Bang Bang Chicken Salad – the perfect family summer salad

If you are after an easy chicken salad that is adored by the whole family, takes minimum fuss to throw together and is packed on flavour and texture, then look no further. Chinese inspired ‘Bang Bang chicken’ has it all and is perfect when the weather is hot and you want something light. My whole family absolutely love it.

I am a huge fan of Pip & Nut peanut, almond and cashew butters – have you tried them? I found their ‘crunchy maple peanut butter’ worked so well with the recipe. (I am not paid to say this ;o) You can find them in most supermarkets now as well as health food shops such as Holland & Barrett.

Don’t stress if you can’t get hold of any – regular crunchy peanut butter will also work well.

The only ingredient that I can imagine may receive a ‘sigh’  or ‘where can I find them’ is Sichuan peppercorns. They are now super easy to find online and I have provided a link below. They are definitely one of my store cupboard favourites as the taste is just heavenly, to put it mildly. If you really can’t be bothered with tracking them down then just use regular black peppercorns this time.

 

 

Bang Bang Chicken

Part 1

450g skinless chicken breasts, chopped in two

500ml chicken stock (fresh or Knorr chicken stock pot works well)

2 star anise

1 tsp of Sichuan peppercorns

1 tsp salt

25g fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

 

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Part 2

1 large carrot, peeled and thickly grated

1 cucumber, sliced lengthways and then chopped into small bite size chunks

1 large handful of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks

2 limes

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Part 3

130g crunchy peanut butter – I think the best is ‘Pip & Nut and they do one which is ‘crunchy maple peanut butter’ which I like to use here

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 garlic clove, finely grated

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

1 tbsp maple syrup

 

Optional

1 fresh red chilli, finely diced

 

 

  1. Place all the ingredients in ‘part 1’ into a pan and leave to simmer for 15 minutes, so that the chicken is cooked.
  2. Slice and dice all the ingredients, apart from the lime, in ‘part 2’ and place in a large mixing bowl. Squeeze 1 lime onto the salad ingredients.
  3. Once the chicken is cooked, remove from the pan and place to one side. Keep the cooking stock, but strain it and place in a small jug.
  4. Using a fork shred the chicken and then place into the large mixing bowl with the ingredients from ‘part 2’.
  5. Place all the ingredients in ‘part 3’ together and then add an additional 100ml of the cooking stock from the chicken. Gradually add to the the sauce so that it is less thick and more the consistency of cream.
  6. Add half the sauce to the mixing bowl and gently mix the ingredients together.
  7. Plate up and then add an extra spoonful of sauce over each serving as desired.
  8. Top with chilli, for those who like chilli, and place a lime quarter on each plate for added zing.

 

Freeze the rest of the stock for use another time as it tastes so good. 


Zhug – Yemeni Hot Sauce – perfect for a BBQ or Sandwich Filler

Chutneys, sauces, pickles and sambals you name it and I’ll probably love it. They really lift a meal whether you are eating modern British, Mexican, Indian, Levant or even having a simple sandwich for lunch. So when a pal mentioned whether I had heard of zhug, my response was yes, heard but not knowingly tried. He swore it was his go-to condiment, especially for BBQ, and sent me his favourite recipe for it.

The name ‘Zhug’ sounds rather cool you have to admit. Pass the zhug, if you please! Yes it definitely has a certain ring to it. It’s a Middle Eastern hot sauce originating from Yemen and then adopted by the Israelis  when the Yemenite Jews fled to Israel. It has now become a staple condiment in Israeli cuisine and I can certainly see why.

When I looked through the ingredients it was not too dissimilar to chimichurri, chermoula or even salsa verde. There are many varieties using both green and red chillies, but I opted for the green variety today. Cumin, cardamom and caraway seeds are used and these are combined with both fresh coriander and parsley. It’s zingy, hot and fresh all at once and would work equally well with meats, fish or cheese. It takes minutes to prepare and can easily be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or two.

So do you have a go-to favourite condiment? My favourite – other than Zhug –  is my Chipotle – see here.

Zhug – Yemeni Hot Sauce

adapted from Aglaia Kreme book ‘Mediterranean Hot and Spicy’

6 green birds eye chillies, seeds kept in (or removed if you prefer it less hot)

8 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 tsp freshly ground caraway seeds

1tsp freshly ground cumin seeds

1/2 tsp freshly ground green cardamom

50g fresh coriander, leaves and stalks

50g fresh flat leaf parsley, leaves only

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp salt

juice of 1 small lemon

100ml extra virgin olive oil

 

  1. Place the black pepper, caraway, cumin and cardamom seeds in a spice/coffee grinder to create a smooth powder.
  2. Then place all the ingredients into a blender and blender until smooth, adding the extra virgin olive oil a little at a time to loosen up the sauce.
  3. Store in a sterilised jar and place in the fridge until ready to use.

