Main Course

Son-In-Law Eggs (“Khai Luuk Keuy” ไข่ลูกเขย”)

This is a popular dish in Thai cuisine, requiring just a few simple ingredients to make. Hard boiled eggs are fried until it forms an appetizing golden skin, cut into half, drizzled with a sweet, tangy tamarind sauce, garnished with fried shallots, crisp fried red chilies and fresh cilantro. It is could be served as an accompaniment to rice or as an appetizer.

Several stories surround the origin of the dish and its name. One story says that the egg’s light golden brown hue is symbolic of a bride-to-be’s parents’ hope that their son-in-law will be blessed with fortune and wealth. Another story holds that the dish was made by Thai mothers for prospective son-in-law as a warning on the possible fate of their “parts” if they fail to take care of their daughters (the eggs in this dish is symbolic of the son-in-law’s “precious parts”). Another twist to that story was that the dish was made by a man’s mother-in-law to indicate her daughter was not well fed; this time, mother will prepare eggs fried, sliced and served with sauce, but next time if there’s nothing to eat it would be the son-in-law’s “parts” that would be fried, sliced and served with sauce!

Eggs, known as “khai” ไข่ in Thai are commonly consumed throughout the country, valued as a source of protein. Chicken eggs and duck eggs are perhaps the most popular type in Thailand while quail eggs are consumed to a lesser extent. For this dish, duck eggs or chicken eggs are most commonly used however quail eggs could be used as well.

Tamarind is usually sold as a paste. To make tamarind juice, dissolve some of the paste in some water until it forms a juice. If the paste contains seeds, discard the seeds.

This dish uses Thai palm sugar which is considered to be considerably more nutritious and flavorful that refined sugar.

 Preparation time: 5 minutes

Total time: 25 – 30 minutes

Serves: 2-3

Ingredients:

  • 4 duck eggs or 5 chicken eggs – boiled
  • 2-3 tablespoons finely sliced shallots (sliced lengthwise)
  • Oil for frying
  • Fresh cilantro leaves for garnishing (optional)
  • Dried red chilies cut to 1-inch pieces (optional)

Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons tamarind juice
  • 2 ½ -3 tablespoons Thai palm sugar – crumbled, grated or shaved
  • 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce

Method:

Peel eggs and discard shells. Set aside on a paper towel.

In a wok or frying pan, fry sliced shallots until crisp and brown. Set aside on a paper towel.

Lower heat to very low. Stirring constantly fry the dried red chilies until crisp and aromatic. These burn easily so it is imperative to stir constantly and ensure the flame is low. Set aside the fried chilies on a paper towel.

In a non-reactive cooking vessel, combine all ingredients for sauce.

Over low heat, simmer the sauce until it has the consistency of a syrup. If it is too thin, cook a bit longer, if too thick, add a few tablespoons of spring water.

Taste the sauce. Sweet and sour should be the dominant flavors while the salty flavor should be relatively mild. Adjust the flavor of the sauce to your preference by adding more ingredients as required (add tamarind to increase sourness, palm sugar for sweetness and fish sauce for the salty flavor).

Set the sauce aside.

Heat a wok over medium-high flame.

Fry the eggs set aside earlier until it forms a light golden brown ‘crust’. Ensure the eggs do not have even a drop of water to minimize splattering.

Take eggs out and drain on a paper towel.

Cut eggs into half lengthwise with a sharp knife.

Arrange sliced eggs on a plate.

Pour sauce over eggs.

Garnish with fried shallot slices, crisp fried red chilies, fresh cilantro and serve straightaway.

Chapati चपाती

Chapati is perhaps one of India’s most popular flatbreads, made with just three ingredients: whole wheat flour, warm water and salt. Chapati is particularly popular in the North of India, where wheat is the staple (unlike in the South of India where rice is the main food).

Chapati’s primary ingredient is Indian whole wheat flour known as “gehoon ke atta” गेहूँ का आटा or just shortened to “atta” आटा (“gehoon” गेहूँ means “wheat” and “atta” आटा means “flour” in Hindi) and commonly known in the English-speaking world as “atta flour” or “chapati flour”.

Whole wheat kernels are comprised of three main parts: the germ, the endosperm and the bran.

Chapati flour is produced by finely grinding the entire wheat berry (germ, endosperm, bran and all). Traditionally this was done using a stone mill called an “atta chakki” आटा चक्की in Hindi or simply “chakki” चक्की which literally means “flour mill” (“atta” आटा means “flour” and “chakki” चक्की means “mill”). In the olden days, Indian households would feature a chakki which would be used daily to grind whole wheat kernels into freshly ground chapati flour.

Indians roll out the chapatis using a circular wooden board known as a “chakla” चकला in Hindi, which is paired with a wooden rolling pin known as a “belan” बेलन.

Traditionally, chapatis are cooked in a slightly concave cooking vessel known as a “tavaa” तवा which means “pan” in Hindi. The “tavaa” is often made of clay or cast iron. The clay tavaa is known as a “mitti tavaa” मिट्टी तवा  or “mitti ka tavaa” मिट्टी का तवा  which literally means “clay pan” (“mitti” means मिट्टी “clay” and “tavaa” तवा  means “pan”).

Cooking over this clay “tavaa”, especially over a traditional firewood fire, lends a distinct smoky flavor, aroma and texture to the chapatis which modern day cooking vessels and heating fuels cannot replicate.

It is generally accepted among Indians that apart from producing superior-tasting traditional Indian fare, these unglazed, organic earthen cooking vessels are healthier options for cooking food.

