East Oxford Farmers’ & Community Market

Farmers' Market Today

Markets in September really come into their own. There’s an abundance of produce, some looking back to the summer, and other looking forward towards autumn, so there’s more variety than probably any time during the year. This is the best time to shop. But there’s also the slightly melancholic feeling that we should enjoy it while it lasts, because this bounty is soon to disappear. As such, it feels special. It is special. So go to your local market and enjoy its bounty. Maybe make some jams or preserves to stretch that taste of the warm months into the cooler days to come.

The Sandy Lane vegetables

I’m lucky to live near a particularly good local market: The East Oxford Farmers’ & Community Market. So good in fact that in 2011 it was one of the finalists in Radio 4’s Food & Farming Awards. The market, run by volunteers since 2006, is relatively small, but the variety of produce is fantastic: milk, veg, fruit, honey, eggs, meat, trout, bread, cakes, other baked goods, juice, salami and cured meats, salad leaves, cheese, flowers, fairtrade tea and coffee. If you don’t fancy cooking, then there’s a variety of cooked food to choose from: Japanese, Indian, Italian, Middle-Eastern, Filipino, Tibetan, British, etc. Eco-friendly detergents and dried goods, crafts  and local organisations can also be found at the market. It’s a fantastic place to get your weekly staples, as well as the special artisanal extras. Redcurrants from Sotwell Manor Fruit Farm (more…)

Authentic, or not? Sri Lankan, or not?

When would you say that a new recipe creation belongs to a particular cuisine? How would you define it? Or to widen the topic of this discussion a little further, when would you call a recipe authentic? Or inauthentic?

Sri Lankan-style chickpea saladBeing someone interested in exploring different world cuisines and cooking different national dishes, I encounter these questions often. When I was writing the previous post on Sri-Lankan-style chickpea salad, I was wondering which categories to assign it to, whether to label it Sri Lankan, or not?  The dish was inspired by a Sri Lankan style of cooking (albeit cooking of vegetables), I used Sri Lankan spices and flavours. But I still felt unsure, and called it Sri-Lankan style. Perhaps partly because I wasn’t sure about how Sri Lankan my addition of coriander leaf is.

Curly kale

Let’s consider another example, the kale aloo recipe, my version of the classic Indian Punjabi dish aloo palak. Except that I used kale. Here, I felt somehow more confident. The spicing was completely Indian/Punjabi, and the technique. It was just that I’d used kale, which was available to me at the time and seasonal, rather than spinach.

Also, when I made the Sri Lankan fish curry with salmon, which can’t be a traditional ingredient, I confidently labelled it Sri Lankan, because Jasmine cooked it, and it was her recipe. And she is Sri Lankan.

Am I being nervous and insecure just because I don’t belong to these nations? A dish can’t be called Sri Lankan/Punjabi only when made by a Sri Lankan/Punjabi? Surely that can’t be right?

Creativity is an integral part of cooking, and Indian and Sri Lankan cooks use spices and ingredients in many wonderful and diverse ways. Spicing differs from cook to cook, and dishes differ from cook to cook. Cooking with a Punjabi friend opened my eyes to it; her spontaneity, her creativity taught me to relax when cooking with spices. These cooks also pride themselves on being different, original within their national style of cooking. And when they go abroad, they use the ingredients they’ve got at hand. Like the salmon in fish curry. So I’m inclined to think that kale in my aloo doesn’t stop it from being Punjabi, and perhaps my chickpea salad is Sri Lankan after all, as long as I’ve used the ingredients, flavours and techniques pertinent to that national/regional style of cooking.

What do you think? When would you say a dish belongs to a cuisine? And then what do you think makes a dish authentic? I’m really interested to read about your thoughts on this matter.

Music of the waves in Zadar

I promised some Croatia photos to the dear Soma, but had to disappoint when our camera unexpectedly left us. Still, I got lucky! A very dear friend from home agreed to share her photos of Zadar with us. Thank you, S!

My favourite place in Zadar is the riva or promenade (in Croatian), with its white stones dipped into the deep blue and green sea, with a long and thin evergreen park of pine trees and black oak in the background, the views of the islands of the coast of Zadar and amazing, achingly beautiful sunsets. The riva is a beautiful urban space in its own right, but there is something else there that makes it even more special. In 2005, a sea organ was built on the west side of the riva. Yes, an organ, an instrument. Played not by a human hand, but by the wind and ‘the sounding sea’ (You might have guessed that I owe this last phrase to Poe).

