Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Learning to Cook Sri Lankan in Unawatuna

During my recent trip to Sri Lanka, I decided to take a cooking class in Unawatuna so that I could recreate all the fantastic curry I was eating back home. Food is a big part of travel for me, I love to learn about new flavour combinations, ingredients that I've never heard of and new approaches to ingredients I know and love. So when my guide book mentioned cooking classes at Sonja's Health Food Restaurant in Unawatuna (about 10 minutes out of Galle) I put it straight on the itinerary for our trip.

For anybody that is heading to Sri Lanka, it is an all day cooking class (about 11am to 4pm) for 3000 rupees per person (about $23), includes a trip to the market and lunch that you cooked (also dinner if you want to pack up your curries and take them with you). So, it's not the cheapest experience in Sri Lanka, however, if you make it last for both your meals then it can work out cost effective. The class is with Karuna, a very cute and fun loving lady who is very easy to get along with and enjoys a laugh. I took the class with my partner Daniel and our travel buddy Sophie. You'll need to call ahead, just a day or two to let her know you want to take the class (use the phone number on the sign in the picture above).

Unfortunately Karuna doesn't give out copies of the recipes any more - despite the fact that she advertises that she does on her sign. She instead gave us a notebook and pen and delegated one of us to write down all the recipes as we went along. A copy of the recipes would have been much easier and we could have easily taken notes on it if required. So, sadly it meant Sophie spent most of her time writing and didn't end up doing much cooking for her 3000 Rs.

Karuna makes ginger tea for us
The cooking class was very vegan friendly. Only one of the dishes on Karuna's regular teaching menu wasn't vegan - a fish curry. We made it anyway, as my two companions weren't vegan and I was happy to learn the curry anyway so that I could use it back home with a different main ingredient. I'm sure that Karuna would be happy to sub in another veggie curry instead of the fish though, she seemed quite flexible about it. All her veggie curries are naturally vegan - so no need to worry about asking her to sub milk/cream or anything as they are all made with coconut milk and cream.

First on the agenda was a trip to the markets to buy fresh vegetables. We then went on to the fish markets and then a store to buy lentils and spices. Here, Karuna shows you which curry powders she uses so that you can buy some to take home if you want (just remember if you are an Aussie that you can't bring whole spices back in through Australian customs).

The class was good fun, although a little disorganised and probably didn't need to take all day. If she had been more organised it could have easily been done in a couple of hours, as none of the dishes needed to cook for long or required much preparation.

Although Karuna was lovely, she appeared to have a bit of a favouritism issue with us! She took a fancy to Daniel and asked him to do almost everything with the cooking. She then delegated Sophie to writing out the recipes as we went and that left me sort of hanging around and jumping in whenever I could. A more even distribution of tasks would have made it more fun!

Daniel mixing the rotti
Daniel chopping up the sambal
Daniel making the coconut cream
More chopping - no kidding, she got him to do pretty much everything

First on the menu was coconut rotti with hot onion sambal - it was amazing! Delicious rotti made with grated fresh coconut flesh (grated with a fabulous contraption she had just for that task) topped with a quick and easy sambal of chilli, tomato, onion and lime juice.

Me grating the coconut

Sophie flips the rotti like a rockstar

Karuna then showed us how to make our own coconut cream and milk using fresh coconut flesh. We made a batch of each to use in all of our curries. Next we made all the curries - devilled potatoes, pumpkin curry, bean curry, dhal and the fish curry. We made them one by one and then put them aside until the others were finished, which meant that the first one we cooked was only lukewarm by the time we ate it, which was a shame. They were delicious though!

Devilled potatoes
Green bean curry
Pumpkin curry cooking on the stove
Dhal (foreground) and fish curry (background)
A plate of delicious curries!

The curries were all absolutely delicious! Not the best organised or run cooking class I have attended (if you want an amazing cooking class go to May Kaidee's in Bangkok!), but despite some of the downsides outlined above, I would definitely recommend it to you because the food was all absolutely amazing. My favourites would probably be the coconut rotti with sambal and the devilled potatoes! The curries were all very adaptable as well, I'm sure you could take the recipes and easily substitute other veggies or some tofu with great results.

Overall it was way too much food! But Karuna skillfully packaged us up little packets of curry to take with us folded up in plastic and newspaper, very neat and handy!

For more information on Sri Lankan food and what I ate (and drank) during my trip, check out my earlier post about Sri Lankan food.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Sri Lankan Food - A Photographic Diary

As you may know, I have just spent three blissful weeks exploring the beautiful country of Sri Lanka! Beautiful scenery, wonderful people and delicious food! But of course, this is a food blog - so lets get to the food!! I took a few pics along the way so that I could share with you the great curries, I also took a cooking class in Unawatuna so that now I can make these delicious curries at home!


