Sri Lanka: The Cookbook, written by Prakash K. Sivanathan and Niranjala M. Ellawala, features over 100 of Sri Lanka’s favorite traditional and vibrant recipes. Bringing together both Sinhalese and Tamil cooking, highlights include Chicken Biryani, Kathurumurunga Mallung (Stir-Fried Greens), Love Cake, Bithara Miris Hodi (Omelette Curry), Maalu Pang (Fish Buns), and so much more. I will also be sharing their recipe for Muttai Kulambu, a Sri Lankan Egg Curry, following the review.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Frances Lincoln in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Prakash K Sivanathan was born a Tamil in the Jaffna peninsula in the north of Sri Lanka. His wife, Niranjala M Ellawala, is a Sinhalese from the hill country in the south. They opened the Elephant Walk restaurant in London in 2004. It won multiple awards including the Cobra Good Curry Guide Award in 2006 and the best Sri Lankan Restaurant in the UK. They retired from the restaurant in 2013, but continue to share their knowledge in their Coconut Kitchens cookery school.
The recipes are arranged in a certain order from appetizers, accompaniments, main dishes, to sweets, but aren’t separated into specific chapters.
Prakash and Niranjala begin with an introduction of their beautiful country, cuisine, and its “mosaic of diversity.” They focus on the two main groups, the Sinhalese majority concentrated to the south, central, and west and the Tamils in the north and east, along with notes on the smaller Christian and Muslim populations. For those like me who are new to Sri Lankan cooking, the glossary with descriptions of some of the more common ingredients, their name in Tamil and/or Sinhalese, and where to find them is particularly helpful. Basic foundation recipes for Thool (Roasted Tamil Curry Powder) and Thuna Paha (Sinhalese Curry Powder) are also included.
The gorgeous photography is provided by Kim Lightbody. Most of the recipes are accompanied by a styled, full-page photo of the finished dish. There are also a few street and market photos included. The book is nicely flexibound, but you will need something heavy to hold it open on the first and last few recipes. The texture of the cover paired with the interior photography makes it a perfect coffee table book.
Headnotes accompany each recipe with background information, menu pairings, serving size, and a key to note whether the dish is Tamil, Sinhalese, Vegetarian, Fish, Meat, or Dessert. The titles are written in English and Tamil or Sinhalese. Measurements are listed in US Customary and Metric.
This book is a great pick for those interested in Sri Lankan Cuisine. I personally knew very little about Sri Lanka and this was such a wonderful introduction. Curry and coconut lovers will find an abundance of recipes. There is also plenty to choose from for vegetarians. Many of the dishes come together easily and are packed with flavor. Others, particularly certain curries and the Chicken Biryani, do take some time to put together and simmer. The ingredient lists are on the long side for some of the recipes, but they mostly comprise of spices. Having a market with South Asian ingredients nearby will be helpful. Some of the more difficult to locate items include string hopper flour, roasted red rice flour, chana dal, curry leaves, fenugreek, rampe (pandan), kathurumurunga (can be substituted with green cabbage or kale), jackfruit, tamarind, mung dal, and kithul jaggery.
Muttai Kulambu (Sri Lankan Egg Curry)
Muttai Kulambu is a flavorful everyday Tamil curry. It comes together easily for a quick brunch, lunch or dinner. Onions and curry leaves are cooked with mustard seeds, then mixed together with garlic, spices, and coconut milk to make the base for the curry. After a quick simmer, halved hard-boiled eggs are added and heated through briefly before serving. It is a wonderful way to use up extra eggs. For a variation, you can add pieces of a spiced omelette to the curry in place of the hard-boiled eggs.
The Muttai Kulambu uses one teaspoon of Thool, a Tamil roasted curry powder. It packs a bit more heat compared to its Sinhalese counterpart. The recipe for Thool (Prakash and Niranjala provide two versions and I have shared method b) makes enough for 25-35 curry dishes, but the mixture can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 months. I quartered the ingredients when I made it.
