Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dad’s Spinach and Potato Dip

This is another one of my dad’s creations, made on a whim, that vanished in a flash at a recent work lunch with requests of ‘get the recipe from your dad’. Even my sister (whose least favourite vegetable is spinach) had generous and repeat helpings.

 What he used:
* 250g frozen spinach (defrosted)
* 2 medium potatoes/1 large (boiled and mashed)
* 1 onion, sliced
* 1 teaspoon garlic paste
* 1-2 teaspoons crushed chilli pieces
* 1 stock cube or salt to taste
* 1-2 tablespoon oil

What he did:

Fried the onions in oil, with garlic paste and crushed chillies. When onions have softened, add mashed potatoes and sauté until fragrant. Add stock cube/salt. Then add frozen/defrosted spinach. Stir until water has been absorbed. And it’s done.

Green Peas with Coconut and Continental Parsley

That’s my version. The original from Madhur Jaffrey’s 'World of Vegetarian' cookbook is called 'Green Peas with Coconut and Cilantro' aka Chinese Parsley aka Coriander leaves. Madhur’s recipe also includes 1 teaspoon of sugar which I omitted and found preferable.

What you’ll need:
* 3 tablespoons oil
* Generous pinch of asafetida (used 1 minced garlic)
* 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
* ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
* 15 fresh curry leaves
* 2 ½ fresh or frozen green peas
* 1-2 hot green chillies, finely chopped
* 1 teaspoon salt
* ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
* ½ teaspoon ground cumin
* ½ teaspoon ground coriander
* ¾ cup freshly grated coconut- used desiccated coconut, fluffed with a little water.
* 3 tablespoons very finely chopped continental parsley (or coriander leaves)

What to do:
Heat oil in a pan, add asafetida or if adding garlic wait until the next few steps– add mustard and cumin seeds. As soon as mustard seeds begin to pop, add curry leaves, then garlic. Stir. Add peas, chillies, salt, turmeric, ground cumin and coriander powders. Stir until peas turn bright green. (The book also suggests adding 4 tablespoons of water and bringing to a boil, then cooking, covered, until peas are tender. Since frozen peas take minutes to cook – I don’t bother adding water or bringing to a boil). After a few minutes, add the desiccated coconut and parsley, stir for a few minutes then it’s ready to serve.

Spiced Pancakes

The original recipe of this is called ‘Prawn Fritters with Avacado Salsa’ and is from the Women’s Weekly ‘Short-Order Cook’ book. I left out the 450g cooked unshelled prawns/200g shelled prawns in the recipe and found the pancakes still tasted good. So here’s the vegetarian version. The Salsa is not in the photo as I got two over-ripe avocados which turned into mush.

What you’ll need - Pancakes:
* 2 tablespoons oil
* 1 medium brown onion, chopped coarsely
* 1 clove garlic, crushed
* 2 teaspoons hot paprika (used chilli powder)
* ½ teaspoon ground cumin
* ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper (or black)
* ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (left out as I was chilli powder)
* 2 eggs
* 1 ½ cups milk
* 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives (optional, meaning didn’t use it)

What you’ll need - Avacado Salsa :* 2 medium avocados, 500g, cubed
* 2 medium tomatoes, 380g, cubed (or halved, if using cherry tomatoes)
* 1 spring onion, sliced thinly
* 2 tablespoons lime juice or less and to taste

What to do - Pancakes:
Heat half the oil, stir-fry onion, garlic and spices until onion softened.
Combine eggs and milk. Stir into flour until smooth. Stir in chives if using.
Heat the remaining oil (I used a non-stick pan), and cook a quarter-cup (roughly a soup ladle) of the batter until browned on both sides until all the batter has been used.

What to do - Salsa:
Combine all ingredients and serve with pancakes.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


I should say this is a recipe for Sri Lankan roti with coconut, not the same as Indian roti. Sri Lankan roti is traditionally eaten for breakfast, but now that we have cereal out of a box at work, roti in our household at least has become a dinner treat. The quantity below is enough for about 4 large; 8 medium sized or about 20+ party-sized rotis.

What you’ll need:
* 1 cup flour
* 1 ½ cups dessicated coconut
* ½-1 tablespoon butter or margerine
* Enough water for a pliable dough
* Salt to taste (optional)

What to do:
Mix flour, dessicated coconut and butter with enough water to make a pliable dough that does not stick to the bowl or your fingers. Once the dry ingredients come together in a dough ball, break off into smaller quantities and roll out into circular rotis. Pan-fry in a non-stick pan until brown dots appear on both sides. I don’t bother oiling the pan, but you can do that if you like. My mother also adds an egg. So you can try that option as well.

Amali's Kokis

Mid-April was Sri Lankan New Year. Yes, we do celebrate it twice a year – once in January (when it seems to be about partying, New Year Resolutions and fireworks) and the second time in April when it’s more about family, tradition and community.
In Sri Lanka, Sinhala New Year events are mapped out for the week, including the time to stop work on the last day of the old year; the time to light the fire to cook the first meal – usually coconut milk rice; when to wear our new clothes in the lucky colour for that year; the time for relatives to visit, with grandparents taking pride of place; when to go back to school/work and the time to visit your favourite neighbourhood shop where you are required to spend big to signal a prosperous year for the shop-keeper if you are his/her first customer.
In Australia (specifically Melbourne), the Sri Lankan community does hold annual New Year Celebrations in Dandenong with traditional New Year games and New Year food. 
Mostly, though, we celebrate the occasion by gathering family around the kitchen table to enjoy many of the traditional sweets and savouries which are now sold ready-made at Sri Lankan spice shops. This year, we bought kavun, but not Kokis, which is a speciality my sister, Amali, has perfected. This is her recipe.

