Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Ceylonese" Pork or Beef Curry: one from my memory

When we lived those years in Malaysia, there was a group known as "Ceylonese." I worked with several such colleagues.

During British colonial times, before 1960, many of the railway workers came to "Malaya" from what was then Ceylon. (That island nation just south of India has been known as Sri Lanka since its independence.) Most of the Malaysians of Celonese ancestry were ethnic Tamils and largely Hindu. They were related ancestrally to the Tamils from South India, of whom there were many in Malaysia.

The curry below, however is from the ethnic Sinhalese majority of Sri Lanka. Being Buddhists, they are allowed to eat beef and pork, unlike their Tamil Hindu countrymen.

The "Ceylonese" curry otherwise shares features with South Indian curries, including coconut milk rather than yogurt or tomatoes, multiple spices, ground fennel, lemon grass, curry leaves and fiery taste. My recipe omits the curry leaves because they're hard to find. It is also less hot. But its flavor is rich, different from the more familiar North Indian curries, and uses pork with an option for beef.

This goes well with Basmati rice as a substitute for the "par-boiled" rice or rice cakes of Sri Lanka and South India. I would not salt the rice for this curry (the local rice dishes, though with different rice, are usually not salted).

As always, this sort of dish goes with beer, or a dry Riesling or, perhaps, a Sauvignon Blanc. The recipe serves 6.

"Ceylonese" Pork or Beef Curry

1 1/2 pound pork butt (after trimming off fat) or stewing beef, in 1 1/4-inch cubes
3 stalks lemon grass, fatter half well bruised, top half discarded
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1 1/4-inch chunks
1 very large or 2 medium-large onions, diced
1 large bell pepper, red or green, in 1-inch squares
1/2 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk (freeze the remainder)
2 cans water
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 large cloves garlic
1/2 inch fresh ginger
4 whole cardamoms
4 whole cloves
5 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided, plus to taste
1 tablespoon vinegar

Prepare the meat. Heat large pot with coconut milk, water, and lemon grass. Boil 5 minutes, then add meat part at a time, letting outside lose the raw color before adding the next portion. Cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until meat is becoming tender (pork 25-35 minutes, beef 55-65 minutes).

Meanwhile prepare remaining ingredients. Store cut potatoes in water. Combine dry ground spices, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus vinegar.

While meat is cooking, in a separate pan, gently fry onions plus whole spices in oil until onions start to turn golden. Lower heat. Add garlic and ginger. Fry 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add ground spice mixture. Stir and fry 2 minutes. Add several tablespoons water and set aside until needed.

When meat is nearly tender, add potatoes plus 1 teaspoon salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are becoming tender.

Stir in fried spices. Simmer several minutes. Add bell pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until meat, potatoes, and peppers are tender. Taste, and add salt to taste.

The curry can be served now, but is richer if stored and reheated. Taste and add salt, if needed.

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