Category Archives: Sri Lankan

Baked Lamb and Potato Croquettes, Indian/Sri Lankan Style, or the Best Korokke Ever

I still hesitate if I should start my post with the Japanese croquettes (korokke), Sri Lankan “lamb rolls” or South-Indian seasoning… To make the explanations as simple as possible, the lamb rolls I saw in  Sri Lanka. The Cookbook looked to me like European croquettes, which in turn made me think of Japanese korokke and when I finally decided to make my own modified and simplified version of these Sri Lankan snacks, I realised my  improvised seasoning was inspired by certain “village-style” South-Indian recipes… All this sounds like a crazy triple fusion, but the first bite of these croquettes was so obvious, so good, so comforting…. I couldn’t believe my tastebuds! I don’t know if it was the presence of lamb, the refreshingly hot fresh green chilli, the mixture of spices… or the combination of all, but these were by far the best croquettes of my life! In short, if you like lamb, potatoes and green chilli, these soft spicy balls with crisp crust will become your favourite comfort food.

As I have mentioned above, the Lamb Rolls recipe that inspired me comes from the recently bought  Sri Lanka. The Cookbook by Prakash N Sivanathan &  Niranja M Ellawa, a beautifully illustrated collection of fantastic recipes from this barely known fascinating culinary heritage (I’ve already tested four or five and all proved exceptionally good). As I have mentioned above, I didn’t stick to the recipe at all, changed and reduced the number of spices, skipped the croquette “skins” and, as always, simplified the procedure as much as I could, so check  Sri Lanka. The Cookbook if you want to make genuine Lamb Rolls (these cannot even bear this name in my opinion… and the seasoning brings them probably closer to South Indian dishes than Sri Lankan cuisine).

If you want to make first the famous Japanese korokke, here’s my favourite recipe:

Japanese croquettes (korokke コロッケ)

TIPS: This recipe is not the quickest one, but potato boiling, meat frying and bread crumb browning processes can be made well in advance. You can cook the potatoes in advance and then reheat in a microwave just before forming balls. You can prepare the meat mixture, fry it and then refrigerate for several days or even freeze. The breadcrumbs can be toasted even a week before!

These croquettes can be reheated in a microwave and even though they are best freshly made, I think the microwaved version is still delicious.

I have baked these croquettes because I try to slim down dishes as long as they stay delicious, but you can of course deep-fry them.

PANKO is the Japanese version of breadcrumbs, but it looks like crisp flakes, absorbs less oil when deep-fried and stays crunchier than any Western form of breadcrumbs. For me it’s simply the best! Luckily you can buy panko on internet (Amazon sells it) and in many Asian, not only Japanese grocery shops. If you cannot get Japanese panko, use normal dry breadcrumbs, but when toasting them, heat some oil first in the pan.

I have used a mixture of ground lamb and beef, but you can use lamb only (or beef or pork or half beef half pork, if you don’t like lamb; for me the lamb’s presence is crucial though).

As much as I love fresh coriander, I must say apart from looking nice, it didn’t change the taste so much, so skip it if you don’t have it or don’t like it particularly.

These croquettes taste great with one or several of those: mayonnaise (yes!!! but good quality one), chilli oil, chilli oil+mayonnaise (why not?), tzatziki or any yogurt-based sauce, sriracha…

Preparation: about 2 hours

Ingredients (makes about 12-13 croquettes; serves three-four people if served with a salad or a vegetable side-dish):

1/2 kg (about 1,1 lb) ground lamb and beef mixture or lamb only

750 g (about 1.6 lb) potatoes (I prefer here waxy, not floury potatoes)

1 big onion, roughly cut into several pieces

4-5 fresh medium hot green chillies (I loved jalapeños here)

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon medium-hot powdered chilli (optional)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

3 big garlic cloves

3 cm grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon mustard seeds (I used black, but white is ok too)

salt, pepper

1 big egg or 2 small

about 300 ml container filled with panko or dry breadcrumbs

10 tablespoons wheat flour

(chopped fresh coriander leaves-optional, combined with the toasted breadcrumbs)

First toast the panko/breadcrumbs.

Heat an empty big pan at medium heat and spread a layer of panko (if you use breadcrumbs, heat one tablespoon oil first; panko already contains some fat so it’s not necessary).

Watch it closely without stirring and when it starts changing colour, stir it, so that it becomes a more or less uniform golden (I’ve never managed a uniform colour) and so that it doesn’t burn.

Depending on the size of your pan you might need two batches. (The layer of panko should be very thin, maximum 1/2 cm).

Place the onion, the garlic, the ginger and the ground spices (not the mustard seeds!) in a food processor and mix them (a small baby food processor is perfect here).

Put the meat into a big bowl and mix well with spices (the best is using your hand).

Put into the fridge.

In the meantime cook the potatoes until soft (without peeling them).

When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and wait until they are cool enough to be handled.

Take the meat out of the fridge.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a big pan.

Throw the mustard seeds into the pan and fry at low heat until they start popping.

Now add the meat and, stirring, fry it until it’s well cooked, separating well the lumps with a fork.

Put the meat into a big bowl.

Peel the potatoes and mash them roughly with a fork or with a potato masher (I think they taste better when not too smooth), season with salt.

Combine the potatoes and the meat.