What she used:
* 500g rice flour
* 2x 400ml coconut cream
* Salt and chilli powder to taste
* 2 teaspoons yellow mustard powder
* Handful of grated cheese - she used tasty cheese - approximately 50g according to my father
* Oil for deep frying
* Kokis moulds

What she did:
Kokis moulds
Made a thick batter of the rice flour, salt, chilli powder, mustard powder, cheese and coconut cream. The batter should have a “pancake-like consistency”. If the batter is too thick add more coconut milk. 
*Note: Do not add water.
Heat the Kokis mould in hot oil, then dip the mould in batter, making show that only the sides of the mould is covered, not all the way to the top. 
Then lower the battered mould back into the hot oil. 
The Kokis should loosen away from the mould part-way through, if the batter is right consistency. Fry until crisp, then drain on oil-absorbent paper.


I first tasted this luscious dessert at the wedding of one of our Muslim neighbours in Sri Lanka when I was about ten or eleven years old. To this day, several decades later, I remember the absolutely delicious taste of my first spoonful.
Wattalappan, ethnic to Muslim/Malay cuisine, is one of the most popular Sri Lankan desserts. 
To eat. 
But it's not an easy one to make, specially if you want an authentic tasting dessert.
Then my sister, Amali, had the bright idea of using the recipe in Chandra Dissanayake’s ‘Ceylon Cookery’ book and adding her own variation of using the microwave, instead of steaming the dish.

What you’ll need:
* 1 cup coconut cream
* 250g jaggery (hardened coconut treacle)
* 3 eggs
* Good pinch of spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg)
* Toasted cashew nuts for decoration

What to do:
Dissolve jaggery in cold coconut milk (you will have to grate the jaggery to make it easy to dissolve). Strain. Add to lightly beaten eggs. Strain again.
Add spices (Amali also added a lot of chopped nuts). Then add into microwave-proof dish. Cover. Cook for 3-5 minutes. Decorate with cashew nuts.

Dad’s Easy Chickpeas

This is the easiest chickpea recipe I know, which my Dad makes for breakfast and we usually end up having for lunch and dinner (if there are any leftovers from breakfast). It’s simple, filling and we love it.

What you’ll need:
* 250g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
* 1 tablespoon oil
* 1 sprig curry leaves
* ½ to 1medium red onion, sliced
* 3-4 dried red chillies, broken into little pieces
* 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
* Salt to taste

What to do:
Drain water from chickpeas soaked overnight. Place drained chickpeas in a pan or microwave container, cover with water (about 1 inch above the top). Boil until cooked or soft enough to be edible. Then drain chickpeas of any remaining cooking liquid. (This liquid can be used as stock. My father drinks it like a plain ‘tea’).
Next, heat oil. Add mustard seeds, when they start crackling add sliced onion, chillies and curry leaves. When onions are soft, add chickpeas and stir-fry for a few minutes. Then add salt to taste. And that’s it. Enjoy.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Mukunuwenna Mallum

The Asian Fruit and Veg shop in Dandenong Plaza has started selling mukunuwenna. In Sri Lanka, this popular greens-herb is sold door-to-door by the Keera Karaya or Greens Man who carries bundles of herbs in a woven basket balanced on his head (or in a wooden cart depending on the scale of greens-eating house-holders in a particular neighbourhood).
I’ve adapted this recipe for broccoli elsewhere in this blog, but here’s the real thing from Chandra Dissanayake’s Ceylon Cookery cookbook.

What you’ll need:
* ½ lb or 250g mukunuwenna (usually 1 bundle)
* Sprig of curry leaves
* 2-3 green chillies
* 1 cup water (left that out)
* ½ cup scraped coconut (I used desiccated coconut)
* 1 small onion (I used half a medium red onion)
* ½ teaspoon turmeric
* 1 ½ teaspoon salt

What to do:
 Shred mukunuwenna leaves (used a food-processor). The book advises mixing the coconut with curry leaves, sliced onions and green chillies, turmeric, salt in a pan with the cup of water and cooking until the onions are done. Then adding the mukunuwenna and tossing for a few minutes, so the leaves are cooked but remain green.
I mixed the chopped leaves with everything else (except the water) and cooked for a few minutes until fragrant. Done.

Jamaican Kidney Bean Stew

This has to be our all-time favourite kidney bean recipe. When the wonderful aroma of this stew wafts around the house, my family gets the urge for ‘taste tests’ each time they walk past the pot even while it’s still cooking! I should say that I use more coconut milk than the recipe advises. Both versions are listed below, so enjoy either way of making this recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook, called ‘Red Kidney Beans for Jamaican Peas and Rice’.

