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One-Pot Bean Soup

This wholesome, hearty one-pot bean soup is ideal comfort food on a cold wintry day. This recipe is vegetarian, however it could be adapted for non-vegetarians; for instance vegetable stock could be replaced with chicken stock.

Any mixture of the following beans could be used as desired:

  • Flageolet beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Red beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Navy beans (also known as haricot beans)

Serving Suggestions:

Serve alongside whole grain sesame seed rolls.

Version 1

Preparation time: 20 minutes:

Total time: 1 hour

Serves: 4-5 people

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups (about 750 milliliters) vegetable stock
  • 1 large yellow onion – finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic – minced
  • 1 small carrot – finely diced
  • ½ stalk celery – finely diced
  • 2 large vine-ripened tomatoes – diced
  • 2 tablespoons pearl barley
  • 1 medium potato – diced
  • 1 cup (about 250 grams) mixed beans – cooked until soft
  • ¾ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • Coarse sea salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Garnish:

Grated parmesan cheese

 

Method:

In a non-reactive pot, bring stock, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, tomatoes, barley and olive oil to boil, covered, until vegetables have partially softened.

Add potatoes, cooked mixed beans, dried thyme and dried oregano. Season with coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Continue to boil until potatoes are cooked, vegetables have softened and flavors have melded.

Stop heat, serve hot garnished with grated parmesan cheese.

 

Version 2

Preparation time: 20 minutes:

Total time: 1 ½ hour

Serves: 4-5 people 

Ingredients:

  • 1 large yellow onion – finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic – minced
  • 2 large vine-ripened tomatoes – diced
  • 3 cups (about 750 milliliters) vegetable stock
  • 1 small carrot – finely diced
  • ½ stalk celery – finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons pearl barley
  • 1 medium potato – diced
  • 1 cup (about 250 grams) mixed beans – cooked until soft
  • ¾ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • Coarse sea salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil or unsalted butter for sautéing

Garnish:

Grated parmesan cheese

 

Method:

In a non-reactive pot, heat the olive oil or unsalted butter over medium heat.

Sauté onions until translucent.

Stir in minced garlic and sauté until aromatic.

Add tomatoes and sauté until it soft.

Add stock, carrot, celery and barley bring to a boil, covered, until vegetables are partially softened.

Add potatoes, cooked mixed beans, dried thyme and dried oregano. Season with coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Continue to boil until potatoes are cooked, vegetables have softened and flavors have melded.

Stop heat, serve hot garnished with grated parmesan cheese.

 

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.

Sau Kenda සව් කැඳ (Sago Porridge)

Sri Lankan sago porridge, known as “sau kenda” in Singhalese is a delicious porridge of sago pearls boiled in a rich concoction of thick coconut milk known as “pol kiri” පොල් කිරි (“pol” පොල් = coconut, “kiri” කිරි = milk), sweetened with jaggery known as “hakuru” හකුරු, which is an unrefined form of sugar and fragranced with exotic spices such as aromatic green cardamoms known as “enasaal” එනසාල් and cinnamon, known as “kurundu” කුරුඳු.

Sau kenda සව් කැඳ  literally means “sago porridge” in Singhalese (“sau” සව් means “sago and “kenda” කැඳ means “porridge”).

Sago is believed to have cooling properties and is often consumed in Sri Lanka during sweltering hot months, either warm or chilled.

Sri Lanka’s sago porridge bears some resemblance to the Malaysian dessert “sago gula melaka”, which is a sago pudding served with thick coconut milk, an unrefined palm sugar known as “gula melaka” and fragranced with pandan leaves.

The sago pearls are boiled until translucent – this may require some practice as overboiling the sago pearls could dissolve them whereas underboiling the sago pearls will result in pearls that are not translucent.

Freshly squuezed thick coconut milk, fresh cardamoms and/or cinnamon and good quality jaggery are imperative for a quality outcome.

 

Preparation time: 15-20 minutes

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup or about 200 grams sago pearls
  • 2 1/2 – 3 cups or about 625 – 750 ml spring water
  • 1 cup or about 250 ml thick coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup jaggery – dissolved in about 1/4 cup of spring water
  • Pinch of salt

Spices (use one or both):

  • 5-8 green cardamom pods – lightly crushed to open the pods
  • Cinnamon stick

Method:

Bring water to a rolling boil in a heavy bottom saucepan, over medium heat.