The sea organ (morske orgulje in Croatian) is  designed by the architect Nikola Bašić. Made from white marble, several stairs extend for about 70 meters along the riva. Under the stairs, at the lowest sea-tide level, there are 35 pipes of different length, diameter and tilts, placed vertically to the coast, with labiums (whistles), which play 7 chords of 5 tones. The stairs have little holes in them, through which the sound comes out as the air is pushed by the sea. Concealed under the stairs is a resonating cavity. This amazing creation produces random, but strangely harmonious sounds that go from slow whistles produced by the gentle ripples of bonaca (calm sea), to angry fortes directed by the wind and the storms. You can hear the Zadar sea organ on YouTube, or in the Odd Music Gallery.

We didn’t take photos specifically of the sea organ, so do have a look at the excellent collection of the sea organ photos on Flickr.

Here are the photos that my friend took. Enjoy.

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Walking towards the sea organ

 

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View from the sea organ to the Zadar University (the building on the edge of the coast)

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Greeting to the Sun – another of Basic’s installations – in the day time. (I shall have to dedicate another post to this)

 

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One of the many sailing boats in the Zadar Canal. You can see the islands in the background here.

So here you go! Here are some little snippets of my homeland. Oh how I miss those blue blue skies, and the smell of the sea…

Digg This

Sri Lankan Spices

Before I tell you about the Sri Lankan spices (or rather spice mixtures), let me remind you about this month’s Eating with the Seasons event that’s hosted here at Maninas. This month, we are celebrating the seasonal ingredients for January, so hurry up and send me your entries on or before 15 January! As always, I look forward to your seasonal tips and recipes!

 

Anyhow, back to Sri Lankan spices! In my introductory post on this beautiful and aromatic cuisine , I mentioned spice mixtures that are characteristic for Jasmine’s Sri Lankan cooking: Sri Lankan garam masala, Sri Lankan curry powder, etc. What I didn’t tell you then that Jasmine packed me home with a little treasure: stacks of her spices and recipes for how to make them! In addition to the curry powder and the garam masala, I’ve also got a recipe for her tempering spices and rasam powder. Enjoy!

 

Sri Lankan Garam Masala

Sri Lankan garam masala is very different from what I know as Indian garam masalas (For a wealth of regional Indian recipes, check out Vegeyum’s beautiful and informative post). The most important difference is that the spices not roasted; cinnamon, cardamom and cloves are simply ground together raw, and the flavours of cloves and cardamom are dominant. The masala is used in certain meat and vegetable curries, and the recipe is simple:

INGREDIENTS:

1 tbsp green cardamom pods

1 tbsp cloves

2 cinnamon sticks, about 7 cm in length each

METHOD:

Simply grind all the ingredients together.

NOTE: Proportion of the ingredients can vary. The flavours of cardamom and cloves are dominant, but to what extent? Play around and find your own winning combination!

At first, I found the flavour of raw cloves a little challenging, but I soon got over it, and got used to it. In fact, I started loving it, and craving it!

 

Sri Lankan Curry Powder

Sri Lankan curry powder is roasted, and not ‘raw’: the spices are roasted and then ground, which gives them a seductive nutty flavour. The curry powder is often added to the dishes at the final stages of cooking, to finish off the flavours. There are numerous versions of the recipe, and it’s usually homemade. This is Jasmine’s:

INGREDIENTS:

200 g fennel seeds

100 g cumin seeds

1 tbsp green cardamom pods

1 tbsp cloves

2 cinnamon sticks, about 7.5 cm in length each

a handful of curry leaves

pandan leaves, 7 cm piece (optional)

METHOD:

All the ingredients are roasted briefly together, and then ground.

 

Jasmine’s Tempering Spices

Jasmine uses this spice mixture for tempering her delectable dhals and vegetable preparations.

INGREDIENTS:

Brown mustard seeds

cumin seeds

fennel seeds

METHOD:

Equal amounts of these spices are simply coarsely ground all together (unroasted).

 

Jasmine’s Rasam Powder

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup coriander seeds

1 dessert spoon of cumin seeds

1 dessert spoon of fennel seeds

1 dessert spoon of black pepper

a few dried red chillies

METHOD:

The spices are simply ground all together (unroasted).

ALSO: Jasmine keeps at hand a mixture of freshly ground, raw cumin and black pepper, which I think is a great idea as I love both of these flavours.