What you’ll need:
* 1 ½ cups dried red kidney beans
* 2 cups canned coconut milk (I used 2x 400ml coconut cream. The generic Homebrand is the best for those living in Australia)
* 1 Scotch bonnet or other habanero-type chilli (used a chilli that my dad’s friend Uncle Impa grows in his backyard in Geelong). Leave the chilli whole if you don’t like ‘hot’
* 4 tablespoons chopped chives or 6 tablespoons scallions (aka spring onions/green onions which is what I used), finely slice both green and white parts
* 3-4 fresh thyme sprigs or ¾ teaspoon dried thyme
* 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
* 1 small onion, finely chopped (used a red onion)
* ¾ teaspoon ground allspice
* 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons salt
* Freshly ground black pepper

Uncle Impa's chilli.
 What to do:
Soak beans overnight. Drain.
Then cook beans in 1x 400ml coconut cream mixed with 2 cans of water. (In the cookbook, the beans have to be cooked in 4 cups water). Either way, bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Then add the second 400ml coconut cream, habanero, chives/spring onions, thyme, garlic, onion and allspice. Stir and simmer for half an hour. Add salt and pepper, simmer for another half hour or until beans are tender. Serve with rice.  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Semolina ‘Risotto’

I’d never heard or tasted Uppama before I came to Australia and a Sri Lankan Tamil friend made it for dinner. It’s a semolina dish spiced with curry leaves, mixed vegetables and cashews, but I could never figure out how to make it without turning the semolina into a porridge-like paste.
Thank goodness for Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook, which has several Uppama recipes of the non-gluggy variety. The secret is to ‘fry’ the coarse semolina granules in oil – don’t bother dry roasting without the oil, this won’t work to keep the dish from being paste-free. So if you like uppama as much as we do, have a go at ‘Semolina Risotto (Uppama) with Cabbage and Peas’.

What you’ll need:
* ¼ cup oil
* Generous pinch of ground asafetida (forgot to add this. In the past, have substituted 1 crushed garlic clove)
* 1 teaspoon whole brown mustard seeds
* 1-2 whole dried red chillies (which I broke into bits)
* 2 teaspoons yellow split peas (or more, because it gives a nice nutty flavour)
* 15-20 curry leaves (it says optional, but I think it’s essential)
* 3 tablespoons shallots or red onion, finely chopped (I sliced one small red onion)
* 1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
* 1-2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh green chilli (or green pepper)
* 1 well-packed cup of shredded green cabbage
* 3 tablespoons of frozen peas (I didn’t defrost them)
* 1 cup (coarse) semolina aka Cream of Wheat
* ¾ teaspoon salt
* 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves aka cilantro (left that out).

What to do:
Boil some water and have about 1 ¾ cups ready for the semolina.
Heat oil in a wok or large frying pan, then add asafetida or garlic. Then immediately after that, add mustard seeds.
When the mustard seeds begin to pop add yellow split peas and red chillies. Stir until split peas turn reddish. By this time the chillies usually turn black. So if you’d like to retain some colour, add red chillies along with the cabbage (a bit later on).
After split peas have changed colour, add curry leaves, then the onion. Fry until the onion begins to brown at the edges, before adding ginger and green chillies. Stir for a few minutes, then add cabbage. (Madhur advises adding peas at this stage along with some water. I don’t add water. And I leave the peas until last).
Stir-fry cabbage, then add the semolina and stir-fry until the granules are golden. Lower heat, stir in salt. Add boiling water a little at a time, stirring until water has been absorbed before adding more. Repeat until all 1 ¾ cups of water have been used. Keep stirring until the semolina has fluffed up. Break up lumps with the back of the spoon.
Then take off fire and add frozen peas. Cover and leave for peas to ‘defrost’. Chopped coriander leaves can be added at this stage too, if using. Then serve.  

No-Ham Pea Soup

Living in Australia has introduced me to many strange and wonderful dishes, including Pea and Ham soup. Since a couple of my family members are vegetarian, leaving out the ham would mean leaving out the flavour, so it was a relief to find this recipe which relies on spices to provide a healthier and still-flavourful alternative. From The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook by Murdoch Books, this recipe has been adapted from the ‘Green Pea Soup’.

What you’ll need:
* 1 ½ cup green split peas
* 2 tablespoons oil
* 1 medium onion, peeled and halved
 * 1 medium carrot, cut into chunks to fit into pot
* 1 celery stalk, cut same as the carrot
* 1 tablespoon cumin powder
* 1 tablespoon coriander powder
* 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
* 5 cups vegetable stock
* 2 cups frozen green peas
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
* 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint or half that dried.
* 4 tablespoons plain yoghurt or sour cream (optional - as in I didn’t use this)

Green Split Peas
What to do:
Soak green peas for a couple of hours. Drain. Leave aside.
Heat oil in a pot (to make the soup), add onion, celery and carrot. I cooked this covered (with a couple of occasional stirs) until the onion softened and started separating layers. Stir in cumin, coriander and ginger. Cook until spices are fragrant.
Add split peas and stock (and dried mint, if using). Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until peas are cooked and carrot chunks can be pierced with a knife tip. The books says this should take 1 ½ hours but the soup is usually done in less than an hour. Take off fire.
Then add frozen peas. Wait until the peas ‘defrost’ in the heat of the soup, then slender-blend. Season with salt and pepper and stir in mint. Serve with swirl of yoghurt or sour cream (or not).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

No-Cook Tomato Sauce with Olives

This is one of my favourite no-cook pasta ‘sauces’. I’ve always had one ingredient missing (capers) whenever I seem to have the rest of the ingredients in the house, but even without capers it still tastes good. The proper title is ‘Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce’ and it’s from the Essential Vegetarian Cookbook by Murdoch books.

