Category Archives: Vegetarian Curries

Pumpkin Curry with Coconut Milk

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As you probably already know, I’m a big lover of pumpkin. Especially pumpkin soup. It’s warming, sweet, creamy and comforting. However, when I have made it for Sri Lankan relatives, especially male ones, they don’t seem to get it. I suspect this curry has a lot to do with it. Pumpkin, cooked Sri Lankan style, is heady with spices and fragrant to the max. It’s the same type of warm, comforting and creamy without the sweetness of roasted butternut. This dish is decidedly savoury, while I think pumpkin soup, especially the kind made with butternut can be a bit of a fence sitter.  I for one will always be pumpkin fan, in whatever style you serve it to me!

By the by this dish also has the added bonus of being vegan.

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Ingredients

  • 1 small red onion finely chopped
  • 2 green chillis sliced
  • 1 handful of curry leaves
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 1/2 stick of cinnamon
  • 2 cloves garlic sliced
  • 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 1 pandan leaf
  • 1 tbsp. coconut oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 kg kent or jap pumkin cut into large, even chunks
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk powder
  • 2 tsp, dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp. toasted coconut to garnish *

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Preparation

In a shallow dish or wok fry the onion,garlic, curry leaves, cinnamon, pandan, cloves, cardomom, and green chilli with the oil. Fry over a low heat until the onion is soft and the spices are fragrant.

Add the turmeric and fry for a 1-2 minutes until it’s well incorporated and slightly toasted.

Add the chopped pumpkin and cover with enough water to submerge the pumpkin. Cook over a medium heat until the pumpkin is just soft.

Add a little water to the coconut milk powder and make a paste. Add the dijon mustard and stir well before adding to the pumpkin curry. Bring the whole mix to a gentle simmer and add salt to taste. Take off the heat and add the toasted coconut just before serving.

* to toast the coconut, add 2 tablespoons of shredded coconut to a dry pan. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring constantly until the coconut has changed is colour and is brown and fragrant.

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Carrot Leaf Sambol

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Sri Lankans don’t really do salad, not in the traditional Western sense anyway. A green leaf sambol or mallung is about as close as we get. Mind you, it’s a pretty good substitute. Seasoned with chilli, and lime juice and mixed with crunchy fresh coconut it’s both tasty and nourishing in the truest sense.

These days, carrots, especially the heirloom varieties come  with their tops still attached. I’ve always chopped the tops off and saved them to add a fresh kick to a rice and curry meal. The carrot leaf has a lovely fresh, slightly peppery flavour that is both delicious and interesting.

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Carrot Leaf Sambol

  • 1 bunch of carrot leaf (the green tops of the carrot, cut off)
  • ½ cup of shredded fresh coconut or rehydrated dessicated coconut
  • ½ small red onion chopped
  • ½ a medium tomato deseeded and chopped
  • 1 green chilli sliced (optional)
  • 1 tsp. maldive fish flakes
  • ½ lime
  • salt and pepper to task

Preparation

Finely chop the carrot leaves and add to the coconut, onion, chilli, tomato and maldive fish.

Mix well, ensuring all ingredients are well distributed.

Just  before serving add lime, salt and pepper to taste.

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Green Mallum

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Mallum is Sri Lanka’s answer to a salad. A bevy of greens wilted, spiced and combined with shredded coconut amongst other wonderful spices. It’s often served as a condiment, an addendum to a meal. Something to add flavour, colour and vivid green health.

It’s a healthy alternative to lettuce and greens doused in dressing and I know for me it helps balance the colours in a meal. I struggle to eat without some green on my plate,

When I made this, I used silver beet and some outer leaves of cabbage from my parent’s garden. Green spinach, kale, collard greens are all easily used.

The trick to this is to slice the greens as finely as possible. It’s a skill I lack so, like me, do the best you can.

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Ingredients

  • 200g greens, washed and dried (5-6 leaves)
  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • 1/2 red onion finely chopped
  • 1 sprig curry leaves
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. maldive fish
  • 2 dried chillies finely sliced
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • salt to taste

Preparation

Finely slice the greens. I find rolling them tightly into a cigar shape and using a sharp knife is the easiest way to get a fine slice.

In a small frypan add the oil. When hot, add the curry leaves, mustard seeds and onion. Fry until the onion is soft.

Add the chopped greens and cook until just wilted. Now add the coconut, mustard seeds, turmeric and salt, Mix well until just warmed through.

Serve warm with fluffy white rice.

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Parippu – Sri Lankan style dhal with coconut milk

I’m not going to mince words here. If you want to call yourself a serious Sri Lankan cook, this recipe has to be in your repertoire. No buts. Dhal really is the centre of Sri Lankan cuisine, some would probably argue the centre of many South Asian cuisines. It’s cheap, it’s quick and it’s delicious.

