Sri Lankan Pumpkin Curry with Coconut Sambol and Dahl

I hope everyone had a great weekend. Mine was spent in a frenzy of cooking more Sri Lankan dishes, perfuming the whole house with intense aromas of curry leaves, chillies, ginger, and coconut milk. It was so much fun, although I needed some serious chill time after all the chopping and stirring. But definitely worth the effort! One of my favorite things about traveling is sampling new foods, exploring markets, and seeing how culture and the availability of local ingredients come together in specific cuisines. Recreating dishes at home is a fun way to feel transported back to far away lands, even if only for the duration of a meal.

These flavorful Sri Lankan dishes work beautifully together, with the coconut sambol (or pol sambol in Sinhalese) serving as a spicy condiment to kick things up a notch or two. You can either anchor this meal with Sri Lankan samba rice (a white rice with very small, pearl like grains, similar in size to Sushi rice, but with quite a strong flavor) or naan bread. Both make a great base to soak up all the delicious gravy from the curry and dahl. If you can’t find Maldive Fish (small chips of dried tuna that are a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine and are used to add saltiness to dishes), you can substitute with Japanese bonito flakes. Roasted curry powder is available at Asian supermarkets.

Don’t be put off by the list of ingredients – all three dishes are very easy to make, and they can be made a day before you serve them. The dahl in particular tastes better the next day when all the flavors have had time to “mingle”. Left overs from the dahl and sambal are great for a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast with rice, naan bread, or even simple white bread, and a nice cup of Ceylon tea.

Sri Lankan Pumpkin Curry (serves 6)
1 teaspoon basmati rice
2 tablespoons freshly grated or desiccated unsweetened coconut
1 onion, finely chopped
1 sprig curry leaves, fresh or frozen
100ml coconut milk
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
500g pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3cm cubes
2 small green chillies, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Maldive fish flakes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric (curcuma)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
300ml coconut milk
pinch of roasted curry powder plus more for serving

1. Roast the rice in a roasting pan for about one minute, then add the grated coconut, onion, and curry leaves, stirring until the coconut turns brown (be careful not to burn it).
2. Put the mix in a mortar and pestle (alternatively, use a food processor), and pound until a paste forms.
3. Add the coconut milk and mustard seeds to the paste and mix well.
4. Put the remaining ingredients in a pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer until the pumpkin is tender.
5. Sprinkle with some roasted curry powder before serving.

Coconut Sambol (makes about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, coarsely ground
1 tablespoon Maldive fish flakes
1/2 red onion, very finely chopped
1 teaspoon chili powder or flakes
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
1/2 fresh coconut, grated; or 50g desiccated unsweetened coconut mixed with 50ml water
juice of 1/2 lime

1. Place all ingredients except the lime juice in a mortar and pound with a pestle. Alternatively, use the back of a spoon to mash down the ingredients.
2. Add lime juice and stir well. The sambal should have a hint of lime taste, but it should not be sour.

Dahl (serves 6)
250g red lentils
1 teaspoon ground turmeric (curcuma)
2 long dried red chillies
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 tomato, chopped
2 garlic cloves, mashed
5cm piece ginger, very finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
50g ghee
1 sprig curry leaves, fresh or frozen
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds

1. Put the lentils, turmeric, chillies, onion, and tomato in a pot.
2. Add 5 cups of water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the lentils are starting to break up.
3. Heat the ghee in a pan and add the garlic, ginger, cumin, curry leaves, and mustard seeds and cook until the mix begins to brown (about 5 minutes).
4. Add the spice mix to the lentils, and simmer until the mix has thickened, but is still somewhat soupy.


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