I chose this recipe for two reasons. 1. It looked delicious. 2. I thought it would be easy. I cook curries from scratch all the time, and so presumed this one would be no challenge for me. After last week’s Vietnamese Pork Balls, I was definitely in the mood for something that took less than half a day to make.
This curry comes from Sri Lanka, another cuisine that I’ve not tried before. Rick Stein says in the intro how the recipe has similarities to a traditional vindaloo: a Portugese-influenced dish, it contains plenty of dried red chilli, spices and vinegar. Sounds good.
There were a couple of things needed for this that I hadn’t managed to get hold of in Wing Yip last week: coconut vinegar, dried Kashmiri chillies, and curry leaves. The curry leaves were easy to find in a supermarket, but coconut vinegar? No chance. And Kashmiri chillies? I thought these would have been easy to find living in Birmingham, but none of the Asian supermarkets I visited had them. I settled on a packet of Kashmiri chilli powder.
The first step was to make the Roasted Sri Lankan Curry Powder. A blend of roasted rice, coriander, cumin, fennel, cinnamon, fenugreek, cloves, green cardamom, black mustard seeds, black peppercorns, dried Kashmiri chillies (or in this case, Kashmiri chilli powder) and turmeric. Once toasted in a dry pan, the spices were ground to a fine powder.
My mom was round at mine at the time, and was just finishing a cup of tea before she planned to head home. However, she announced that she was now going to stop for dinner because it smelt so good! Although she thought the pandan leaf smelt like semen.
Even re-reading the recipe now, it sounds simple, but this took an absolute AGE to prep! I think there was just a lot of chopping, crushing and measuring. I had also bought a shoulder of pork, that needed preparing and cutting into chunks.
Much to our delight, once fried in a little oil, the pandan leaf lost it’s semen aroma, and smelt quite nice! Once it had sizzled a little with the cinnamon and curry leaves, the onion was added and cooked until browned. All of the other ingredients were added in stages before being left to simmer for an hour.
Meanwhile, the Kalu Pol needed to be made. Translating as ‘black coconut’, it refers to a paste used to thicken curries. It’s made from roasted rice, dried Kashmiri chillies, black mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, tamarind water and freshly grated coconut.
This was my daughter Verity’s first experience of a fresh coconut, and she was fascinated by being able to hear ‘water’ inside when she shook it. We couldn’t convince her to drink it though.
Hey, maybe I’m just moaning here, but prepping a fresh coconut for just 50g of the grated stuff was a pain in the arse. And then having to toast it and grind in a pestle and mortar with the other ingredients, EXHAUSTING. The finished paste smelt very strongly of I don’t know what really, and tasted very bitter. The curry at this point tasted quite nice, and I was VERY concerned about adding this paste and ruining it all. Maybe I’d not made the paste quite right? Maybe I had burnt some of the spices? Too late now though, I stirred it into the simmering curry.
Rick says how this dish is traditionally served with kiribath (coconut rice), so I did as I was told, and made it. Essentially, this is long-grain rice simmered in coconut milk with a knot of pandan leaf for flavour. It can be served warm, or spread out flat on a plate and left to cool before being cut into diamond shapes. I served it warm.
Good news! The paste didn’t ruin my curry! It tasted amazing! It had done its job of thickening the curry, but had also given a really interesting layer and depth of flavour that balanced the original sweetness of the curry. The pork was tender, and the coconut rice complemented it perfectly. As a whole, the meal had everything to balance it: sweetness from the coconut rice, sourness from the paste and vinegar, heat from the chillies and perfectly seasoned for saltiness. Beautiful.
This took me three hours to make. Don’t get me wrong, it was beyond delicious, and we ate up every last bit between us. BUT I’ve come to the conclusion, so far, that this book is for people who really like cooking for the sake of cooking. Luckily I do. But what I mean to say, is that this doesn’t seem to be the kind of book that you could pick up on a Wednesday night after work and just throw something together. It’s definitely for leisurely weekend cooking, when the whole process can be enjoyed, and you can take your time.
Next Week: Duck Noodle Soup