What you’ll need:
* 4 spring onions, chopped so finely it’s almost minced
* 4 firm ripe tomatoes (or 250g cherry tomatoes, halved).
* 8 stuffed green olives (or more – I used lots as we love olives, stuffed or otherwise) halved
* 2 tablespoons capers (didn’t have it)
* 2 cloves garlic, crushed
* ½ teaspoon dried oregano
* 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
* 1/3 cup olive oil
* 500g spaghetti or other dried pasta

What to do:
Except for the pasta, mix all ingredients (previously chopped, halved etc) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Cook and drain pasta according to packet instructions (or until you remember the pasta is still on the stove). Add cold sauce to hot pasta, mix well. (The books suggests, adding 1/3 cup of fresh basil leaves but I haven’t tried that yet…).

Red Pepper Soup

A bag of peppers were going cheap at the Asian Veg shop in Dandenong, so I did a web-search and found a couple of recipes that are worth a try. But, as sometimes happens from printer to kitchen counter – I then remembered this recipe from my collection of Margaret Fulton’s mini cookbooks and thought I’d give it a go instead. Inspired by the Sweet Pepper Soup from Margaret’s book of Soups and Starters, this is my version of a creamy red pepper soup without the cream:

I used:
* 45g butter
* 1 large onion, quartered
* 4 cloves, garlic, peeled and left whole (the book recommends 1)
* ¼ cup plain flour
* 4 cups vegetable stock
* 500g red peppers, quartered
* 1 dried red chilli, whole
* 1 teaspoon chopped thyme (fresh, or ½ teaspoon dried)
* 1 spring onion, chopped fine (optional, i.e. it’s not in the book)
* Salt and black pepper (pepper is optional)

What I did:
Added butter and onions into a pan all at once (this way, I don’t have to worry about the butter burning while I multi-task in the kitchen). Fry until onions are softened. Add two of the garlic cloves. Fry for a couple of minutes. Then add flour and cook for a further 2 minutes. Gradually add stock, stirring constantly and bring to a boil.
Add red peppers, chilli, tomatoes and thyme (as well as black pepper). Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until vegetables are cooked. Turn off heat. Then add last two garlic cloves (yes, raw!) and the sliced up spring onion and slender blend. Add salt to taste.
This soup might have more of a punch if the red peppers are roasted, but that’s another soup for another day.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sweet Potato with Oomph

Sweet potato or ‘bathala’ as it’s known in Sri Lanka, is traditionally eaten with freshly grated coconut. Since arriving in Melbourne, and with fresh coconut not freely available, I’ve opted for these two ways of cooking sweet potato – either a curry (hardly a surprise) or a soup. Now thanks to Kurma Dasa’s ‘Cooking with Kurma’, there’s a third way – a rather delectable salad called ‘Kumara Salad’ which incorporates coconut with several other complex flavours.

What you’ll need:
* 1kg of kumara/orange sweet potato, cubed
* 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 teaspoons extra (I used 2 tablespoons only)
Hulled sesame seeds, toasted
* ½ teaspoon yellow asafetida powder (or ½ teaspoon crushed garlic)
* ¾ teaspoon garam masala
* ½ teaspoon red chilli powder
* 1 tablespoon green chilli, finely chopped
* 2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
* ½ teaspoon salt
* ¼ cup shredded coconut (used the dried kind, dampened with a little hot water)
* 2 tablespoons roasted peanuts, powdered (Had raw nuts with skins on, which I dry roasted whole and after powdering as well to be sure rawness was gone)
Raw peanuts with skins
* 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, unhulled, dry roasted and powdered (had hulled sesame seeds, which seemed to work just as well)
* 2 tablespoons coriander leaves, which I didn’t use.

What to do:  
Cook kumara (I used a microwave). Cover and keep them warm. I was supposed to heat 2 teaspoons of oil, then sprinkle the asafetida powder, stir briefly and set aside. Instead I used 2 tablespoons of oil to fry the garlic, then when waited for oil to cool a little, before adding (as advised) the garam masala, green chilli and red chilli powder. Stir then, add lemon juice, salt and the rest of the olive oil (if you haven’t used it already!). Add spicy oil to sweet potato, stir to coat well. Then add coconut and the powders (peanut and sesame). Stir to combine. After salad has cooled, garnish with coriander leaves if using.

Mushroom with Garam Masala

This curry is easy and tasty and is from the first Asian cookery book I ever bought, Charmaine Solomon’s The Complete Asian Cookbook, which is now falling to bits because my copy is more than 20 years old. As they say ‘it’s an oldie but a goodie’. I’ve adapted this a little by adding potato – the mushroom flavour is stronger without it. The recipe is Indian and is called ‘Dhingri Kari’ in the book.

What you’ll need:
* 500g mushrooms (or 375g sliced mushrooms and a couple of small boiled and cubed potatoes)
4 spring/green onions
2 tablespoons oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger
6 curry leaves (I add one sprig)
2 teaspoons curry powder (added raw Ceylon)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon garam masala
½ cup coconut cream
2 teaspoons lemon juice

What to do:
Clean and slice mushrooms if not opting for a pre-sliced package of fresh mushrooms. Slice green onions finely. Heat oil. Fry garlic, ginger, curry leaves and sliced spring onions until softened. Add curry powder, salt and mushrooms (also cooked potatoes if using). Stir fry until mushrooms lose their raw look. Cover and simmer for a few minutes before adding garam masala. Stir, then add coconut milk, simmer uncovered until heated through. Take off fire. Stir in lemon juice.

Spicy Green Bean Curry

I usually make this curry with frozen beans which come washed, stringed and cut into convenient pieces. But the other day, my sister and her husband brought home a bag of fresh beans which were young enough to be topped and tailed without too much stringing involved.

