I know it’s springtime, everyone is thinking of salads and other light dishes, but this Sri Lankan curry is so extraordinary, I had to write about it. It made me think once more what a pity it is that Sri Lankan cuisine is so hardly known… I discovered this dish last week while leafing through the incredible Sri Lanka. The Cookbook by Prakash N Sivanathan & Niranja M Ellawa. The pork shoulder I had just bought made me choose a wild boar curry where pork was advised as a good alternative and it was a perfect one indeed! In terms of flavours, it was the most unusually seasoned pork dish I’ve ever had: slightly sour, very garlicky, seasoned with an unusual mixture of spices, with a rich but surprisingly light sauce and a fresh fiery kick from green chillies. I haven’t experienced such a wonderful culinary discovery for quite a long time!
I’ve slightly modified the recipe, changing the ingredients’ amounts and adding some chicken stock, so make sure you check the fascinating and beautiful Sri Lanka. The Cookbook by Prakash N Sivanathan & Niranja M Ellawa.
TIPS: The only seemingly bothersome ingredient here is Thool (one of the three Sri Lankan curries found in the book). If you cook Indian from time to time, you probably have all the ingredients (apart from curry leaves). You can make it in advance and then add to other dishes (not necessarily Sri Lankan!). If you cannot get fresh curry leaves, leave them out.
Sri Lankan Thool curry (simplified, downsized and slightly modified amounts)
5 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 slightly heaped tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon dried red chillies, torn into pieces (choose the heat level you can stand; I’ve used Cashmere chillies which are rather mild)
10 fresh curry leaves
1/5 teaspoon powdered turmeric
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
Put the whole spices (peppercorn, curry leaves, red chillies, fennel, coriander and cumin seeds) on a pan and toast at low heat until they start smelling stronger. (Be careful because they burn very quickly!) Put them aside and once they’ve cooled down, grind them in a mortar or in an electric grinder (a cheap coffee grinder works perfect here). Add the turmeric and store in a closed container.
Tamarind “juice” (also called “tamarind water”) is a very important ingredient – from what I’ve noticed – in both Sri Lankan and South Indian cuisines. It acidifies dishes (though it’s not as harsh as for example lemon juice) and gives them a unique taste. At worst it might be replaced with a smaller amount of lime juice, but the taste will be different, so try to buy it even if you will use it three times a year. Tamarind is usually cheap and easy to buy in Asian grocery shops and online; it’s sold in dried blocks and keeps for ages (even after opening, in the fridge). Tamarind is also sold in ready-to-use jam-like form (in jars), but I haven’t used it for many years (it spoils quicker and the taste is not as refreshing) and have no idea about the amounts that should be used, so if you use this form, experiment!
How to make tamarind “juice”?
Tear a 2.5cm (about 1 in) square piece of tamarind block and pour 150 ml boiling water over it. After about 15 minutes stir well and strain the juice.
Preparation: 2-3 hours, depending on the meat
Ingredients (serves four):
1 kg pork shoulder (or another cut good for long simmering process), cut into big cubes, excess fat removed if you find it necessary (I do)
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 heaped tablespoons of Sri Lankan Thool curry mixture (see the TIPS above)
2 medium onions (or 6 big shallots), sliced
2 cinnamon sticks (2.5cm/1 in long)
10-12 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
8 green cardamom pods, crushed
1 heaped teaspoon fennel seeds
1 flat teaspoon fenugreek
500 ml chicken/vegetable stock or water
300 ml tamarind “juice” (see the TIPS above)
Put the meat into a big bowl. Add the turmeric powder, the curry powder and season with salt. Mix well (use gloves if you mix with your hands because turmeric stains are difficult to wash off especially from the areas around the nails). Marinate the meat at room temperature for at least 20 minutes (you can leave it in the fridge for several hours or overnight too!).
Heat some oil in a big pan, add the cinnamon, the cardamom and stir fry at low heat for about a minute.
Add the onion, the curry leaves, the fennel seeds, the fenugreek, the garlic, the ginger and the green chilli. Stir fry (still at low heat) for about 5 minutes, until the onion softens, making sure you don’t burn the ingredients.
Add the meat and stir fry it at medium heat until it’s slightly browned.
Finally add the tamarind “juice”, the water, reduce the heat and let the curry simmer covered until the meat is very soft.
Just before serving taste if the curry needs more salt.