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Prepare three plates: one with beaten egg, one with flour and one with panko (or breadcrumbs).

Shape flattish round patties (mine had a 6 cm diameter), coat them first in flour, then in the egg and then in panko.

Place the balls on a baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes until they start changing colour and are well heated inside.

Sri Lankan Tangy Aubergine Curry (Kathirikai pirattal)

I used to say the best aubergine dishes can be found in Indian cuisine, but after discovering this Sri Lankan curry, I am no longer sure… I know this plate doesn’t look particularly attractive, but believe me, it’s one of the best vegetable dishes I have ever eaten. It’s rich in spices, light,  but slightly creamy, the aubergines are still a bit firm and the tamarind’s presence gives this typical addictive tangy twist I love, particularly in the summer. As for the big fat slices of garlic…. all I can say is I’ll put twice as much of these next time!

This recipe comes from the beautifully edited Sri Lanka. The Cookbook by Prakash N Sivanathan &  Niranja M Ellawa. It’s a rather recent buy, but until now everything I have cooked from this book was absolutely delicious and, contrary to what I used to think, every dish had something different from what I would recognise as Indian cuisine(s), in both flavours and techniques. This being said, the good news is that if you cook Indian from time to time, you will probably have already all the necessary spices in your kitchen, since most Sri Lankan seasoning ingredients are the same (apart from pandan leaves, for example, but these don’t appear everywhere).

This curry tastes best now, when aubergines are in season, and even though the word “curry” might make you think it’s a heavy, calorie-loaded dish, actually it’s quite light and summery because – and it’s a recurrent element in this book – the sauce is rather “thin” (and of course you can reduce, just like I did, the amount of coconut milk) and also thanks to its tanginess I consider perfect for hot weather. As always, I have slightly changed the ingredients’ amounts and the procedure, so make sure you check the original and discover this wonderful cuisine through the recipes presented by Prakash N Sivanathan &  Niranja M Ellawa

TIPS: As I have mentioned, if you cook Indian from time to time, you will probably have all the necessary dry ingredients to prepare this dish.

Tamarind can be found in practically every Asian grocery (I’ve seen it in a Vietnamese shop, an Indian shop and a Thai shop) or bought on internet. Don’t skip it and don’t think it can be easily replaced with lime for example (at worst you can of course put some lime juice at the end, but you will obtain a tangy dish without the tamarind’s distinct flavours).

You can buy tamarind in a block that dissolves in hot water or a ready to use tamarind pulp in a jar. I prefer the dried block because it tastes better and keeps literally for years in the fridge. A piece of the block must be placed in boiling water and, after 15 minutes you have to strain it, squeezing well the solid parts. The tamarind pulp in a jar doesn’t keep forever (I had to throw away half of the jar once) and it’s not as tangy as the “juice” made from the pulp. It’s quicker to use though. I have no idea what is the pulp equivalent in this dish (or any dish I make), so I can only advise adding it gradually and adjusting the taste to your preferences.

If you cannot get fresh curry leaves, skip them. Dried curry leaves are tough (impossible to eat afterwards, while they are supposed to be eaten, unlike bay leaves, for example) and lose the majority of their aroma. Curry leaves freeze very well, especially if vacuum packed or very tightly wrapped in plastic film, but I’ve never seen them frozen in shops… so if you get hold of them, freeze them in small portions tightly wrapped or, even better, vacuum packed. If you live in the US: I’ve seen some people grow curry leaf trees and sell fresh leaves on internet.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (serves 3-4 as a side-dish):

2 medium Western aubergines our 6-7 small Asian (long ones)

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds (I have used black)

a small handful of picked fresh curry leaves

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

2 small medium-hot green chillies (found in Indian or Sri Lankan shops) or other green medium-hot chilies

3 big shallots or 1 big onion

8 medium garlic cloves

5 cm square of tamarind block dissolved in 200 ml (about 3/4 cup) hot water and strained (see the TIPS above)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon chilli powder (or more/less); I have used 2 teaspoons Kashmiri chilli powder which is not very hot but has a beautiful red colour

salt to taste

100 ml (about 3 1/2 oz) coconut milk (I have used recently 60 ml and it was delicious too)

Cut the aubergines into bite-sized pieces (while cutting put the pieces into a bowl filled with water, so that they don’t change their colour too much).

Cut the chillies lengthwise and then horizontally (in half or more, depending on the length; you should obtain 2, max 3 cm pieces/roughly 1in pieces).

Slice thickly garlic cloves (I have cut each into 4-5 thick slices).

Cut the shallots into thin slices.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan and stir-fry the aubergines at medium heat until they are slightly browned.

Take them off the pan and put aside.

Add one more tablespoon oil into the same pan and stir-fry mustard seeds. When they start popping, add the curry leaves, the cumin and fenugreek seeds.

After 1 minute add the green chilli, the shallots and stir-fry them at medium heat until the shallots are soft and start browning.

Now add the garlic and stir-fry for one more minute.

Take the pan off the heat, add the powdered spices and mix well.

Pour the tamarind water and the coconut milk and let all simmer until 1/3 of the liquid evaporates (or until the sauce is thick enough for you; I preferred it rather thick/dry).

Finally, add the aubergines, season the curry with salt and give it a good stir.

Warm up for about five minutes.