What you’ll need:
* 500g green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces
* 1 medium onion, sliced
* 2 sprigs curry leaves
* 1-2 teaspoons salt
* ½ cup coconut cream
* ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
* 1 ½ teaspoons red chilli powder
* 1 teaspoon coriander powder
* ½ teaspoon cumin powder
* Pinch of sweet cumin powder (also called fennel in Asian stores)
* ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
* 2 tablespoons oil

What to do:
Mix all ingredients except oil and coconut cream together in a bowl. Then heat oil. When oil is hot, add beans and stir fry for a few minutes (this helps keep the beans green after it’s cooked). Add coconut cream and cook until beans are done (5-10 minutes).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Speedy Brinjal Curry

Last weekend, my Fernando cousins came to dinner with their families and friends, and I had this idea of making an eggplant dish which looked really attractive (in photographs). But when you got right down to the details, the eggplant had to be fried just before serving.
Since my mother is the only one who somehow manages to still be cooking after guests have arrived, I opted for a less-toilsome dish where everything is thrown into a pot and done in minutes. It’s just the list of ingredients that’s a bit long. Called ‘Brinjal Curried’ its from my fave book 'Ceylon Cookery' by Chandra Dissanayake.

What you need:
*500g brinjals/eggplants/aubergines
* 2 teaspoons chilli powder
* 1 teaspoon cumin powder
* ½ turmeric powder
* 1-inch/2cm piece rampe/pandan leaves (the Sri Lankan shop in Pakenham sells frozen pandan leaves) Omit if you can’t find. The curry will still taste good.
* 2 teaspoons salt
* 4 teaspoons lime juice
* ¼ cup coconut cream
* 1 medium onion (red onion)
* 1 teaspoon coriander powder
* ½ teaspoon sweet cumin powder
* 1 sprig curry leaves
* ½ inch/1 cm cinnamon stick
* 2 teaspoons finely ground mustard powder
* 6 dessertspoons oil (or about 4 tablespoons)

What to do:
Cube eggplants. Slice onions.
Sweet Cumin also sold as Fennel in Asian stores. 
Heat oil in pan. When hot, add curry leaves and onions. When onions have softened/browned at the edges (your choice), add brinjals and spices. Fry until eggplant is cooked. Add coconut milk and mustard powder. Take off fire after few minutes.

Friday, February 18, 2011


When I left Sri Lanka to find a job in the country my father had been working for the previous 20-plus years (Sharjah, UAE), my mother packed me off with one recipe – for dhal (or parippu as we Sinhalese call it).
From that one recipe, I had to learn to cook everything else as had my father before me.
Every Sri Lankan household seems to have its own way of cooking dhal. My mother’s involved adding a stock cube, frying up onions with garlic and ginger and doing a lot of stirring. This recipe, called Dhal White Curry, adapted from Chandra Dissanayake’s Ceylon Cookery takes much less effort.

What you’ll need:
Green chillies
* 250g red lentils, washed and drained
* 2 green chillies, sliced or chopped
* 1 ½ teaspoons salt
* 1 small onion (I used a brown onion), sliced
* ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
* 1x 400ml can coconut cream and 1 cans-worth of water (add more water if you want the curry to be less creamy, but I like this consistency).
* ½ cup coconut cream extra

For tempering/or adding a bit of zing
* 1-2 tablespoons oil
* 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
* 5-6 dried red chillies, broken up (or less chilli for those with non-zing palates)
* 2 sprigs curry leaves
* 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped/crushed

What to do:
 Boil lentils with half the sliced onions, green chillies and curry leaves along with all of the turmeric, 400ml coconut cream and can’s worth of water. Lentils boil fast, so if you don’t want a porridge like consistency, take it off the fire while the grain still holds its shape.
Once off the fire, add salt and leave aside until this next bit is done: Heat oil in mini frypan. When hot, add remaining curry leaves, sliced onions, dried red chillies broken into bits and mustard, fry until onions are golden brown and mustard begins to crackle.
Then take off fire and add garlic. Leave for a few minutes for garlic to ‘cook’ before adding fried mixture to dhal, with the remaining coconut cream. Bring to a boil and take off fire.
Note: Red lentils can be substituted with yellow split peas for a less mushy curry.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tabbouleh with Rocket

I like the taste of rocket (aka arugula) and add it to anything that requires little or no cooking. This preparation is based on a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘World Vegetarian’ cookbook calledTabbouleh, a salad made with Bulgur and Arugula.

To begin with: Soak 1 cup of bulgur wheat in 2 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt for 4 hours. Or wash, drain and leave aside. (Note: bulgur wheat can be found in the health food section of Australian supermarkets).

The rest of what you need for the salad:
* 2 medium tomatoes, chopped. (I put about 3 Roma or egg tomatoes). It’s recommended that the tomatoes be de-seeded and drained - but I don’t bother with any of that
* 2 cups finely chopped and well-packed fresh parsley (used curly parsley)
* 1 cup finely chopped arugula or rocket as they call it here in Australia
* 8 spring/green onions, sliced

* ¼ cup olive oil
* ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
* Freshly ground black pepper
* 1/8 teaspoon chilli (or 1 teaspoon)
* ½ teaspoon salt

What to do: In Ms Jaffrey’s book, she recommends lining a colander with a clean dish cloth, emptying the bulgur wheat into the colander, then gathering the ends of the cloth to twist as much water out as possible. Since I find it troublesome scraping grains off the cloth afterward – I don’t soak for 4 hours. Just wash the grains in several changes of water, drain most of the water out, then set aside until the rest of the salad is put together. For the the salad, mix the rest of the ingredients. Then mix dressing, add to salad. Toss well. Serve. Try tabbouleh with store-bought falafel, Arabic flat-bread and home-made hummus.