Great in sandwiches, with falafel wraps, BBQ meats and fish, over couscous – basically most things savoury.


Sri Lankan Egg Curry and ‘Sri Lanka The Cookbook’

Recently, when I was in Sri Lanka, I was having a look at the local cookery books and, similar to the ones I had seen in Kerala, they seemed a bit dated, 70’s style.

 

Photograph by © Kim Lightbody and book published by Frances Lincoln

Don’t get me wrong the recipes are probably wonderful, but today we are quite spoilt with such beautiful cookery books being published here in the UK that the bar has been raised long ago on what makes a great looking cookery book. So you can image how thrilled I was to arrive home to find Prakash Sivanathan and Niranjala Ellawala’s beautiful cookbook ‘Sri Lanka The Cookbook’ waiting for me – photo above. 

Photograph by © Kim Lightbody and book published by Frances Lincoln

Firstly I adore the tactile, almost hessian feeling cover and opening up the book I was equally as impressed. The photographs, of which there are many, where well shot by Kim Lightbody – matt and crisp with great props and importantly, tasty looking recipes. Photographs are so important and sometimes I have high hopes when opening a cook book for the first time and my heart sinks a little as the photographs just don’t do justice to the book. I’m no pro by any means but I am quite particular on what I think looks good to the reader.

Photograph by © Kim Lightbody and book published by Frances Lincoln

The book starts with an introduction giving a concise overview of Sri Lanka’s chequered past, it’s people and cuisine. As a side note: if you want to learn more about Sri Lanka I highly recommend these two books that I read on my recent trip. Love them both equally.

It then gives a short note about the authors themselves and their background – interestingly Niranjala is  Sinhalese from the south, growing up in the the hill country in Ratnapura and Balangoda and Prakash a Tamil from the Jaffna peninsula in the north – and then moving to London for university. Following their studies they set up ‘Elephant Walk’ restaurant in London in 2004. In 2006 it won the coveted ‘Cobra Good Curry Guide Award’ for the best Sri Lankan Restaurant in the UK.  The restaurant closed however in 2013 and the couple continue to work with food through their Coconut Kitchens cookery school.

Photograph by © Kim Lightbody and book published by Frances Lincoln

The next sections are dedicated to a glossary of ingredients and how to make a range Sri Lankan curry powders, before tempting readers with a host of Sri Lankan favourites: idli, appa (hoppers), sambols and many meat, fish and vegetable kari (curries). Some of the ingredients they use are exciting as I don’t often cook with them – such as plantain, snake gourd, breadfruit. Thankfully I live near an Asian area so sourcing all these ingredients is straightforward. For the home cook who loves to try new things – this is the book for you. That said there are many ingredients which don’t require so much sourcing for ingredients – such as the prawn and coconut curry or spicy baked chicken. Come the Autumn I am definitely going to be trying the ‘wild boar curry’. There are a few pages dedicated to sweet recipes – love cake, semolina pudding, banana fritters, but it is the mains, sambols and other savoury delights, which really capture my attention.

Photograph by © Kim Lightbody and book published by Frances Lincoln

It is published by Francis Lincoln and is available to buy at all good bookshops or online. This is definitely a keeper for me and I hope those of you who want to try to widen your Sri Lankan repertoire will consider getting hold of a copy. It’s a book you want to linger over and to go back to time and time again.

I thought the ‘Mutate Kulambu’ or ‘Egg Curry’ looked a lovely recipe to share with you all. It is straightforward and is great for a vegetarian lunch or supper.

 

It talks about adding a tablespoon of Thool (curry powder), but since I bought some back with my from Sri Lanka I have not followed their recipe for curry powder but thought it might be useful to include it for you if you would like to replicate this recipe here at home. Their are 2 methods and I have shown you method ‘A’.

Roasted Tamil Curry Powder: Thool

250g coriander seeds

50g cumin seeds

75g fennel seeds

20g fenugreek seeds

250g dried red chillies

20 fresh curry leaves

1 tsp ground turmeric

50g black peppercorns

 

  1. Dry roast the coriander seeds in a frying pan until they are golden brown. Keep the pan moving the pan so that the spices do not burn. Remove from the pan and place to one side.
  2. In separate batches dry roast the cumin seeds, followed by the fennel and fenugreek seeds. Set aside.
  3. Dry roast the dried red chillies for 20 seconds or so allowing them to darken in colour. Set aside.
  4. Take the pan off the heat and when it is hot add the turmeric and toss for a few seconds so that it is lightly roasted.
  5. Place all the ingredients, including the black peppercorns into a spice grinder – I love my Krups – and grind to form a fine powder.