While many  babies born in the Western world will delve into the world of solid food with pumpkin pureed to within an inch of it’s life or smashed banana, most Sri Lankan babies I know would count this dish below as one of their first.

Of course, a dish so ubiquitous will naturally be very controversial. There are versions without coconut milk (NOOOOO), there are some that finish of with a crispy fried mixture of mustard seeds, onions and chillies (YES PLEASE) and everyone will have a different preference for how long and soft they cook their lentils. Really, you decide. The spices are easy to follow, if you like the curry hotter at more green chillies and some chilli flakes as you cook. If you like a thicker more creamy dhal cook till the lentil begin to disintegrate and add more coconut milk.  The number 1 rule as far as I was taught is simple, don’t add salt till the end. It will harden the outer shell of the lentil and would wont get that soft, melt in your mouth texture.

As you can see in the pic, I like my lentils separate and with some definition. I don’t want a mush. However, I’ve tasted mushy dhal and it’s just as delicious. It’s just not the way I make it.

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup red lentils washed
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 onion chopped
  • 1/2 a tomato chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic sliced
  • 2 green chillies sliced (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. maldive fish flakes
  • curry leaves
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • salt to taste

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Preparation

In a small to medium saucepan, place all the ingredients and add enough water to cover the lentils. Stir and place on a medium heat.

As the lentils cook, they will change colour, become less orange and less opaque.Test the done-ness of the lentils by squeezing a lentil between you fingers, it should crush easily. You can cook it past this point, until the lentils start to fall apart if you’re after a softer, less textural curry. At this point, add the coconut milk and bring the curry to the boil.

Turn off the heat, add the salt to taste and serve hot.

 

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Beetroot Curry

 

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I still remember walking into my grandmother’s kitchen and finding my Aunty chopping beetroot. I was fascinated by the red stains it left on her hands. She tried to convince me it was blood, I wasn’t so easily fooled. Besides, I remember I was wearing my twirly dress and being able to twirl out of the kitchen and back outside.

Beetroot has always been a favourite of mine. Not least because of the lovely red colour it stains your rice. Beetroot curry feels uniquely Sri Lankan to me, I’ve never seen it in any other cuisines. Feel free to adjust the level of gravy in this curry, you can simmer it a little longer to make a drier curry or add more than the recommended coconut milk to make more gravy for spooning over your rice.

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Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp. oil
  • 3 small beetroot cut into thin batons
  • 1/2 a small onions chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1/2 a stick of cinnamon
  • 1/2 a green chilli chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds
  • Sprig of curry leaves
  • 2 teaspoons unroasted (vegetable) curry powder
  • 1 tsp. chilli powder (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup of coconut milk (or water)

Preparation

In small to medium pot heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. Once they begin spitting add the cinamon and curry leaves . This should render the oil lovely and fragrant. At this point add the onions and garlic and cook until they are soft.

To the softened onions add the the curry and chilli powder and cook until the rawness of the curry powder is gone. The curry powder will smell lovely and fargrant when it is ready.

Now add the beetroot and coconut milk and stir well until all the ingredients are combined.

Simmer on a medium heat until the beetroot is tender, it should still have a little bite.

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Season with salt and adjust as necessary. Serve hot with lots of steamed white rice.

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Watakolu (Ridged Gourd) and Potato Curry

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During high school I took home economics (culinary arts) like most students. During our year seven classes, the teacher would parade a rare and unusual spice and ask us to name it, dangling the grand prize of a merit award in our face. I’ll be the first to admit I was a total goody-two-shoes, desperate to please any teacher. Often times I would know the name of the spice in my native Sinhalese but not in English. I would then go home, ask my dad for the English name and come back to school and wow the teachers with my knowledge of fenugreek, cumin and nutmeg.

I still have that problem nowadays. I picked up this particular vegetable at our local Asian grocer. While I knew it was called wattakolu in Sinhalese, the English name was elusive. It took a good fifteen minutes of internet searching to discover that the name I was searching for was ridged gourd. I did give my fourteen year old self a high five at that point.

This is a really comforting dish. Creamy, mild and filling with the addition of potatoes. Pair it with a spicy meat curry, this curry will cool the big punch of meaty flavour.

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Ingredients

  •  1 ridged gourd
  • 2 potatoes
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. raw curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. maldive fish
  • 2-3 green chillis sliced
  • 1/2 an onion sliced
  • 1/2 a tomato chopped
  • curry leaves
  • 1 pandan leaf
  • salt to taste
  • 1 cup coconut milk

Preparation

Prepare the gourd by peeling the ridges till they are the flush with the skin. This will leave some of the skin on.