Chickpea Dip

This hummus recipe is my favourite. Many store-bought dips are a bit bland, and other recipes I’ve come across have too much oil, but this tastes the closest to the spread we first tasted in Sharjah and have loved ever since. Called, Chickpeas with Tahini, it’s from Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking.

What you’ll need:
* 2 cups cooked, drained chickpeas (I used two 400g cans of chickpeas, which more or less make up 3 cups)
* 1-2 cloves garlic (used 3-4)
* 4 tablespoons lemon juice (used 6 tablespoons)
* ½ teaspoon salt (1 teaspoon because I wasn’t paying attention)
* 3 tablespoons tahini (which is sesame seed paste and I used 4 and a bit tablespoons)
* 2 tablespoons cold water (3 tablespoons)
* ¼ teaspoon paprika (or chilli and about ½ teaspoon)
* 2 tablespoons olive oil

What to do:
 Pop everything in the food-processor, whizz until smooth. Then empty into serving container. Then Ms Jaffrey suggests: Sprinkle paprika and drizzle with oil, but I just mix the oil and chilli powder into the chickpea paste so everyone gets an ‘even taste’.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Veg and Protein in One

I’ve been saving this recipe, Black-eyed Bean and Eggplant Curry, for awhile until I had all the necessary ingredients (Korma paste, for instance). Gave it a go this weekend, and the dish passed the family 'taste' test. So here is the recipe from a newspaper promotion of Sanitarium. You can find more at

What you’ll need:
* ¾ cup dried black-eyed beans, soaked overnight
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1 onion, finely chopped
 * 2 garlic cloves, crushed
* 2 cm ginger, grated (about 1 teaspoon)
* 275g eggplant, (1 medium eggplant), cubed
* 1 tablespoon Korma curry paste
* 1 cup tomato passata sauce
* ½ cup vegetable stock
* ½ cup natural yoghurt (they recommend reduced fat, I used normal yoghurt mixed with a little bit of cornflour to prevent curdling).
* ½ cup coriander, chopped roughly

Fresh coriander/cilantro
Black-eyed peas
What to do: Place soaked, drained beans in a saucepan. Cover with water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. (Or microwave the lot under the legumes setting).
Next heat oil in a pan. Add onion, garlic, ginger and eggplant. Cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in curry paste. Cook for another minute. Stir in beans, tomato sauce and stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10-20 minutes or until eggplant and beans
are tender (and fragrant). Stir through yogurt and coriander. Service with brown rice. (Or any other kind of rice).

Sweetcorn and Egg Soup

After Chandra Dissanayake, my second must-have cookbook author would have to be Madhur Jaffrey. Thanks to her I’ve learnt to make some family favourites, including this Chinese soup which always disappears with second and third helpings. It’s from her World of the East Vegetarian Cooking.

What you’ll need as a minimum quantity:
* 4 cups of vegetable stock ( I make this with stock powder or cubes according to the directions on the package. Then add 2 cloves garlic, a sliver of ginger, half a stick of celery sliced, 1-2 finely sliced cabbage leaves, ¼ teaspoon sugar).
* 2 teaspoons cornflour
* 2 teaspoons sesame oil
* 2 small eggs or 1 large egg
* 1 cup creamed sweetcorn (or corn kernels – slender blended)
* 1/3 to ½ teaspoon salt
* 1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper (or black pepper)
* ¾ teaspoon thin soy sauce
* 2 teaspoons finely sliced spring/green onions

What to do:
Mix ¼ cup of the stock (cooled) in a measuring jug along with the cornflour and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. Set aside.
Sliced spring/green onions
Lightly beat the eggs with 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and set aside. (I just stir the eggs and oil with a fork). I do this in a separate measuring jug.
Heat the stock (with the optional ingredients). Cook 20-30 minutes. Then add corn, salt, pepper and soy sauce. Simmer.
Then in a thin stream, add the cornflour mixture. (The spout of the measuring jug helps the pouring process). Stir until the soup thickens slightly.  At this point, slender-blend the corn (if not creamed), along with the optional ingredients (I don’t throw them out).
Then Ms Jaffrey recommends taking off fire and pouring the egg in a steady stream to cover the surface of the soup. I take off fire and stir in the eggs (poured in a thin, steady stream from a measuring jug) with an egg whisk (or spoon if too many egg bits stuck in the whisk), then add the sliced spring onions.

Simple and Tasty Lentils with Spinach

When we visit family friends Uncle Impa and Nimalka Aunty in Geelong, we always come away fresh vegetables straight from their garden. This time we came home with lovely, large spinach leaves, and my father immediately asked for this lentil dish. I love it too because it tastes good as is very simple to make. So here’s Lentils with Spinach, one of the easier dals to make, except this one is from the Middle East and the recipe is more or less from Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘World of the East Vegetarian Cooking’.