Like its clay counterpart, the cast iron tavaa also produces a superior chapati owing to its uniform heating and heat retention characteristics. Additionally, it is believed to increase the iron content in food and is hence favored over modern day cooking utensils such as aluminum and non-stick pans.

Yield: 7-8 chapatis

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups stone ground atta flour
  • Warm spring water as required
  • Salt as desired

Method:

 In a roomy bowl, combine atta flour and salt.

Add warm water bit by bit until a dough begins to form.

Using hands, push forward and press down the dough with your knuckles, until it is smooth, pliable and longer sticky. Don’t overwork it as it would lead to tough, leathery chapatis.

Form a cylinder with about a 2 inch diameter.

Lightly flour a a chakla or a wooden surface if a chakla is unavailable.

Heat up a clay or cast iron tavaa over medium high heat over firewood if available for a more authentic chapati.

While the tavaa heats up, pull out a lemon-sized piece of dough and using hands, roll it into a ball, then flatten it into a neat disc about 1/2 an inch thick and 3-4 inches in diameter.

Use the belan or a wooden rolling pin to roll out this disc into a chapati approximately 6-8 inches in diameter and about 1/8 – 1/9 of an inch thick.

Place the chapati onto the heated tavaa. Cook until dark brown spots appear on the bottom surface of the chapati.

Flip and cook the other side, until brown spots appear. The chapati may puff up in which case just press it down.

Serve hot with ghee and curries.

Kurakkan Roti කුරක්කන් රොටි

Kurakkan roti is a Sri Lankan flatbread, made with nutritious finger millet flour, brown rice flour and freshly shredded coconut. “Kurakkan” කුරක්කන් or “kurahan” කුරහන් is the Singhalese name for “finger millet” while “roti” රොටි is a term used to refer to flatbreads.

Native to Africa and introduced to the Indian subcontinent over 3,000 years ago, finger millet or “kurakkan” is a drought-resistant and hardy crop, with less susceptibility to pests and diseases compared to other crops. It has been grown and consumed in Sri Lanka for over a thousand years, mostly in the dry zone areas and this nutritious grain has been the principal source of food for the Sri Lankan people for centuries.

Kurakkan has been replaced by rice as a staple food however kurakkan is still consumed; this kurakkan flatbread is usually eaten for breakfast and sometimes dinner, but very rarely (if at all) eaten for lunch.

Kurakkan is gluten-free and diabetic-friendly; a year 2000 study found that a finger millet-based diet resulted in lower plasma glucose levels which could be attributed to finger millet’s higher fibre content compared to rice and wheat.

Kurakkan roti is traditionally made with kurakkan flour (known as “kurakkan piti” කුරක්කන් පිටි), brown rice flour (known as “rathu haal piti” රතු හාල් පිටි)and shredded coconut. Modern day recipes however replace brown rice flour with all-purpose flour. Usage of all-purpose flour diminishes the nutritional value of the resulting flatbread as all-purpose flour is generally accepted among Sri Lankans to be considerably unhealthy and is inferior nutrition-wise than brown rice flour.

For a healthier alternative, the all-purpose flour can be replaced with whole wheat flour or chapati flour (also known as “atta flour) instead.

Traditionally. kurakkan roti is accompanied with hot Sri Lankan condiments such as lunu miris, pol sambol or katta sambol. Nowadays, butter is also increasingly gaining favor as an accompaniment.

A cast-iron griddle produces the best results.

Variation 1 (Basic kurakkan roti)

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup kurakkan flour
  • 1/4 cup brown rice flour
  • Salt as desired
  • 1-3 tablespoons freshly shredded coconut
  • Warm water as required
  • Coconut oil as required

 

Method:

Combine kurakkan flour, rice flour and salt in a roomy bowl.

Add shredded coconut.

Add warm water and coconut oil as required to form a pliable dough that does not stick to your hands.

Using hands, knead the dough for a short while.

Divide into even-sized balls.

Roll out the balls, or simply flatten them on your palm, into discs about 3-4 inches in diameter and about 1/5 inch – 1/3 inch thick.

Heat up a cast iron griddle over medium high flame.

Cook the flatbreads until cooked through and dark, roasted spots appear on the surface of the bread. This usually takes a few minutes. The flip the bread and cook the other side.

Once cooked, take out and cover the flatbreads with a damp towel to keep them moist.

Serve hot with hot condiments such as lunu miris, pol sambol and/or katta sambol.

 

Variation 2 (Kurakkan roti with onions, chilies and curry leaves)

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup kurakkan flour
  • 1/4 cup brown rice flour
  • Salt as desired
  • 1-3 tablespoons freshly shredded coconut
  • 4-6 shallots – peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2-3 green chilies – sliced
  • 2 sprigs fresh curry leaves – torn
  • Warm water as required
  • Coconut oil as required

 

Method:

Combine kurakkan flour, rice flour and salt in a roomy bowl.

Add shredded coconut, shallots, green chilies and curry leaves.

Add warm water and coconut oil as required to form a pliable dough that does not stick to your hands.

Using hands, knead the dough for a short while.

Divide into even-sized balls.

Roll out the balls, or simply flatten them on your palm, into discs about 3-4 inches in diameter and about 1/5 inch – 1/3 inch thick.

Heat up a cast iron griddle over medium high flame.

Cook the flatbreads until cooked through and dark, roasted spots appear on the surface of the bread. This usually takes a few minutes. The flip the bread and cook the other side.

Once cooked, take out and cover the flatbreads with a damp towel to keep them moist.

Serve hot with hot condiments such as lunu miris, pol sambol and/or katta sambol.

