How to Make Sri Lankan/ Southern Indian Sambar

So how have you been getting on with making ‘hoppers/appam’ at home? Has anyone been brave enough to give them a whirl? I would love to hear how you got on. You do need a special pan mind you, but they are easy to source on the web – I think this is the one that I bought. Perfect christmas gift for anyone with a keen interest in cooking? If you do give them a go PLEASE can you post it up on Instagram and tag me @chilliandmint and #chilliandminthoppers. Thank you.

As promised todays post is all about the sambar. Sambar is very similar to a dal, the main difference is that it is more of a lentil based vegetable stew, whereas dals tend to be more of a lentil soup with maybe one of two vegetables incorporated within it. Sambar often has a tamarind broth as its base note, which can also be found in dal – for example toor dal – but not exclusively. It is eaten in both Southern Indian and Sri Lanka and once you have made the spice blend you can keep making it in a relatively short space of time. I hosted a Sri Lankan lunch recently where I basically fed my pals a typical Sri Lankan breakfast…but I gave it to them for lunch (they weren’t to know). Egg hoppers, sambar, pol sambol (similar to a dry coconut chutney) and an onion relish. I think it was a hit.

When you make sambar you can use any vegetable that needs using up. Unless you live near an Asian grocers you are unlikely to come across ‘drumstick’ which is fairly typical to see in a sambar. Don’t worry, just pop in marrow, courgette, pumpkin, squash, green beans – anything that needs using up will work a treat.

Sambar Powder

50g chana dal (split husked Bengal gram)

50g urid dal (split husked black gram)

30g coriander seeds

2 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fenugreek seeds

1 tsp black peppercorns

10 dry red chillies

12 fresh curry leaves

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp asafoetida/hing powder

1 tbsp desiccated coconut (or fresh of course!)

  1. Heat a dry frying pan over a low heat and dry roast both dals until they turn bronze slightly – a couple of minutes max. Place in a bowl to one side.
  2. Using the same pan add the coriander, cumin, fenugreek, black peppercorns and dried chillies and move them around the pan for 30 seconds. A wonderful aroma will be released.
  3. Add the fresh curry leaves, asafoetida, turmeric and desiccated coconut and mix it all around the pan for another 20 seconds and then place in the bowl with the dals.
  4. Let it all cool and then whizz it up in a spice grinder. I have this one and it works a treat.
  5. Store in an airtight container and use as and when you need it.

 

Sambar

You can make it with a range of different lentils but I find that red lentils work really well as they take the least amount of time to cook.

200g red split lentils, washed under cold water for a couple of rinses

water to cover the lentils about an inch above (you can always add more if it dries out)

2 green chillies, sliced lengthways and seeds kept in

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

******

250ml tamarind water (use a walnut size piece of tamarind – see notes below)

2 tbsp oil (rapeseed/vegetable)

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

7 fresh curry leaves

2 dried chillies (split in two)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

80g of pumpkin/squash, cut into 1 cm pieces

80g carrots, cut into 1 cm pieces

80g aubergine/green/runner beans, cut into 1 cm pieces

1 large drum stick, washed and part of the outer green skin removed, chopped into 1 inch pieces, optional

250ml tamarind water (use a walnut size piece of tamarind – see notes below)

1 tbsp sambar powder

salt to taste

  1. In a deep pan add the lentils, chillies and turmeric powder and cover with water. Simmer gently, removing any scum that may form, for 10-15 minutes, by which time the lentils will have completely softened. Do not drain, instead leave to one side whilst you work through the following steps.
  2. Take a generous walnut size piece of tamarind and place in a bowl and add boiling water to cover it. Leave to rest for 20-30 minutes then strain. Using the back of a spoon push through any of the tamarind pulp. Discard the stones. Place the liquid in a measuring jug and leave to one side.
  3. In a large frying pan/skillet heat the oil and then add the mustard seeds and allow them to gently pop before adding the cumin seeds, curry leaves and dried chillies. Move around the pan for 10 seconds and then add the onion and garlic. Leave to soften, stirring occasionally for around 7 minutes.
  4. Add all the vegetable pieces (they should all be around the same size, other than the drumstick) and mix in with the spices and onions.
  5. Add the sambar powder, salt and tamarind water and bring to the boil.
  6. Lower the heat and place a lid on the pan and allow the vegetables to soften completely – this will take  around 12 minutes. Check that they have softened completely before adding the lentils.
  7. Add the lentils and stir in well to the spices and vegetables. Add more salt if necessary and allow to simmer further for another 5 minutes.

It makes a wonderful ‘soup/stew’ as the days get shorter and the weather colder. If you are living in a warmer climate then sambar is equally good for you all year around.

Have a good week folks.

 

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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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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.