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Slice the gourd in half and slice into 1.5cm slices at an angle (I don’t know why but this is what my mum does, so I encourage you to follow suit). Add the gourd to a medium sized saucepan, and add the peeled and chopped potatoes to the pan. Now add all the spices and chopped onions and tomatoes. Add enough water to cover the contents and place on a medium heat.

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When the potatoes are just cooked through, add the coconut milk and bring to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes before taking off the heat. Taste for seasoning and enjoy.

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Serve with warm, steamed rice.

 

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Bandakka (Okra) Curry

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Okra is a very divisive vegetable. I feel you either love the slimy texture or you don’t. I’m a fan. Always have been. So when I saw some fresh, green okra at our local Saturday farmer’s market I grabbed a handful straight away.

It was only when I got home that I thought about Mr Firehouse. You see, he is a hater of all things slimy. So the okra sat unloved, in my fridge, for nearly a week before I decided to tackle it.

During last years trip to Sri Lanka we had stayed at a new beach side resort. One of my favourite things about Asian hotels are the buffets! Love! This one was no different. They served all kinds of impressive Western fare; cold cuts and salads in tiny shot glasses. However, my  eyes and plate never strayed far from the big traditional earthenware pots that had real, homestyle, Sri Lankan food. Breadfruit curry glistening with black curry powder, Kalu Pork curry with tender, spicy pork and the okra curry teeming with dried chillis. I served myself all of the above and was surprised to find that the okra wasn’t its usual slimy self. It tasted the same and had the soft almost gelatinous texture, but the sliminess that offends most people was strangely absent. On closer inspection and a quick chat to the chefs the secret was revealed, the okra was deep fried prior to cooking!

This is exactly what I did to tackle my stash of okra. The extra step made this dish much more Mr Firehouse friendly and I must say, I enjoyed the change too! If you’re not fussed about the okra’s slimy tendencies, just skip the deep frying part.

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Ingredients

  •  200-250 g okra (about 1/2 a pound) sliced on an angle
  • oil for deep frying
  • 1/2 red onion sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 3-4 dried red chillis
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. maldive fish flakes
  • 1/2tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. vegetable curry powder
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup coconut cream

Preparation

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In a small frypan heat the oil for deep frying and deep fry the okra in batches until they have a little colour. Drain well

In a medium saucepan or pot place a little oil and add the onion and garlic. Fry until the onions and garlic and soft and aromatic.

To the same pot add all of the dried spices and fry for 2-3 minutes until the spices are lightly toasted.

Finally add the fried okra and mix thoroughly coating all the okra in the lovely toasted spices.

Once the okra is well coated add the coconut cream and a little water to cover the okra.

Let the curry simmer for 5 minutes until it thickens. Add salt to taste and serve warm with plenty of fluffy white rice.

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Breadfruit Curry (Del Curry)

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In Sri Lanka there is an expression that goes something like “Ala del vela”. It literally translates to the potatoes have turned into breadfruit. It’s akin to the English; ‘it’s all gone pear shaped’.  What it refers to is that a bad, overcooked potato curry will look like the thicker, more mushy breadfruit curry.  I heard this expression an awful lot growing up, it was one of my dad’s pet phrases. Unfortunately I had no idea what it meant because growing up in Australia I never had del. Not that I remember. As you can imagine this phrase didn’t hold much meaning for me until I finally tried del, then I spent a lot of time regretting my misspent youth and all the missed opportunities to eat del!

This curry, if made with good breadfruit, and believe you me not all breadfruit is created equal, is lovely, thick and slightly ‘slimy’. It’s perfect with rice and is meaty enough to stand on it’s own, unlike the humble potato. If the breadfruit is not ripe enough the curry will not get floury, no matter how much you cook it. In Sri Lanka, this is a lost cause and the dish will often be thrown out. I leave this up to your discretion. Thankfully this has never happened to me with the processed variety.

I’ve made this with frozen breadfruit and you can follow this for fresh as well. If you’re working with the tinned variety, the quantity might be a bit smaller and you’re best off making the curry with the coconut milk and then adding the drained breadfruit to the simmering coconut broth. The tinned fruit is using partially cooked or brined so doesn’t require the softening. You can then temper, as per the recipe below.

One of my favourite ways to eat this curry is with simple store bought paratha and a “salsa” of cubed tomatoes, cucumber and red onions seasoned with a little salt and chilli


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Ingredients

  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 500 g frozen  (~ 1lb ) breadfruit, peeled and cut into 3cm pieces
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp. maldive fish
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 pandan leaf
  • curry leaves
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • For tempering
  • 3 tbsp. oil
  • 1/2 small red  onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 3-4 dried red chillis cut into pieces
  • pinch of roasted dark curry powder (for serving)

Preparation

In a medium saucepan add the breadfruit, turmeric, curry powder, maldive fish, curry leaf, pandan leaf and pepper. Cover the breadfruit with water and turn the heat on to medium.

