No place like home

  1. ??????????

I am a true believer in the phrase ‘a blessing in disguise’. My passport was nearing expiry and I had to make a quick trip to Sri Lanka to get it renewed (the express service is only available in Sri Lanka). While complaining to my husband about the dreaded visit to Colombo (when in Sri Lanka I try to avoid going to the capital city at all costs), in the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘Four glorious days of tropical bliss, not bad…not bad at all!’. Any excuse to go back home.

??????????

It’s a long four hour drive from the airport to my mom’s hometown, Matale, which is situated in the hilly Central province. But the beautiful scenery along the way makes up for it (as did the constant chatter between me, my sister, my eleven year old niece and their adorable septuagenarian driver, Karunaratne).
It’s fascinating to watch the landscape change from groves of palm trees to misty blue mountains as you make the ascent to the hills.

Something magical happens when the sun sets in Sri Lanka. I have always observed this, even as a child. It’s one of those things that cannot be described in words. The mellow golden rays of the setting sun transforms everything it touches – from trees covered in frothy pink blossoms to paddy fields stretching out into the distance, from the way side tea shops with bunches of bananas hanging from their tin roofs to people walking back home with stray dogs barking at their heel. It’s so beautiful it makes your heart ache…

??????????

Teak trees casting shadows in the evening sun…

Picture1

Lonesome souls – a little hut on a paddy field and a crane looking for its supper.

??????????

A limestone kiln by the road.

DSCN8109

Villagers threshing paddy.

Picture2

An old Hindu temple and and a quaint ice cream shop.

??????????

Farmers’ market – the real deal!

Colombo (the capital) was as always, chaotic. Horns blaring, people rushing about everywhere including the middle of the roads, carbon fumes delicately perfuming the air, and the heat! it can even penetrate an air-conditioned car – utter bliss! (now you know why I stick to the hills)

After getting the passport done, I was to meet one of my dear friends in front of the passport office (we were later supposed to go for a tamarind mojito). He did turn up – on the opposite side of the road – BIG mistake! He was saying something with his arms and legs and trying to make himself heard above the noise of the stream of traffic and people and dogs and whistle-blowing traffic cops flowing in between. A few minutes into this mime, a cop marches up to him and yells at him to get a ‘move-on’ as his taxi is blocking the road and the next thing I see he gets into the car and disappears into the madness. That’s all I saw of my friend and the elusive tamarind mojito he promised. He later told me it was like a scene from a movie – yeah, like a Woody Allen…

A quick stop at the Barefoot Café provided a much needed respite from the chaos of the city.

IMG00980-20140320-1424The Barefoot Gallery and Café is the brainchild of Barbara Sansoni, a celebrated Sri Lankan artist and textile designer. She started Barefoot 40 years ago as a rehabilitation programme for rural women where they were taught the art of weaving and creating handloom fabrics. Barefoot is famous for its beautifully designed, vibrantly coloured stuffed toys, bags, clothes, jewellery and home accessories, mostly made out of hand-woven, naturally dyed fabrics.

The café is built around an open courtyard and the gallery is in an extension of the building. Two monstrous wooden statues of Hindu Gods guard the entrance and there is a cool deep green pond at the far end of the courtyard – it was lovely to sit outside and sip on a long icy lime and mint while we waited for our food (nothing great to write about, unfortunately).

Picture10DSCN8153DSC_2019After a few bites of chewy, cold grilled pork wraps, we popped into the adjacent gallery. I completely lost track of time once inside  – beautiful hand woven napkins in rainbow hues, hand-crocheted doilies and table runners; delicate and cobweb-like, quirky wooden candle stands shaped and painted like dolls in udarata (traditional Sinhalese) dress, forks and spoons made from Kitul wood, rolls and rolls of cloth in eye-popping colours and abstract geometrical patterns, patchwork wall-hangings – all made by hand. Sri Lankans have truly gifted hands, their workmanship is just exquisite.
I greedily bought everything that caught my eye, all the while wishing  I had taken a bigger suitcase!

