As I scarfed down a delicious plate of food left over from lunch at my Aunty Manel’s place, I started thinking about what really makes Sri Lankan food stand apart from the crowd: It’s a combination of elements, really—from coconut oil and coconut milk, to curry leaves, to the actual curry powder we use. This latter ingredient, in particular, goes a long way to answering my question because any good curry begins with a good curry powder.
Of course, in Sri Lanka there are as many different versions of this spice mixture as there are cooks, but all concoctions are based on a combination of coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, black pepper, black mustard seeds, turmeric, cardamom, cloves, curry leaves, rampe (or pandanus), and, believe it or not, a little rice for texture. The spices are roasted individually and then ground and mixed together to create a rich, fragrant chocolate-brown blend that is used to transform meats and fish into a sublime taste sensation. For vegetable curries, Sri Lankans use a simple blend of unroasted coriander, cumin, fennel, and turmeric. The heat comes from the chili powder (or cayenne powder), which is added separately to a dish.
If you think all curry powders are created the same, think again. I was at an international store in my neighborhood recently that stocks 3 different kinds of curry powder—Jamaican, Trinidadian, and Indian. Both the Jamaican and Trini versions have an almost yellowish hue, no doubt a result of the heavy infusion of turmeric. Turmeric, a member of the ginger family, known for its antiseptic properties in the ancient Ayurvedic system of medicine, tastes somewhat medicinal. Sri Lankans use it sparingly in curry powder, and primarily for coloring. While the Indian variety is a shade darker, it smells not that much different than the other two. I came to the conclusion that it’s the multitude of ingredients, used in just the right proportions, and roasted, to give it that added Ummph that makes Sri Lankan curry powder so special.
Now I hate buying commercial anything—especially if its going to be the determining taste factor in my dish—so I bought all the raw ingredients (I’m talking seeds, folks, not pre-ground spice powders, along with fresh curry leaves and rampe)—and broke out a wok for roasting as well as my handy dandy Krupps coffee grinder dedicated for spices. A couple hours later, my house reeking like a Maradana grinding mill; my hair and clothes completely infused with the smell that made men cross oceans (as in the spice trade); I couldn’t stop inhaling slowly and deeply, like a meditating monk, and admiring my big bowl of Original Sri Lankan Roasted Curry Powder. I gave some to my mother, my brother in Brooklyn, and my sister in Paris, and they couldn’t stop raving about it. I used it to cook some rice and curry for friends and they were positively orgasmic. Mmmm! Ahhhh! Ohhhhh! I think I’m on to something, I thought to myself. So you know what I did? I bottled it, slapped on a label and decided to make it available to all of you. Maybe you don’t have an Indian store or Sri Lankan restaurant in your neighborhood, but you still want to try some of this amazing food (which is also amazingly easy to make). Maybe you do, but you are too lazy or busy. Well I have the solution: Try Skiz’s Original Sri Lankan Roasted Curry Powder, made by hand in small batches.
One 6 oz. bottle – $7 (+$3 shipping and handling)
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