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.


  1. I have that book! I haven't cooked from it nearly enough.

    1. I hope to cook from it again! If I can get some goraka, I would love to try the ambulthyial. :)

  2. Really enjoyed reading your review. Both the curry and the dessert sound (and look) wonderful! Sri Lanka is definitely a place I'd like to get to know better :)

    1. Thank you! :) I would like to get to know Sri Lanka better, too. Maybe one day, I'll travel there!


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