On our recent trip to Sri Lanka, we experienced a land of raw beauty, friendly smiles and ever so flavorful food.
Since ancient times, Ceylon, (Declared Republic of Sri Lanka in 1972), has been known as a center for spice trading. Drawing explorers from all over the world, including the Portuguese, Malays, Dutch and Ceylon’s South Indian neighbors. This blend of cultures through Sri Lanka’s history has made the native cooking of this beautiful island as rich and diverse as it’s people.
Though Sri Lankan cooking has parallels to South Indian food with its use of chilis, cardamom, cumin and coriander; there are unique blends of ingredients and preparation of dishes that are specific to this fertile spice island.
Most Sri Lankan meals include heavily spiced coconut milk based curries with rice as it’s staple. Specific to the region, one often finds pounded dried fish mixed in a variety of recipes; including curries and dishes like
mallum, a salad of fresh grated coconut, shredded leafy greens seasoned with lemon and chilis. The dried fish is typically rinsed of salt and flash fried to give it a crisp texture and stirred in to enhance the flavor of the dish.
Another typical Sri Lankan favorite is “devilled” seafood or chicken…tasting a bit like Chinese “sweet and sour” with no batter and a lot more kick. This tasty dish is very versatile and can be prepared with any seafood or cuts of meat.
One of my favorite meals was a classic Sri Lankan breakfast, where bowl shaped wafer thin pancakes called “hoppers” or appas are served hot piping hot. Made from a fermented rice flour and coconut milk batter, these crispy crepes can be served with an egg in the center with a side of fresh coconut sambal.
Sri Lanka’s rich and diverse dishes would not be complete with out a cup of local well steeped Ceylon tea with milk and sugar. No question, a country well worth exploring, Sri Lanka is a beautiful place steeped in history and culture and is definitely one of my favorite destinations to return to in South Asia.
Sri Lankan Deviled Fish
3/4 lb tuna, mahi mahi or swordfish, cut into 2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, cut into 1 inch dice
1 red or green pepper, cut into 1 inch dice
2 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
1 tablespoon ginger, grated into a paste
1 fresh green chili (serrano or jalapeno), diced
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 cup tomato puree
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tomato, seeded and cut into 1 inch dice
vegetable oil for frying
In small bowl, combine the soy sauce, mustard, garlic and black pepper pour into a sealable plastic bag with the fish and marinate for 30 minutes.
Combine the tomato puree, soy sauce and sugar in a bowl and set aside.
Heat a wok or pan with 2 inches of oil. Discard the marinade and pat the fish dry. Once the oil is hot, flash fry the fish until just opaque, just several seconds. Drain and set the fish aside.
Heat a separate pan over high heat until hot, add the vegetable oil and saute the onion and bell pepper until blistered and slightly tender. Add the garlic and ginger paste, fresh and dry chilis and saute for a minute.
Lower the heat to medium and stir the tomato puree and soy mixture over the vegetables and bring to a low boil. Stir the tomatoes into the sauce and simmer for a minute. Add the fish to the pan and simmer over low heat for 2 minutes.
Serve the deviled fish warm with rice.