A few months ago, I found myself in Unawatuna on the teardrop-shaped island of Sri Lanka. Unawatuna is a beachside town that ticks all the boxes: sun, sand, surf, cheesy bars, and – of course – tasty food.
One day, some like minded food-loving friends and I decided to forgoe the beach and learn some of the local cuisine. We found a cooking school called Sonja’s Health Food Restaurant and booked in for a day-long class.
There were several vegetarians/vegans/pescatarians in our group, so everything we cooked was meat-free except one fish curry. We made pumpkin curry, red dhal curry, tuna curry, beetroot curry, devilled potatoes, dhal burgers and coconut roti with sambol. The food we prepared and ate that day was, without doubt, the best food that I ate in Sri Lanka.
Since I came home, I’ve been itching to recreate the beetroot curry in particular. It was pretty unusual but I remember it being delicious. I’ve adapted the recipe a little to suit Australian tastes and the ingredients I had in my pantry.
On remake, I’ve decided that this dish definitely needs its curry-friends all around it to make it a more satisfying and complete meal. By itself, it’s just too much of one flavour. I’ll try to cook a few more Sri Lankan dishes over the next few weeks to share with you.
1 Spanish onion, diced
1 tbs vegetable oil
4 medium beets, peeled and cut into sticks about half a centimetre thick
10 curry leaves
1 stick cinnamon
1 ½ tsp cumin seeds, pan-roasted and ground
1 ½ tsp coriander seeds, pan-roasted and ground
½ tsp turmeric, ground
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 ½ tsp black mustard seeds
400ml coconut cream (1 can)
1 tsp garam masala
The first step is to prepare your ingredients. Dice the onion into pieces about 1 centimetre square. Peel the beets (you can use a sharp knife) and cut into french-fry size sticks. Measure out the spices. I like to sharpen up my spices by dry-frying them for a few minutes in a hot pan (before grinding). This just brings out the flavour a little and you can skip if you like.
Heat up the oil in a large pan on a low heat. Chuck in the onions and let them soften.
After a few minutes, add all the spices except for the mustard seeds and garam masala. Continue to saute until the onions are very soft. This will take between five and ten minutes.
Turn up the heat to medium. Add the mustard seeds and continue to cook for about 30 seconds, until the mustard seeds begin to pop.
Add the coconut cream and beetroot sticks.
Cook for about 15 minutes over a medium heat, until most of the coconut cream has evaporated or absorbed.
Serve with rice and a few other curries. Dream of Sri Lanka.