With beautiful golden beaches lined with palm trees, tea plantations nestled on misty mountain tops, bustling traffic packed cities, tuk-tuks, elephants, bananas and coconuts. Sri Lanka has so much to offer.
We visited the cultural triangle between Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Dambulla, it has a profusion of wildlife, exotic plants and World Heritage Sites. The palace in the sky at Sigiriya Rock took a mere seven years to build, which is astonishing when you see it. There are 1,200 steps to the top of the Rock Fortress, advised to do this climb early as it becomes very busy and too hot. unfortunately we made the mistake of arranging this on a Poya Day, this falls once a month when there is a full moon and also a public holiday! That said it was an amazing experience and well worth the climb.
One of my favourite pastimes when I’m abroad is visiting food markets, the heart, soul and stomach of a city. I observed fruit and vegetables that I had in all honesty never seen before. Sri Lanka grows more than 30 varieties of bananas, all with their own unique flavour. Every part of the coconut tree is put to good use from oil, arak (distilled spirit), kithul (syrup), milk, furniture, rope and more. I really enjoyed the coconut water from the king coconut, aptly named the saline of Sri Lanka.
I had the fortunate opportunity of spending an afternoon with Reggi, head chef at the Ashburnham Tea Plantation. He demonstrated to me how to make dhal, cabbage curry, roti, coconut sambol, oyster mushroom curry and a prawn curry. I was very interested to see that he didn’t use coconut milk from a tin but coconut milk powder. I’ve managed to buy some here and I find it really useful to add to rice and curries and it is much easy to store.
Here is my version of a Sri Lankan dhal, I’ve paired it with chapatis, it’s a perfect, filling veggie supper.
Sri Lankan Dhal and Chapatis
- 40 g Coriander seeds
- 20 g Cumin seeds
- 1 Cinnamon stick approx. 8cm
- 2 tsp Fenugreek seeds
- 1 tsp Cloves
- 1 tsp Cardamom seeds
- 1 tsp Black mustard seeds
- 8 Curry leaves
- 1 ½ tsp Black peppercorns
- 1 Tbls uncooked Basmati rice
- 180 g Split red lentils rinsed
- 3 tbls Coconut powder
- 6 cm piece Fresh turmeric grated + 1/2 tsp dried
- 1 Tbls Curry powder
- 1 tsp Mustard seeds
- 380-420 mls Water
- 1½ small onions
- 2 kashmiri chillis dried
- 5 tbls Vegetable oil
- 3 Cloves garlic sliced
- 4 Curry leaves
- 120 g Tomatoes chopped, fresh or tinned
- Salt to taste
- 250 g Chapati flour or wholemeal plain flour + extra for rolling
- 1 tsp Vegetable oil
- ½ tsp salt
- 225-250 mls Water
- Begin with the curry powder. Heat a heavy based frying pan to a medium high, place all of the spices in the pan with the rice. Roast for 4-5 minutes until the spices start to brown, toast and release a lovely aroma. Keep the spices moving so they don’t burnt. Remove from the heat and let it all cool down for 10 minutes.
- Once cool grind in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar. Store in an airtight container. (I used my Thermomix to grind the spices, if you don't have a spice grinder I would suggest using ground cinnamon instead of a stick. Add it half way through toasting the spices).
- Now for the dhal. Add 3 tablespoons of oil to a saucepan, slice the onion, (reserve a few slices of onion to cook with the lentils) 2 sliced cloves of garlic, dried turmeric, mustard seeds and curry leaves, add to the saucepan. Cook on a medium to low heat until translucent. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and set to one side.
- In the same saucepan add the lentils, coconut milk powder, curry powder, a few slices of onion, chopped tomatoes and 225ml water along with the fresh grated turmeric the remaining onion and garlic. Season with some salt. Heat gently and cook on a low heat for 10-15 minutes or until the lentils are cooked through, you may need to add a little more water. Add three quarters of the fried onion and garlic mixture towards the end of cooking. Check the seasoning and set to one side.
- Place the chapati or plain wholemeal flour in a bowl along with the salt. Add water a little at a time, you are looking for a soft, elastic dough. The longer you knead the dough the softer the chapatis will be.
- Heat a shallow frying pan. Lay the chapati on the pan (add no extra oil) and cook for about 20-30 seconds or until the surface is bubbling. Turn it over and cook for a further 10-15 seconds. Remove from the heat and wrap in a clean tea towel. Repeat the same process for the remaining dough. Can be prepared ahead and re-heated in a warm oven wrapped in foil.
- Place the hot dhal in a bowl and top with the remaining onion and spice mix. serve with warm chapatis.