Milk Rice (Kiri Bath කිරි බත්)

Kiri bath කිරි බත්, or milk rice, is a very popular dish in Sri Lanka, carrying a deep symbolic weight as a representation of good fortune and prosperity. Kiri bath is often served during special cultural celebrations such as Singhalese New Year (which falls on the 13th and 14th of April) and at the event of feeding a baby its first solid food. Some very traditional families serve kiri bath on the first of every month and every year to usher in prosperity and good luck for the coming month and year. While it is most commonly consumed for breakfast, it could be eaten for lunch and dinner.

“Kiri bath” කිරි බත් literally translates into “milk rice” in Singhalese (“kiri” කිරි means milk and “bath” බත්  means “rice”).

Lunu miris sambola ලූනු මිරිස් සම්බෝල is a very popular hot condiment served with kiri bath. Other popular accompaniments include fish curry, seeni sambol සීනි සම්බෝල  and katta sambol කට්ට සම්බෝල.

Kiri bath is traditionally made with brown rice, known in Sri Lanka as “red rice” (rathu haal රතු හාල් or rathu kekulu haal  රතු කැකුළු හාල්). Brown rice is widely accepted to be healthier and more nutritious and white rice is generally frowned upon by traditional Singhalese.

For best results, use only fresh coconut milk squeezed from freshly grated coconut. While canned/UHT/reconstituted coconut milk can be used, this convenience comes at the expense of taste and nutrition.

Traditionally, all Sri Lankan dishes such as this milk rice dish were cooked in clay pots known as “hattiya” හට්ටිය over a firewood fire. These organic, unglazed earthen cooking pots coupled with a firewood fire, which together were known as a “dhara lipa” දර ලිප (“dhara” දර meaning “firewood” and “lipa” ලිප meaning “hearth”) impart a distinctively appetizing, earthy flavor and smoky aroma to the food.

Nowadays, modern day kitchen utensils and equipment such as rice cookers and stainless steel cooking vessels have found their way into Sri Lankan households. However, these utensils do not offer that unmistakeable flavor and aroma of food simmered in an earthen pot heated over a firewood fire. For maximum flavor and nutrition, the traditional, time-tested claypot and firewood fire are still the best options.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups brown rice
  • Water as needed to cook rice (quantity depends on variety of rice)
  • 1 cup thick coconut milk
  • Sea salt as desired

Method:

Wash the rice till water runs clear.

Combine water as required and cook rice as usual.

Add pinch of salt to coconut milk and stir.

Once rice is well cooked, pour coconut milk.

Stir well and cook until liquid evaporates and the result is a thick mass akin to pliable clay.

Take out rice and spread on a serving dish.

Use a knife to cut into diamond shapes.

Serve with condiments and curries.

Chinese Style Asian Greens With Oyster Sauce And Garlic Oil

Asian greens prepared with oyster sauce and garlic oil is a popular dish in Chinese cuisine. Asian greens such as bok choy (known as “xiǎo báicài” 小白菜 in Mandarin), choy sum (“cài xīn” 菜心 in Mandarin) and Chinese broccoli (“jiè lán” 芥兰 in Mandarin and “gai lan” 芥蘭 in Cantonese) can be used.

Chinese woks (known as “chao guo” 炒锅) are traditionally made from cast iron and these woks, coupled with a very strong, high flame tend to give the best results. Cast iron woks retain heat better than other materials and the temperature does not fluctuate much compared to woks of other materials. Consequently, once the greens are thrown into the boiling water, some woks may see a sudden drop in heat levels which generally does not happen when cooking with cast iron woks. This sudden drop in heat level means the greens take a longer time to cook which does not produce the best color, aroma, texture and taste compared to greens that are cooked quickly at a high temperature.
This advantage of providing a uniform and stable heating level is a key reason cast iron woks produce superior results when cooking Chinese food.

Additionally, well-seasoned woks impart a distinct “wok flavor” to the food known as “wok hay” 鑊氣 in Cantonese (usually spelled “wok hei” but the pronunciation is closer to “wok hay”) which literally means “wok energy” (wok qi). However an intense flame is necessary to achieve this effect and thus may be extremely difficult to achieve with home stove top flames.

A well-seasoned cast-iron wok is highly durable and could last for generations and there are families today that cook with cast-iron woks passed down from the grandmothers or great-grandmothers of the family. For instance, the cast-iron wok used by my maternal grandmother (who was born in 1928) is still treasured and frequently used by her children.

When blanching the greens, an overcrowded wok must be avoided; if the wok is overcrowded, the leaves don’t cook quickly and end up “sweating” and slow cooking instead, resulting in greens that are limp, discolored and bland.

Chinese food tastes best when consumed hot and freshly cooked, so serve straight away.

Serves: 2
Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb Asian greens such as bok choy or choy sum or Chinese broccoli
  • 1/2 teaspoon oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons boiling hot water
  • Freshly ground white pepper as desired (optional)

For garlic oil:
2 tablespoons oil
4-5 cloves of garlic – very finely minced

Method:

In a small glass / ceramic bowl, combine oyster sauce and light soy sauce. Mix well and set aside.

Prepare the garlic oil. Heat up a wok over high flame. Do not add oil until the wok is well heated up.

Pour 2 tablespoons oil and let the oil heat up.

Swirl the wok to evenly coat the oil around the wok.

Add minced garlic, fry till garlic turns brown and fragrant. Stir frequently. Do not burn the garlic.

Pour this garlic oil into the bowl of oyster sauce and light soy sauce. Stir and set aside.

Wash greens thoroughly to remove dirt and grit. Optionally, cut into halves or quarters lengthwise.

