Sunday, 28 February 2016

cookbook review: sri lankan flavours

Sri Lankan Flavours - a cookbook by Channa Dassanayaka.

As I mentioned in my post about my 2016 resolutions, this year, I plan to finally use my neglected cookbooks, and blog about my experience with them. Here's the first installment!

So we have here Sri Lankan Flavours, authored by Channa Dassanayaka, who grew up in Sri Lanka and worked as a chef there until civil unrest in the country prompted a move to Australia. Upon a decision to write a Sri Lankan cookbook, he returned to his home country to immerse himself once more in the culture, and to collect the relevant content. The result is a warm, vibrant cookbook with a wonderfully personal touch. Aside from the typical pictures of dishes that accompany the recipes, there are also photos and narratives that offer a charming glimpse of life in Sri Lanka.

I found the recipes in this cookbook to be quite accessible. Many of the ingredients can be found in a typical well-stocked supermarket in Australia, though you probably still have to make a trip to a reasonably comprehensive Asian grocery store to procure items such as pandan leaves and chickpea flour for certain dishes. However, I have never heard of Maldive fish flakes, which make an appearance in some recipes, but I certainly interested in tracking this down. Then there are some dishes that call for goraka (or gamboge), an ingredient that is also novel to me, and I would love to get my hands on it so that I can try the straightforward yet intriguing recipe for ambulthyial, a traditional southern Sri Lankan fish curry.

The first dish I attempted from Sri Lankan Flavours was the cauliflower, cashew and green pea curry. This easy-to-make vegetarian curry dish combines the vegetables with turmeric, cumin, coriander, curry leaves, onion, garlic and chilli in coconut milk, and it is finished off with a squeeze of lemon juice. The result is mild and pleasant. Channa encourages readers to follow their tastebuds, so I used more spices than indicated, but even so I would still say this is more of a subtle curry, and if you want something with a lot of attitude, go for another curry recipe from the book. This one is splendidly uncomplicated, though, which appeals to my indolent side. I enjoyed the texture of the vegetables and cashews, and I think the curry sauce develops with time, and tastes even better the following day.

Cauliflower, cashew and green pea curry.

I also made wattalappan, a simple pudding concoction of coconut milk, palm sugar and eggs. Spiced with ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom, this baked dessert came out rich and tender, the soft and silky custard juxtaposing delightfully with the crunchy cashews that stud the surface. The recipe states that this can be baked in one large dish or smaller individual dishes, but does not mention whether baking times should be reduced for the latter. I opted to divide the mixture amongst ramekins and did not adjust the time, and the puddings turned out fine, though it is possible that they could be more wobbly. Additionally, I don't have a super-sweet tooth, so I used less sugar than suggested, which worked out well. I was also elated to see that my wattalappan looks even more smooth, delicate and enticing than the picture in the cookbook - at least, I think so! There is no recommendation as to whether this Sri Lankan pudding is to be served hot, warm, or cold, but I chilled it in the fridge before indulging, and found it enjoyable that way.

Wattalappan, a baked custard pudding described as a Sri Lankan version of creme caramel.

I found Sri Lankan Flavours to be an interesting introduction to the world of Sri Lankan cuisine. There were times when it would have been ideal to have more information, as I indicated in regards my undertaking of the wattalappan recipe; however, I haven't encountered anything too daunting, and I can sense that there is an effort by Channa to offer recipes for dishes that are easily attainable for those of us who are new to cooking Sri Lankan food, which I greatly appreciate. The recipes are also written in a way that is approachable for users of either the metric or imperial system, so bonus points for that! All in all, if you're looking for a book that can help you put a nice selection of Sri Lankan dishes on your dining table, it's definitely worth checking out Sri Lankan Flavours.

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Thursday, 18 February 2016

balsamic, black pepper and garlic braised fennel stew with tomato

Simple and satisfying: a balsamic, black pepper and garlic braised tomato-fennel stew.

Fennel is not a vegetable that I use often, as I tend towards cheaper produce, but every now and then, it begs to be consumed. Raw, it is crisp and fragrant in a salad. Braised, it boasts a voluptuously meaty presence in a stew.

For this recipe, I went for the latter as I embark on the type of kitchen adventure that I find to be most enjoyable: scanning my available ingredients, and throwing them together to create a tasty dish.

And tasty it was: I uncovered a fennel bulb from the fridge, picked a vine-ripened tomato from the garden, and introduced the pair in a pot. The fennel softens to a more yielding disposition, while the tomato breaks down, embracing the garlic, black pepper and balsamic vinegar to form a luscious base. This is an easy way to prepare fennel, one that rewards you greatly with only minimal effort.

Braised fennel in tomato, garlic, balsamic vinegar and black pepper.

braised fennel stew with tomato, garlic, black pepper, and balsamic vinegar
(serves 1, multiply the ingredients to create more servings)

1 medium to large fennel
1 medium to large tomato
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water

Chop off the fennel stalks, and cut the fennel bulb into eight wedges. The stalks and bulb are the parts that are to be braised. Reserve the fennel fronds to use as a fresh garnish.
Cut tomato into eighths.
Warm up olive oil in a saucepan over low heat, and gently fry garlic and black pepper in olive oil for 2 minutes or until the garlic is soft and golden. Add tomato and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes. Add fennel, and cook the mixture for an additional 2 minutes before incorporating balsamic vinegar, salt and water.
Bring the mixture to boil over high heat, then reduce the temperature, cover the saucepan, and allow the ingredients to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the fennel is tender-firm. Add more salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
Pour the stew into a serving dish, and top it with fennel fronds.
Serve this fennel stew by itself, with crusty bread, or stir through some freshly cooked pasta.

This delicious braised fennel stew is quick and easy to make!

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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

2-ingredient rockmelon smoothie / cantaloupe smoothie

Rockmelon/cantaloupe smoothie.

Happy Chinese New Year!

I wish I could say that I've been baking some really fabulous Chinese New Year goodies, but to be honest, my attempts have been nothing to write home about, and now that we're going through a heatwave in Perth, I am very much not inclined to continue trying. When I'm not working, you can typically find me hanging out in front of the fan, drinking cold beverages all the livelong day, and wishing I have air-con in my room.

But anyway, today, inspired by the flavours of one of my favourite Asian desserts, melon sago pudding, I whizzed up a delightfully tasty and satisfying two-ingredient smoothie, and it went down a treat. So without further ado, here's the incredibly simple recipe for this slushy, icy smoothie.

2-ingredient rockmelon smoothie / cantaloupe smoothie

2 cups diced and frozen rockmelon/cantaloupe (honeydew melon also works great!)
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup water

Thoroughly blend all the ingredients together, and voila, you have a healthy, refreshing rockmelon smoothie that tastes like Asian melon sago pudding!

Rockmelon + coconut milk = bliss.

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