How to make Egg Hoppers/Appam

How do you breakfast? On the go, sitting down at your kitchen table or perhaps at your office? With good intentions we try at least to have a ‘proper’ breakfast as a family before we  go our separate ways. My eldest daughter catches a coach to school and is out the house like a whirlwind by 7.20am and my youngest needs to at school by 8am and invariably I drive/scoot with her. As we approach Autumn and the darkness intrudes further into our mornings, I think it is important to fill your belly with some satisfying food before embarking on the challenges of the day ahead.

I always try to think of something new and exciting to feed my crew for breakfast and we often talk about it the night before. I thought it might be interesting and helpful if I create a ‘breakfast’ section under my recipe library and over the coming months I will put new ideas up here on my blog. I would love to hear what you think.

First up are my hoppers (Sri Lankan term) or appam (Keralan term). They are a typical breakfast in Sri Lankan and south India and are often eaten with a sambar or dal and a chutney. They have a coconut flavour and are made of rice flour. You do need to invest in a hoppers pan – something like this would be perfect, but my family are such fans of them that the investment made sense. I went and stayed with pals in the Cotswolds this summer and made a batch (15) for lunch one day for everyone to have with meat and vegetable curries and dal. All the kids – ranging from 4 to 14 gave them a thumbs up and for most it was the first time they had tried them.  I’m sure if you give them a try you (and your kids) will be pleasantly surprised. If you are going to make them for breakfast before school/work I would advise activating the yeast (the first part in the instructions below) before you jump in the shower. Then when you are out you can then add it to the rice flour and coconut milk, whisk and then leave to rest whilst you get changed. It’s a multi-tasking kind of breakfast. Equally it is great to have at lunch or supper, so don’t feel limited to cooking these at breakfast time.

Next week I am going to post a sambar recipe for you (which you will be able to prepare in advance) but today I simply ate them with a bowl of my marrow dal (see below) – but any of my dals would work equally well accompanying the hopper/appam.

 

Hoppers/Appam

Makes around 7-8

4g dried yeast

1 tsp white/brown sugar

35ml lukewarm water (warm to the touch but not hot!)

200g rice flour

1x400ml tin of coconut milk

pinch of salt

  1. First you need to place the yeast, sugar and water into a bowl and give a good stir. Leave the mixture for 15-20 minutes to allow the yeast to activate.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl add the rice flour, coconut milk and salt and once the yeast mixture has frothed, and therefore activated, add it to the mixture and whisk so that the batter is smooth and thick.
  3. Leave to rest at room temperature for half an hour.
  4. Warm your pan and put one ladle full of the mixture into the pan. Slowly swirl the mixture around the edge of the pan so that the mixture has reached almost up to the top of the pan. I usually swirl it around a couple of times so that all the sides are coated. Place the pan on a low heat (the reason my edges look a little bronzed is that I had the heat too high ;o) and place the lid on top of the pan.
  5. If you are going to make an egg hopper crack an egg into the centre of the pan and place the lid on top. Leave for around 3-4 minutes so that the sides are a little crispy and the egg is cooked sufficiently but is still soft in the centre. If you would rather not have an egg simply place the lid on the pan and leave for 3-3.5 mins
  6. If you are using a non-stick pan the hopper will easily slide onto a plate and serve immediately with sambar/dal and some chutney.

Dal ideas to accompany the hoppers

Bengali Dal recipe

Sri Lankan Dal recipe

Red Onion Dal recipe

Toor Dal recipe  

Marrow Dal recipe


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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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 online 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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Moong Dal and a Secret Sri Lankan Gem

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My husband calls me a ‘cheap date’.

Why, you ask?

Well, if the truth be told I would far rather go to a restaurant that is probably unlikely to win any prizes for decor but the food is outstanding moreish and tasty, the kind of places that people who really love food and flavour go, rather than going to places purely to be ‘seen’. These places don’t cost an earth to be fed well – hence the ‘cheap date’ label. A couple of years ago I spoke about a wonderful little place up the Edgware road – see here 

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Don’t get me wrong I can also be a bit of a chameleon and like places that do have great decor, great food and are perhaps a little bit more expensive, but not crazily so – Mr B and I recently visited Bill Granger’s new restaurant, aptly names ‘Grangers’ in Clerkenwell and managed to chat to the man himself – very down to earth and charming. The restaurant ticks all my boxes – great food, ambiance, relaxed atmosphere and not going to break the bank.

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But over in Tooting there is a little Sri Lankan/South Indian restaurant called ‘Apollo Banana Leaf’ that’s a great find for all you spice lovers out there. Friend’s north of the river had mentioned it to us a while ago and spoke about how they made the trip especially to visit this restaurant. It had me thinking, friends making the effort to go to deepest, darkest Tooting – well it must be good!

Mr B and I have been a couple of times at lunch time and feasted on some wonderful Sri Lankan and South Indian food. Each time we are the only diners, but stuck to the window there are endless ‘Time Out‘ and ‘Harden’s reviews. I imagine in the evenings the restaurant is jam packed, but in the day time it feels like private dining.

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Their dal was warming and subtly spiced and keen to replicate it at home Mr B and I tried to work out what they had put in it. Hing – or rather asafoetida was definitely in it coming from the aromas of the dish and then we could see dried chillies, fresh curry leaves, black mustard seeds, and of course turmeric to give it it’s sunshine yellow colour. On close inspection of the menu I realised there was a little onion and fresh ginger in it, however I’ve been cooking it at home without the latter two ingredients. Try it yourself both ways and see which works for you.

It’s the perfect little dish to cook after a long day at work and you want some food that will give you the equivalent of a great big hug.

If you fancy a spice injection head on down to 190 Tooting High Street. I may well see you there for lunch.

 

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Moong Dal – Sri Lankan Style

Serves 6-8

450g  moong dal, cleaned

900ml cold water

1 tbsp vegetable oil

6 fresh curry leaves

1-2 tsp black mustard seeds

3 large dried red chillies

1/2 (half) tsp  asafoetida/hing

1 tsp turmeric powder

2 tsp salt

******

1. Thoroughly wash the moong dal in a pan of cold water, using your hands. Carefully empty the water from the pan and repeat a couple of times so that the water runs clear.

2. Add 900ml of cold water to the pan holding the moong dal and bring to the boil and then let simmer for around 20-30 minutes. During this time white froth will form at the top of the pan. Using a large spoon skim off the froth that forms and discard. You may find that you require a little more cold water if it has all been soaked up, so just add a little, depending on how soupy you like your dal. When the dal is done it will be slightly lighter in colour and will will be soft to touch – be careful not to allow it to become too mushy through overcooking.

3. In a small pan heat up the oil on a low heat. When it is hot add the black mustard seeds. These will begin to pop almost immediately so be careful. Add the rest of the ingredients and move around the pan for 30 seconds.

4. Take a spoonful of the dal and place in the pan with the spices. Mix together and then pour all the contents of the spice pan into the other pan holding the dal. Place a small bit of water in the spice pan and swirl around so that all the spices are removed from the pan and put into the dal pan.

5. Stir in thoroughly to the dal and simmer for a couple of minutes. If it requires more salt then add a little more at this final stage.  Leave to cool slightly before serving.