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With spring upon us and summer right around the corner, I’m inspired  to get outside more, and start hitting the farmers market for fresh produce. It’s also time to start shedding that winter weight and get healthy again, and vegetables are the perfect tonic. Since the south of India is known for its primarily vegetarian diet, and also some incredibly tasty dishes, I looked in Healthy South Indian Cooking by Alamelu Vairavan and Patricia Marquardt for inspiration, and pulled this amazing recipe for Vegetable Kurma. It uses carrots, potatoes, cauliflower and peas, but feel free to use whatever vegetables you like. I also substituted cashew nuts for almonds (since I didn’t have any handy), and, of course, upped the heat quotient by adding more green chilis. While the dish is simple to prepare, there are a lot of ingredients involved, but mysteriously enough, no garlic! Though it turned out great, I think next time I will add some garlic as it can only enhance an already delicious dish. Also, salt to taste as I believe the recipe called for not enough salt.


Healthy South Indian013

The Recipe

from Healthy South Indian Cooking (Hippocrene Books, 2008)

by Alamelu Vairavan and Patricia Marquardt


½ cup ground fresh coconut or unsweetened coconut powder

1 green chili pepper

12 raw almonds

1 tablespoon white poppy seeds (optional)

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

2 thick slices ginger root (peeled)

1 tablespoon roasted chickpeas

2 tablespoons canola oil

6 to 8 curry leaves

1 dry bay leaf

3 or 4 slivers cinnamon sticks

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped tomato

2 cups peeled and cubed Idaho potato

½ cup peeled and thinly sliced carrots

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon curry powder

½ cup green peas (fresh or frozen)

1 cup cauliflower florets

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1.)   In A blender combine coconut powder, green chili, almonds, white poppy seeds, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, ½ teaspoon fennel seeds, ginger root slices, chickpeas. Add 2 cups hot water and grind the ingredients to a smooth paste.

2.)   Heat oil in a wide-bottom saucepan over medium heat. When oil is hot, but not smoking, add curry leaves, bay leaf, cinnamon sticks, remaining cumin and fennel  seeds. Cover and fry to a golden brown.

3.)   Add onion and ½ cup of the chopped tomato to saucepan and stir-fry for a few minutes until onion is lightly translucent.

4.)   Add potato and carrots to saucepan. Add turmeric powder and stir well.

5.)   Add curry powder and stir-fry for a minute or two.

6.)   Add peas and cauliflower to mixture and stir fry for a couple of minutes.

7.)   Add ground spices from the blender to vegetable mixture in saucepan plus 2 cups of warm water. Mix thoroughly.

8.)   When mixture begins to boil, reduce heat. Add remaining ½ cup chopped tomato, salt and cilantro leaves. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Serve with rice or bread.

Serves 6



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Lunch is served at my Uncle Wilson's place in Kandy

Lunch is served at my Uncle Wilson’s place in Kandy

Despite Sri Lanka’s compact size (roughly about the area of West Virginia), there are definite regional variations in its cuisine. The food from the south is said to be spicier and more fish-based, as is exemplified by one of my favorite dishes from that region, fish ambul thiyal; whereas Tamil cuisine from the northern city of Jaffna  tends towards using a lot of tomato and tamarind as the basis for their spicy curries. Upcountry cooking, on the other hand, focuses largely on the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables that grow in this mountainous central region of the country; while coastal cooking relies heavily on the use of the ubiquitous coconut.

Located in the central highlands, Kandy was the last Sinhala holdout against British colonial rule. As the seat of Sri Lankan kings and the site of one of Buddhism’s most important shrines, the Dalida Mahligawa (or Temple of The Tooth), which supposedly holds one of Lord Buddha’s teeth, Kandyans are proud of their heritage, and equally as proud of their cuisine, which is largely vegetarian. It’s probably got as much to do with what’s available in the proximity as much as an adherence to Buddhist doctrine, which eschews meat.

Some of the vegetables from my uncle's garden

Some of the vegetables from my uncle’s garden

At his modest house overlooking the migthy Mahavelli River in Kandy, my Uncle Wilson has always taken great pride in his garden, which is flush with all kinds of produce. Mango, papaw and king coconut trees share space with spiky green jackfruit, pumpkin, and plantains. Greens such as gotu kola and koakka grow in the backyard. Under the ground, he’s got tubers like manioc and sweet potatoes growing. He even used to have a paddy field in his front yard until he gave up the land so that one of his sons could build a house there.

King Coconut growing in Uncle Wilson's yard

King Coconut growing in Uncle Wilson’s yard

His garden, in fact, is almost a microcosm of these central highlands, well-known as the center of tea production in the country, but a veritable Garden of Eden as well. I took a trip to the central Kandy market to get a better idea of this region and all it has to offer.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Uncle Wilson’s cooks Kumari and Saroja were busy preparing lunch, which proved to be a veritable vegetarian feast including such dishes as red rice, white rice, jackfruit curry (kos), boiled manioc (battala), coconut sambol, dry fish curry (karola), banana blossom curry (keselmuwa), young jackfruit curry (polos), and egglant (ela batu). Most of the produce came straight from the garden, and anything that didn’t was from close by. Lunch was symphony of different tastes and textures, and even though I’m no vegetarian, I would have no qualms about eating food like that everyday.

a righteous spread!

a righteous spread!