Place in an airtight container. They say it will last up to 2 months but I keep mine for much longer to be honest.

Muttai Kulambu: Egg Curry

serves 4

4 hard boiled eggs

2 tbsp oil

half tsp mustard seeds

half medium onion, finely chopped

6 fresh curry leaves

6 garlic cloves, cut into quarters

2 green chillies chopped

half tsp fenugreek seeds

quater tsp cumin seeds

quarter tsp ground turmeric

200ml coconut milk

400ml water

1 tbsp Thool – Sri Lankan curry powder

quarter tsp salt

 

  1. After boiling the eggs for 9 minutes (if medium size and 12 minutes if large eggs), shell them and cut them in half lengthways and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a medium, lidded saucepan over a low heat. Add the mustard seeds and once they begin to pop – which will be a few seconds later – add the onion and curry leaves and stir for a few seconds. Add the garlic, chillies, fenugreek and cumin seeds and cook until the onions are soft and turning golden.
  3. Add the turmeric and stir. Add the coconut milk, water, curry powder and salt and mix well. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and half cover allowing the sauce to simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Gently slide in the halved eggs and half cover with the lid again and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Taste for salt and remove from the heat and serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chilled Delicately Spiced Watermelon Soup

It’s a sweltering 31 degrees today here in London, hotter than LA, Dallas and Bahamas and New York. I’m not complaining, although if I’m honest I wish we had a sea breeze keeping us cool, wouldn’t that be just perfect.  Thankfully I picked up a giant watermelon over the weekend (my pal took half as it was SO gigantic) so have been eating it in all manner of guises ever since.

As well as being so visually stunning watermelon is perfect for hot weather, due to its largely watery, cooling consistency. I wanted to make a savoury chilled soup that was delicately spiced and balanced sweet and savoury, not just sweet. I think I have managed it so would love you to try my recipe. Eat it as you would a chilled gazpacho, although the flavour of this is very different from anything you have probably tried before. It has sweet tones of course but has savoury notes coming from the fresh curry leaves, tomatoes, cumin seeds and hing/asafoetida. I’d love to hear what you think so please leave a message below in the comments box.

 

Chilled Spiced Watermelon Soup 

Serves 4

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

pinch of hing/asafoetida

10 fresh curry leaves

1 small birds eye green chilli, roughly chopped and deseeded

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1.4kg fresh watermelon, deseeded and chopped into small pieces

3 medium sized tomatoes

1 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

pinch of hing/asafoetida

10 fresh curry leaves

salt to taste

 

  1. First prepare all your ingredients and make sure they are chopped and ready to use.
  2. Heat a pan with the oil and when it is hot add the cumin seeds, the hing/asafoetida and the fresh curry leaves and move around the pan for 20 seconds, allowing the flavours to be released.
  3. Now add the garlic and after a couple of minutes add the ginger and tomatoes.
  4. Finally add the watermelon and a little salt. Allow to simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes.
  5. Using a hand blender blend the ingredients of the pan so the liquid is smooth.
  6. Using a colander strain all the liquid so that a lighter consistency liquid is released and any tomato skins, seeds etc are caught in the colander. Taste and season further with salt as necessary.
  7. Allow to cool and place in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  8. It will last for a couple of days in the fridge no problem.

 

As an idea you could add a feta crumb of fresh mint flakes on the top of each serving, but I preferred to eat it as is this time.

 

 


Swedish Cinnamon and Cardamom Buns and A Visit to the Swedish Embassy

Yesterday morning I trotted off to the Swedish embassy, with my Swedish pal, for breakfast……as you do. I was invited to learn more about Swedish food and the distributers here in the UK – take a look at ScandiKitchen. It’s the kind of invitation that you just can’t turn down.

The embassy is a stones throw (perhaps a David and Goliath stones throw if I am being honest) from Oxford street. With the blue flags with yellow crosses flying in the wind outside we bounded in to meet Mr Ambassador himself.

 

The breakfast spread was breathtaking with so much choice and variety of delicious looking and tasting Swedish foods. A wide range of smoked salmon, fresh salmon, herrings pickled in all manner of things, soft cheeses, hard cheeses, eggs, pate, breads, biscuits as well as porridges, yogurts, waffles, jams. It was definitely ‘kid in a candy store moment’.

The drinks accompany breakfast used all manner of tasty berries – apparently in Sweden alone there are over 25 varieties of edible berries. I sampled lingonberry drink, rosehip, Swedish berry smoothie, Swedish style drinking yoghurt, blueberry soup.