Picture1And four days just flew by…

Back in Dubai and it’s the weekend. I made a special Sri Lankan lunch to nurse my homesick heart – yellow rice, chicken curry, pappodams and a lovely brinjal (eggplant) salad which is so simple to make but complements the rice and curry perfectly.

Picture12

Picture11

Purple beauties – fresh brinjals sold at a wayside veg shop in Matale and the ones I had to settle for back in Dubai 😦

Picture13DSC_2056

 


Brinjal (aubergine) Salad
Serves 4

4 large brinjals (aubergines)
1 large red onion, cut into rings
2 green chillies, sliced finely
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp vinegar
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
oil for deep frying

Slice the brinjals into 1/2 cm thick slices. Sprinkle over the turmeric and 1/2 tsp of salt and toss well, coating the slices evenly. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and fry the brinjal slices in batches, till golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.

Put the mustard seeds and vinegar into a mortar and give it a good grind till it forms a grainy paste. Combine the sliced onions and green chillies in a serving dish and add the mustard paste and the remaining salt. Give it a good toss. Add the fried brinjal and toss gently.

Serve as an accompaniment to rice and curry.

Picture14

 

 

Advertisements

It’s a new year – once again!

Gallery 6

There’s something very refreshing about a new year – you feel a sense of accomplishment and hope as you look forward to new beginnings and fresh possibilities. It’s like climbing a mountain – you eagerly scramble to the top and peep over the edge of December, curiously staring beyond at January wondering what the next 12 months will unfold…

For us the old year ended with a bang and the new once started with this steaming hot plate of kiri bath also known as milk rice, a traditional Sri Lankan dish usually eaten for breakfast. It’s a sort of savoury rice pudding, prepared by cooking rice in coconut milk and served with a spicy onion relish called lunu-miris or pol sambol. This dish takes centre stage at any celebratory meal in Sri Lanka. Be it a birthday, a new year or even the beginning of a new month you will find a big plate piled high with diamond shaped pieces of snowy white kiri bath sitting proudly in the middle of the breakfast table.

DSC_1701

Being a newbie in the food blogosphere I cannot help but spend all my spare time putting together new ideas for my blog. Many people compare a blog to one’s own child; you feed it, nurture it and watch it grow and you glow with pride when someone stops by to admire it and pay it a compliment. Now I have twelve long months stretching out ahead of me to nurture and grow my new baby.

So here’s a sneak peek into what’s in store for The Stove & I (literally) in 2014…

Gallery 5Bon Appetit! in 80 tongues
OK, 80 is a slight exaggeration…I will have themed months where tried and tested recipes from various cuisines will be featured in the blog. In addition to the obvious Italian, Mexican and French dishes, I will explore (virtually and hopefully physically) the far flung corners of the world for unique, authentic and never-before-heard or tasted recipes. Boy, aren’t we feeling adventurous this year?

DSC_1709You are what you eat and read
Here’s my entire repertoire of cookbooks and books related to food – most of them, gifts. Well, it’s time to hit the book stores or hit the order button on Amazon. A book I will definitely add to my collection will be the upcoming cookbook by food blogger Mimi Thorisson (it’s scheduled to be released this month). I also have a cupboard full of BBC GoodFood and Spinneys Food magazines, they are filled with amazing recipes and you will always find the latest copies lying on my bedside table (I have to read something before I sleep – it’s kind of an addiction).

SL FlagDelve deeper into Sri Lankan food (dive in hook, line and sinker!)
I need to dig deeper and find out more about the origins of Sri Lankan cuisine. I have been eating Sri Lankan food all my life but have never gone beyond the process of cooking, devouring and enjoying the food. It’s a complex cuisine, heavily influenced by so many different cultures and it begs to be explored. Unfortunately there isn’t much literature available on Sri Lankan  cooking so this one’s going to be a challenge! 


