Coconut milk

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.

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.

Kue Wajik / Kuih Wajik / Kuih Wajid

Kue Wajik / Kuih Wajik / Kuih Wajid decorated with pandan leaves, served on a white rectangular plate.

A healthy Southeast Asian dessert – Kue Wajik / Kuih Wajik / Kuih Wajid

Popular in Indonesia (especially in Java where the sweet holds great cultural significance), Malaysia and Brunei, kue wajik / kuih wajik / kuih wajid is a traditional chewy sweet rice cake made with glutinous rice (also known as sticky rice), palm sugar, thick coconut milk and pandan.

The cake is believed to have originated in Indonesia. It is particularly popular in Java, where wajik is held as a symbol of harmony and thus is often served at weddings.

In Indonesia it is known as “wajik ketan” (“ketan” means “glutinous rice” in Indonesian), “kue wajik” or just “wajik” (“kue” means “cake” in Indonesian), in Malaysia it is known as “kuih wajik” or just “wajik” (“kuih” means “cake in Malay) and in Brunei it is known as “kuih wajid” or just “wajid”.

In all three countries, the sweet is made with exactly the same ingredients – glutinous rice, coconut milk, palm sugar and pandan leaves. In all three countries, there are no fixed recipes for this sweet rice cake, with different families having their own variations to the preparation method passed down from generation to generation. Ingredient quantities were also rarely strictly measured out and instead involved guesswork and estimations.

While the ingredients are the same, the manner of serving the cake differs – in Indonesia and Malaysia it is usually served cut into diamonds (in connection with the name of the cake – “wajik” means “diamond” in Indonesian) whereas in Brunei individual bite-sized pieces of the sweet cake are painstakingly enveloped in rectangular banana leaf packets.

In Brunei, wajid is traditionally made with a Javanese variety of rice known as “beras Jawa” (“beras” means “rice” in Indonesian and Malay) and the resulting wajid is referred to as “wajid Jawa”.

Fresh, good quality ingredients are paramount for a quality outcome. While canned, UHT, powdered coconut milk can be used, freshly squeezed coconut milk yields a considerably superior result. Palm sugar (known as “gula jawa” in Indonesia and “gula melaka” in Malaysia) contributes a distinct flavor and color to the sweet which refined sugar or brown sugar cannot match. Palm sugar, being unrefined by nature is considered to be healthier than refined sugar thus making this sweet a relatively healthy treat to enjoy.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup glutinous rice
  • 5-6 tablespoons hot water
  • 1/3 – 1 cup palm sugar
  • 1/2 cup thin coconut milk
  • 4 pandan leaves – tied to a knot
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup thick coconut milk
  • Banana leaves

Method:

Wash glutinous rice.

Soak glutinous rice overnight.

Drain water from soaked glutinous rice.

Steam glutinous rice with 2 pandan leaves.

When glutinous rice is about 3/4 cooked, add about 5-6 tablespoons of hot water and let steam again until the glutinous rice is cooked and soft.

Once glutinous rice is cooked stop heat.

Grease a tin or baking tray.

In a heavy-bottom pot, boil thin coconut milk and palm sugar until the palm sugar is completely dissolved.

Strain this palm sugar syrup to remove any impurities.

Return palm sugar syrup to heavy-bottom pot, add salt and the remaining two pandan leaves.

Cook for a while, stirring continuously until it bubbles.

Add coconut milk slowly and stir continuously.

Reduce heat and simmer, stirring continuously until mixture thickens.

Transfer cooked glutinous rice into the mixture.

Cook, stirring frequently until the liquid evaporates and the mixture is a glossy, thick, pliable mass.

Immediately pour the mixture into the tin / baking tray.

Using a banana leaf, press down the cake.

Cover the cake with banana leaves.

Set aside at room temperature to cool.

Cut into diamonds.

 

Agar-Agar Gula Melaka (Agar-Agar Dessert Flavored With Gula Melaka)

Agar-agar gula melaka, served in a glass, rectangular dish.

A healthy and delicious Malaysian dessert – agar-agar gula melaka.

Agar-agar gula melaka is an aromatic and flavorful local dessert from Malaysia, made with agar-agar and thick coconut milk, fragranced with pandan and sweetened with gula melaka. The two-tone layers of the dessert make for a pleasing appearance, requiring no extra effort; the coconut milk fat is lower in density than water and hence it floats to the top.

Gula melaka,as it is known in Malaysia, is an unrefined form of palm sugar, made from sap extracted from the date, coconut or sago palm. The sap is boiled over low flame until it thickens and is left to solidify in hollow bamboo tubes, usually 3-5 inches in length, thus forming a cylindrical block of natural sweetener with a rich, complex flavor and aroma that refined sugar cannot match. The color of gula melaka varies from golden brown to a rich, dark brown. Gula melaka is extensively used throughout Southeast Asia as a flavoring agent for various culinary delights; rendang for instance, a very popular meat-based curry in Malaysia and Indonesia often includes a pinch of gula melaka. More often however, gula melaka is predominantly used for sweets and desserts. Agar-agar gula melaka is one such dessert.