Once water is boiling, add sago pearls and green cardamom pods.

Cook sago pearls until they turn translucent. Stir every now and then but don’t stir too often as the sago pearls could dissolve which is undersirable; the key is to cook the sago pearls till they turn translucent but yet they maintain their spherical shape. This takes practice.

Once sago pearls turn translucent, add the coconut milk and dissolved jaggery. Alternatively, take sago off the heat and when serving the sago, serve the coconut milk and dissolved jaggery separately, allowing each individual to adjust the quantity of coconut milk and jaggery according to personal preference.

The sago porridge can be served warm or chilled. If serving chilled, set aside to cool and then place the sago porridge (as well as the coconut milk and jaggery if they are being served separately) in a refrigerator.

 

Italian Grilled Eggplant With Garlic And Fresh Herbs (Melanzane Arrostite)

Grilled eggplant (also known as aubergine) with garlic and fresh herbs is a typical Sicilian dish, usually making an appearance as a starter or a side.

The dish, known as “melanzane arrostite” in Italian, which liteally means “roasted eggplant”, (eggplants are known as “melanzane” in Italian and “arrostite” means “roasted) is traditionally made with Sicilian eggplants.

Aubdantly available in Sicily (or Sicilia in Italian), eggplants were first introduced to this charming Southern Italian island by Arabs from the Middle East, and today the largest Italian cultivation of eggplants is in Sicily.

The Arabs ruled Sicily in 827 to 1091 and they had a profound influence on Sicily’s agriculture and cuisine, introducing new crops such as rice and sugarcane and enhancing Sicilian cuisine through the introduction of ingredients such as eggplants, apricots, pistachios, sesame seeds and saffron, foods such as sherbet, and introducing new cookery methods such as candy making.

With a thriving cultivation of fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices, less than a century after the Arab occupation, Sicily came to be known as the ‘Garden Island of Southern Europe’.

Native to the Mediterranean, oregano, known as “origano” in Italian, is the dominant herb in Southern Italian cuisine but is not so throughout the rest of Italy where parsely and basil are more commonly used. Oregano is more flavorful dried than fresh.

Slicing the eggplants to the correct thickness is an important step for a successful outcome. The eggplant slices must be well cooked through, yet it should not be dried out. Too thin and the slices are likely to burn or dry out. Too thick and the slices may cook faster outside than inside. 1 cm or 1/2 an inch is about the ideal thickness.

This Sicilian dish is not only healthy but delicious too.

Preparation time: 30 – 40 minutes

Total time: 5 hours

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 Sicilian eggplants
  • 4-5 tablespoons or as desired extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 tablespoons Italian red wine vinegar
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 1-2 cloves garlic – finely minced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Dried Sicilian oregano as desired
  • Fresh herbs (mint or parsely or basil) – roughly chopped

Method:

Slice the eggplant into circles, about 1 cm thick. Too thin and the eggplant will dry out. Too thick and the eggplant wouldn’t be cooked inside.

Sprinkle a generous quantity of coarse sea salt on the eggplant slices and toss well with hands to ensure the slices are evenly coated.

Let eggplant sit until it releases some of its juices (about 30-40 minutes).

Prepare marinade: in a baking tray, combine olive oil, vinegar, minced garlic, chopped herbs, salt and ground black pepper in a bowl. Mix well and set aside.

Take out the eggplants and rinse the salt off them.

Squeeze excess water, pat dry and set aside.

Heat a charcoal grill over medium heat.

Generously brush eggplant slices both sides with olive oil.

Place the eggplant slices on the hot grill.

Grill the eggplants both sides, till they are cooked but are are not dried out. When the bottom sides are cooked flip them over and cook the other side.

Transfer the cooked eggplant slices into the baking tray with the marinade prepared earlier.

Ensure the slices are well coated with the marinade.

Transfer the eggplant slices to a serving plate.

Drizzle any leftover marinade over the slices.

Set aside at room temperature for 3-4 hours to allow the flavors to meld before serving.

Serve with crusty bread.

 

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.

