Let me just state that I can’t cook. If cooking includes, making grilled sandwiches, frying eggs, making french toast or pancakes out of a mix, then I sort of can, but not the real authentic Ceylonese cooking my mum and aunts are so good at.
Decided to observe my mum making her coconut sambar (dhal) today. The dhal which you find at the commercial restaurants in Singapore don’t usually have coconut milk in it and since I’ve grown up with the coconut milk version, I prefer it a whole lot more. The tastes we acquired makes up a huge part of our childhood memories and that’s why I decided to cook with my mum today. It’s quite a laborious process starting with getting the ingrediants you need at the market.
The ingrediants include the curry powders (these days it’s much easier than in my grandma’s time when she made her own curry powders from scratch). We usually go for Baba’s which is a brand from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Look out for Baba’s Sambar Curry Powder and I figure you probably can get this for a lot cheaper in Malaysia.
The main ingrediant is of course the dhal or lentils.
Tamarind is another important ingrediant – we add the juice for a sourish element to the dish. Asian dishes tend to have complex sweet, sour, spicy flavours, but somehow, all in harmony.
This I used to do as a kid. Follow my mum to the market to buy the grated coconut. I used to be fascinated as I watched the coconut being ground by the machine. When we got home, we then added some water to the coconut and squeezed the juice out with our hands. This was the fun bit. What I didn’t like about the market – the poor chickens cooped up in cages, and used to turn my face away and they got killed. I don’t know how, but the squawking was awful. I always wanted to open the cage and let them go. The wet markets also used to stink and I had to hold my breath. They are much more hygenic these days, but I guess not as colourful.
We do this three times. The first time is the creamiest and the last time is the lightest version. My mum refer to it as first, second and third milk. As the dhall is almost cooked, she adds the creamiest version. I know, a whole lot of saturated fat, but since we haven’t had this in a long time, I guess it’s ok? Somehow it’s just not the same for me, without coconut milk. I think a lot of Sri Lankan dishes have coconut milk in them as the island is filled with coconut trees.
Slicing up the vegetables into chunks.
The brinjal is placed in water, otherwise it turns brown very quickly. Isn’t the purple of the brinjal so pretty?
Adding the various ingrediants into the pot, starting with the lentils (rinse them out first). The whole process is boiling – like a stew.
Then in goes garlic, ginger, onion and chillis. After this comes to a boil, we use a huge spoon to scoop out the foam (this is what makes you feel bloated when you eat dhall).
Add the sambar curry powder.
All the vegetables and the tomatoes last, or they get too mushy. The sweet pumpkins are my favourite.
Almost done as you add the first milk (creamiest part of the coconut milk).
Meanwhile you cook the rice. Add one cup of rice and one and three quarter cups of water to it. Too much and it’s be more like porridge. Too little and the rice won’t get fluffy enough.
Peeking into the rice cooker through it’s glass top, as the rice is half cooked. It takes about 10 minutes.
We were lazy today, but we usually have the meal with appalam (deep fried crackers), sliced brinjal (deep fried) and chillis (deep fried dry chillis). We skipped all the unhealthy deep fried stuff, but we did have the meal with achar and super sour full fat yoghurt. It wouldn’t have been complete without it. Hope you liked this vegetarian meal presentation. It was fun to document it.