Hidden by one of the windows were the pastries and my eye was immediately drawn to the ubiquitous Swedish cinnamon buns. I have been meaning to make some recently so thought it would be a perfect match with this blog post to make some and include the recipe so you too can make yourself at home. Whilst they are perfect eaten warm, straight out of the oven, you can also freeze them. Once defrosted just place them in a warm oven for a few minutes to heat through.

Swedish Cinnamon and Cardamom Buns

Makes around 20

To make the dough

750g plain all purpose flour

100g caster sugar

pinch of salt

2 tsp ground cardamom

350ml milk

120g unsalted butter

14g easy bake yeast

sprinkling on top of each bun of pearl sugar *

1 egg, beaten

 

for the filling

110g soft unsalted butter

90g light brown sugar

2 tbsp cinnamon powder

 

  1. First you need to make the dough. In a large bowl sieve the flour and then add the caster sugar, cardamom powder and salt.
  2. In a pan gently heat the butter and when it is melted add the milk, keeping on a very low heat (you want it luke warm and not hot), and fresh yeast and stir so that the yeast is well mixed. Take off the heat and make a whole in the centre of the flour and add the wet ingredients. Gently stir with a wooden spoon.
  3. Once the dough has come together use your hands to bind it firmly so that it is soft and does not stick to your hands as much. Take out of the bowl and place on a cold, clean work surface with a sprinkling of flour and knead for around 8 minutes. The dough will become very pliable and if it is still a little sticky just add a little flour until you can comfortably knead it.
  4. Transfer it to a lightly greased mixing bowl and cover with clingfilm and a tea towel. Leave in a warm, dark place for an hour so that it can double in size.
  5. Meanwhile make the filling by combing all the ingredients above together to make a smooth paste.
  6. I tend to make these in two batches as you need to properly spread out your buns or else they will merge into each other.
  7. Using half the dough (cover the remaining dough and leave in a warm dark place) roll it out into a rectangle to a few mm in thickness. Place half the filling on the dough and using the longer side of the dough gently roll. Make incisions through the dough using a serrated knife so that you end up with around 10 buns. Place on baking paper in an oven tray with the cut side of the bun facing upwards or in individual cake holders. Brush each bun with the beaten egg and scatter each bun with the pearl sugar. Leave to one side whilst your oven heats up.
  8. Preheat the oven to 220°C/450°F and when it has reached this heat reduce it to 190˚C/350˚F and place the buns in the oven for 15 minutes. Meanwhile prepare your next batch using up the remainder of the filling and repeat.
  9. Eat straight away warm, or you can store in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze for a couple of months. If freeze, thaw thoroughly and then heat up in a warm oven for a few minutes before eating.

*you could also use demerara sugar or chopped walnuts or pecan. 

 

 


Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup with Ginger and Chilli – The Brother Hubbard Cookbook

 

Last weekend I jetted over to Ireland to visit the Ballymaloe Food and Drink Literary Festival, which was a whirlwind of eating, talks, demonstrations, foraging forays (now just try to say that quickly!), and talking to A LOT of other kindred spirits who are all passionate about food in some capacity.

One talk I booked myself into was given by Garrett and James who set up ‘The Brother Hubbard’ cafe x2 in Dublin. I’ll be honest with you – I’d never heard of it or them, but I always like to hear how people start their journey into food, so thought it would be interesting to attend. I also rather liked the title of the book. It sounded intriguing.

Their one hour talk was utterly engaging and I loved the way that they embarked on some serious world travels – after the 3 month intensive course at Ballymaloe Cookery School –  in order to gain first hand food and cusine knowledge and experience, even spending time in Syria (prior to the troubles today). After a spell in Australia working in cafes to gain yet more experience they returned home to Dublin to open up their very own cafe, with a leaning on Levantine and Southern Mediterranean cuisine. It takes a brave person to give up their nice, ‘safe’ careers with pensions and all the perks to follow their passion.

It has clearly all paid off as 5 years later they have 2 cafes, one of which is about to expand threefold and 65 staff. I did not go into their talk thinking that I would necessarily buy their cookbook as I have so many, but after hearing their story and talking to them over the weekend, I thought I would be crazy not to purchase it as it is packed full of fabulous sounding recipes, using a myriad of herbs and spices. Clearly a no-brainer for me.

I also love the fact that the photos and pages are matt finish, that they have 4 yellow ribbon bookmarks – how cool is that. Publishers seriously think about doing this in other cookbooks as it is so handy to have more than one. It doesn’t have loads of photos, but the narrative is engaging that for once I don’t mind so much that there is not a photo with almost every recipe.

It’s been so hot this week – blissfully hot – that eating outside with a glass of rose has been a must. Before you ask why on earth am I showing you a soup recipe in the sweltering heat, let me just say that hot soup and drinks actually cools you down in the heat. In India I am always having a hot soup even in the heat. Give this recipe a whirl as it is a real keeper. You can also purchase the book online and at all good bookshops.

Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup with Ginger and Chilli

Recipe from ‘The Brother Hubbard Cookbook’

Serves 4 (as a substantial lunch)

1kg butternut squash, skin kept on, scoop out the seeds and dice

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

2 tbsp olive oil

250g onions (2-3), diced

250g celery, diced

6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped

30g fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 kg boiling water

1x400ml tin of coconut milk

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1-2 limes, juice only

fresh coriander to serve

toasted coconut flakes to serve

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees. Place the diced butternut squash in a large bowl. Add the oil and then sprinkle with cumin and coriander powder. Mix in well with your hands. Turn out onto a baking tray.
  2. Roast the butternut squash for 25 minutes. You want them to be soft but not very brown as it will discolour the soup.
  3. If serving with coconut flakes, use a frying pan to bronze them for a few minutes. You need to move them around constantly and do not add any oil. Place to one side.
  4. Meanwhile in a large pan add the olive oil and sweat the onions, celery and garlic. To do this simply cut a piece of baking paper and place directly over the vegetables. It does not need to be neat or perfect fitting. Place the lid on the pan. Every 5 minutes, stir the vegetables and then replace the baking paper. After 10 minutes, add the chilli and ginger and continue to sweat the vegetables for a further 5 minutes. Make sure that the ginger and chilli do not brown on the bottom.
  5. Now add the squash, which is now soft and add the boiling water, coconut milk, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat for 10 minutes.
  6. Using a hand blender blend all the ingredients until super smooth. Adjust the seasoning and add the lime juice.
  7. Before serving add the fresh coriander and toasted coconut flakes. If you fancy you could also add a slice of red chilli.

 

 


Sri Lanka’s Tea Gardens, the Coast and Beetroot Curry

This is quite a long post so boil yourself some water and make yourself a cup of tea. Sitting comfortably……..then let’s begin.

No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without a stay in the tea gardens. The cooling climate, the rich green tea plantations and the slower pace of life is very appealing, especially after spending time in the hot dry lands of the cultural triangle. I loved the experience of staying in them when I visited Kerala so made sure they were included in our Sri Lanka itinerary. Many travellers head to Nuwara Eliya often referred by the Sri Lankan tourist industry as ‘Little England’, a nod to the British summer time retreat in the 1800, but instead we opted to stay in a few valleys away, near to a small town called Hatton. There is a train station in Hatton and if I were to revist I would take the slow steam train from Kandy to Hatton to admire the scenery and avoid the hairpin bends, which make even the most hardened traveller feel car sick. Tickets need to be bought in advance so think about this as an option even if you have a driver.

We stayed a night in Mandira Dickoya and a night in Mandira Strathdon both old colonial ‘planters’ cottages who managed the tea estates. Mandira Strathdon is best for those travelling with a family as there are adjoining rooms. On arrival you are transported to another era where the pace of life was slow and charmed.  The food at these boutique hotels is homely and authentic – check out these delicious bowls of curry that we had for supper.

Breakfast involved a freshly squeezed juice and some beautifully presented fruit – papaya with fresh lime being my favourite.

This was followed by buffalo milk curd and coconut treacle – I*N*C*R*E*D*I*B*L*E. Don’t be fooled into thinking it looks plain and tasteless. You’ll become addicted I promise you.

This was then invariable followed by the ubiquities rice hoppers with dal, chilli and pickle, sometimes with an egg in the middle. Tasty and certainly very filling.

 

 

 

In order to walk off breakfast, a guide showed us around the neighbourhood and the numerous tea plantations so that we could learn more about the tea, flora, fauna and general wildlife. Can I recommend that if you do this you wear long trousers and socks that pull up. My husband decided to take a stroll in shorts and ended up with the inevitable leeches, which caused his ankle to bleed for the proceeding three hours.

 

 

We met with some of the tea-pluckers, many of whom are the older women. The fear is that by the next generation there will be no one left to actually pick the leaves as the younger generation are not wanting to take on such hard labour. The tea plantations will revert to the forests that they once were before the arrival of the British, Dutch and Portuguese. To give you an idea of a ‘day-in-a-life’ of a tea plucker we learn’t that they rise before 6.30am and report to the factory where they are allocated an area to pluck tea leaves. They must pluck 18kg a day to get paid. For their labours they will receive the equivalant of £7 a day. As part of the job they will receive lodgings until their retirement.

A derelict tea factory stood alongside a hindu temple and tea pluckers cottages were painted in vibrant colours,  some with beautiful flower garlands adorning the porch area.

