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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A feast for a lost friend

This post is dedicated to a lovely, friendly, honest, kind friend who last week was taken from us far too early. He was one of those people who everyone has a nice word for, and his death was tragically sudden and unexpected. He died in his home country of Sri Lanka, and I was struck with a feeling of not knowing how best to say goodbye to him given the distance between here and there.

The last times I spent with him were at his house in Kingston, Ontario, where he was living at the time, and he and his wife invited myself and another friend around for Sunday brunch. It truly was a spectacular brunch, with his wife having made a huge selection of amazing Sri Lankan dishes, and we all enjoyed the great food and great company. They told me a few times that I was very welcome to come and stay with them, but timing and money meant that I couldn't get back to Kingston during the time I was living in Canada. Of course now I wish that I had, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, is it not?

So, I decided to create my own version of a Sri Lankan feast, and share it with some friends here, in honour of my lost friend. I knew full well it would not be anywhere near as amazing as his wife's cooking but I knew I'd come up with something enjoyable to eat nonetheless. After much internet searching, and flicking through cookbooks, I came up with three mains dishes and one dessert dish. The Charred Aubergine and Coconut Curry is from a cookbook given to me by a friend (thanks Mone) and I've made it a few times over the years with great success. It really is a delicious vegetarian curry. I cannot attest to how Sri Lankan it is, but it has coconut milk in it so I hoped this would do for authenticity. The Sri Lankan Fried Rice, Pol Sambal and Wattalappan seem to be somewhat authentic recipes, if my internet skills are to be trusted. All dishes were thoroughly enjoyed by myself and my friends, and I can really recommend these recipes.

So, friend of mine, farewell. You will be sadly missed and my heart goes out to your lovely wife and beautiful baby daughter.

Charred Aubergine and Coconut Curry
From New Vegetarian by Celia Brooks Brown

Spice Paste
1 Tb cumin seeds
1 Tb coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds (about 10 pods)
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
5 cm fresh ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp turmeric
1-2 chillies, deseeded (or 1 tsp dried chilli flakes)
1 tomato, cut into quarters
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar

Rest of curry
1 medium aubergine (about 250 g)
2 Tb vegetable oil or ghee
1 red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
250 g sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut into cubes
1 medium zucchini, about 200 g
400 g canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
400 g canned chopped tomatoes
250 mL unsweetened coconut milk
sea salt, to taste

1. To make the spice paste, dry-toast the spice seeds in a frying pan, shaking until they pop and turn lightly golden. Transfer to a blender or spice grinder, add the remaining ingredients (ginger, garlic, turmeric, chillies, tomato, sea salt, sugar) and 6 Tb water and grind to a smooth paste. Set aside.
2. Roast the aubergine directly over a high flame until charred and softened, about 15 minutes. Alternatively, roast in a preheated oven at 220 degrees C (425 F; gas 7) for about 40 minutes. Let cool, then peel and discard the skin. Don't worry if a few charred bits remain - these will add extra flavour.
3. Heat the oil or ghee in a large, heavy based saucepan (I used my Country Kitchen! :D ), add the onion and cook until softened. Add the spice paste and stir for 2 minutes to release the aromas, then add the pepper, sweet potatoes or yams, zucchini and chickpeas. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and 250 mL water, then bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.
4. Put the peeled aubergine in a blender, add the coconut milk and pulse to a coarse puree. Add to the pan and bring back to a simmer. Add salt, if necessary. Cook for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat, cover and let stand for at least 30 minutes or preferably overnight.
5. Reheat, then serve with rice, coriander sprigs, yoghurt and mango chutney (or Sri Lankan fried rice and coconut sambal like me).

Spices toasting in the pan (can you hear them pop?)

Spice paste, and blended together very nicely

Curry all made, ready to sit in the fridge overnight to develop the flavours

Close-up curry shot

Sri Lankan Fried Rice
Adapted from recipes4us.co.uk and Chandra'ge's recipe

40g/2oz butter
600ml/20fl.oz. water
225g/8oz Basmati rice
½ teasp ground turmeric or saffron
60ml/2fl.oz vegetable oil or ghee
225g/8oz Peeled uncooked prawns
1 large onion, chopped
75g/3oz cashew nuts
50g/2oz raisins
50g/2oz frozen green peas
2 cloves
2 x 2.5cm/1-inch sticks of cinnamon
1 x 7.5cm/3-inch stick lemongrass

