Archive for the ‘Kerala’ Category


Welcome to the 4th season of Pan Asian! I never figured that this little exercise in opening my own food horizons would last this long, and garner such a loyal following. So thanks to all of you readers and viewers, and everyone who has checked out my blog and YouTube channel. If you like what you see, please spread the word because I do this strictly for the love of food and cooking, and not for the love of money.

The beginning of a new year is ripe with possibility because this is the time that we normally take stock of things, and make resolutions to better ourselves, exercise more, and eat healthier. There’s nothing more empowering than setting a positive agenda to follow, and sticking to it.  With that said, I thought I’d kick off the new season of Pan Asian with a dish for everyone, whether you be carnivore, vegetarian or vegan. Sweet Potato with Fenugreek leaves  is a tasty dish that takes little or no time to make, and it’s actually good for you as well, so you can’t lose.

It uses one of my favorite ingredients–fresh curry leaves–as well as an ingredient I do not use that often, fresh fenugreek leaves. Although fenugreek itself is a legume, its sprouts and leaves are used as vegetables, and its seeds are used as a spice in Indian and Sri Lankan cooking. But we Sri Lankans never use the leaves, so this a new application for me. Fenugreek leaves, which are available at any Indian store,  have a slightly bitter taste that plays well with the sweetness of the sweet potatoes. The chili and mustard seeds also combine to create a very well-rounded flavor consistent with the ancient Indian system of Ayurveda, which defines a balanced meal as one combining all the tastes–sweet, salty, sour, spicy, bitter, and astringent. According to Ammini Ramachandran, who supplied the recipe, fenugreek slows the absorption of sugar in the stomach and stimulates insulin production. It is also supposedly helps lower triglycerides and cholesterol levels and helps with digestive problems. So what are you waiting for? Please indulge!


The Recipe

(adapted from Ammini Ramachandran)

1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled & diced

2 cups fenugreek leaves, removed from stems

2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil

1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds

1 teaspoon dry-roasted and crushed cumin seeds

1 sprig fresh curry leaves

1 teaspoon grated ginger

salt to taste

¼ teaspoon turmeric powder

½ teaspoon cayenne powder

1.)   Heat ghee/oil in a saucepan at medium heat and add mustard seeds. When the seeds start popping, stir in cumin seeds, curry leaves and ginger. Fry for a minute and then add the cubed sweet potatoes. Stir well, reduce heat, cover and cook.

2.)   After 5 minutes add salt, cayenne and turmeric powder and gently stir. Cover again and cook for 10-12 minutes until the sweet potatoes are tender.

3.)   Add fenugreek leaves, stir, and cover the pan. Cook until leaves wilt—about 5 minutes.

4.)   Remove from stove and serve immediately with rice or Indian breads.

Serves 4

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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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some Kerala Curry products....MMMMmmmmm!!


I first met Rollo and Ann Varkey at the Fancy Food Show in DC last summer. Among the glut of corporate exhibitors dominating the vast Walter E. Washington Convention Center floor, they represented  a handful of real “mom & pop” operations, coming all the way from Pittsboro, North Carolina in hopes of getting national distribution for their line of exceptionally good spices and condiments. One taste and I was an immediate convert. Not only did their glass jars stand out from the increasingly crowded field of factory-produced Indian meals, which came packaged in metallic pouches like military MRE’s, but what was inside them–the spirit of Kerala–provided a refreshing relief from the run-of-the-mill.


For those who don’t know, the state of Kerala is located on the south-west coast of India in a region once known as the Malabar coast, a popular stop on the spice route of antiquity. In addition to such valuable natural resources, Kerala is also known for its bounty of coconuts–the Sanskrit root ‘kera,’ in fact, means coconut–which figure prominently into the local cuisine. Plus, like Sri Lankans, they love their chilies. While there are certainly similarities between our curries, Kerala has a character all its own. It is also strikingly different from much of the north Indian fare popular in America.


Out of everything Indian I sampled at Fancy Food, I found the Varkey’s Kerala Curry line to be the best. I don’t regularly endorse products, but I’ll definitely tip you off when I taste something good. So when I received a couple of new products in the mail recently–Kerala Curry’s Vindaloo Curry Sauce and the Curried Lemon Chutney–I was looking forward to trying them out.


Trader Joe's frozen garlic naan


As much as I love to cook, inevitably, there comes a time when I don’t have the time. In these moments, I don’t turn to Kentucky Fried or Dominoes, but my freezer. Usually there’s something good left over that just needs to be heated up. This time, it was Trader Joe’s frozen garlic naan, a good foundation for any curry. I brush it with a little olive oil and stick it in the toaster oven. Meanwhile, I have some chicken breasts thawing. I cut them up, and throw them in a pan with sauteed onions and fresh curry leaves. I add a few chopped green chilies for good measure. The bottle of Vindaloo Curry Sauce that I take out of the cupboard says “hot” all over it, but these things are never really hot. I dip in a finger and take a taste: It is hot! But damn good. Only water, tomatoes, canola oil, onion, vinegar, red chili, salt, coriander, black pepper, Kerala Curry spice, ginger, green chili, mustard seeds, garlic, turmeric. I empty this concoction–reddish, rich and shimmering–over the chicken, and then fill the bottle with water and add that to the pan. A chopped red potato follows as an afterthought. I mix it all up and let it simmer.