Thai Steamed Pumpkin With Coconut (“Luk Fag Tong Cim Makhrao” ลูกฟักทองจิ้มมะพร้าว)

This Thai dish is a popular snack or dessert, requiring little time and just a few simple ingredients to prepare – pumpkin (known as “fag tong” ฟักทอง in Thai), freshly shredded coconut (known as “makhrao” มะพร้าว ), crushed Thai palm sugar, and salt. Requiring no artificial or processed ingredients, it is nourishing and satisfying.

It starts with a fresh, firm variety of pumpkin which would require a considerable effort to cut and the pumpkin should have a distinct sweet taste when cooked. Kabocha squash would be an example that fits these criteria. The pumpkin must be steamed until just cooked and firm, not soft and mushy.

Freshly shredded coconut is preferred not only for maximum taste but for nutrition as well.

Although some modern preparations use refined sugar, this recipe uses traditional Thai unrefined palm sugar, not only for its unique taste but also because unrefined palm sugar is generally accepted to be a more nutritious and healthier sweetener than refined sugar.

Preparation time: 20 – 30 minutes

Serves: 6-7 people

Ingredients:

  • 1 firm pumpkin such as kabocha squash
  • Freshly shredded coconut as desired
  • 2-3 tablespoons or as desired Thai palm sugar
  • Pinch sea salt

Method:

Rinse the pumpkin thoroughly ensuring any dirt and grit is removed from the skin.

Using a sharp knife cut the pumpkin into wedges about 1-2 inches width at the base. If desired, peel off the skin.

Remove the seeds.

Steam the pumpkin wedges until the pumpkin is just sufficiently cooked but not overdone. The time to cook depends on the width and size of the pumpkin wedges. Insert a fork or knife and the flesh should feel firmly cooked but not soft.

Stop heat and keep covered until ready to serve. The pumpkin can be served warm or at room temperature.

When ready to serve, place the shredded coconut over the pumpkin wedges and sprinkle crushed palm sugar and salt over the pumpkin wedges. Alternatively, prepare a coconut topping. In a bowl, combine shredded coconut, crushed palm sugar and pinch of salt into the shredded coconut and mix well. Place the topping over the pumpkin wedges.

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.

Sambal Belacan

Sambal belacan is one of the most popular condiments in Malaysian (Malay) cuisine often served as an accompaniment to rice, which is a staple food for Malaysians.

In its simplest form, the basic ingredients for sambal belacan are fresh chilies (usually red while green is also used though to a considerably lesser extent), belacan (a fermented shrimp paste) and kalamansi lime juice.

More often however, Malaysians opt to jazz up the simple version with a variety of ingredients such as shallots, garlic, lemongrass, tomatoes, tamarind juice and fermented durian paste (known locally as “tempoyak”) to name a few. This has resulted in an endless array of sambal belacan “varieties”. There are no fixed ingredients for sambal belacan with different families having their own sambal belacan recipes.

Regardless of ingredient variations, fresh red chilies and belacan are key ingredients, without which, the condiment would no longer be “sambal belacan”. Malaysia offers a wide variety of chilies, and for sambal belacan, most often it is ripe fresh red chilies (not green) that are used.

These ripe, fresh red chilies are known as “cili merah” in Malay (“cili” = “chili”, “merah” = “red) and in elsewhere in the world, these chilies could be identified as red cayenne peppers. They are soft to the touch, a vibrant red in color, about 3 ½ to 4 inches in length and about ½ to ¾ of an inch in diameter at their thickest section.

Since this particular red chili variety does not rank too high on the Scoville scale for the average Malaysian, it is common for some fresh bird’s eye chilies (known locally as “cili padi”) to be thrown in as well for extra heat. Although bird’s eye chilies are considerably smaller than “cili merah”, these seemingly-innocent chilies pack substantially more heat.

Belacan is a paste of fermented shrimp and salt. A good belacan is imperative for a quality sambal belacan.

To make sambal belacan, traditionally, belacan is first lightly toasted over a charcoal fire until it turns aromatic and powdery. Next, this is combined with fresh chilies and other ingredients in a traditional pestle and mortar, known as a “lesong” or “lesung” which may be made of wood or granite. The ingredients are pounded and then the sambal is ready to serve.

For convenience and efficiency, modern day households may opt for modern electric appliances such as food processors instead of Malaysia’s traditional kitchen tool, the “lesung”. However, good things take time and usage of these modern equipment may come at the expense of quality, nutrition and authenticity.