Have a bowl of cold water ready. Set aside.

In a cast iron wok, bring some water to a rolling boil over high heat.

Add salt and 1/2 teaspoon oil.

Then add the washed and drained greens.

Toss quickly then cover with a lid, until greens are cooked through yet retains its vibrant green hue, fresh taste, crunch and texture. This usually takes just a few minutes, depending on the strength of the flame and the type of wok (cast iron woks retain heat better than other metals and hence generally require less time).

Once cooked, immediately take out the greens and soak them in the bowl of cold water set aside earlier.

Once cooled, arrange the greens neatly on a plate.

Pour two tablespoons of hot water (some take two tablespoons from the boiling water used to blanch the greens) into the bowl of oyster sauce mixture prepared earlier. Mix well.

Drizzle the sauce over the freshly cooked greens.

Serve straight away with rice.

Unohana 卯の花

A bowl of Unohana, alongside a pair of chopsticks.

Unohana 卯の花 – a good source of protein for vegetarians

A feature on Japanese dinner tables since ancient times, unohana 卯の花, is a wholesome Japanese side dish of “okara” おから sauteed with mixed vegetables and seasonings. “Okara” おから (which literally translates into “beancurd refuse”) is the mushy pulp which is left over after making soymilk or tofu. It is believed to be highly nutritious, low in fat, rich in proteins, calcium, fiber and other nutrients such as iron, riboflavin and niacin. Its high fiber content could potentially prevent some types of cancer such as intestinal cancer.

Okara is gluten-free and a good source of protein for vegetarians. Okara is very susceptible to spoilage and hence should ideally be used fresh. Even under refrigeration, its shelf life is usually no more than 2-3 days.

Unohana should be sweet rather than salty. Like most traditional dishes, there are no strict recipes for unohana. While the key ingredients (okara, carrots and “negi” 葱 which refers to scallions or Japanese leeks) are usually unchanged, other ingredients are added or omitted (such as shiitake mushrooms, konjac, burdock root, chikuwa and abura-age) and the quantities of each ingredient (such as the vegetables) tends to vary based on individual preference and is usually estimated rather than strictly measured out. Some families traditionally do not use onions to make unohana, while others enjoy the additional flavor onions contribute.

Used for over a thousand years in Japanese cuisine, konjac, known in Japanese as “konnyaku” こんにゃく, (also known as konjaku, devil’s tongue, voodoo lily, elephant yam) is a flavorless, jelly-like starch made from a plant bearing the scientific name Amorphophallus konjac. It is believed to have a host of health benefits such as controlling diabetes, cholesterol levels, eliminating toxins and helps maintain a healthy digestive system hence the Japanese moniker “broom of the stomach” 胃のほうき (“i no houki”).

An equal quantity of dashi だし, can be used in place of the “shiitake water” or a 50/50 combination of both can be used. Vegetarians can use the “shiitake water” and omit dashi altogether.

Okara is quite flavorless on its own so dried shiitake 椎茸 mushrooms (“shii” 椎 is the Japanese name of this particular type of mushroom while “take” 茸 means “mushroom” in Japanese) are preferred over fresh as the dried ones have a stronger flavor and aroma.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 cup tightly packed fresh okara
  • 1/2 medium-sized onion – sliced (optional)
  • 3-5 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/2 carrot – chopped, diced or julienned
  • 4-5 tablespoons konjac – chopped or julienned
  • 3 tablespoons shoyu
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon mirin or sake
  • Pinch of sea salt – optional
  • 3-4 green onions or 3/4 Japanese leek – julienned or thinly sliced

Other optional ingredients:

  • 1/2 burdock root – scrubbed and cut to thin shreds
  • 1 chikuwa – cut to short strips
  • 1 abura-age – cut to short strips

Method:

Soak dried shiitake mushrooms in 1 cup spring water for about 3-4 hours.

Drain shiitake mushrooms and reserve the “shiitake water”.

Slice shiitake mushrooms.

Mix shiitake water (or dashi if using), shoyu, mirin or sake and honey in a bowl.

Heat oil in a pot over medium heat.

Cook sliced onions until translucent. If not using onions, proceed to next step.

Add shiitake mushrooms, carrots, burdock root (if using) konyaku and saute.

Add okara and cook until crumbly.

Add chikuwa (if using), abura-age (if using) and the mixture of shiitake water (or dashi), shoyu, mirin or sake and honey.

Reduce heat and cook until liquid evaporates, stirring to prevent the mixture from sticking to the pot.

Add salt (if using).

Add sliced scallions or Japanese leek and turn off heat.

Serve either at room temperature or cold.

The unohana tastes better if allowed to sit in a refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight to let the flavors develop.

Spicy, Hot Sri Lankan Dhal/Red Lentil Curry (“Miris Parippu” මිරිස් පරිප්පු)

“Miris parippu” is a Sri Lankan red lentil dish, hot due to a generous addition of red chili powder and spicy due to raw curry powder. “Miris” මිරිස් means “chili” in Singhalese while “parippu” පරිප්පු means “red lentils”, so taken together, the dish “miris parippu” මිරිස් පරිප්පු literally means “chili dhal” (“dhal’ being the more popular name in Sri Lanka for red lentils) or “chili red lentils”.

The red lentils are often soaked for at least 2-3 hours, or overnight if possible as when soaked they are easier to cook and easier to digest. Red lentil curries are quite popular in Sri Lanka where meat consumption is relatively low by world standards, particularly among vegetarians as it is believed to be a good plant-based source of protein.