Twenty to 30 minutes later the liquid has reduced into a thick gravy, and the smell is divine.  I serve some over the hot garlic naan and eat it with some fresh, sliced tomatoes; green chilies; mango chutney; and the curried lemon chutney, which tastes an awful lot like the popular Sri Lankan condiment, lime pickle. Not exactly fast food, but good food fast.

On a good day, I would have probably tried to make that curry from scratch. But it’s good to know that if I’m ever in a bind or just feeling lazy, I still have another bottle of Kerala Curry’s Vindaloo Curry Sauce in the cupboard as well as some Curried Lemon Chutney in the fridge.

chicken vindaloo with garlic naan, sliced tomatoes, green chilies, mango chutney, and curried lemon chutney


For some curry in a hurry, go to:



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A friend and I have started a new supper club in Baltimore called Temporary Table and this is our inaugural event! Having spent time in Kerala, India learning how to make their cuisine, Asya Ollis and myself, your resident Sri  Lankan rice & curry fiend, decided it was time to make Baltimore a little more gastronomically progressive. Since there are no Sri Lankan or South Indian restaurants in town, we decided to start our own, but for one night only. Thus was born the Temporary Table, a roving supper club, in which we hope to feature new, original, and exciting menus for every event.  Our first dinner will be held  Thursday, February 24th 2011, and vegetarians and carnivores alike are both welcome as there will be plenty of good food for all to share. Ticket info is available at the end of the post, so if you happen to be in Baltimore on that night, please join us!

The Details:

@ The Abell Room of  The Womans Industrial Exchange

333 N. Charles St. (betw. Saratoga & Mulberry)

Baltimore, MD

Thursday, February 24th 2011 @ 7:00 P.M.

$25 to reserve a seat at the table (BYOB) — Space limited to 20 people

(For tickets, please visit ticketleap.com)

Featuring dual menus:

chicken curry

The Sri Lankan Menu

Prepared by Skiz Fernando



croquettes of spiced meat and fish deep fried to perfection.

Main Courses

Chicken Curry (kukulmas)

A traditional Sri Lankan curry served in a rich, coconut milk gravy.

Black Pork Curry (ooroomas kalupol)

A traditional Sri Lankan preparation using roasted coconut and spices to achieve its dark hue.

Sour Fish Curry (fish ambul thiyal)

A ‘dry’ (gravy-less) curry accented by the tart taste of gamboge (goraka), a sour fruit.

Sauteed greens (mallun)

Finely chopped greens quickly stir fried with onions, shredded coconut and spices.

Coconut sambol (pol sambal)

A popular Sri Lankan condiment made with shredded coconut, lime, ground chilies, and salt.

Sri Lankan Salad

Fresh tomato, cucumber, and red onion lightly dressed with lime-juice salt, black pepper, and chili flakes


Coconut Flan (wattalapam)

Sri Lanka’s version of crème caramel made with coconut milk and palm sugar.


wattalapam (coconut flan)


The South Indian Menu

Prepared by Asya Ollis


Pappaddum with assorted chutnies

Main Courses

Masoor Dhal with Toasted Coconut and Coriander

Green Bean Oolarthiathu

Green bean stir-fry with urad dhal

Spinach Pachadi

Spinach and yogurt infused with mustard seeds, red chilis and curry leaves


Mixed vegetable curry with tamarind and coconut

Cashew Lime Rice

Long grain rice with fresh lime juice, cashew nuts and channa dhal

Rosematta Rice

Rose-colored South Indian and Sri Lankan rice



Traditional South Indian pudding


Follow this link for tickets:

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The southwestern Indian state of Kerala is known for its spicy cuisine, and this dish is a regional favorite, often found on local restaurant menus as “Malabar mutton curry.” Like Sri Lankan cooking, the cuisine of Goa and Kerala tends to favor coconut, coconut milk, and curry leaves, though I believe Sri Lankans are much more liberal in their use of chili. Case in point: I doubled and tripled the amounts of red chili powder and whole green chilies in this recipe, and it hurt so good!

Kerala Lamb

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil

7 oz (200g) shallots

1 Tbsp. ground coriander

1/2 Tsp. ground turmeric

1/2 Tsp chili powder

salt to taste

1 1/4 lb. (500 g) lamb, cubed

Spice paste: 4 oz. freshly grated (or dessicated) coconut

1 inch (2.5 cm) piece ginger

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 inch stick of cinnamon

3 cloves

2 bay leaves

10 curry leaves

2 green chilies, slit lengthwise

Tempering: 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1/2 Tsp. black mustard seeds

10 curry leaves

2 green chilies, slit lengthwise

1.)   First, make the spice paste by roasting coconut with ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, curry leaves, and peppercorns in a dry pan until the coconut is browned. Cool and grind in food processor, gradually adding about a cup of water to make a fine paste.

2.)   Heat 3 Tbsp. of oil in frying pan. Add shallots and fry for 5 minutes until soft. Add the spice paste, coriander, turmeric, chili powder, salt, and 1 2/3 cups of water.

3.)   Bring to a boil and add lamb. Then reduce heat, cover, and cook for 30 minutes, until lamb is well cooked.

4.)   Prepare tempering mixture in another saucepan: Heat oil and add mustard seeds. Once they start popping add curry leaves and green chilies and stir-fry for 1 minute.

5.)   Pour tempering mixture over the lamb curry and continue cooking for about 10 minutes or until curry is very dry and thick. Serve with rice or paratha bread.

Serves 4

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