Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dad’s Katta Sambol

Katta sambol
This could also be called my father’s red hot ‘ow! ow! ow!’ sambol. Actually it’s not that hot and it’s delicious with bread and cheese as I just had for lunch. It’s another Dad recipe put together by experimentation and a lot of taste tests during cooking.

What he used:
* 100g crushed chillies
* 1 red onion, chopped
* 2 teaspoons salt
* 1 teaspoon sugar
* 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
* lime/lemon juice to taste
* 1-2 tablespoons olive oil

What he did:
Fried the onion in olive oil until translucent or it lost the ‘raw’ look. Added chilli, salt and balsamic vinegar. Stirred the lot until well-reddened. Then added sugar, and after taking off fire, added lemon juice to taste.  

An Imperfect Mushroom Curry

Mushroom Curry
This is not “A Very Good” mushroom curry. In fact, this isn’t supposed to be a mushroom curry at all. It’s adapted from ‘Potato Brown Curry’ out of my staple cookbook ‘Ceylon Cookery’ by Chandra Dissanayake, inspired by a lovely mushroom dish made by my sister, Amali. 
Amali’s mushroom curry was ‘delish’ but what she used is anyone’s guess, including hers. So I took a shot at replacing the potatoes in this recipe with mushrooms, but I feel there’s still room for improvement.

What to get:
* 1 ½ kg white button mushrooms
* 2 teaspoons cumin powder
* 2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
* Pinch of turmeric    
* 2 teaspoons chilli powder
* 3 teaspoons coriander powder
* 1 teaspoon sweet cumin powder (aka powdered fennel seed)
* 2 teaspoons mustard (optional- it says in the book. I put powdered mustard)
* 2 sprigs curry leaves
* 2 cloves garlic
* ¼ cup grated/desiccated coconut
* 1 medium onion
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1-2 tablespoons oil
* 400ml coconut cream

What to do:
Clean mushrooms (you can wipe them with a damp cloth but I just dunked them in pot of water, swished the soil off, then gave a final rinse). Quarter cleaned mushrooms. Chop onions and garlic. Roast desiccated coconut until dark brown. (After that, I think Ms Dissanayake wants us to grind the coconut, onions and garlic to a paste but I didn’t read that bit properly so left out the ‘grind to a paste’ bit).
Heat oil. Add spices, browned coconut, chopped onions and garlic. Fry for a few minutes. Add mustard and fry for a few more seconds, then add the mushroom and stir-fry for a few minutes.
Here is where there’s room for movement, I added the coconut milk and an equal amount (can’s worth) of water. But as the mushrooms reduce in size and add its ‘stock’ to the gravy, I probably should have omitted the water for a thicker consistency, or used just enough water to rinse the last of the coconut cream out of the can. And that’s it. It really doesn’t take long.    

Orange Alert


From left: Sweet potato (kumara), carrot and red lentils
Summer in Melbourne this year has been cold enough for us to keep making soup well into December. Not that I’m complaining. Soup is pretty easy to make and always gets finished with second and third helpings. Especially soups from my favourite ‘soup book’ though it’s really a complete meal book called ‘Very Easy Vegetarian Cookbook’ by Alison and Simon Holst.
So this is what I made when the only things readily available in the kitchen were carrots, sweet potato and red lentils.

Soup before being blended
What you need:
* 1 large onion
* 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
* 1 teaspoon (1-2 cloves) garlic, minced (I keep them whole but peeled)
* ¼- ½ teaspoon minced red chilli (or 2 teaspoons, as we like it hot!)
* 2 teaspoons cumin
* 1 teaspoon turmeric, optional
* 4 cups vegetable stock, or 4 teaspoons stock powder in 4 cups water
* 3/4 to 1 cup lentils
* 2 medium-sized carrots
* 2 stalks celery
* 1 large kumara (orange sweet potato); or 2-3 plain white potatoes
* ¼ - ½ cup cream, optional (and I’ve never added this)
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* Basil pesto (Have never added this, as we like the flavour of the soup as is)

What I did:
Soup is served!
Halved onions; kept garlic whole; washed and drained lentils; chopped celery stalks; also chopped the peeled carrots and sweet potato into large chunks.
Then heated oil, fried onion and garlic for a few minutes (usually until the onion turns translucent). Then added chilli, turmeric, cumin and fried for few minutes more, until spices were fragrant.
Added lentils and stock, along with chopped vegetables.
Cooked for 15-20 minutes (as recommended), until vegetables were done (when the tip of a knife goes through the chunkiest part of a carrot or sweet potato).Then pureed the whole lot with a slender blender.