Curry leaves, native to South Asia, have a slightly spicy and citrus aroma. I have been able to find them in the produce section of my local Asian market. They come in a big bunch, so I usually tightly wrap up the extra and store in the freezer for up to a month or two if I don’t quickly go through them all. I have also seen dried leaves in Whole Foods and other larger grocery stores with a South Asian section, but try to avoid these. The fresh leaves have a more pronounced flavor.
I also made Veechu Rotti (Thin Flatbread), Kiribath (Coconut Milk Rice), Bathala, and Isso Baduma (Devilled Prawns).
Veechu Rotti is a thin flatbread with a wonderfully flaky texture. The dough is stretched into a thin square (they mention that the experts do this by rolling it in a circular motion through the air), folded into a multi-layered square, and cooked in a hot pan until golden. It is best served with curry, Pol Sambol, or Seeni Sambol. If you happen to have any extra, you can also tear up the pieces and use it in Kothu Rotti, a flatbread stir-fry with vegetables and chicken/meat. I didn’t have a single piece to spare, but will definitely be doing this next time.
Kiribath is a Sinhalese coconut milk rice. Coconut milk and salt are added to steamed rice and cooked until absorbed. For presentation, the platter is cut into diamonds or squares. It is traditionally used to mark the new year in April and other special celebrations. Serve with Pol Sambol, Katta Sambol, or Ambul Thial.
Bathala is a Sinhalese dish combining chopped sweet potatoes with a spiced coconut mixture. It was fairly easy to put together and so full of flavor.
Isso Baduma is another flavorful Sinhalese dish. Prawns are stir-fried just until cooked through with a mixture of bell peppers, onions, ketchup, soy sauce, chilli powder, and sesame oil. It was developed as a bar food and other ingredients are also often devilled such as squid, cuttlefish, pork, and potato.
Muttai Kulambu (Sri Lankan Egg Curry) Recipe
Muttai Kulambu (Sri Lankan Egg Curry)
Excerpt from Sri Lanka: The Cookbook
4 hard-boiled eggs
1 1/2 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
6 fresh curry leaves
6 garlic cloves, cut into quarters
2 green chillies, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
200 ml (7 fl oz, generous 3/4 cup) coconut milk
400 ml (14 fl oz, 1 2/3 cups) water
1 tablespoon Thool (curry powder): see recipe below
1/4 teaspoon salt
Shell the boiled eggs, cut them in half lengthways and set aside.
Heat oil in a medium, lidded saucepan over low heat, then add the mustard seeds. Let them cook for a few seconds until they pop, then add the onion and curry leaves and stir-fry for a few seconds. Add the garlic, chillies, fenugreek and cumin seeds, and sauté until the onions are soft and turning golden.
Add the turmeric and give it a stir. Add the coconut milk, water, curry powder and salt, and mix well. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, half-cover the pan with the lid and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened.
Gently slide in the halved eggs, then half cover with the lid again and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Taste for salt, then remove from heat and serve.
Thool Method B
20 fresh curry leaves
250 grams (9 ounces, 2 1/2 cups) ground coriander
50 grams (1 3/4 ounces, 1/2 cup) ground cumin
75 grams (2 3/4 ounces, 3/4 cup) fennel powder
20 grams (3/4 ounce, 3 tablespoons) ground fenugreek
250 grams (9 ounces, 2 1/2 cups) chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
50 grams (1 3/4 ounces, 1/2 cup) ground black pepper
Dry roast the curry leaves in a dry frying pan (skillet) over a low heat until beginning to colour. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Mix all the other ingredients together to form a blended powder.
Dry-roast this powder very lightly in a dry frying pan over a very low heat, for about a minute until the colour darkens slightly. Remove from heat, stir and let it cool. Mix in the whole roasted curry leaves before storing.
Be warned that there will be a very strong smell of chillies around the house and the mixture can burn very quickly.