Seeing No Reservations again last night, I was struck by how much food was left out of the show. It’s not that we didn’t shoot it, but you know the drill–Tony was sick for the first couple days, and the powers-that-be decided to leave most of those segments out, and I, of course, was not privvy to the editing sessions. Well, I’ve already spoken my peace on that, but one thing that I must add is that Sri Lankans have a collective sweet tooth that is hard to match, and there are so many sweets and desserts that deserve wider exposure. I’m not talking about all the brightly-colored ghee/powdered milk/sugar “sweetmeats” from India, to which I must confess I’ll eat ’til I’m sick, but rather our own island creations, using the natural bounty that we have available to us. And what else thrives in the tropical Eden of Sri Lanka but coconut trees, which provide so much to our cuisine. The white “meat” of the coconut is used in countless dishes; we drink coconut water or “thambili” like you drink Cokes; and we use the husks and shells for fuel or for building a variety of tools and implements. Even the sap of the coconut flower, provides us with Arrack, the liquor of choice on the island.
But if there’s one Sri Lankan dessert that feels like dying and going to Heaven, it would have to be Wattalapam, which is the Sri Lankan version of flan or creme caramel, a dessert probably brought to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese. Flan uses very simple ingredients such as milk, eggs, and sugar, and is found in many countries–especially Latin countries. But leave it to Lankan ingenuity to flip the script on even such a simple recipe. To give credit where credit is due, the Malays, who were imported by the Dutch as slaves and indentured servants, actually brought wattalapam to the island, but now it’s a dessert loved by everybody. Substituting coconut milk for cow’s milk, and dark, natural palm sugar for regular white refined sugar, Wattalapam is generally much richer and has a slightly different consistency than plain old Flan. The trick is to give the eggs a good whipping so bubbles form in the mix and give it that nice look.
Everyone in Sri Lanka makes this dessert, but I’ve got to credit my cousin Shymala for giving me this recipe, which I have also included in my book. So thanks, cousin! I have let the cat out of the bag, but you’re about to make a lot of people very very happy.
Shymala’s Coconut Custard Pudding (Wattalampan)
A thicker, richer version of caramel pudding using coconut milk and jaggery, the solidified sap of the kitul palm flower, this dessert was introduced to Sri Lanka by Malay slaves. My cousin Shymala makes an especially good one.
3/4 lb. (300 g) jaggery (palm sugar), grated
2 cups (500 ml) thick coconut milk
1 tbsp. corn flour
1/2 tsp. nutmeg, grated
1/4 tsp. cardamom powder
1/2 cup (25 g) cashews, chopped
1.) Beats eggs well in a bowl.
2.) Add the other ingredients and mix well.
3.) Strain and pour into a stainless steel mould.
4.) Cover with foil and steam for 30-40 minutes in a double boiler until done. (The water should not boil but simmer gently until the pudding is set.)
5.) Remove from heat and allow to cool.
6.) Refrigerate 5-6 hours before serving.