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  • Photographer


  • When: Sat, 05/04/2013 – 11:00am to 1:00pm

    Cost: $75
    Category: Food and Garden
    Location: Lorinda “Annie” Hooks Demo Kitchen @ The Capitol Hill Center

    Skiz Fernando returns to Hill Center to take you on a culinary tour of the Far East without ever leaving the kitchen. In this two-hour, hands-on class, Skiz seeks to demystify Asian ingredients and techniques as he instructs you in the preparation of such simple, delicious and healthy dishes as Steamed Fish with Soy Sauce (Hong Kong), Basil Chicken (Thailand), Summer Rolls (Vietnam), and Spicy Stir Fry Squid (Korea). Afterwards, you’re invited for lunch. Skiz is the author of RICE & CURRY: Sri Lankan Home Cooking, a 2011 New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He hosts his own cooking series on YouTube called Pan Asian, in which he cooks dishes from all over Asia and the world.

    Skiz is a second generation Sri Lankan-American and graduate of Harvard University and the Columbia School of Journalism. In 2009 he was featured on Travel Channel’s No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain where he led the crew to Sri Lanka’s hot spots. Check out his blog Rice & Curry and Pan Asian online cooking series.

    Cook books will be available for purchase for $19.95.

    Space is limited so please reserve your spot asap!

    Register Here »

    Rice & Curry Cover Final

    Skiz's original logo

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 120,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Rice & Curry Cover Final

Only one year ago I opened the New York Times to discover that my humble, little cookbook, Rice & Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking, had made that esteemed publication’s list of most notable cookbooks of the year. Such recognition came as icing on the cake, the culmination of a long journey for me as well as the realization of a life-long dream–to learn to cook the cuisine I grew up on and to introduce this food to the world. In the past year, I have done just that, hosting Sri Lankan Supper Clubs in New York, Baltimore, DC, Chicago, Sonoma, and San Francisco; conducting Sri Lankan cooking classes; participating in food seminars and events such as the recent CIA World’s of Flavor Conference in Napa; and spreading the gospel of curry with my own small-batch spice blends, Skiz’s Original. The book has also performed far above my expectations sales-wise, and is well into the second printing. If you haven’t copped your copy yet, it makes a perfect (and cheap) holiday gift, on sale at Amazon right now for only $13.57!!!


Skiz's original logo

In order to help promote the book, I also started making my own blend of Sri Lankan roasted curry powder, which is essential to many of the recipes in the book (I also do a raw curry powder). Now Skiz’s Original Spice Blends has assumed a life of its own, and sells through word of mouth through the artisanal food site, Foodoro.com. In 2013, I hope to expand the reach of my curry powder and bring it to store shelves. Until then, you can still order it at the link below. (If you live outside the U.S. contact me directly at curryfiend@gmail.com so I can work out international shipping.)


Coming from a media background (journalism, music, film, and TV), I am thankful to have had this opportunity to make a small splash in the world of food, and I hope to continue to do so in the years to come. As someone who is inspired by a passion for what I do, my main aim is not for money, but to spread an appreciation not only for Sri Lankan food, but for the country as well. This land, after all, is where my parents were born, and though I am a hyphenated American, the eastern values that my parents instilled in me make me proud to claim the Sri Lankan part of my heritage. Though we are not Christians, my family here has come to celebrate Christmas, and we often give each other gifts that are hand-made in order to bypass the more crass and commercial aspects of the holiday. So in keeping with that spirit, I offer these things that I have made to all of you–my larger family who have followed me on this blog. And I wish you all a safe, pleasant and peaceful holiday season filled with happiness and cheer!


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The CIA World’s of Flavor was literally the best place to eat on planet Earth for those three days of the conference as premiere chefs from everywhere were cooking up a storm for the daily World marketplace, which is presented in the video. So I couldn’t leave you folks without some good ole food porn to get your stomach juices churning and your tongues suitably lubricated for that impending Thanksgiving feed! Enjoy!

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I recently had the pleasure of visiting the picturesque Napa Valley for the CIA’s 15th Annual World’s of Flavor Conference. No, I’m not a spy, and I’m not talking about that CIA, but rather The Culinary Institute of America, one of the country’s most well regarded cooking schools. Each year they assemble top chefs and culinary professionals from around the world at their beautiful campus in St. Helena, CA for a summit on food without parallel. This year’s theme was “Arc of Flavor: Re-imagining culinary exchange from the Mediterranean and Middle East to Asia.”

The teaching kitchens at CIA

It was no small honor to attend the conference, and to represent Sri Lankan food for the very first time here, joined by my esteemed colleague, Chef Koluu, who traveled all the way from Colombo for the event.  Koluu was extremely helpful when I went to Sri Lanka to research my cookbook, and I made sure he was featured when I returned to shoot No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. As one of Sri Lanka’s most well-known and respected chefs, his attendance at the conference was a must.


Chef Koluu outside CIA Greystone, St. Helena, CA

Having just barely escaped the east coast and the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, I arrived in the Bay Area at night, so it was not until morning that I got a good look at the CIA itself. Occupying the former hilltop mansion of The Christian Brothers’ winery and overlooking acres of quaint vineyards, the school’s substantial facilities cut quite an impressive sight. The third floor teaching kitchens alone occupy a space about half the size of a football field, filled with every modern convenience you can imagine. What a joy it must be going to school in such an environment, much less cooking there for three days. This massive kitchen is where all the action was happening as chefs from across the arc of flavor prepared countless dishes for the various seminars, demo sessions, lunch, and, of course, the formidable World Marketplace, probably the best food court going on planet earth.

It was encouraging and inspiring to see so many foreign chefs interacting with CIA staff and students, and introducing so many new ingredients and techniques. Koluu made his famous pork kalupol or “black” pork curry, fish ambul thiyal, and crab curry, along with other Sri Lankan specialties like hoppers, sambol, and coconut roti. Like the other chefs, we had a whole crew of students working with us–none of whom had ever even tried Sri Lankan food before. But they picked things up very quickly as they took care of most of the prep. For everyone involved, however, the opening day proved to be an exchange of cultures, ingredients, ideas, and good vibes.



baby back ribs



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