Red lentils
What you need:
* 750g spinach (or 250g); have also substituted silverbeet and bok choy
* 1 medium onion, sliced
* 5 tablespoons oil
* 2 (or 4) cloves garlic, crushed
* 1 cup lentils, washed and drained
* 1 ½ to 1 ¾ teaspoons salt (or 1 teaspoon stock powder and ¾ teaspoon salt)
* 1 teaspoon cumin powder
Spinach leaves
    * 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

What to do: If using a bunch of fresh spinach, wash well, then chop leaves and roots. (I had leaves only, so chopped that). If using frozen, I add the frozen spinach to the cooked dal at the very end. Now back to the rest of the preparation: Fry onion and garlic in hot oil. They add drained lentils and 3 cups of water. Boil, then cover and simmer for 25 minutes or until lentils are cooked. If using spinach roots, stir them into cooked lentils, along with salt (and stock powder) and cumin. Simmer for another 10-15 minutes until roots are tender. Then stir in pepper. Take off fire, then stir in chopped fresh spinach leaves or frozen spinach. The heat of the lentils will cook the spinach, either fresh or frozen. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Colourful and Quick

There are some cookbooks in our house that are so well-used, they are now falling to bits - the Australian Women’s Weekly Oriental Dinner Party cookbook is one such favourite, and this recipe,
Snow peas and Mushroom Salad, is one of the many quick salads that is good for a hot summer’s day when you don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen.

What you’ll need:
For the Salad:
* 500g snow peas
* 500g mushrooms sliced, (used baby brown mushrooms)
* 2 red peppers, chopped

Mushroom, snow pea
For the Honey dressing:
* ½ cup oil
* ¼ cup vinegar
* 1 teaspoon honey
* 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
* ½ teaspoon sambal oelek (or if you’re out of that, a teaspoon of chilli sauce mixed with crushed chillies)
* (Also added 1 teaspoon salt)

What to do:
Top and tail snowpeas. Microwave/boil/steam until cooked, then immediately rinse through cold water (Or put them in a colander and place in freezer, until cool, when the tech-heads around the house are not watching).
Red capsicum
Then next bit involves a lot less drama: Slice (cleaned) mushrooms and chop peppers. Then combine snowpeas, mushrooms and red pepper in a bowl – since I didn’t have the patience to arrange it all nicely on a plate as shown in the book.
For the dressing: Mix all ingredients and pour over the vegetables. If you are using a plate, the amount of dressing is sufficient. Or you will have to double the quantity as the “taste-testers” won’t be able to taste the dressing which has all pooled at the bottom of the bowl.

Made with Methi

Checking out what was what on the fresh herb shelves at the Asian vegetable shop in Dandenong Plaza, saw fenugreek leaves. Bought a bunch a home, then searched the web on what to do with it as Sri Lankans cook with fenugreek seed but not the leaves.

Apparently, fenugreek leaves or methi is so popular in Indian cooking, there are entire web sites dedicated to this herb. So guess I’ll have to buy a few more bunches and try out some more dishes. In the meantime, this is one cobbled together from three or four different recipes on the web for Aloo Methi aka potatoes with fenugreek leaves

What I used: 
* 1 ½ cups fresh fenugreek leaves/methi (washed and chopped) = 1 bunch from the Asian veg store
* 500-750g potatoes (cubed and cooked in the microwave)
* 2 small onions, sliced
* 1 large sprig curry leaves (about 15-20 leaves)
* 2-3 whole dried red chilles (broken into large bits)
* 2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
* ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
* 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
* ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
* Pinch garam masala
* ½-1 teaspoon cumin powder
* 1 teaspoon coriander powder
* 2-3 tablespoons oil

What I did:
To hot oil, added cumin seeds, then curry leaves and broken dried chillies. Next added the onion, which was fried until translucent. After that, added chopped fenugreek leaves and fried for a few minutes, then the put in the rest of the spices with the cubed potatoes. Stir-fried until the potatoes were well-coated for about 5-10 minutes.

A Yummy Carrot Salad

There were two shows my mother would watch without fail on Dubai TV when we were living in the UAE: one was the Bold and Beautiful (with the kissing parts edited or substituted with still photos of date palms); the other was a cooking show by Kurma Das, which fortunately didn’t have kissing so we got to see the whole show.
The problem was my mother would write the recipes on bits of paper, which would later be misplaced. So of course when we came to Australia, and since Kurma Dasa was Australian, we had to get her a cookbook with nice, orderly lists of ingredients in a hard-to-lose format. Now though, as the recipes are so good, I’ve sort-of permanently “borrowed” the cookbooks (!) and here’s a favourite from Cooking with Kurma, called South Indian Carrot Salad

What you’ll need:
* 500g carrots, grated coarsely
* 1 large green chillies or (2 medium ones), chopped (since julienne strips are for people who get paid to do that)
* Leaves from 1 small bunch of coriander/cilantro, chopped roughly (I used the leaves of 3-4 plants)
* 1 teaspoon salt

(Hot oil dressing)
* 3 teaspoons oil
* ¼ teaspoon black mustard seeds
* 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
* 10 fresh curry leaves (or 20 because I really like the taste of curry leaves)
* 1 teaspoon split urad dal (worth a trip to a Sri Lankan/Indian spice shop to get this ingredient as it gives a lovely nutty flavour to the dish. BTW, I added 2 teaspoons)
* ½ teaspoon yellow asafetida powder (which I never have, so substituted 1-2 cloves of finely chopped garlic)
* 2 tablespoons of lemon juice

What to do:
Place carrot, coriander leaves, green chillies and salt in a bowl.
For the hot oil dressing: Heat oil (of course), sprinkle in mustard seeds. Then when they begin to crackle, add curry leaves, cumin seeds and urad dhal. When dhal turns golden brown, remove from fire and add asafetida (or in this instance, garlic), swirl, then pour the lot over the carrot-coriander-chillies. Finally add the lemon juice and mix well.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bok Choy Specials

Bok Choy
Bok Choy was on special at the local market the other day and we ended up with 2 kilos worth. So guess what we’ll be eating all week… same veg, different dish. Here are two I tried out:

The first version is what you’d expect from this ‘Chinese vegetable’, a stir-fry. From Margaret Fulton’s ‘Encylcopedia of Food & Cookery’, the original recipe is titled Baby Bok Choy with Oyster Sauce. However, my version should be called Mature Bok Choy with No Oyster Sauce.