As with most Sri Lankan dishes, there are no fixed recipes and ingredient ratios may vary depending on the individual’s preference. For instance, some cooks add tomatoes, while some leave it out. Some add a cinnamon stick while some may omit this. Some may like adding a few drops of juice from a freshly squeezed key lime while some prefer the dish without this (other varieties of lime such as kaffir lime are usually not used. Other citrus fruits are never used).

Regular Sri Lankan coconut oil, simply known as “pol thel” පොල් තෙල් in Singhalese (“pol” පොල් meaning “coconut” and “thel” තෙල් meaning “oil) results a in very flavorful and aromatic dish and it is strongly recommended to use this type of oil. Virgin coconut oil is has a very delicate flavor and aroma and as it thus usually not used to make this dish. Other types of flavorless oils such as canola or palm oil could work while delicate oils such as olive oil or robust oils such as peanut oil, sesame oil or soybean oil are not suitable. For the most authentic outcome, regular Sri Lankan coconut oil is the only choice.

Red onions, known as “rathu luunu” රතු ලූනු (“rathu” රතු meaning “red” and “luunu” ලූනු meaning “onion) in Singhalese are usually used for most Sri Lankan dishes. They are believed to be healthier and more delicious than their larger cousins, the onions commonly known as “Bombay onions” among Sri Lankans.

Good quality raw Sri Lankan curry powder (known as “amu thuna paha kudu” අමු තුනපහ කුඩු, “amu” අමු = “raw”, “thuna paha” තුනපහ = “three five” in reference to the three to five spices that go into making a curry powder, “kudu” කුඩු = “powder”) is imperative for a quality outcome. Sri Lankan curry powder is comprised of a distinct concoction of spices and as a consequence, curry powders from other cuisines such as those from Malaysia or India would not produce an authentic outcome. Curry powders lose their flavor and aroma with age, so fresher powders produce better results and older curry powders may require larger quantities to have the same result.

Preparing the dish according to traditional Sri Lankan coooking methods where food is cooked in an organic, unglazed clay pot, over a firewood fire, stirred and ladled with an organic, unglazed Sri Lankan coconut shell spoon is generally believed to produce a far more flavorful, nutritious and aromatic dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup red lentils – washed and soaked for at least 2-3 hours, preferably overnight
  • 3-4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 8-10 red onions – peeled and sliced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic – peeled, sliced lengthwise
  • 2 dried red chilies – cut to 1-inch pieces, soaked in a concentrated salt water solution
  • 2-4 fresh green chilies – slit down the middle
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh curry leaves
  • 1 fresh pandan leaf
  • 1- 1 1/2 tablespoons red chili powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon red chili flakes
  • 1 – 1 1/2 tablespoons raw Sri Lankan curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • Salt as desired

Method:

Lightly heat a clay pot over medium heat.

Add coconut oil and let it heat up.

Add black mustard seeds and let splutter.

Add shallots, garlic, red chilies, green chilies, curry leaves and pandan leaf. Cook until onions and garlic are fragrant and slightly brown.

Lower heat to low.

Add red chili powder, red chili flakes, raw curry powder and turmeric powder. Roast, slowly over low flame until the spice powders are aromatic, stirring frequently, be careful not to burn. The mixture should turn into a deep, brownish-maroon hue.

Once spice powders are roasted, add lentils and water as required, to completely cover the lentils plus just a bit more.

Cook until the lentils are soft and mushy, stir every now and then.

Once cooked, add salt as desired.

Serve hot with rice, roti or bread.

Note:
For a version with coconut milk, follow the recipe as above but add about 1/4 cup of fresh, thick coconut milk after the red lentils have been cooked till soft and mushy. Let stew until the mixture thickens slightly then add salt as desired.

Young JackFruit Curry (Polos Ambula පොලොස් ඇඹුල)

Young Jackfruit Curry - Culinary Connoisseur

“Polos” – a favorite curry to accompany a meal of rice for Sri Lankans

Young or tender jackFruit curry known as “polos ambula” පොලොස් ඇඹුල in Singhalese is a Sri Lankan favorite. “Polos” means “young jackfruit” while “ambula” means “sour” – a reference to the sour undertones of this dish resulting from the generous use of “goraka” ගොරකා.

Goraka, known in English as “garcinia cambogia” is a sour fruit, dried until blackened and shriveled, commonly used in Sri Lankan and Indian cuisine. Adjust the quantity of goraka to your taste. Some like it mildly sour while some like it stronger. The quality and age of the goraka is also an important consideration because old, poor quality goraka may not have the same strength as the fresher ones and hence may require a larger quantity than specified in the recipe.

Like many Sri Lankan dishes, there are no fixed recipes for polos ambula and different families would have different recipes passed down from generation to generation. The core ingredients however, i.e., young jackfruit, goraka, salt, chili powder, curry powder, turmeric powder, ginger, onion, garlic, curry leaves, green chilies and coconut milk remain the same. Discretionary additions vary from family to family and include grated coconut, dried Maldive fish, pandan leaves, mustard seeds and black peppercorns.

Singhalese believe small red onions (known as “rathu luunu” රතු ළූණු in Singhalese) pack more flavor and nutrition than the big onions known as “Bombay onions” in Sri Lanka. Big “Bombay” onions have slightly sweet flavor characteristics compared to the small red onions. Thus, while big red onions could be used in place of small red onions, for a more authentic polos ambula, use the small red onions.

