Beet curry straight from Sri Lanka
Once a crossroads of European exploration, island reflects many cultures in its cuisine
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.