Photo by Farideh Sadeghin
Serves: 2 to 3
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Fried rice is big in Sri Lanka; a hybrid Sri Lankan-Chinese food, and it tastes as brilliant as you’d expect from two powerhouse cuisines coming together. This recipe is inspired by my cousin’s wife, Dharma, who made me some delicious fried rice for lunch one day when I went to visit her on her farm.
Like the busy working woman who taught me it, this recipe is intended to get you some of the highs of a Sri Lankan lunch as quickly as possible. This recipe is cooked fast, using cooked crabmeat (ideally the freshest you can get). You want the rice, on the other hand, to ideally be a day old, but I have included instructions if you need to cook it fresh.
Because crab curry is traditionally cooked in the north and east of Sri Lanka with murungai-ilai (moringa leaves), which have a slightly bitter taste, this recipe uses arugula to add some pep and freshness.
for the Sri Lankan curry powder:
¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons|30 grams coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil
8 to 10 fresh curry leaves
2 cups|70 grams dried Kashmiri or medium hot red chillies
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
for the meat powder:
4 whole cardamom pods
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 (2 ½-centimeter) piece of a cinnamon stick
¼ nutmeg, grated
for the rice:
2 ½ cups|350 grams leftover cooked rice (or ⅔ cup|125 grams jasmine, basmati or short-grain uncooked rice)
3 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil
½ red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
15 fresh curry leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
1 ½ golf ball-sized pieces|75 grams of tamarind block, soaked in 60 ml warm water
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon SL curry powder
2 handfuls arugula leaves, chopped
⅞ cup|200 ml coconut milk
1 cup|150 grams picked, cooked crabmeat
1 large organic or free-range egg
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 tablespoon mayonnaise (Kewpie, if possible)
1 teaspoon meat powder
2 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal
2 tablespoons dry-roasted peanuts, crushed, optional
- Make the Sri Lankan curry powder: Make sure the windows are open and the ventilation is on, because roasting the chillies will kick up an intense smell which carries through the house. In a dry pan over a low-medium heat, roast the coriander, cumin, fennel and black peppercorns for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring regularly, until they begin to be really fragrant, then pour them into a bowl. Add the oil to the pan, and cook the curry leaves and dried chillies for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and when cool, blitz in a spice grinder or mini food processor until fine—you can blitz it in batches if you need to. Stir in the turmeric, and put the whole lot in a jam jar.
- Make the meat powder: Crush the cardamom pods a bit with your fingers. Put a small pan over medium-low heat, and add the cardamom, fennel seeds and cloves, and roast for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, tip into a spice grinder or mini food processor along with the nutmeg and cinnamon, and blitz until fine.
- Cook the rice: If you need to cook your rice, pour the uncooked rice into a saucepan and rinse loosely under the tap. Drain well, then cover in 1 cup|250 ml water. Place over a medium-high heat, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cover with lid. Cook for 10 to 18 minutes depending on what kind of rice you’re cooking, until the water is fully absorbed. Remove from the heat and let it sit for about 10 minutes, covered. Gently fluff the rice grains with a fork.
- When you’re ready to make fried rice, squeeze the tamarind to extract, then discard, the seeds and skin, leaving behind the pulpy water. Add 2 tablespoons oil to a wok or large frying pan over a high heat. When the oil starts shimmering, add the about half the onion (which should sizzle), 5 curry leaves, and all the garlic. Stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until the onions are translucent, being careful not to burn the garlic.
- Lower the heat to medium-high, and add the tamarind water, salt, SL curry powder, rocket and coconut milk, and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes until it all bubbles a little bit. Add the cooked crabmeat, and let it soak up the curry for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring it once or twice to make sure the curry liquid touches all the crab. Spoon the crab curry mixture and all the liquid out into a bowl.
- Back in the wok or frying pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, turn the heat up to high and, when shimmering, add the rest of the curry leaves and red onion. Stir-fry until the onion is soft, then pull it over to one side and crack the egg into the middle of the pan. As the egg cooks, break it up with your spoon into pieces, to make small soft folds. After 30 seconds, add the chili flakes and let them cook in the oil. About 30 seconds later, add the cooked rice, along with the mayonnaise. Stir-fry everything for 2 to 3 minutes until the rice is heated through thoroughly and some bits are getting a little crunchy. Return the curried crab to the pan, stir-fry for 30 seconds, switch off the heat and add meat powder. Stir through, dish up and finish with sliced spring onions and peanuts, if using. Serve hot.
From Rambutan: Recipes from Sri Lanka by Cynthia Shanmugalingam. Used with permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury. Copyright 2022 by Cynthia Shanmugalingam.
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