Some Sri Lankan recipes, refer to “turmeric powder” as “saffron”. This reference is mostly made by the older generation. In ancient Europe, “turmeric” was known as “Indian saffron” (as it was commonly used as an alternative to the more expensive saffron spice) and the term made its way into the vocabulary of olden Sri Lankan cooks (“olden” meaning the generation that lived in Sri Lanka when the country was colonized by the British). While the expensive saffron threads can be used in place of turmeric and vice versa for the purposes of imparting a golden yellow tinge to food, the two have unmistakably different flavor profiles and saffron itself is never used to make this dish in Sri Lanka.

The dish usually tastes better if left for a day to allow the flavors to develop.

Version 1 (the following recipe is from my traditional Sri Lankan (Kandyan) grandmother born in the 1930s):
Ingredients:

  • 1 tender jackfruit (weighing approximately 800 grams) – skinned (discard skin), and cut to bite-sized chunks
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 9-12 small red onions – peeled and sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves – skin peeled – finely crushed in a pestle and mortar
  • 1 teaspoon ginger – finely crushed in a pestle and mortar
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh curry leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1 fresh pandan leaf
  • 2 cups thick coconut milk
  • 1 cup thin coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind paste – discard seeds, dissolve paste with a bit of water
  • 1/2 – 1 tablespoon Maldive fish flakes (optional)
  • 1-2 pieces goraka – soaked in warm water and then made into a thick paste
  • 1-2 fresh green chilies – sliced
  • 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons roasted Sri Lankan curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon red chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon red chili flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • Sea salt as desired

Method:

Over medium flame, heat coconut oil.

Add mustard seeds and let splutter.

Add onions, garlic, ginger, curry leaves, fenugreek, pandan leaf and fry till aromatic and slightly browned.

Add the the rest of the ingredients, but only about half of the tamarind juice. Set aside the other half.

Ensure the level of coconut milk covers the jackfruit chunks.

Reduce to flame to low and cook until jackfruit chunks are cooked and soft yet firm. It should not be mushy. Taste and make adjustments as needed. Add the tamarind juice reserved earlier to adjust the sour tones of the dish.

Once cooked, the separation of oil would be visible on the surface of the curry.

Version 2:
Ingredients:

  • 1 tender jackfruit (weighing approximately 750 grams) – skinned (discard skin), and cut to bite-sized chunks
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 12-15 small red onions – peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 1/2 – 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1- 1 1/2 tablespoon Sri Lankan roasted curry powder
  • 1-2 tsp black peppercorns.
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp garlic
  • 2-3 fresh green chilies – sliced
  • 5-6 sprigs curry leaves
  • 2 pandan leaves
  • 2-3 pieces goraka or as desired – soften in hot water and then make a thick paste
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2-3 cups thick coconut milk
  • 1-2 cups thin coconut milk
  • Sea salt as desired

Method:

Boil the chunks of tender jackfruit in a clay pot (preferably over firewood if available) until cooked but not too soft.

Combine the ginger, garlic and peppercorns in a “miris gala” or a pestle and mortar and crush finely.

Heat coconut oil in a pan over medium heat.

Add in mustard seeds and let them splutter.

Add sliced small red onions and saute till translucent.

Add the curry leaves, pandan leaves, and the ginger-garlic-pepper paste. Saute till aromatic.

Lower the flame and add tumeric powder, chili powder and roasted curry powder. Roast the spices till they darken and become very aromatic, stirring continuously. Be careful not to burn the spice powders which can burn very easily. Once charred, the spices cannot be used.

Transfer this mixture to the clay pot containing the boiled jackfruit chunks.

Add goraka paste and mix well. Ensure water just covers the jackfruit chunks, if there’s not enough water, add more. Add salt as desired.

Cover and let cook for a while over medium flame then reduce flame and let simmer to allow the flavors to meld.

Add the thin coconut milk and let cook for 1 minute.

Then add thick coconut milk and let simmer again until the water boils down and just a little gravy remains. For a drier version, boil until no gravy is left.

Once cooked, the separation of oil would be visible on the surface of the curry.

Jiaozi (Dumplings) 饺子

A mainstay of Chinese cuisine, “jiǎozi” 饺子, which means “dumplings” in Mandarin, is a stuffed dumpling with origins in the Eastern Han Dynasty dating back 2,000 years ago.

Although widely consumed in China all year round, especially in the northern regions, these succulent treats are one of the most popular traditional foods consumed during Chinese New Year (also known as Spring Festival 春节 chūnjié) and is often prepared by family members on the eve on the new year. Jiǎozi’s importance as a Chinese New Year staple stems from its shape, which closely resembles the gold and silver ingots used as currency in ancient China and is thus consumed to usher wealth, good fortune and prosperity for the new year. Sometimes, a sanitized coin would be stuffed into a jiǎozi; the lucky one to land the coin-stuffed dumpling is believed to enjoy good fortune for the coming year.

Jiǎozi is also traditionally consumed by folks in northern China during the Dongzhi Festival 冬至 (Winter Solstice Festival), a tradition born out of the belief that eating dumplings helps prevent frostbitten ears.

As the story goes, during one particularly cold winter, Zhang Zhongjing 张仲景 , one of China’s most distinguished physicians who lived during the Han Dynasty, saw many local people suffering from frostbitten ears. In an effort to alleviate their situation, the kindly doctor mixed some traditional Chinese medicine, meat and other ingredients and made a new kind of food with vague resemblance to ears – dumplings. These dumplings were distributed to the local people who were cured of their frostbite. Word went around that consuming dumplings cured frostbite which grew into the tradition we see in northern China today. Zhang Zhongjing 张仲景 is also thus credited as the inventor of jiǎozi.