There was even the most beautiful Christian church that was still well maintained and cared for, with graves from British planters who called this corner of the world home; the views from the church were magnificent.

We visited Norwood tea factory and got to see the full cycle of a tea leaf, leaving with an enhanced respect for both the tea pluckers and the process involved to create the tea that is drunk the world over. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. 

On our return to our lodgings we chanced upon a rather fascinating festival where crowds of people had gathered. As the traffic was brought to a standstill we decided to get out on foot to take a closer look. From afar we could see young men tied to large bamboo poles that were leavered up into the air and then attached to small lorries. There was a lot of colour and noise and it looked intriguing if not a little surreal. The mind boggled as to what on earth they were actually doing. On closer inspection what appeared to be a rather jolly occasion looked, to the Western spectator (there was only us), to be dreadfully painful.

We discovered that the young men were actually tied up to the poles with small cleaver hooks going through their skin. Bizarrely it was our youngest daughter who first spotted this, who inquired whether we thought it would hurt. Bewildered and fascinated in equally measure, back at our hotel I discovered that the festival was called – Thirunaal, which coincides with the full moon around the 13/14th April and practiced by Tamil Hindus. I discovered that Sri Lanka is not the only country which practices such extreme religious devotion, it is also hugely popular in Indonesia and am sure it also takes place in India as well. The belief is that ones devotion to the hindu gods will free the body from pain incurred from the hooks. Being part of this festival the young men fulfil their vows to hindu gods.

Throughout the night, drums were heard and the festival continued as the full moon shone. It was certainly interesting to stumble upon, but felt a world away from Western civilisation.

The following day we headed for the coast, using the super highway from Columbo to Galle – 100km which takes no time at all owing to the fact that it was tolled and hence no one used it other than tourists, not even the sacred cows! As much as I love the hill stations and mountains I adore being near the sea – smelling the salty air, the sound of the waves and the palm trees gently blowing in the wind. We stayed in a small boutique hotel called Apa Villa, which is owned by Hans Hoefer – the photographer, designer and founder of Insight Guides.

It overlooks the sea, but due to the reef it is impossible to swim safely here. We didn’t mind as we had a beautiful pool to do some laps.

It was whilst staying here that we spent half a day with the kitchen staff at Hans’s other residence Apa Villa Illuketia a few kilometres inland, and which you can also stay in. This was the estate that Hans originally bought before buying his property on the coast. It has plenty of old world charm and we spent a peaceful morning with the staff, before sitting down to the lunch that we had watched being prepared.

Galle is definitely worth a visit, which was 15-20 minutes up the road from Apa Villas. This Dutch built fort town is walkable, absolutely charming and filled with fascinating shops, museum and churches.

It feels very European – well Dutch to be precise – once you get within the city walls.

We loved this great retro poster shop and thought this poster was rather apt.

We couldn’t resist a London priced cocktail at the Aman Galle Hotel occupying an elegant, 17th-century Colonial-style building to watch the world go by.

The beetroot recipe below was one that I was taught during the morning at Illuketia and works as a great accompanying dish with other fish/meat/vegetable curries or a simple dal.

Sri Lankan Beetroot Curry

2 tbsp rapeseed/coconut oil

1/2 red onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

10 fresh curry leaves

1 pandan leaf, cut into 4 strips

1/2 tomato, roughly chopped

1/4 tsp Sri Lankan chilli powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp garam masala

1/4 tsp turmeric

2 medium sized beetroot, peeled and chopped into batons

1/2 tomato, roughly chopped

pinch of freshly ground black pepper

25ml water

200ml coconut milk

  1. Heat the oil in a pan and add onion, garlic, curry leaves, pandan leaf and tomato and allow to soften for a 5 minutes.
  2. Add the chilli powder, salt, garam masala and turmeric and stir into the other ingredients.
  3. After a further five minutes add the beetroot and to help soften it add the water and coconut milk. Simmer gently for around 20 minutes so that the beetroot has softened and the liquid reduced slightly.

 


Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle and Sri Lankan Dal

Sri Lanka’s temperature can change dramatically depending where you are in the country. The cultural triangle is in the interior dry lands, also known as the northern plains (and traditionally known as Rajarata, or “The King’s Land”). Earthy scrub mingles with dense jungle and this is in turn is punctuated by  small mountainous boulders – such as Sigiriya (below) and Pidurangala.

