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’.