Jiaozi’s delicate wrapper or skin, known as “jiaozi pi” 餃子皮 in Mandarin is made with wheat flour. The wheat grain, a staple of northern Chinese cuisine (rice is the staple or southern Chinese cuisine) has been milled for thousands of years in China.
Initially, flour milling was a grueling affair where equipment such as the saddle quern were operated by hand to grind wheat grains into flour. Later, mechanized flour processes let to increased productivity gains; the Chinese were believed to be one of the first users of water powered milling equipment.
After grinding the wheat grains, the resultant flour needs to be sifted to separate the finer grains from the coarser ones (so the coarser grains could be discarded or reground). The Chinese again are believed to be the pioneers of flour sifting, having extrapolated the prevalent technology for weaving silk using a fine mesh. Evidence exists that the sieving of powders for human consumption was practiced in China before such processing began in the West.

The jiaozi wrapper is made by mixing the flour with an adequate quantity of water. The amount of water required would vary with the quality of the dough, humidity conditions etc. Thus, it would be difficult to specify a fixed ratio of flour to water and seasoned Chinese cooks rarely go by any recipes when making jiaozi dough.

Traditionally, boiling water is used to form the dough because it helps produce a softer and elastic dough (cold water does not produce the same qualities and hence results in an inferior dough). Needless to say, freshly ground floor produces a better quality dough resulting in a jiaozi that is superior taste-wise and nutrition-wise.

Jiǎozi’s versatility has given rise to a plethora of stuffings such as beef with celery, shrimp and eggs with leeks as well as vegetarian stuffings. Arguably the most popular traditional stuffing is a mixture of ground pork, Chinese cabbage, scallions, soy sauce, salt, sugar and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Jiǎozi are traditionally boiled or steamed. When the dumplings are pan-fried they are known as guōtiē 锅贴 which in Mandarin literally means “stuck to the wok”.

Boiled jiǎozi, known as “shuǐjiǎo” 水饺 in Mandarin, is made by dropping the dumplings in boiling water and boiling them until they float and the skins turn somewhat transparent. The traditional method calls for boiling the jiaozi three times, each time after adding a certain quantity of cold water.
Steamed jiǎozi, known as “zhēng jiǎo” 蒸饺 is made by steaming the dumplings in circular bamboo steamers stacked over a wok of boiling hot water.

Jiaozi wrapper:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups wheat flour
  • Boiling water as required to form a dough

Method:

Sift flour.

Bring water to a boil.

Slowly add a portion of the boiling water to the sifted flour.

Mix with chopsticks until the dough forms a crumbly texture. If the dough is too dry add more water.

When dough is cool enough to handle, take out and knead until it forms a soft, pliable and elastic texture. The dough should not be sticky. Add flour or water as required.

Wrap the dough with a damp cloth and set aside to rest for about 1 hour.

After an hour, divide the dough into quarters. Roll each quarter into a rope about 1 inch (about 2.5 centimeters) in diameter.

Cut the rope into 5/8 inch (about 1.5 centimeters) pieces.

Flatten each piece with your palms and roll into rounds with a rolling pin. Each round should be 3 – 3 1/2 (about 7.5 cm – 8.5 cm) inches in diameter and 1/16 – 1/8inches (about 0.1cm – 0.3 cm) thick.

Keep the skins covered to ensure they stay moist and don’t dry out. Ideally, assemble the jiaozi immediately after rolling out the wrapper.

Version 1 (Vegetarian filling)
Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Chinese black mushrooms- soaked in warm water, washed and chopped to cubes
  • 3/4 cup carrot – sliced thinly
  • 1lb (about 500 grams) medium sized Chinese cabbage
  • 1 inch sized ginger – minced
  • 4 green onions (white and green portions) – minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • Salt as desired
  • 1-2 tbsp peanut oil

Method:

Separate cabbage leaves and blanch in boiling water. Set aside to cool.

Once cooled, slice the cabbage thinly.

Heat a wok over medium high heat.

Add peanut oil and then add ginger.

Fry till fragrant.

Add chopped mushrooms and fry until mushrooms are tender.

Add cabbage and carrots. Fry till tender. Mixture should be mushy.

Set aside to cool.

Once cooled, add sesame oil, soy sauce, Shao Xing wine, salt and chopped green onions.

Filling is ready for jiaozi assembly.

Version 2 (Pork and cabbage filling)
Ingredients:

  • 1 lb (about 500 grams) pork with fat – minced
  • 1 lb (about 500 grams) medium sized Chinese cabbage
  • 2-3 green onions (white and green portions) – minced
  • 1 inch piece ginger – minced
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • Salt as desired
  • 1/4 – 3/4 cup pork stock

Method:

Separate cabbage leaves and blanch in boiling water. Set aside to cool.

Once cooled, chop the cabbage to 1/4 – 1/2 inch pieces.

Combine chopped cabbage with all other ingredients, except the pork stock.

Add the pork stock a little at a time, mixing continuously in clockwise direction, until the mixture turns wet and sticky. You may not require all the pork stock, so don’t add all at once.

Filling is ready for jiaozi assembly.

Assembling the jiaozi:

Take a jiaozi wrapper and set it on the working table.

Moisten the edge of the wrapper with water (this may not be necessary if the wrapper is freshly rolled out or has not been set aside for too long).

Place one tablespoon of filling into the wrapper.

Fold the wrapper, bringing the edges close together but ensure they don’t stick.

Starting from the right side, pinch one edge into pleats, pasting the pleat onto the other edge, thereby forming a crescent shaped jiaozi that is pleated on one side.

Cooking the jiaozi:

Boiled jiaozi:

Pour water to a large wok.

Bring the water to a boil over high heat.