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Cook until the breadfruit it soft and going “floury” around the edges.

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When the breadfruit reaches the floury stage add the coconut milk and simmer for 5 minutes until the curry is thick.

In a small frying pan add the oil and mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds begin to pop add the onions and dried chilli to the pan. Cook on medium heat until the onions have just a little bit of colour.

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Add the tempered onions to the del curry and stir through. Serve with a sprinkle roasted curry powder.

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Nelum Ala (Lotus Root)

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I was listening to a show on NPR here (national public radio, kinda like the ABC if you’re in Australia) where the Asian American author of novel Soy Sauce for Beginners, Kirsten Chen, bonded with the Indian American newsreader over their being tied to two different cultures. Here were two educated, well respected women who strived to not only be good and partriotic Americans but pay homage to their cultural roots too. Meghna Chakrabarti (the journalist) commented that she spoke to her mother about moving to America and the cultural challenges that it provided and her mother said “Back then, when you moved, you moved.”. Both women agreed. In the time of our parents, an international move was just that. You left without knowing whether you’d ever be back. Tickets were expensive and travel long and ardous.

Flashforward to today and the women discussed that today travel has more of a fluidity. There are options and moving back to where you’re coming from is often an option. In fact, there are probably many people moving back to China and India to work as there Chinese and Indian immigrants moving here and to Australia.

My long-winded point here is that today moving also means that you’re not leaving behind your food culture either. In the time that we’ve been in Bellevue (nearly 18months) Asian and Indian groceries have been popping up just about everywhere. There is competition and when there’s competition there’s inevitably quality. Last week I bundled up my little cherub and took him to the newest of these Indian supermarket. This one claimed to be “the biggest”

I was pleasantly surprised, there were freezers stocked with frozen exotic vegetables and I helped myself to a bag of breadfruit and lotus root. These are classic Lankan vegetables and quite rare in Lanka even, this time we only had one really good breadfruit curry.

Ingredients

  • 350g nelum ala (frozen lotus root)
  • 2 tomatoes chopped
  • 1/2 small onion chopped
  • curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp. curry powder (unroasted)
  • 2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. chilli powder
  • 1 tsp. fenugreek seeks
  • 1 tsp. maldive fish flakes
  • salt
  • pandan leaf
  • 1 cup coconut milk

Preparation

In a medium saucepan add the lotus root, tomatoes, onions, curry leaves and spices. Cover the lotus root with water, stir in the spiced and place on a medium heat.

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Cook on a simmer until the lotus root is tender, but has a slight crunch. You don’t want them disintegrating. Don’t be afraid to add more water if needed.

When the lotus root is cooked add the coconut milk  and simmer until slightly thickened.

Serve hot with rice and sprinkle of black curry powder.

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Devilled Potatoes (Ala Theldala)

 

 

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Me and this dish had a falling out some years ago.  Twice a year the Sri Lankan Buddhist community in Sydney would throw a food fair to help raise money for the temple. Groups of people would host stalls serving traditional Sri Lankan fare; string hoppers, roti, koththu etc. The hopper stall was always a favourite, with a  queue that usually extended out the doors.

Now I vaguely remember talking about rules in Sri Lankan cooking. About how meals needed particular components, a protein for example and definitely a “hodi” dish , with gravy for moistening the food.

The hopper stall for many years would serve this dish with the hoppers, it puzzled me no end. There was usually a meat curry which served as protein and gravy, and a condiment like seeni sambol (caramelised fried onions) or lunu miris. For me, at the end of my hopper eating fest the potatoes would remain defiantly on my plate, unsure of where to go. I came to resent these potatoes, even though logically I knew they weren’t to blame. I did not like them sitting there, uneaten…unwanted.

I’ve forgiven these dear potatoes since, especially as in Washington you get these beautiful gem like potatoes that are tiny and come in 3-4 colours.  And sometimes, you just need a simple, quick dish that packs a punch!

Ingredients

  • 8 small potatoes boiled
  • 1/2 small medium onion sliced
  • 1/2 clove garlic
  • cinnamon stick
  • 1 tbsp. chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. maldive fish
  • curry leaves
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

In a medium frypan add the oil and when it’s hot add the onions, garlic, curry leaves, cinnamon and spices. Fry until the onions are soft and brown and spices are pungent.

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Add the potatoes and warm through until the potatoes are coated in the spices and the warmed through and slightly browned..

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