Sugar and spice and all things nice
I’ve become a hoarder of all things starting with F and ending with D. This year I will be treating myself to gourmet foodie treats and quirky food stuff like the miniature Tabasco bottle you see in the pic below, whenever and wherever I happen to find them and review them (of course!).

I was rummaging through my pantry cupboards the other day and found this little treasure trove of treats…

DSC_1487

These bottles of truffle oil and balsamic vinegar were winking at me from a stall selling salad oils and vinegars of all sorts at the Ripe farmers’ market. There were so many different oils to choose from but you can have a little taste before deciding which ones to buy. Remember the scene from Ratatouille where Remy finds out how different food combinations create wonderful flavours? He has a piece of cheese in one hand and a strawberry in the other – first he takes a bite of cheese and a couple of tiny stars pop around his head, then he takes a bite of the strawberry and a few more stars pop around, finally he takes a bite of both cheese and strawberry and fireworks explode around him. That’s exactly what happened to me when I tasted some of this truffle oil and then some balsamic vinegar and as suggested by the sweet gentleman behind the counter a combination of both… fireworks! The taste of earthy truffles combined with the rich flavour of concentrated grape juice was pure magic! I can’t wait to try it in one of my recipes, any suggestions?

Fooderati Arabia – hobnob with fellow foodies in Dubai
Fooderati Arabia is a group of bloggers based in the UAE. It’s the brainchild of two passionate foodies My Custard Pie and I Live in a Frying Pan and has been cooking up a storm in the UAE food bloggers scene since 2010. I was supposed to attend my first ever FIA coffee morning last weekend and missed it because I got my AM and PM mixed up in the alarm clock! Hence one of my foodie resolutions this year will be ‘Never miss another FIA coffee morning, even if it means having to wake up at 7am on a Saturday morning! (I’m so not a morning person).

Guests Posts
Food as seen through someone else’s eyes… can be quite refreshing and entertaining. I’ve already got my first guest in mind – but it will require a considerable amount of convincing before I get him to agree.

Here’s to new beginnings and another new mountain to conquer – hope you join me in the climb to the top!

Happy New Year!

DSC_1670


Kiri bath (milk rice)
Serves 4-5

2 cups Basmati
3 cups water
2 cups thick coconut milk
2 tsp salt

Soak the rice in cold water for 30 minutes. Drain the rice and put into a pan with the water and bring to the boil. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Add coconut milk and salt, stir well with the handle of a wooden spoon, cover pan and cook on low heat for a further 10-15 minutes, till all the milk is absorbed and the rice is cooked to a porridge like consistency. Spoon the kiri bath on to a flat plate while still hot and shape it into a circle about 6cm thick. Using a blunt knife mark the circle into diamond shapes and serve with lunu-miris or pol sambol.

Easy lunu-miris

1 red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp chilli powder
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tsp dried Maldive fish flakes (optional)
Juice of half a lime
Salt to taste

Put all the ingredients (except the lime juice) into a mortar and pestle and give it a good grind. Once all the ingredients are combined add a good squeeze of lime juice, mix well and serve.

‘Tis the season to be jolly – and make something Christmassy!

Featured image

I love Christmas. I love everything about Christmas – the colours, the smells, the excitement, the presents, good old Mr. Clause and the radio blaring out cheerful holiday tunes… ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year..’! I’m Buddhist and Christmas is not celebrated as much over here (you won’t find neon reindeer prancing around people’s front porches!) but you cannot escape that festive feeling in the air, come December.

Gallery 1
To bring in some Christmas cheer and fill the house with the delicious smells of baking I decided to roll up my sleeves and attempt at making (trumpet call and drum-roll) the King of patisserie Eric Lanlard’s raspberry and chocolate tart. A very ambitious dessert for someone who’s made a tart only once in her life (pastry crumbled and the savoury filling was heavy) but who cares, it’s Christmas! Besides I’m not very fond of heady fruity puds and cakes which are traditional Christmas fare. Everyone loves chocolate and the raspberries add that perfect touch of Christmas red.