Gula melaka, being an unrefined form of sugar is generally considered to be healthier than refined sugar since unrefined sugar retains more minerals. Consequently, this dessert could be considered to be relatively healthier than refined-sugar-based desserts.

Good quality thick coconut milk (known as “santan” in Malay) is imperative for a successful outcome. While canned/frozen/UHT coconut milk can be used to make this dessert as is done in modern-day households,  freshly-made coconut milk is strongly recommended, not just to ensure a quality finished product taste-wise and appearance-wise but also for health purposes as fresh is always better than unfresh. Stale coconut milk can curdle when boiled, resulting in a relatively unappetizing finished product, taste-wise and appearance-wise. Coconut milk that is too dilute i.e., the water content is too high, may result in a finished product where the coconut layer is disproportionately too thin.  Hence, it may be necessary to make adjustments to the ratios specified in the recipe depending on the quality of the coconut milk.

Pandan leaves lose their aroma and flavor as they get old. Hence, use only fresh pandan leaves, the fresher the better. The quantity can be adjusted as desired, for a stronger aroma and flavor use more, for a milder version use less.

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (about 500ml) water
  • 1 3/4 cup loosely packed agar-agar strands (or as required for the above quantity of water – follow directions on the package)
  • 110 grams – 150 grams (about 1/2 – 3/4 cups loosely packed) crushed gula melaka
  • 2-3 fresh pandan leaves – tied to a knot
  • 1 1/4 cups (about 300ml) thick coconut milk
  • Pinch of salt

 

Method:

In a heavy-bottom pan, combine water, agar-agar and gula melaka.

Over medium heat, bring to a boil.

Lower heat and simmer until agar-agar dissolves completely, stirring continuously.

Remove pandan leaf.

Add pinch of salt to the thick coconut milk.

Pour thick coconut milk into the pan of dissolved agar-agar.

Increase heat to medium-low and bring the liquid to a boil, stirring continously.

Once boiling stop heat immediately.

Pour the mixture into a mould, and leave to set undisturbed.

The agar-agar can be eaten now, but it tastes better when chilled; once cooled completely, place the container in a refrigerator. The agar-agar will separate into to two neat and distinct layers – a rich brown clear layer at the bottom, and an opaque, caramel-colored coconut milk fat layer at the top.

Unmould the agar-agar and cut to neat rectangles. Serve chilled.

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.

Mung Bean Porridge (Bubur Kacang Hijau / Bubur Kacang Ijo)

Bubur Kacang Hijau (sometimes known as “Bubur Kacang Ijo” in Indonesia), is a creamy and comforting sweet mung bean porridge. “Bubur” means “porridge”, “kacang” means “beans” and “hijau” means “green” in the Malay language which is the national language of Indonesia and Malaysia. Although Indonesian Malay and Malaysian Malay are essentially the same in that they are derived from the original Malay language, the two languages have slight differences with some words having different meanings, spelling and syntax.

Like many other dishes such as satay and rendang, this mung bean porridge is a “shared dish” having a place in both Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine although it is more popularly consumed in Indonesia. Often eaten warm, it is an ideal dessert for cold/wintery days although it could also be enjoyed chilled on hot days.

Nourishing mung beans, creamy coconut milk (known as “santan” in Malay) and fragrant pandan leaves are combined and sweetened with an unrefined form of palm sugar (known as “gula jawa” in Indonesia or “gula melaka” in Malaysia) to bring out a dessert that is not just delicious but nutritious as well. Gula jawa or gula melaka not only sweetens but adds a very distinctive flavor which cannot be replaced with modern-day refined sugar. Add gula jawa / gula melaka to your taste, some like the porridge very sweet while some like it mildly sweetened. The coconut milk may curdle when boiled together with the gula jawa / gula melaka so add it after boiling the milk.

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup mung beans
  • Gula jawa / gula melaka – as desired
  • 2-3 pandan leaves – tied to a knot
  • 1 cup thick coconut milk
  • Water as required to cook mung beans
  • 1 cm piece ginger
  • Pinch of salt

Method:

Wash and soak the mung beans in water for at least 12 hours or overnight. Soaking helps soften the beans and reduce cooking time.

Bruise the ginger or pound in a pestle and mortar till bruised but not finely crushed.

Combine the soaked mung beans, ginger, padan leaves and water as required to cook the mung beans.

Cook the beans over medium heat until beans are well cooked and very soft. If it’s too dry, add a bit of water.

Once beans are softened, pour coconut milk, pinch of salt, and bring to a boil over low heat.

Once boiling, stop heat.

To serve, dish out some mung bean porridge into a bowl and sweeten with crushed gula jawa / gula melaka as desired.