Savoury Pittu

Steamed Pittu
One rainy summer morning, my sister’s husband Chandra, decided to make ‘pittu’ – traditionally a breakfast dish made of rice flour and grated coconut steamed in the shape of a roll. Only Chandra followed a home recipe from his village in Matara – a signature dish for temple feasts, adapted for Melbourne with supermarket ingredients. And instead of breakfast, we had it for lunch, as well as dinner. (Yes, it was that good!).

What he used:
* 1¼ kg plain white flour
* Half a medium onion
* 1 sprig curry leaves
* 2 green chillies finely chopped (or a few teaspoons of dried red chilli)
* ½ tsp curry powder (raw curry powder for Sri Lankan readers)
 * A small piece – 1 inch – of rampe (aka pandan leaf), shredded
* Salt to taste
* 125g desiccated coconut – rehydrated with a few tablespoons of water
* 100ml water

What he did:
'Crumb-like' flour mixture
He mixed all the ingredients together with approximately "100ml of water" or just enough to make the flour mixture resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Now comes the complicated bit:  the flour mixture was lightly pressed into a pittu bambutraditionally, the ‘raw’ pittu was stuffed into a short piece of bamboo and then steamed, but the last time my mother came from Sri Lanka she brought an aluminium water pot and pittu pipe for us to use.
Water pot and metal pittu pipe
If you don’t have either of these things, you can use a plain aluminium steamer over a saucepan of boiling water.  Dump the flour into steamer pot, making a few ‘holes’ or spaces in the flour to let the steam through. Steam the flour mixture for 15-20 minutes.
Then unmould (if you've used a mould) and cut into serving-sized pieces. Usually this is eaten with plain coconut milk as a gravy and spicy sambols. Chandra made a potato curry to go with this.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dad’s Gotukola Sambol

Gotukola aka Pennywort
The lovely thing about living in multicultural Melbourne, besides the Asian fruit and veg shop in Dandenong Plaza, is that we can have 'Gotukola' growing alongside European herbs in our home gardens. My sister recently was given a carrier bagful of 'Gotukola' by a friend and my Dad did a great job making this iconic sambol.


Red Onion
Desiccated Coconut

What he used:
1 bunch of Gotukola (or 1 bag)
Less than a cup of desiccated coconut
Half a large red onion
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Green chilli, seeded if preferred

What he did:
Process altogether. And you’re done.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Adaptable Tagine

This is really called Vegetable Tagine with Olive and Parsley Couscous, and it’s from the Australian Women’s Weekly mini cookbook ‘Vegie Main Meals’. 
The thing is, I’ve never got round to making the couscous part of the recipe as we never have all the ingredients. Then today, I didn’t have one of the main ‘tagine’ ingredients – pumpkin.
So here’s the adapted Vegetable Tagine without pumpkin and couscous. Oh and you don’t need a Moroccan clay pot to cook this either, although having it would probably be a bonus…

What you need:
Chickpeas out of a can
* 1 tablespoon olive oil;
* 1 medium red onion (170g), sliced;
* 2 cloves garlic, crushed;
* 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes;
* 1 teaspoon ground coriander;
* ½ teaspoon ground turmeric;
* 1 teaspoon cumin seeds;
* 500g pumpkin chopped coarsely. (Didn’t have any, so sliced 500g carrots instead);
* 2 medium potatoes, chopped coarsely (or two smallish ones, because that’s all I had left);
* 2 ½ cups vegetable stock;
* 300g can chickpeas. (Had 400g. Used that);
* ½ cup coarsely chopped fresh coriander leaves aka cilantro.