I also made an Asian inspired (Sri Lankan to be precise) starter – fish cutlets. Not the fanciest of starters to serve at a festive dinner party but they are delicious, and I gave these plain Janes an elegant makeover by making a little tower out of them, like a mini croquembouche  –  you see, it’s all in the presentation!

Gallery 4
I spent an entire morning (during my weekend of course) shopping for the ingredients. Then I locked myself in the kitchen and did not emerge till Sunday morning when I went for work (in the Middle East the weekend falls on Friday and Saturday). I swore to myself I will not set foot in the kitchen for a long time to come. It was exhausting work and there was a lot of nail biting, hair pulling and stamping as well as moments of sheer elation. Oh the pains and joys of cooking!

First things first – the starter.

Fish cutlets are pretty simple to make and do not require fancy ingredients – tinned tuna, potato, some red onion and green chillies and a few pinches of spices. They are shaped like little spheres, you can shape them any way you want but the original Sri Lankan cutlet is shaped into a perfect little ball. These are then crumbed and deep fried till golden. Soft and moist on the inside and golden and crunchy on the outside, these cutlets are delicious served straight out of the frying pan.

Gallery 7

Gallery 9
And here’s my little tower of fish cutlets served on a very special plate. This is a replica of the china used for private dining services in the first-class suites of the RMS Titanic which I bought from a Titanic artefact exhibition in Calgary. The matching tea cup below is one of the artefacts from the shipwreck.

DSC_0993
Gallery 11

Moving on to the tart…

Making a tart is laborious work, especially when it’s Eric Lanlard’s tart! But I was up early morning ready to tackle the dreaded shortcrust pastry. A buttery and chocolaty aroma wafted from the pastry dough and just as I had anticipated the baking tart shell filled the house with delicious smells.

I took pictures of these gorgeous raspberries while the pastry case cooled down.

DSC_0792

Gallery 17

While rolling out the pastry I knew something wasn’t right. It started crumbling and sticking on to the rolling pin, but I was too impatient to get it in the oven, especially when I have been dreaming big beautiful tart dreams the night before. There are some things you just cannot rush…I realised this (maybe a little too late) when I plopped the tart crust out of the baking tin on to a plate and it broke into smithereens! My heart sank right to the bottom of my stomach. My tart dreams were shattered.

I was tempted to start all over but instead I crumbled the shards and mixed it with butter and made a sort of crumble which I used to line the bottom of the tart tin. Then I filled it with raspberries and poured the chocolate ganache over the top. Instead of being cosily enveloped in a flaky chocolaty tart case the silky ganache had to lie uncomfortably on  a gravelly mixture of burnt crumbs!

Gallery 15

I spent the next half hour looking for some guinea pigs to try my tart. My berry-hating son ran away in horror when he saw the raspberries hidden beneath the chocolate but my husband was not so lucky. He pronounced it ‘you-get-used-to-the-taste-after-a-few-forkfuls’. It did not taste too bad. The ganache is decadently rich and smooth and if you can get the pastry right this one’s a keeper. I have given the recipe below for all those baking goddesses who can turn out picture perfect tarts with two flicks of their magical rolling pins.

As for me, well, I think I’ll stick to cupcakes for a while.  Happy holidays! xx


Fish Cutlets

SL Flag

     


2 tins of good quality tuna in oil
2 medium sized potatoes, peeled
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
2-3 fresh green chillies, finely chopped
2-3 curry leaves, finely shredded
1-2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp oil and extra for deep frying
1 egg, beaten
Breadcrumbs
Salt to taste

Boil the potatoes in salted water till soft and well cooked. Roughly dice the boiled potato and put in a large bowl. Add the spices and salt to the potato and gently mash together to incorporate the spices and keep aside. Drain most of the oil from the tuna (keep about a tablespoon, this will make the mixture moist) and empty into another bowl. Add the chopped green chillies to the tuna.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Once the oil is hot add the onion. When the onion turns soft and slightly brown add the  shredded curry leaf. Sauté for a minute or so. Add the tuna and green chillies and fry for a further minute. Finally add the spiced potato and give it a good mix. Add more salt if required. Fry the mixture for 2-3 minutes and turn off the heat.

