The Province

Beet curry straight from Sri Lanka

Once a cross­roads of Euro­pean ex­plo­ration, is­land re­flects many cul­tures in its cui­sine

- JU­LIAN ARM­STRONG ju­lia­n­arm­

Think of curry with a saltysour-sweet taste and a bit more heat than in In­dian cui­sine, and you have the most pop­u­lar dish from Sri Lanka, the is­land coun­try off the coast of In­dia that was once a cross­roads of Euro­pean ex­plo­ration and trade.

The ti­tle of the new book, A Feast of Serendib: Recipes From Sri Lanka ($51.48, Mas­cot Books), uses the an­cient Per­sian name for the is­land, ex­plains au­thor Mary Anne Mo­han­raj, who came to the United States from Sri Lanka at the age of two.

She presents her na­tive cui­sine in a big, in­for­ma­tive book of more than 100 fam­ily-style recipes.

Waves of im­mi­gra­tion — Por­tuguese, then Dutch, Bri­tish and, more re­cently, Chi­nese — in­flu­enced is­land cook­ing, says Mo­han­raj, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the English depart­ment of the Univer­sity of Illi­nois in Chicago.

Her mother, who im­mi­grated

in 1973, did the heavy lift­ing in adapt­ing dishes from her Tamil back­ground to ac­com­mo­date Amer­i­can in­gre­di­ents.

Mo­han­raj re­did the work, us­ing newly avail­able foods

and fresh re­search into Sri Lankan recipes.

She cites cook­books that helped her, in par­tic­u­lar The Com­plete Asian Cook­book (Hardie Grant) by Char­maine Solomon, a vet­eran Aus­tralian

writer who was born in Sri Lanka.

Shop­ping for the essen­tial sea­son­ings is eas­i­est in In­dian stores, but su­per­mar­kets in­creas­ingly stock these prod­ucts, says Mo­han­raj, who in­cludes one of the best in­gre­di­ent chap­ters I have ever seen in a book.

Avoid yel­low curry pow­der; Sri Lankans use dark-roasted and she in­cludes a recipe so you can make your own.

Curry leaves come fresh, frozen or dried; if you can't find them, skip them, Mo­han­raj di­rects.

You can check Mo­han­raj's cook­ing style at serendibki­tchen.


3 tbsp (45 mL) veg­etable oil 3 medium onions, chopped fine

1/4 tsp (1 mL) black mus­tard seed

1/4 tsp (1 mL) cumin seed

4 large beets (1 lb/454 g), peeled, in thick strips or chunks

1 to 2 tsp (5 to 10 mL) salt, to taste

1 rounded tsp (5 mL) ground turmeric

2 to 3 tsp (10 to 15 mL) fresh lime juice

1 to 3 chopped green chilies (jalapeno, Ana­heim, banana or poblano), to taste

2 dozen curry leaves, op­tional (can sub­sti­tute 8 to 12 curry leaves with zest of 1 lime and 3 to 4 fresh basil leaves)

2 cups (500 mL) coconut milk

Heat oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and sauté onions with mus­tard seed and cumin seed un­til translu­cent and golden, but not browned.

Add beets, salt, turmeric, lime juice, chilies and curry leaves.

Con­tinue cook­ing about 10 to 15 min­utes, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, just enough so the onions and beets caramelize but do not burn.

Lower heat to medium and add coconut milk.

Cook, stir­ring fre­quently, un­til the beets are cooked through and the coconut milk has re­duced so it coats the beets, about 10 min­utes. Serve hot.

Serves: 4

 ?? MARY ANNE MO­HAN­RAJ ?? If you can't find curry leaves, you can sub­sti­tute them with lime zest and basil leaves in this recipe for beet curry.
MARY ANNE MO­HAN­RAJ If you can't find curry leaves, you can sub­sti­tute them with lime zest and basil leaves in this recipe for beet curry.

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