What to do:
Heat oil in saucepan. Cook onion, garlic and chilli, stirring, until onion softens. Add spices. Cook until fragrant, stirring often. Add pumpkin/carrot and potato – stir to coat vegetables in spice mixture.

Add stock, bring to boil. Then simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until vegetables are almost tender.  Add chickpeas and simmer, again uncovered, for another 10 minutes or until vegetables are done.

‘More-ish’ Split Pea Fritters

Growing up in Sri Lanka, we knew of two basic 'vadai’ (which is how my Sinhalese family pronounce it). They were ‘ulundu vadai’ (a savoury donut) and ‘kadala vadai’ (split pea fitter).  The aroma of frying vadai would greet us from street stalls along Galle Road, Colombo and hawkers carrying prawn vadai in shallow baskets would crowd around our bus at every pit stop on the road from Colombo to Kataragama.  
In Australia, Sri Lankans have brought the tastes of home to a new country, and our cravings for vadai have been regularly fed by delicious home-cooking of Tamil friends (who also corrected my pronunciation of ‘vadai’ to ‘vada’). But home recipes consist of a “little bit of this”, “a little bit of that” and not a lot of “how much exactly”. 
Then I came across this recipe for ‘Split Pea Fritters’ in Charmaine Solomon’s ‘Complete Vegetarian Cookbook’ and found it a safe option for Morning Teas at work, as these are free of gluten, lactose, eggs and nuts.
And once you have the basic recipe, it’s easy to tweak the dish to your taste.:

So here they are the Split Pea Fritters that are deemed ‘more-ish’ at Morning Tea.

1) Charmaine Solomon’s list of ingredients:
* 1 cup split peas
* 2 medium onions, finely chopped
* 2 fresh red chillies, finely chopped (or ¼ teaspoon chilli powder)
* ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
* ½ teaspoon salt
* Oil for deep frying
* Garnish: sliced onion and lemon wedges

2) My sister, Amali’s list of ingredients:
* 1 cup split peas
* ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
* ½ teaspoon salt
* Oil for deep-frying
Options to add, depending on who’s going to eat this:
* 1 red onion, finely chopped
* 1 sprig of curry leaves – finely chopped.
* Chopped/crushed garlic (1-2 teaspoons)
* Fresh, dried or crushed chillies (1-2 teaspoons or tablespoons-!)

What to do:
Whichever list of ingredients you choose, the method is the same. Cover split peas with water and soak overnight or for at least 6 hours. Drain. Grind to a paste. (I use a food processor and put the onion, curry leaves, garlic and dried chillies in with the split peas). But you can also take the paste out of the food processor and mix all other ingredients, except oil and garnish (Ms Solomon’s list).
Shape split pea paste into small balls and flatten to 12mm (1/2 inch). I use a soup-spoon or a tablespoon to get a rough estimate of the size I want.
Heat oil in wok or deep fry pan. Make sure oil is hot or fritters will break up. Ms Solomon recommends adding fritters one at a time but I put in 5 or more at a time (because watching food fry isn’t all that exciting). Fry fritters until golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper. Serve with garnish if you’ve chosen to do so – we don’t bother as these usually get snatched leaving the stove. Makes about 20-30 vada depending on the size of fritter you’ve chosen.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting Territorial over Split Peas

I wanted to make dhal, but there was no coconut cream left. Not to panic. Option B is my second favourite dhal curry. Except it’s called ‘Dholl’ in Madhur  Jaffrey’s ‘World Vegetarian’ cookbook, which has this recipe coming from Trinidad. “We cook it just like that,” assure my Mauritian friends. Either way, here's the yummy Trinidad-Mauritius ‘Dholl’ aka 'Yellow Split Peas with Thyme and Cumin'.