Once the mixture has cooled down, shape into bite sized balls using your palms. Cool the shaped balls for a while in the fridge before frying (they’ll keep their shape better). Dip each ball in beaten egg and roll in the breadcrumbs till well coated.

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and once it is nice and hot drop in 2-3 cutlets at a time and fry till golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately with some chilli sauce for dipping.

DSC_0936

Eric Lanlard’s Raspberry & Chocolate Tart
😐 = my rating for the tart

50g (2oz) cocoa powder
50g (2oz) golden icing sugar
150g (5oz) unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing
3 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
500g (1lb) raspberries

For the ganache
200g (7oz) dark chocolate, roughly chopped
200ml (7fl oz) single cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
75g (3oz) unsalted butter

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and icing sugar together into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub in using your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and gently mix together, then add the vanilla and combine to form a smooth dough. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (fan 170°C)/375°F/gas mark 5.

Lightly grease a 24 cm (9½in) diameter tart tin. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and carefully use to line the tin. Cover with ovenproof clingfilm and prick a few holes to avoid pockets of air while it bakes. Fill the pastry case with baking beans and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the clingfilm and beans and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes. Leave to cool.

To make the ganache, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, making sure the surface of the water does not touch the bowl. Meanwhile, put the cream into a saucepan and heat until steaming hot, but do not let it boil.

Remove the melted chocolate from the heat and slowly pour in the cream, gently stirring the mixture. Add the vanilla, then the butter and stir together.

Pack the cooled pastry case with raspberries, saving a few for decoration. Pour the hot chocolate ganache over the raspberries to fill to the top of the pastry.

Leave to set in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Serve decorated with the reserved raspberries dusted with a little icing sugar.

DSC_0851
Fa la la la laaaa la la la laaaaa!



The perfect pol sambol

SL Flag

Whenever I think of Sri Lankan food the first thing that comes to my mind is pol sambol –  a coconut relish made with freshly grated coconut, dried red chillies, red onions, salt, lime juice and umbalakada (also known as Maldive fish) which is cured fish traditionally produced in the Maldives and commonly used in Sri Lankan dishes. Pol sambol is served as an accompaniment to rice, iddi appa – string hoppers (stringy rice pancakes), appa – hoppers (a sort of rice flour pancake) roti and even plain bread and butter (look out for a post on Sri Lankan food later). It goes well with everything but I prefer to eat it with steaming hot rice.

This dish reminds me of picnics we used to have in a place called Riverston in Sri Lanka. It’s an isolated little mountain range where you find grass growing in the middle of the road and tall fragrant pine trees growing thick on either side. Our picnic spot used to be next to a beautiful little stream. We would take a dip in the icy cold water before tucking into little parcels of rice, pol sambol and other gorgeous curries all wrapped in banana leaves. The aroma of the banana leaf and the rich curries combined with the fresh mountain air and the tinkle of the stream was just divine…

????????????????????????????????????
Harsha Matarage

Back to pol sambol.

Sri Lankan cuisine is a lot similar to South Indian food, especially that of Kerala (I have had the wonderful opportunity to experience authentic Keralite dishes as my husband is from Kerala and his mom and sisters are brilliant cooks). Our iddi appa is known to them as iddi appam, appa is appam, and pittu (a breakfast dish made out of rice flour and coconut) – puttu. We often argue over the origins of these dishes but the differences between the two cuisines are so fine that it is difficult to say who invented what. Fortunately no claims have yet been made on our humble pol sambol.

The authentic way of preparing a pol sambol is by grinding it on a rectangular block of granite with a granite rolling-pin of sorts which is known as a miris-gala in Sinhalese (literally translated to chilli-stone). These grinding stones are used for grinding all sorts of pastes used in Sri Lankan curries. Not everyone living outside Sri Lanka owns a miris-gala and the one I have is a spare from my sister-in-law. A good old stone mortar and pestle works just fine.

