Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sri Lankan Family Dinners

Typical pot and stove set up. 

The most memorable part of my Sri Lankan vacation was cooking and eating in peoples' homes. Seeing how people operate in their kitchen was fascinating, especially when the kitchens were tiny. Mise en place is a given to keep everything neat and orderly. Watching more than one person cook in the kitchens (excluding us tourists) was fascinating because you could see how they flowed together - no bumping into each other, and oftentimes someone would know what to do without being told.

Mise en place is a necessity

For many of the family kitchens, smoke was the elusive ingredient that will be hard for me to recreate at home. Smoke permeated the curries and even some of the sweets, like the coconut treacle, since so many dishes were cooked in clay pots over wood fires.

Bright and cheery kitchen

Patterns start to emerge. Shallots and garlic are the base of most curries. Roasted curry powder is used for meat while unroasted curry powder is for vegetables. Eggplants and green beans are popular vegetables, and vegetables are usually stewed.

Giant machete blade used to slice the shallots. I passed on using it.

Since I had only had Sri Lankan food once prior to visiting the country, I thought the food would be like South Indian food, and some of it was, but there were differences that stood out: no basmati rice, no ghee (rarely any dairy used), red rice flour, string hoppers, coconut symbol, and coconut oil and milk for everything. Maybe these are all in Indian cuisine as well and I don't know enough about it to say one way or another.

String hoppers! We bought the press and steaming trays, so hopefully we'll have theses soon.

We've been trying to cook many of the foods we enjoyed in Sri Lanka, like the dal, pepper chicken, dosas (thoasai in Sinhalese), fried cookies, and curries. Although I really want to eat something else, I have a "use it or lose it" mentality, so we'll be eating at least a few Sri Lankan meals a week until we can nail some of the dishes we want to recreate.

Scraping coconut is a never-ending job. Grated coconut was used to make coconut milk.

The dosas have proven to be the hardest to make, but I had minor success with them two nights ago. Part of the problem is that it's too cold in our kitchen to get a rapid ferment, but I have a bread proofing box on its way to save the day (or dosas, if you will).

Our second feast

The closest Sri Lankan restaurant to me is 30-miles away, in a sleepy suburban town. I do want to check it out, and I shouldn't complain about the distance since it's in the same time zone as me. However, since the two of us are still cooking the food and we're armed with 3 new cookbooks we bought in Colombo, it will probably be awhile.

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