Add as many jiaozi that would cover the base of the wok but don’t overcrowd it. Stir gently to ensure none of the jiaozi stick to the base of the wok.

When water comes to a boil, add about 1 cup of cold water. Cover and bring water to a boil. Repeat this process two times.

When the water boils for the third time, the dumplings are ready.

Steamed jiaozi:

Arrange dumplings in a bamboo steamer basket.

Pour 3 cups of water into a large wok.

Bring water to boil over high heat.

When water boils, place the bamboo steamer basket into the wok.

Steam for about 6-10 minutes.

Cumin Rice (Jeera Chawal जीरा चावल / Zeera Walay Chawal زیرے والے چاول )

Cumin rice is a flavorful and aromatic rice dish popular in India (northern India in particular) and Pakistan. In its simplest form, it consists of rice and roasted whole cumin seeds while more elaborate versions could also include spices such as cinnamon and cardamoms, nuts such as cashew nuts, dried fruits such as raisins, herbs such as curry leaves and coriander leaves (also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley) and other ingredients such as lemon juice and slices of onion. There are no fixed recipes for cumin rice as the possibilities are endless. The key ingredients are rice and cumin and other optional ingredients can be added as desired.
In India, cumin rice is known as “jeera chawal” जीरा चावल in Hindi (“jeera” means “cumin” and “chawal” means “rice”) while in Pakistan the dish is called “zeera walay chawal” زیرے والے چاول in Urdu (“zeera” means “cumin” and “chawal” means “rice”).

Cumin has been used for hundreds of years in Indian cuisine and since ancient times the spice has been valued in this region for its medicinal properties. Cumin is a good source of iron and it is believed to aid digestion according to ayurveda. Cumin is known as “jeeraka” in Sanskrit, one of the world’s most ancient languages once spoken in India thousands of years ago. The word “jeeraka” is derived from the word “jeerana” which means “digest” in Sanskrit.

Similar to cumin, turmeric is very widely used in Indian and Pakistani cuisine. For this particular dish however, the addition of turmeric for cumin rice tends to be more popular in Pakistan than in India.

While the dish could be made with all types of rice, long-grained basmati rice is the favored variety.
Modern recipes for cumin rice sometimes feature vegetable oil, however as with most Indian and Pakistani dishes, ghee, rather than vegetable oil was traditionally used to make this dish. Ghee imparts a distinct flavor to the dish and hence cumin rice made with ghee is generally superior in taste compared to cumin rice made with vegetable oil.

Version 1 (Basic cumin rice)
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups long-grained basmati rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • 1/2 cup sliced onions
  • Water to cook the rice
  • Salt as desired

Method:

Drain water from the rice.

In a heavy bottom pan over low heat, sauté cumin seeds and onion slices until brown and aromatic.

Add soaked rice and water as needed to cook rice.

Cook rice as usual.

Once rice is cooked, serve immediately.

Version 2 (Punjabi style)
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups long-grained basmati rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • Few drops lemon juice
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 3-4 cloves
  • Water as needed to cook the rice
  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • Salt as desired

Method:

Drain the water from the rice.

Pour water as needed to cook the rice, salt and lemon juice.

Cook rice as usual.

In a separate heavy bottom pan, heat ghee over low heat.

Add cloves, bay leaves and cumin and sauté until spices are aromatic and browned. The spices burn very easily so keep a watchful eye.

Add the cooked rice and stir gently.

Serve immediately.

Version 3
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups long-grained basmati rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • 1/2 cup onions – sliced
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger-garlic paste
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 6-8 fresh curry leaves
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • Salt as desired
  • Water to cook the rice

Method:

Drain the water from the soaked rice.

On a cast-iron skillet over low heat, roast the cumin seeds until brown and aromatic.

Ensure they do not burn.

Stop heat and set aside.

In a heavy bottom pan, heat ghee over medium heat.

Add sliced onions, ginger-garlic paste, salt, turmeric powder and curry leaves.

Sauté till aromatic.

Add water, soaked rice and bring to a simmer.

Add roasted cumin seeds and salt and let rice cook as usual.

Once cooked, serve rice immediately.

Version 4
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups long-grained basmati rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • 1/2 cup onions – sliced
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 2 fresh green chilies – slit down the middle
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1/3 cup raisins – soaked in warm water for 10-15 minutes
  • 1/3 cup cashew nuts
  • Water to cook the rice
  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • Salt as desired

Method:

Drain the water from the rice.

Heat ghee over low heat in a heavy bottom pan.

Add the cumin seeds, raisins (discard water), cashew nuts and fry till the cashew nuts turn brown and aromatic.

Next, add the green chilies, ginger-garlic paste and sliced onion.

Fry till onions soften.

Add salt.

Add the soaked rice and give a gentle stir to combine.

Pour water as needed to cook the rice and let rice cook as usual.

Once rice is cooked, serve immediately.

Version 5
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • 1 inch piece cinnamon stick
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1-3 green cardamom pods
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Water to cook rice
  • Salt as desired

For tempering:

  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp cashew nuts
  • 2 green chilies – finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp coriander leaves – finely chopped

Method:

Drain the water from the rice.

Pour rice, cinnamon stick, cloves, bay leaf, cardamom pods, salt and water as needed to cook the rice.

Cook rice as usual.

Once rice is cooked, stop heat and set aside.

In a separate heavy bottom pan, heat ghee over low heat.

Add cumin seeds and sauté till cumin seeds turn brown and aromatic.

Add cashew nuts and green chilies and cook for a short while.

Add cooked rice and chopped coriander leaves.

Stir gently till ingredients are combined.

Stop heat and serve rice immediately.