – a short eat (snack) staple and favourite of school children. Fish left-overs cooked with spices and potato and put into triangular sweetish usually very chewy bread. Why? Has an island nation has no better ways to use its abundance of fish? Give me a fish cutlet any day.