DSC_0379

Pol sambol is best prepared with fresh ingredients but I have given substitutes in the recipe as some of the ingredients can be difficult to get hold of.

Ingredients 2 - Copy

First, throw in the dried red chillies and salt on to the grinding-stone (or into the mortar and pestle) and grind into a fine paste – this requires a lot of elbow grease but don’t be disheartened because the paste is the backbone of the entire dish, you need to get it right. If the mixture gets too dry and difficult to grind add a teaspoon of water (no more than a teaspoon otherwise it will be too wet). You know it’s ready when there are no chilli seeds visible in the paste. Add the Maldive fish flakes (if using) and give it a little grind – don’t overdo it, you want to have little flecks of fish in the sambol to give it texture.

Grinding

Next, add the coconut and combine with the paste. Use the pestle to push the paste into the coconut so it absorbs the flavour and colour of the chilli paste. Throw in the red onions. Give these little rubies a good bash with the pestle and mix it with the coconut. Do not grind the onion too finely; we are looking for little chunks, not a slimy mush.

Grinding 2

That’s your basic pol sambol, done. You can make a variation of this by sautéing the pol sambol in mustard seeds, curry leaves and sliced onion (it’s called badapu (sautéed) pol sambol and I absolutely love it!). If you are tempted to try both, divide the coconut mixture into two parts.

To finish off the basic version, add a generous squeeze of lime juice and give it a good mix (best done using your bare hands. It may seem a bit repulsive but somehow the flavour intensifies when mixed with your fingers).

Lime juice

Now for the tempered version. Get a nice frying pan (the one I have used is another typical South Asian cooking utensil used for making hoppers and doubles as a frying pan).

DSC_0585

Heat some oil on high heat. When the oil is nice and hot throw in the mustard seeds and when they start to splutter add the curry leaves and sliced onions. Sauté well till the onion turns brown and add the pol sambol (the one without the lime juice). Give it a good mix and let the mixture dry out a bit before taking it off the fire.

DSC_0583

Gallery - steps

The perfect Sri Lankan pol sambol – two ways!

DSC_0634

DSC_0652

Spoon


Pol Sambol

1 freshly grated coconut
(substitute – desiccated coconut. Before using, sprinkle some water over the coconut and microwave for a minute to moisten the coconut).
5 whole dried red chillies
(substitute – 1/2 tsp of red chilli flakes and 1 tsp of red chilli powder, adjust depending on the amount of heat you can handle!)
6 red button onions / small pink shallots
(substitute – 2 tbsp roughly chopped red onion)
1 tbsp Maldive fish
(optional, unfortunately there’s no substitute for this)
1 tsp salt
Juice of one lime

Throw in the whole chillies (or chilli flakes and chili powder) and salt into a mortar and pestle and grind till it turns into a fine paste (there should be no visible chilli seeds). Next, add the Maldive fish and mix in with the paste. Add the onions. Using the pestle crush the onions and combine with the chilli paste. Finally add the grated coconut and give it a good mix with the pestle till the paste is completely mixed in with the coconut.

For the basic pol sambol, add a generous squeeze of lime and mix well, ideally using your hands – yes! Using a squeaky clean hand, mix the sambol using gentle pressure for about 15 seconds, this intensifies the flavour of the sambol. Serve immediately with rice, string hoppers, hoppers, roti, bread and butter or just about anything you fancy.

Sautéed pol sambol
Do not add lime juice to the final coconut mixture. Heat around 1 tbsp of oil in a frying pan until very hot. Throw in 1 tsp of mustard seeds. When they start to pop and splutter, add around 2 tbsp of finely sliced red onion and 5-6 curry leaves. Sauté until onions turn golden brown. Add the coconut mixture and give it a good mix. Sauté the sambol until the coconut turns slightly dry (around 2-3 minutes).  Serve immediately or let it cool down completely and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator (keeps well for 2-3 weeks).

DSC_0682