A year ago, my wife and I left Tasmania after our beautiful location wedding and headed on our honeymoon to Sri Lanka. Neither of us really knew too much of it, except that we both had great friends from Sri Lanka, loved curry and were keen for some sun and beaches.
For almost 4 weeks we traveled from Colombo to Kandy, to Nuwara Eliya, down to Yala and then across to Unawatuna and Galle. The trip was amazing, we had a great driver who taught us a heap about the wonderful people we met, the different climates and cuisine that was available.
Meals in Sri Lanka generally started with a curry and hoppers for breakfast (a combination of rice flour, coconut milk and toddy, then formed either into strings or a pan shape, ready to scoop your curry). Lunch and dinner was simply called; “Rice and curry”.
It’s not just rice and curry. All of their curries would come with a bunch of vegetable curries, rice, a sambal, some papadum, a raita and some naan. All for the equivalent for less than AUS$6!
Sri Lanka curry is so different to the Anglo / Indian curries we eat here. There aren’t a bunch of different types of curry, it’s just curry. So you might have curried okra, beef curry, bean curry, pineapple curry…. each tastes slightly different but they all taste Sri Lankan.
Now, before I sound like an expert, I need to pass a disclaimer. To cook my curry I read through a recipe from Peter Kuruvita, found in his book “Serendip – My Sri Lankan Kitchen”. It’s a wonderful cookbook and well worth the a purchase.
So back to the recipe. Peter explains how he prepares a meat curry powder which is dry roasting a number of spices, then grinding it in a mortar and pestle. I’m a bit luckier. While we were in Sri Lanka we picked up some curry powder from a “spice merchant” (and I do use the term loosely – he tried to pass off Nair hair removal cream as an ancient Sri Lankan ointment). The curry powder is beautifully fragrant and smells strongly of coriander seeds. I’m also lucky that I had the majority of ingredients in my “spice drawer” so avoided the mass shop at the closest asian grocery. A note though, when buying your spices, get them in smaller quantities as they do loose their fragrance if you’re not using them quickly.
Meat Curry Powder
- 40 long dried red chillies
- 25g (1/3 cup) coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 3 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
- 2 cloves
- 2 green cardamon pods, bruised
- 2 cm piece cinnamon stick
- 3 cm piece pandanus leaf (optional)
- 3 cm lemongrass stem (bruised with the back of a knife)
- 2 springs fresh curry leaves (leaves picked)
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- a pinch of ground tumeric
- Place all the ingredients (except the tumeric) in a heavy based fry pan and dry roast over a very low heat for around 10 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from the heat then stir in the tumeric and let cool.
- Once cool, grind all ingredients in a mortar and pestle until a fine powder. Store in an airtight container – should last for up to a year.
Once you have your curry powder, you’re ready for action. I gave myself plenty of time to make the curry, knowing that it can happily sit on the stove while I prepared the rest of the meal (I made a dahl as well).
Sri Lankan Curry
Serves 4, low costing (once you have a stocked pantry), easy difficulty
- 500g of topside or chuck steak, cut into 2cm pieces (I got wagyu chuck from Harry at Sardes)
- 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
- 4 cloves (or 1/4 of ground cloves)
- 2 teaspoons of Sri Lankan meat curry powder (not your standard curry powder!)
- 1/2 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds (lightly roasted)
- 2 green cardamon pods (bruised)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground tumeric
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
- 5 cm piece of pandanus leaf
- 2 cm piece ginger (peeled and thinly sliced)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 small onion (finely chopped)
- 2 garlic cloves (finely sliced)
- 1 spring of fresh curry leaves (leaves picked)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional – I did)
- 1 beef stock cube (optional – I did as well!)
- Place the meat, spices, pandanus leaf and ginger in a large bowl and toss to combine well
- Heat the oil (or ghee) in a large heavy based frying pan on a low heat and cook the onion, garlic and curry leaves for around 5 minutes (or until the onions are soft, but not browned).
- Increase the heat to high and add the meat, until browned all over (approx 4 mins).
- Cover with 4 cups of water and the tomato paste and stock cubes.
- Bring to boil then reduce to a low simmer until meat is tender and sauce is thick. Peter recommend 45 minutes however I had mine on a very low simmer so it took approx 1.5 hours. Key is that the meat is soft and tender and for the sauce to reduce and thicken.
Normally in Sri Lanka we were given rice to eat with our curry but I’m a massive fan of all things roti and naan. A very good friend (and former chef) gave me his perfect naan recipe to be cooked in my pizza maker. If you aren’t lucky enough to own a pizza maker then a pizza stone in the oven works just as well.
Of all the things I am least confident in, are doughs. I make my own pasta and tortillas however I still get nervous and worry about my dough. I think I need to just back myself and do it more often. Naan dough needs to be extremely wet, so wet that you don’t really handle it much at all.
Its only the first time I’ve made these naan, but I was pretty happy with the result, perfect for slopping up my curry.
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon fresh yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 egg (lightly beaten)
- Approx 1 cup of flour
- In a mixing bow, mix the water and yeast and let it activate (bubbles)
- Add the teaspoon of sugar and egg, then mix with the mixer and a dough hook.
- Slowly add the flour until it forms into a sticky mixture that just comes away from the sides or the bowl.
- Spray the top with olive oil spray and let sit for 20 minutes
- Because you can’t really get your hands into the sticky mixture, spoon out a… spoonful onto a HEAVILY floured bench. The flour will help it prevent to sticking to the bench and to you. Slowly pull and push until it flattens out.
- Throw it (don’t actually THROW it, place it) into / onto your pizza oven / stone and cook until it bubbles and browns slightly.
- Repeat. The above was enough for around 8 oddly shaped and uneven sized naan breads.
Serve up and demolish!