I feel as if I have seen and eaten A LOT since I last wrote a post. For those who follow me on instagram you’ll know that I’ve been galavanting around Sri Lanka with my family trying to experience as much as humanly possible in 12 days. Sitting on a beach for two weeks, just isn’t our thing. We packed in a lot and as such feel as if we have been away for a lot longer. I have so much to tell that I thought I would break it down in a series of mini posts, to make it more interesting and accompany each post with a recipe that I was taught so you get a bit of travel tips and a recipe combined. Well that’s the plan – I hope you like it. First up – if you are planning or are just interested in Sri Lanka or just love history and travel then I really recommend you pick up a copy of both of these books. They are absolutely excellent and very well written.
After a long flight there is nothing better than arriving and acclimatising to your destination as quickly as possible. Horathapola Estate helped us to just that and I would return in a heartbeat.
It’s a good hours drive from the Colombo airport, in the countryside on a glorious old estate with plenty of charm and elegance. Arriving we were greeted by these two smiling gentlemen with fresh coconuts juice – the perfect drink in the midday sun.
Photo credit: Horathapolo Estate Instagram feed (check it out as it captures the estate beautifully)
The place is small and intimate – 5 bedrooms, so you are not going to find coach loads of tourists arriving here. Phew. They put us in the beautiful family lodge, which was a two bedroom cottage with two large bathrooms and four poster beds with, importantly, mosquito nets to keep the blighters at bay.
It has a beautiful pool to relax in, that you can even share with the odd passing holy cow – that was definitely a first. The wildlife wandering by and the sounds coming from the trees was enchanting – it almost has something mystical about the place.
Keen to explore the estate we were whisked off……well maybe not whisked but a slow plod, on a bullock cart around the grounds. This was the mode of transport for all Sri Lankans before the motor car, tuk tuk and train arrived. We were shown flora, fauna and wildlife – of particular interest was this:
The cashew nut. One single seed (or nut as we know it) comes from each fruit. We learnt that surrounding the seed is an acid that is an irritant to the skin – similar to the toxins found in poison ivy – and that long gloves need to be worn when opening up the seed. By properly roasting the cashew – outside as the smoke contains droplets that can seriously irritate the lungs – destroys the toxin. This laborous process, combined with the fact that only one seeds comes from a fruit, may explain why cashew nuts are so expensive. Indeed cashew nut curry in Sri Lanka is only really served at special occasions, such as weddings.
Staying at this beautiful estate was the perfect introduction to life in Sri Lanka. We immediately felt at home and eager to embrace our new surroundings. Eating a bowl of rasam (one of my absolutely favourite soups) – a deliciously fragrant and black pepper Sri Lankan soup, tasted heavenly after 10 hours on a plane.
In fact I could have eaten bowls of it, but restrained myself as supper was only a few hours away. The food at Horathapola Estate was Sri Lankan food at it’s best. When travelling I much prefer to eat food from that specific country, rather than Western food, which I can frankly eat anytime when I am home in London. I visited the kitchen and met the chefs and the food was all freshly made for the guests. I could not fault it – it wasn’t uber fancy, but to be honest I’m not really into that kind of food – and would definitely love to return in the future and stay for a little longer next time.
The first recipe I wanted to share with you today is a Sri Lankan tuna curry. I was taught the recipe by chefs I met later in my travels, and thought it was a great way to incorporate tuna into a curry. There are a couple of ingredients that you maybe unfamiliar with. The first is pandan leaves, also known as rampa. They have long green blade like leaves and add a distinct and aromatic flavour to a curry or even a dessert. They are widely used in cooking in South Asia and I picked up mine from my local Sri Lankan grocers. You can easily find them on the internet – Amazon even sells them fresh, and Thai grocers will also stock them. You can freeze them, so a packet will last you for some time.
The other ingredient that you may not have come across is Sri Lankan roasted curry powder, which is deeply aromatic with a reddish hue. The spices are dry roasted before being blended together to create a powder. You can buy online or make your own, it really is pretty straightforward.
Sri Lankan Tuna Curry
Serves 4 (accompanied with some vegetable curries)
400g cubed tuna (bite sized)
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp Sri Lankan roasted curry powder
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
100ml cold water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lemongrass, cut in half
1 fresh green chilli sliced
1 pandan leaf, broken into 4
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 medium sized tomatoes, roughly chopped
6 tbsp thin coconut milk
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
- In a bowl add the cubed tuna, red chilli powder, black pepper and roasted curry powder and then add about 100ml of cold water. Mix together and set aside.
- In a pan add a little vegetable oil and when it is hot, but on a low to medium heat, add the red onion, lemongrass, pandan leaves, garlic and allow to cook in the pan for a few minutes. Stir from time to time to stop the onions sticking to the base of the pan.
- Add the tomatoes and allow to soften before adding the tuna and spicy liquid that you had set aside.
- Add 2 tbsp of coconut milk – ideally the thinner milk, as opposed to the thicker cream. Gently turn the tuna at intervals, careful not to break it up. It is a firm fish so it should hold together well. Add a further 2 tbsp of coconut milk.
- Add the salt to taste and finally add a further 2 tbsp of coconut milk. Simmer gently. If you feel it is too spicy add a little more coconut milk.
- The tuna will be cooked within 10-15 minutes and place to one side, until ready to serve.