Pounding the ingredients in the traditional pestle and mortar is believed to better extract the flavors as well as mix the flavors together which results in a far more authentic outcome than when modern kitchen tools are used.

Consequently, sambal belacan produced according to the traditional method is generally accepted to be more flavorful and wholesome compared to those produced in a haste.

Version 1 (classic, traditional)

Yield: ¼ cup

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 fresh red chilies – discard stalks
  • 1-2 fresh bird’s eye chilies (add more for extra heat) – discard stalks
  • 1 – 1 ½ tablespoons belacan
  • 1 fresh kalamansi lime – juiced

Method:

Over a low flame, toast the belacan until it dries, turns powdery and is aromatic. Do not burn.

Combine the toasted belacan with the chilies in a stone pestle and mortar. Pound until fine.

When ready to serve, add kalamansi lime juice and mix thoroughly.

Taste and make adjustments if necessary (usually this involves adding salt or kalamansi lime juice).

Serve immediately.

Version 2 (“Sambal Belacan Tomato”)

Yield: 1/3 cup

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 fresh red chilies – discard stalks
  • 1-2 fresh bird’s eye chilies (add more for extra heat) – discard stalks
  • 1 ½ – 2 tablespoons belacan
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 semi-ripe fresh tomato – roughly chopped
  • 1 kalamansi lime – juiced

Method:

Over a low flame, toast the belacan until it dries, turns powdery and is aromatic.  Do not burn.

Combine the toasted belacan with the chilies and shallots in a stone pestle and mortar. Pound until fine.

When well pounded, add roughly chopped tomato and pound again. The tomatoes should retain some bite, not be too mushy.

When ready to serve, add kalamansi lime juice and mix thoroughly.

Taste and make adjustments if necessary (usually this involves adding salt or kalamansi lime juice).

Serve immediately.

 

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.

Thandai ठंडाई

Thandai ठंडाई as it is known in Hindi, is a festive drink, creamy thanks to full fat milk, rich thanks to an assortment of nuts, aromatic thanks to rose petals (or yellow marigold which is used in some regions such as Braj), cooling thanks to ingredients such as melon seeds, refreshing as it’s usually served chilled and intensely flavorful thanks to sweeteners as well as an orchestra of spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and fennel. A wholesome beverage rich in flavor and culture, it is often served on the Hindu festivals of Maha Shivarathri and Holi.

Maha Shivarathri मह शिवरात्रि is a Hindu festival dedicated to Lord Shiva (“maha” मह = “great”, “Shiva” शिव = “(Lord) Shiva” and “rathri” रात्रि = “night”) who, according to Hindu legend, on this special day saved the world from a pot of highly toxic poison that emerged from the ocean.
Devotees would observe fast (known as “vrat” व्रत in Hindi) on this auspicious day when after sunset of Maha Shivarathri day, no meals would be consumed until sunrise the next day after performing a special religious prayer known as a “pooja” पूजा.
While some opt for a full fasting, abstaining from consuming even a drop of water, for some this avenue is not an option for reasons such as illness or old age. In such situations, non-cereal, nutritious dishes of milk, fruits and water are prepared. This rich, creamy “thandai” is one such example. It is believed that Lord Shiva liked this milky drink, and on this auspicious occasion, the creamy beverage is sometimes spiked with “bhang” भांग which is an edible form of cannabis.
Although treated as a narcotic drug and is punishable by law to hoard and consume, this law is temporarily lifted in countries which celebrate this festival such as India and Nepal where holy men would be allowed to smoke it to imitate Lord Shiva.

According to legend, Lord Shiva had saved the world from the pot of poison by holding the toxic substance in his throat. This made him turn blue and generated substantial heat inside. Efforts to cool Lord Shiva were numerous, and one of them was calming him down with “bhang”.

Thandai (sometimes laced with “bhang” in some areas of India, particularly Varanasi, formerly known as Banaras, which is India’s thandai hub) is also a traditional beverage consumed during the Hindu festival of Holi. Also known as the “festival of colors” or the “festival of love”, Holi is a spring festival which celebrates the passing of winter and the arrival of spring and is celebrated amidst a highly charged atmosphere of vibrant colors, showering petals of fragrant rose and marigold, wild laughter and joyful play.