 

I don’t have a recipe for Sri Lankan chilli powder (which is a mixture of spices),  as she shared with me some of her own, sent to her especially and all the way from Sri Lanka. I really am lucky! 🙂 (A quick note: I’ve noticed she uses chilli powder when cooking meat, and certain vegetable curries, and green chillies in other vegetable preparations and dhal.)

There you go! Now we’re all set to cook Sri Lankan! (Though I appreciate that many of these ingredients may be difficult to find for many people.) More delicious recipes coming next! In fact, I’m going to post a Sri Lankan recipe for a leek and cabbage side dish  with coconut for the January Eating with the Seasons, so stay tuned!

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My other posts and recipes on Sri Lankan cooking:

The aroma of curry leaves: Sri Lankan cooking (Introduction)

Varar – Sri Lankan cabbage and leek with coconut

Sri Lankan coconut dhal

Sri Lankan Fish Cutlets

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The aroma of curry leaves. Sri Lankan cooking

Wherever I am, the aroma of curry leaves cooking will take me to Jasmine’s kitchen. Outside, one of those sultry and wet English November dusks; inside, a warm kitchen fragrant with spices. We chop and chatter, stir and laugh. I suspect that half the time I’m in the way and only slowing her down, but she graciously lets me learn by doing it myself. And I’m grateful to her for that.

Jasmine is a formidable cook, with English, Italian, Chinese and many other dishes in her repertoire, but tonight she is introducing me to the flavours of her homeland, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka (‘sacred island’ in Sanskrit) is an island nation situated in the Indian Ocean, to the southwest of the coast of India. Its cooking has been compared to that of South India, but to me it has a very distinct character of its own. Rice is the staple in both cuisines, and coconut, cashews and bananas (some of Sri Lanka’s main crops) are used extensively. Curry leaves feature prominently in both South Indian and Sri Lankan cooking, but Sri Lankans also make use of pandan leaves (Jasmine calls it ‘rampa’) and lemon grass (‘sera’).

Jasmine, my kind host and teacher, tells me her cooking combines the Northern, Tamil cooking and the bold spices of the West of Sri Lanka. Her food is fragrant, full of bold flavours, mouth-watering. Three flavour trinities, as Jasmine calls them, describe it best. The first is lime, green chillies and of course the curry leaves. Their haunting, addictive aroma permeates almost all the dishes. I had them before, and cooked with them, and loved them, but nothing comes close to this. I will always remember them and associate them with Jasmine’s cooking. Lime is also used extensively, and is usually added at the end, after the dish is finished cooking.

Jasmine’s other flavour trinity is Sri Lankan garam masala, Sri Lankan roasted curry powder and Sri Lankan chilli powder. Sri Lankan garam masala is very different from what I know as Indian garam masalas. Firstly, it is not roasted; cinnamon, cardamom and cloves are simply ground together raw, and the flavours of cloves and cardamom are dominant. Sri Lankan curry powder is roasted, and not ‘raw’. The spices are roasted and then ground, which gives them a nutty flavour. The curry powder is often added to the dishes at the final stages of cooking, to perk up the flavours. There are numerous versions of the recipe, and it’s usually homemade. Sri Lankan chilli powder, on the other hand, is often shop-bought. It is a mixture of spices, rather than a single spice. All three are spice mixtures are deliciously captivating.

The third flavour trinity is garlic, ginger and pandan leaf (or ‘rampa’).

That first night, Jasmine served us an exquisite meat feast:

The second day, we were treated to a fish feast of:

Both dinners were simply superb. Suffice to say that since then, I have made many of the above dishes in my own kitchen. One day, they will all find their way to this blog!

With this, I would like to than Jasmine for her warm generosity, and for putting up with me in the kitchen!

Curry leaves      (PHOTO: Sonja Pauen – Stanhopea @ Wikipedia Commons)

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INFO: Curry leaves

  

‘The Curry Tree or Karivepallai or Kadipatta or Sweet Neem leaf.(Murraya koenigii; syn. Bergera koenigii, Chalcas koenigii) is a tropical to sub-tropical tree in the family Rutaceae, which is native to India.’ (WIKIPEDIA) Its aromatic leaves are used as a herb in South Indian and Sri Lankan cooking.

For more information, please see Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages.

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My other posts and recipes on Sri Lankan cooking:

Sri Lankan spices (including recipes for Sri Lankan garam masala, curry powder and more!)

Varar – Sri Lankan cabbage and leek with coconut (V)

Sri Lankan coconut dhal  (V)

Sri Lankan Pineapple Curry (V)

Sri Lankan Fish Cutlets

Sri Lankan Fish Curry (Meen kulambu)

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