You won't be surprised to hear that Sri Lankan food is centrally curry and rice. Finding vegan food is very easy in Sri Lanka, as "Vegetable Curries and Rice" are on every menu and they are naturally dairy free - often using coconut milk and cream as their base. When you order vegetable curry and rice, you don't pick your curries, they just bring out a selection of vegetable curries, chutneys, sambals, papadums and rice.

Clockwise from top: dhal, chokoe curry, cabbage and kunlun, whole cooked garlic cloves, beetroot sambal, papadums

L-R: papadums, dhal, tomato curry, potato curry

Clockwise from top: okra curry, rice, chicken curry, tomato and cucumber salad, pumpkin curry, manioc curry

The above vegie curries on my plate.

Fried noodles with pineapple chutney and chilli paste

Unsurprisingly, Sri Lankans also eat curry for breakfast as well as lunch and dinner. Most of the guest houses we stayed in offered an option of ordering Western Breakfast (eggs, toast, jam, tea/coffee) or Sri Lankan Breakfast (curry, hoppers of some kind, curries, tea/coffee). I've always been a fan of eating savoury foods for breakfast, as I just don't really like many of the breakfasts typical of Western countries, so I actually loved the curry for breakfast - although we didn't manage to do it every day for three weeks! I admit we had to go for toast some mornings.

A Sri Lankan breakfast of rice & coconut milk squares, hot onion sambal and bananas.

A Sri Lankan Breakfast of potato curry, chicken curry and string hoppers

A Sri Lankan breakfast of string hoppers, rotti, hoppers, coconut sambal and an egg hopper (with 2 curries in the background)

Egg curry and dhal

My friend's Western Breakfast - for those who don't feel like curry first thing in the morning!

A rare opportunity to get "moosly"

You could also buy King Coconuts on the side of the road anywhere in Sri Lanka, to drink and eat the small amount of soft flesh inside.

(not me)

The spoils of our amazing Sri Lankan cooking class in Unawatuna, for more details check out this post here!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Best Ever Vegan Carrot Cake

This have been very quiet on this blog lately - my apologies! I do, however, have an excellent excuse. I have spend the last three weeks in Sri Lanka having the most amazing holiday, thus not being able to post. If you keep your eye on the blog in the next few days you'll see lots of great pictures of all the curries I ate and a wonderful cooking class I took in Unawatuna (on Sri Lanka's south coast). First though, here is something very un-Sri Lankan!

I flew in last night and after a very long day of flying and today I slept until 12:40pm! Sounds bad, I know, but actually it was only 8am in Sri Lanka, so I didn't feel so bad! When I finally got myself out of bed I jumped back on my blog to see how it had fared in my absence. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the blog had quite a lot of hits still - thanks guys! I was also pleasantly surprised to find that I had about 3 hours left to enter the July Sweet Adventures Blog Hop - Nuts About Sweets.

Luckily I had this incredible vegan carrot cake in the archive, which is packed full of tasty walnuts! I'm a long time lover of carrot cake, but there are a lot of awful ones out there! I had it a lot as a kid but not as much as an adult. One night I had a real craving for carrot cake while I was out with friends so I decided to have a decidedly un-vegan moment (I'm only human! It happens sometimes) and bought a piece of carrot cake from a bakery on King St in Newtown. It was dreadful. Dry and bland cake covered in a thick icing which pretty much tasted like butter with a little bit of sugar. It was devastating and I threw most of it in the bin - all it did was make me crave real carrot cake more!!

So I knew I had to make a better one! It had to be my mother's recipe, so I decided to do a vegan version. It was incredible, the absolute best carrot cake I have ever eaten! So here it is - easy and delicious!


The Cake
1 cup oil
1 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of salt (optional)
3 cups grated carrot
1 1/3 cups apple sauce
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 cups wholemeal flour

The Icing
1 tsp vanilla
60g nuttelex
125g vegan cream cheese
2 cups soft icing mixture

To Make
1. Mix sugar, oil and apple sauce well. 
2. Add dry ingredients (sifted), carrots and nuts. Mix well.
3. Pour into a greased and lined cake tin
4. Bake at 120 degrees celcius for 1 hour.
5. Remove and allow to cool for 20 minutes or so in the tin before turning out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
6. Cream the vanilla, nuttelex and cream cheese together using an electric beater or a knife. Mix in the icing mixture and mix until completely smooth and fluffy. Ice the cake however you like.