With temperatures rising in India with the arrival of spring, thandai, which is believed to have cooling properties, helps the body combat heat and so it is a tradition for festive merrymakers to drink refreshing, chilled Holi thandai to cool themselves down.
The name of this cooling beverage “thandai” ठंडाई literally means “coolant” in Hindi, and that word in turn is a derivative of the Hindi word “cool” which is “thanda” ठंडा.

Certain ingredients in thandai such as fennel (“saunf” सौंफ), saffron (“kesar” केसर), poppy seeds (“khus khus” खसखस), melon seeds (“karabhooje ke beej” खरबूजे के बीज, “karabhooje” खरबूजे = “melon”, “beej” बीज = “seeds”) and rose petals (“gulab ki phankudiyan” गुलाब की पंखुड़ियाँ, “gulab” गुलाब = “rose” “phankudiyan” पंखुड़ियाँ = “petals”) are believed to be “cooling” while black pepper is believed to help ward off cold-related infections.

Bhang thandai (or “bhang ki thandai” भांग की ठंडाई in Hindi) however must be consumed with caution, as an overdose could have negative consequences.

Although thandai is particularly popular in northern India (where the country’s thandai hub, Varanasi is located) the drink is relished in other states as well.

Like most dishes throughout India, thandai recipes vary region to region and from family to family with perhaps the only commonality among all recipes being fresh whole milk (known as “doodh” दूध in Hindi), a combination of nuts (usually almonds, cashews, pistachios) and a combination of spices traditionally ground in a traditional Indian stone grinder known as a “sil batta” सिल बट्टा.
Some recipes add cashews, some add pistachios, some add both. Some add fennel, some others add freshly ground black peppercorns (“kailee mirch” काली मिर्च), some have cinnamon (“dalachini” दालचीनी), some have green cardamom (“elaichi” इलायची) and some have saffron.
Some like their thandai thick while some prefer a more runny consistency.

Unlike in the West where there is a growing preference for skimmed milk / 2% fat etc, in India, milk is generally consumed whole, i.e. full fat and all. And it has been that way for generations in India which is the largest milk producing nation in the world. Most of India’s milk production is from buffaloes with cow’s milk coming in second.
Unlike in the United States where milk is produced in organized, large-scale dairy farms and the animals are milked through mechanical means, in India over half of the country’s milk is produced from free-roaming buffaloes and cows who are patiently hand-milked by small farmers in rural Indian villages.

While most modern recipes use refined sugar to prepare thandai, the following recipe uses honey (“shehad” शहद), which is significantly healthier and more flavorful than refined sugar. It is possible to add jaggery (an unrefined form of sugar known as “gur” in Hindi) however it may result in a untraditionally dark brown colored drink (when it’s traditionally a pale yellow or pale green if “bhang” is added).

Serves 6-7
Ingredients:

1 1/2 litres or about 6 cups fresh whole milk
4-5 tablespoons almonds – soaked overnight
2 tablespoons cashew nuts
1 tablespoon poppy seeds – soaked overnight
2 tablespoons melon seeds – soaked overnight
3/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
4-6 green cardamom pods – husks discarded, seeds retained
1/2 cup or as desired honey
3/4 cup spring water
1 teaspoon rose water or 3/4 teaspoon dried rose petals or 1/2 teaspoon fresh rose petals plus a few more garnishing
A few strands saffron
1/2 – 2/3 cup pistachios – crushed

Method:

Drain off water from all three soaked ingredients. Peel almonds.

Into a heavy-bottom sauce pan, pour milk and add honey. Stir well.

Bring to a boil over medium heat.

Stop heat and set aside to cool.

Crush peeled almonds, poppy seeds, melon seeds, cashew nuts, fennel seeds, peppercorns, green cardamom seeds and rose petals (if using) into a rich paste. For grinding needs such as this, ancient Indian kitchens feature a traditional grinding tool known as a “sil batta” सिल बट्टा.

Add 1/4 cup of water and rose water (if using) and grind further to a smooth paste.

Add the ground paste to the milk-honey mixture and mix well.

Cover and let it sit for about 15-20 minutes.

Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth.

Set the strained milk aside.

Add 1/2 cup water to the residue and grind again.

Strain this mixture through a cheesecloth.

Add the strained liquid to the previously strained milk.

Add saffron strands and give a quick stir.

Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours to allow the flavors to develop.

Pour into glasses.

Garnish with crushed pistachios, slivered almonds, a few saffron strands and rose petals. Serve chilled.