Ever since meeting my husband almost five years ago I have loved Sri Lankan food. When he was a child, his mother used to make separate “North American” food for him because he would refuse to eat the curries and rice she cooked daily. Ironically, he now asks for Sri Lankan food all the time. When he first asked me to try cooking Sri Lankan food I was very nervous: it is a complicated cuisine with many ingredients and spices in each dish. In addition, Sri Lankan meals always include rice and numerous curries; meaning several dishes need to be made each time. I wanted to respect the culture and refused to try to make the food until I could research some recipes and techniques. My mother in law insists that it is completely contrary to Sri Lankan cooking to even use a recipe: she tells me everything is “a bit of this” and “a taste of that”. When I showed her some recipes I planned to try and asked if it was like anything she made at home, she told me it sounded familiar but her recipes were in her head. The shrimp and green beans in this meal are both recipes from cookbooks, while the rice is an adaptation of a dish made by my mother in law. The recipes are listed in order of preparation, although you should prep your shrimp before cooking your rice. Warning: this meal is very spicy, if you aren’t used to heat I recommend halving the chillies!
1/4 tsp saffron threads (you can buy saffron at Loblaws but it is much more affordable from a Sri Lankan or Indian store)
1/2 cup coconut milk, warmed
2 tsp olive oil
1 cup of onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups of basmati rice (my mother in law taught me to rinse my rice several times to increase fluffiness)
4 cardamom pods, crushed
2 1/2 cups of vegetable broth (I used homemade stock I keep in the freezer)
Sauce pot (preferably with a glass lid)
Place the saffron and warm milk in a bowl and let stand for at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat your oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally until caramelized then transfer to a bowl. Place your well rinsed rice in a saucepan with the saffron mixture, cardamom, cloves and stock. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and cook for 12 minutes or until steam holes appear on the surface and rice is tender.
Remove the pot from the heat and set it aside, covered. Gently fluff rice with a fork. Stir in the caramelized onions and serve.
Several large handfuls of green beans (washed and chopped)
3 tbsp olive oil (or coconut oil)
1 cup of thinly sliced onion
Sprig of curry leaves (you can buy these in any Indian or Sri Lankan grocery store and freeze them in Ziploc bags)
1 piece of rampe (see above)
Small tomato, chopped
2 green chillies, sliced thin
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp fenugreek (in a pinch, you can substitute celery seeds but the original can be found in Sri Lankan and Indian stores)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
1/2 – 3/4 cups coconut milk
Heavy bottom frying pan
String the green beans, wash and cut into 3cm pieces. Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and add the sliced onion, curry leaves and rampe. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the coconut milk) and toss for a few minutes.
Next, add the coconut milk and bring the curry to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 7 minutes. The beans are best undercooked with a bit of crunch left.
(adapted from Sri Lankan Flavours by Channa Dassayanaka)
1- 1 1/2 lbs of shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt, to taste
2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp lime juice
2 tsp olive oil
1 cup onion, thinly sliced
5 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 green chillies, sliced
1 small cinnamon stick
1 tsp black pepper
Small tomato, chopped
Sprig of curry leaves
Rub the shrimp with the salt, chilli flakes, turmeric and lime juice and leave in a bowl to marinate for at least 20 minutes. Heat your oil in the pan on high heat and quickly stir fry the shrimp until half-cooked, about 2 minutes. Set your shrimp aside. Fry the onions, garlic, chillies, cinnamon, pepper, tomato and curry leaves until crispy. Add the shrimp and their juices back to the pan and finish cooking, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately.
(from Sri Lankan Cooking by Douglas Bullis and Wendy Hutton)