Yellow Split Peas
You will need:
* 1 ½ cups split peas, picked, washed and drained
* Scant ½ teaspoon ground turmeric;
* ½ cup finely chopped onion;
* 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives (didn’t have any so omitted, but in the past I’ve substituted spring onions);
* 2-3 teaspoons finely chopped fresh hot red or green chillies or ¼ Scotch bonnet, finely chopped. (Didn’t have fresh or a Scotch bonnet. So substituted whole dried red chillies, broken into biggish pieces);
Continental Parsley
* 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley. (Used Continental Parsley fresh from the garden);
* 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (again from the garden) or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme leaves;
* 1 ¼ teaspoons salt;
* 3 tablespoon oil;
* ½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds;
* 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed (I doubled the garlic and chopped it, very finely).

Dried Red Chillies

What to do:
Bring split peas and 5 cups of water to boil in a heavy pot, taking care the liquid doesn’t boil over. Add turmeric, stir. Turn heat down low. Partially cover pot with lid. Cook for about half an hour. Enough time to catch-up on emails or do this next bit.
Peel and chop onions. Go out into garden. Avoid spider hanging over potted herbs. Discover the chives are far too puny to be useful, grab a handful of parsley and thyme. Avoid spider a second time. Go inside and chop all herbs finely. Add to simmering split peas, along with salt.

Partially cover pot again, and cook for another 20 minutes, or ten (because the split peas looked done by then). Turn off the heat.
Next, heat oil in a small frying pan. When very hot, put in cumin seeds. Let sizzle for 10 seconds (time it takes to walk from stove to island bench, collect chopping board with garlic on it, walk back to stove). Add garlic to oil. Stir until golden brown, then pour contents of frying pan over split peas. Stir to mix.
Now it’s ready to enjoy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A different kind of ‘Fried’ Potato

This recipe is from a wonderful book called ‘Ceylon Cookery’ by Chandra Dissanayake. It’s not available in Australian bookstores. I got the book as a gift from family friend, Aunty Tulsi, returning from a holiday in Sri Lanka.

Before this book, I served Tofu Stroganoff for dinner, now it’s ‘Ala Thel Dala’ and so many other dishes that bring a delicious taste of nostalgia during mealtimes.
Ala thel dala’ roughly means ‘potatoes fried in oil’ .

You will need:
1kg of potatoes - about 6 medium sized spuds - any kind will do
½ kg onions - I used 2 large red onions
2-3 sprigs of curry leaves - fresh is best, dried if you must, omit if you have no choice.  
½  teaspoons turmeric
2 heaped tablespoons chilli flakes (yes, tablespoons, this is not a typo)
2 teaspoons salt
3-6 tablespoons of oil. (Ms Dissanayake recommends 8 dessertspoons, I went with 4 generous tablespoons)

What to do:
Peel, cube and microwave potato. Ms Dissanayake recommends mixing the turmeric, salt and chilli pieces in with the cooked potato at this stage.
Peel and slice onion. 
Heat oil in wok. To test if oil is hot - toss a sliver of onion into the oil, if it sizzles it’s good to go. 
Add curry leaves, then immediately after, the sliced onion. Fry until onion turns a golden brown or until the onion start to brown at the edges.

Add all other ingredients, stir fry for a several minutes until the potatoes are well-coated and aromatic.

Curly Parsley Sambol

This is one of my favourite ten-minute recipes. It’s adapted from a cultural icon – Gotukola Sambol or Pennywort Sambol - which is an essential ‘health food’ on a Sri Lankan family menu.

In Australia, I found that Curly Parsley was a good substitute, more easily found in Melbourne supermarkets and healthy too.

You’ll need:
1 bunch of Curly Parsley
½ to 1 whole onion  (depending on how much you like onion)
½ to 1 cup desiccated coconut  (depending on how much you like desiccated coconut). Option: Re-hydrate the coconut by adding a few tablespoons of water to fluff up the tiny flakes.
Salt to taste. Personal choice: 1 tsp.
Also optional: squeeze of lemon/lime juice. I used: 1 tablespoon.

What to do: 
Wash parsley. Peel and cut onion into halves. Pop everything (parsley, onion, desiccated coconut, salt) into a food processor. Whiz until the parsley is finely shredded. Add lime juice. And you’re done.
Yes, truly that’s it. No cooking, just shredding. You can have this sambol with rice, lentils and a spicy vegetable dish, like the potato dish that follows.