Cooking Sri Lankan is enormously fun, just as cooking Indian is. And anyone who tells you otherwise is of dubious character.
This delicious pot roast recipe, modified slightly, comes from Madhur Jaffrey’s At Home with Madhur Jaffrey: Simple, Delectable Dishes from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. A specialty from Sri Lanka’s Burgher community, this dish owes its origins to a happy union between European colonialists (mostly Dutch but also some Portuguese and English) and the so-called indigenous population. Here, a simple pot roast has been made wonderfully Sri Lankan with the addition of roasted coriander, cumin and fennel seeds – the main ingredients in Sri Lankan curry – and, of course, coconut milk.
Freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds
4 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
One 2-inch cinnamon stick
1 large onion, finely chopped
One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1½ cups beef (or chicken) stock
½–1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup coconut milk, well-stirred
Set a small cast-iron (or other heavy) frying pan over medium heat. When hot, sprinkle in the coriander, cumin, fennel, and fenugreek seeds. Stir for 30 seconds or so until the spices just start to emit a roasted aroma. Empty onto a piece of paper towel, and, when cooled off a bit, grind the spices or crush in a mortar.
Preheat the oven to 160°C, and pour yourself a drink.
Cut the beef into large chunks and sprinkle lightly with crushed salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.
In an ovenproof casserole-type pan with a lid (I use a large cast iron French oven made by Le Creuset, which I love as much as it is possible to love any non-‘person’), heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the meat and brown on all sides. Then, remove the meat to a plate. Add the cinnamon, onions, ginger and garlic to the pot, stir and cook for 4–5 minutes. Then add the vinegar, stock, cayenne pepper, 1½ teaspoons salt, the ground seeds and the beef (with its accumulated juices). Stir and bring slowly to a boil. Then cover and place in the oven for an hour at 160°C, and then lower it to 125°C, basting and turning every 30 minutes or so, for a further 2–3 hours, or until meat is tender. If things begin to look a little dry, then add a little boiled water or stock, and stir in well. You don’t want the meat to dry out. When the meat has reached the desired tenderness, or when you can just no longer handle smelling and not eating, then remove the pan from oven. Stir in the coconut milk, and bring it all to a slow simmer on a stove top before serving.
Serve with rice, noodles (Sri Lanka has exquisite rice noodles, so thin rice noodles would work) or mashed potatoes. Enjoy it with a beer.
And while we’re thinking Sri Lanka, here’s one of my all-time favourite fishing pics from that amazing part of the world: