Sri Lankan main course

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Kurakkan has been replaced by rice as a staple food however kurakkan is still consumed; this kurakkan flatbread is usually eaten for breakfast and sometimes dinner, but very rarely (if at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

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.