What I used:

* 500g bok choy, washed clean of soil, then chopped into bite-sized pieces
* 375g pre-sliced button mushrooms
Then everything else on Ms Fulton’s list except for 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce, though I was thinking that black bean sauce, Hoisin sauce or other vegetarian sauce could have been substituted
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1 teaspoon sesame oil
* 4 cloves garlic, chopped
* 1 tablespoon ginger, finely grated   
* 1 teaspoon soy sauce
* 2 teaspoons rice wine vingegar
* ½ teaspoon cornflour
(* Oh and I added 1 teaspoon of salt, not on the list of ingredients)

What I did:
Mixed soy sauce, cornflour, rice wine vinegar in a glass and set it aside.
Heated vegetable and sesame oils in a pan. Added sliced mushrooms straight from the supermarket container. Fried until the mushrooms lost their ‘raw look’. Added garlic and ginger, stir-fried for a minute as Ms Fulton suggests. Added bok choy and tossed until wilted. Then added sauce mixture, until vegetables were coated. Took off fire.

The second bok choy dish is adapted from a Leeks White Curry recipe in Chandra Dissanayake’s ‘Ceylon Cookery’ book. (Never miss a chance!). This is the adapted Bok Choy Very Yellow Curry.

What I used:
* 500g bok choy, washed well and sliced finely.
* ½ teaspoon turmeric
* ½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
* ¾  cup coconut cream diluted in ¾ cup water
* 1 small onion, chopped
* 2 green chillies, chopped
* 1 sprig of curry leaves
* 1 teaspoon salt
* Extra ½ cup of coconut cream (undiluted)

What I did:
Separated the sliced bok choy stems from the sliced leaves. 
Added the sliced stems and all other ingredients (EXCEPT the extra half cup of coconut cream) into a saucepan. 
Cooked on high heat until mixture boiled, then added the extra half cup of coconut cream. 
Cooked again until curry starts to boil. 
Fenugreek seeds
Then took off fire and added the sliced bok choy leaves. This is to retain some of the green-ness of the leaves, which will cook in the heat of the curry.  

Lazy Nachos

Friday nights are usually no-effort meal days. Or very little effort. This is one such meal that my sister, Amali, often puts together with variations of her own making. For instance, last week she added a fried eggplant and apple mixture, which worked really well. But the basic dish is simple and very easy to make.

What you’ll need:
1 packet of corn chips
1 tin baked beans
Grated cheese – any easy-to-melt variety will do, and a dollop of cream cheese if you’d like to stare a few more calories in the face.

What to do:

Line the bottom of a microwave-proof dish with corn chips. Top with baked beans, then grated cheese. Microwave until cheese melts. And you’re done.

In Yellow and Green


Broccoli is a versatile vegetable but it tastes best with a minimum amount of cooking, like in stir-fries. So why not a ‘mallung/mallum’, usually a shredded-leaf dish that's cooked for a few minutes. So here’s a mallum adapted from Chandra Dissanayake’s Ceylon Cookery’ book for ‘Mukunuwenna Mallum’.
Used broccoli as I didn’t have mukunuwenna – a popular green weed that is still sold door-to-door by ‘greens’ hawkers, in Colombo. I like this dish because it doesn’t use oil. And I make it in bulk to freeze for weekday dinners.

What you’ll need:
1 to 1½ kg broccoli
2 sprigs curry leaves
4-6 green chillies, chopped (or 1-2 teaspoons crushed chillies)
1 cup desiccated coconut, rehydrated with half a cup of water
1 red onion
1 teaspoon turmeric
2-3 teaspoons salt

What to do:
In a food-processor, finely chop broccoli and onion together. Then into a saucepan, add broccoli-onion mixture, curry leaves, re-hydrated desiccated coconut, chillies, turmeric and salt. Dry fry (no oil) for a few minutes until the broccoli is done.   


I once served this cabbage mallum with string hoppers but it tastes just as good with rice. Best of all it’s on and off the stove in minutes. Again this is a favourite from the ‘Ceylon Cookery’ book by Chandra Dissanayake.

What you’ll need:
* 250g cabbage
* ¼ teaspoon turmeric
* ½ cup desiccated coconut
* 1 sprig curry leaves
* 1 small onion
* 2 dried red chillies, broken into bits
* 1 teaspoon mustard powder
* ½ teaspoon pepper
* 1 teaspoon salt
* ¼ cup of water or less (I don’t use any)

What to do: 
Shred cabbage and onion together in a food processor. Empty cabbage mixture into a saucepan. Add curry leaves, salt and water, if using. Cook for a few minutes. Then add coconut and spices. Stir for a few minutes more and take off fire. I generally add all the ingredients in one go and take off the fire after a few minutes.