As promised…here is the first Sri Lankan curry recipe! In Sri Lanka, rice and curry means a table laden full of small dishes filled with different types of vegetable and meat dishes in highly aromatic and very spicy gravy (= curry) plus a plate piled high with steaming rice. The rice of choice is samba, which has tiny pearl like grains and is somewhat reminiscent of sushi rice. It is not sticky like Thai rice, but perfect for eating with your fingers (the traditional Sri Lankan way), and for soaking up curries.

I had never heard of a “white curry”, so the first time I ordered one in Sri Lanka, I was not sure what to expect. It turned out to be absolutely delicious (as well as insanely spicy), and I found out that “white” refers to the fact that it contains no red chillies. Instead, it is prepared entirely with green chillies. The beauty of Sri Lankan curries is that they are easy to make and way less involved than they seem. However, cooking five or six different curries for one meal is quite time consuming, so if you are pressed for time, one type of curry plus rice and condiments will definitely do. Firm white fish fillets work best for the following recipe.

A word on the spiciness – it took me a while to get used to the relentless amount of spices and chillies that put an entirely new meaning on “hot”. However, it is the very heat of chilli peppers that brings out the deep and complex flavors of the many spices used in Sri Lankan cooking. Without this fierceness, the dishes just would not be the same. I recommend going easy at first and raising the level of heat depending on how daring you feel. Simply adjust the amount and type of chilli peppers you are using. Generally, the smaller the chilli the hotter it is.

 

Sri Lankan White Curry (serves 6)
2 limes, juiced
500g firm white fish fillets, cut into 2inch pieces
200ml coconut milk
2 teaspoons Sri Lankan fish curry powder (recipe follows)
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground curcuma (turmeric)
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, lightly toasted
1/2 teaspoon dill seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
3 small green chillies, halved lenghtwise
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves (picked)
salt, to taste
100ml coconut cream

1. Sprinkle the fish with the lime juice and let stand for 5 minutes.
2. In the meantime, place the onion, garlic, spices, curry leaves, salt, and coconut milk in a pot and bring to a boil.
3. Cook for 10 minutes until the onion is soft.
4. Add the fish and cook until the fish is done (about 7 minutes).
5. Add the coconut cream and stir through, being careful not to let it boil.
6. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for about 10 minutes.

Sri Lankan Fish Curry Powder (makes about 3/4 cup)
3 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
40g coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
2cm piece lemongrass, bruised
1 sprig fresh curry leaves (picked)

1. Dry roast all the ingredients in a frying pan over high heat until fragrant, about 7 to 10 minutes.
2. Remove the lemongrass and curry leaves, and reserve.
3. Grind the spices in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle until you have a fine powder.
4. Add the curry leaves and lemongrass and store in an airtight container.

Serve the curry with samba rice, slices of lime, and mango chutney. Enjoy!

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