We climbed the less touristy Pidurangala, which is a few feet shorter than Sigiriya and far less crowded, we probably saw no more than 15 people there and back. It offered us the same views, at a fraction of the cost apparently, and a good view of Sigiriya itself. It does not have the same ruins that Sigiriya has at the top,  although it does have it’s own temple and buddha, but if it is the view you are after then you have the same experience on either rock.  I will say however that the final part of the climb is precarious – a case of heaving yourself up onto a giant boulder – so makes it tricky for children or those not sure on their feet!

For three days we did some serious cultural touring in the heat, travelling a good distance on some days. The main sites that draw locals and tourists alike are the ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and to a lesser extent on Pidurangala and Daumbulla cave temple (below).

However for those keen on wildlife, Minneriya National Park is also within the cultural triangle and an absolute must. The park forms part of the elephant corridor, allowing elephants to migrate between the protected areas of Kaudulla National Park in the north and Wasgomuwa National Park in the south. Hiring a jeep we spent a few hours in the park viewing all the wildlife (over 200 elephants) as well as wild buffaloes, land monitors, a vast array of birds and even a crocodile. There were a number of other jeeps with other tourists, so it did feel a little bit like feeding time at the zoo, but that said I would recommend a few hours scoping out the place.

The largest site to see is Anuradhapura, which was founded in the 4th century BC and was one of Sri Lanka’s greatest centres of religious and political power. The ancient city is sprawling with numerous temples, massive dagobas – which are the Sinhalese name for the Buddhist stupa, a mound-like structure with relics, used by Buddhist monks to meditate (see below).

You can also see remains of ancient palaces, pools and auspicious trees.

Local pilgrims far out numbered tourists and with the heat blazing down my one piece of advice is take a pair of socks to slip on when you visit the temples and dagobas. You have to remove your shoes and the stone is scorching hot. I learned the hard way on the first day.

Outside all the temples there are flower and incense sellers selling stunning purple lotus flowers to passing pilgrims, which in turn buy them in order to offer them to buddha within the temples.

Stone elephants stand proudly guarding the boundaries to the temple complexes.

Polonnaruwa is not as sprawling as Anuradhapura and less busy, but offers the traveller as rich an experience. During the 12th century the kingdom went through a golden age where monasteries and  temples where built on a massive scale. The prosperity was not to last and by 1293 the city was abandoned and the jungle quickly consumed it. It wasn’t until the 20th century that excavation and restoration began and in 1982 it was a declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our driver kindly drove us from ruin to ruin, but if you are feeling up to it you can also hire bikes, which looked a fun, albeit hot, way to move around the city.

With all this touring we parked ourselves at the Water Gardens Sigiriya (a few hours away from these ancient kingdoms) which had a rather impressive view upon arrival.

It opened at the end of last year (2016) and offers incredibly spacious rooms (I think a villa would be more apt), with plunge pools in some. Although when you have the main pool like this –

then your plunge pool becomes pretty redundant. The hotel is beautiful and has been thoughtfully created in the natural habitat. Peacocks roam around the grounds – apparently eating up the snakes (Sri Lankan has more venomous snakes than any other country), although they have a cry similar to a young child, which is a little disarming to begin with but after a while you don’t even notice it. Golf buggies are on hand to  ferry guests from their rooms to the restaurant, bar or pool.

The restaurant had both Western and Sri Lankan fare, although I personally wish they had had more of the latter and less of the former. Eating Western lamb shanks in Sri Lanka just isn’t my thang! The Sri Lankan food was very good, but after three days I was craving more variety.   We were on half board and the menu for supper included starters, soups, then the main event – the Sri Lankan food, followed by dessert. The starters and soup were more Western in flavour and to be honest I would have preferred more continuity of Sri Lankan food throughout…….but maybe that’s just me.

This week I wanted to show you how to cook a delicious dal I was fed on numerous occasions in Sri Lanka. It is very different from my Bengali dal but equally as moreish.

Sri Lankan Dal

Serves 4-6 if served with other dishes

300g red split lentil dal

1 red onion, roughly chopped

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 pandan leaves *

10 fresh curry leaves **

1/2 large tomato, diced

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1 heaped tsp Sri Lankan curry powder ***

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1 fresh green chilli, sliced in two

400ml coconut milk

400ml water

1. Wash the red split lentils and then place all the ingredients on top along with the coconut milk and water.

2. Simmer gently for 15 -20 minutes. Check to taste the salt levels are correct and add a little more water as required.

In Sri Lanka two varieties of coconut milk were added and no water. First they added the less thick variety and then only at the end, on a low simmer, did they add the thicker coconut milk. 

*pandan leaves – you can pick these up from your local Asian or Sri Lankan grocers or equally you can order on line here.