1. Heat the butter is your rice cooker until melted then add the water, rice, salt and turmeric/saffron. Mix well and cook until done.
2. Meanwhile heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onion until starting to brown. Add the prawns and cook until half done, then add the remainder of the ingredients (onion, cashews, raisins, peas, cloves, cinnamon and lemongrass) to the saucepan and continue sautéing for another minute or so. Remove from heat.
3. Once the rice is ready, mix all the components together in the large saucepan and heat for 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.
4. The flavor is enhanced if the mixed rice is kept (refrigerated) for about 6 hours and then reheated (microwave works well) prior to serving. I refrigerated mine in the rice cooker bowl and then just reheated it using the rice cooker. Oh and remove the cinnamon sticks and lemongrass, and the cloves if you can easily find them, unless you want to play the lets-see-who-chomps-on-a-clove-by-the-expression-on-their-face game :D

Sri Lankan Fried Rice

Pol Sambal
From Lakmali Hewa

2 cups scraped, fresh coconut or desiccated coconut (add 1/4 cup of warm water and mix well to moisten the desiccated coconut)
2 shallots, sliced
1 small green chili, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
1-2 tsp Hot red chili powder
1 tsp salt
1-2 tsp Maldive fish (optional)
1 medium lime (or lemon)

1. Grind or chop all ingredients except coconut, in a grinder or chopper (a mortar & pestle can also be used).
2. Once the ingredients are crushed and mixed thoroughly, add the coconut.
3. Continue to grind until the coconut turns evenly red and all ingredients are well mixed. (This can also be done with fingers).
4. Squeeze half a lime. Mix well.
5. Taste and adjust salt & lime.
6. Serve with rice and curries.

Pol Sambal

Recipe adapted from Priya's Easy and Tasty Recipes

5 eggs
500 mL thick coconut milk
1/2 cup grated jaggery (palm sugar)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Whisk together the coconut milk, jaggery paste and brown sugar until the sugar is dissolved.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs well, and then gradually add the coconut milk mixture, beating until very well combined.
3. Add the vanilla and spices, beating until well combined.
4. You can add some raisins and cashews now, or after you have steamed the wattalappan.
5. Pour the mixure into a mould and steam until done ( I used four individual moulds and steamed them for around 30 minutes).
6. Remove from heat and allow to cool, then refrigerate until ready to serve.
7. Serve chilled.

In the water bath, about to be gently cooked in oven.

Wattalappam ready to be eaten

As well as feeding the four of us quite handsomely last night, there was perfectly enough leftovers for everyone to have a little doggy bag to take for lunch the next day.

Leftovers for lunch - sorry to coworkers for the enticing smell :)


Rilsta September 30, 2009 at 1:32 PM  

So sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. :(

What a lovely thing to cook a Sri Lankan meal in his honour though. I have never had Sri Lankan food before but all the dishes you have cooked look fantastic.

Panamahat September 30, 2009 at 1:34 PM  

Oh Conor, I am so sorry to hear you lost a dear friend. This feast you have created looks beautiful, and I think it will do him proud. xx

Queen B. September 30, 2009 at 5:57 PM  

I'm sorry you lost your friend.
That is the most beautiful tribute, ever.

Pam September 30, 2009 at 11:16 PM  

I am so sorry to hear about your loss. What an amazing feast.

eatlivetravelwrite October 1, 2009 at 3:29 AM  

Conor, that is very sad. I am sorry for your loss but that is a beautiful tribute.

Chef Fresco October 1, 2009 at 9:23 AM  

I am sorry to hear about your friend :(

You have created a lovely feast in his memory.

Maria@TheGourmetChallenge October 1, 2009 at 9:53 AM  

Conor I feel for you in this time of grief. I'm sure your friend would be very proud that a feast was had in honour of him. And all the dish look delicious, spectacular effort!

Conor @ HoldtheBeef October 1, 2009 at 7:12 PM  

Thanks for the lovely messages everyone! Much appreciated xx

Simply Life October 1, 2009 at 8:29 PM  

What a delicious meal to prepare - it looks wonderful!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella October 1, 2009 at 10:39 PM  

I'm so sorry to hear about your friend Conor! What a wonderful way to remember him though :)

Belle@Ooh, Look October 2, 2009 at 11:42 AM  

That's a lovely tribute to your friend.
The Sri Lankan fried rice is not something I've come across before, but I think I'll be copying the recipe from you - it looks wonderful.

Trissa October 3, 2009 at 4:15 PM  

Hi Conor
Sorry to hear about your friend. My prayers go out to him and his family. Buy you did well with that feast as a tribute to him. Well done. You are a great friend.

Conor @ HoldtheBeef October 4, 2009 at 9:14 AM  

Thank you, you're all so sweet :)

Cheap Ethnic Eatz October 7, 2009 at 9:46 PM  

This is the most heartwarming personal wake and memorial you could do, and very therapeutic. My condolances for the loss of your friend.

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My love of cooking is surpassed only by my love of eating, though I never quite recovered from the beef I was served at college. I'll try almost anything once, but it takes a very special piece of offal or beef to get me to try it again.

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