*** fresh curry leaves you can pick up easily at Asian grocers or online.

***There are two types of curry powder in Sri Lanka – roasted which is redder in colour and unroasted, which is browner in colour. You need to use the unroasted in this dal. I bought back both varieties from my trip but if you want to make your own simply unroasted then blend 2 tbsp coriander seeds with 1 tsp of cumin seeds and 1 tsp of fennel seeds. Very easy.

If you want to make the roasted curry powder: Warm a frying pan and then add 2 tbsp of coriander seeds, followed by 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, 5 cloves, 5 cardamom pods (seeds only), 6 dried chillies, 3 stalks of fresh curry leaves, 1 tbsp cumin seeds and 1/2 tbsp fennel seeds. Move around the pan continuously for 5 minutes so that they do not burn and then place in a spice grinder.


Arriving: Sri Lanka and Tuna Curry

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

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Add the tomatoes and allow to soften before adding the tuna and spicy liquid that you had set aside.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The tuna will be cooked within 10-15 minutes and place to one side, until ready to serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Mini-Break at ‘The Old Rectory On the Lake’, Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Ever fancy escaping the big smoke for a mini-break to endless hills, green pastures and killer views? Staying in a B&B, that even caters spectacularly for supper on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights (and Thursday if you ask nicely), that is nestled on the edge of a picturesque lake and where the sound of sheep, birds and perhaps the odd otter diving into said lake, is the only noise you will hear for miles around. If peace, fresh air and stretching your legs is what you are after, I have just the place for you.

Nestled in the southern part of  Snowdonia National Park, in Wales, is The Old Rectory on the Lake (the lake in question is Tal-y-Llyn) owned by the jovial raconteur John and his talented chef partner Ricky, who together work as a dynamic duo making sure guests are well fed and watered at the start and the end of each day.

John is on hand to help guests get the most out of their stay with helpful suggestions on which walks to go on, depending on the weather on that day, or other places of interest in the vicinity. Having owned The Old Rectory for the past 12 years he is very well tapped into the local knowledge of the area.

Waking up to this view every morning is pretty special don’t you think?

 

For those who prefer a gently amble to a demanding hike, walking around the lake will take about an hour and there is lots to see. The weather changes so rapidly in this area that in a single day you can go through cloud, rain, wind and sun. As long as you come dressed prepared for the elements then there really is nothing to worry about.

In the space of a short time the weather went from this

 

…to this sunset across the lake. Pretty stunning.

 

Just behind the B&B is Cader Idris – the second most popular mountain in Wales after Snowdon. Those who have climbed both claim that Idris is more challenging. You can climb it directly from the hotel, but instead we opted for the easier route via the ‘pony path’, so drove around a few peaks to the town of Dolgellau, where we left our car in a small car park at the base of the hike.

The hike is demanding at times, but we went at a gentle pace – our youngest is only 7 yrs old. Once we had reached the ridge by the very top the wind had come from nowhere, which prevented me and my daughters from clambering up the final 5 mins, for fear of being blown off the mountain – literally.  Mr B – my husband – quickly managed to nip up and take the obligatory photo from the top.

Anyway it felt like a huge achievement – 4h 30 mins walk – 6 miles. Back at The Old Rectory we relaxed in the hot tub to rest our weary limbs, drank tea and readied ourselves for supper.

 

 

(view from Precipice walk, which we did on another day – definitely worth walking this one too)

Each evening we were treated to a three course affair that had been cooked by Ricky, who clearly has huge passion and flair for cooking. It’s not often that you stay at a B&B and be treated to restaurant quality food – think Welsh lamb, confit leg of duck, seabass, beef and the most warming and flavoursome soups for starters (amongst other equally tempting sounding starters). Desserts were wide ranging: from mango creme brûlée, lemon tart, pancakes with fruits, chocolate fondants, to name a few. After a good days hike we felt we deserved such a feast! Breakfast also set  you up for the day with everything from a full English to smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, to eggs Benedict, as well as a plethora of fresh fruits, yoghurts and cereals.

It’s funny how quickly you relax into another routine and I think staying in The Old Rectory helped us do just that. From climbing peaks, to exploring old abandoned castles, visiting chapels, riding a steam train to the coast, walking stretches of wide sandy beaches and relaxing for a light lunch in Aberdyfi overlooking the sea.

Three days away and we felt we had been away for so much longer. It’s a four hour drive from London, although on the way back we drove cross country, stopping off at Hay-on-Wye for a browse around the bookshops

 

and the castle

before grabbing a bite to eat at Tomatitos tapas restaurant then making our way back to the bright lights of London town.

 

For rates and to book The Old Rectory On The Lake – press here. John and Ricky will delighted to meet you.

Please mention my blog if you make a booking.

 

chilliandmint paid full price when staying at The Old Rectory on The Lake. The views are my own and no discount was received to write this blog post!