The Oak Park writer Mary Anne Mohanraj is primarily a science fiction author but also delves into numerous other genres, including cookbooks. Born in Sri Lanka, she has written a cookbook celebrating the diverse cuisine of the island called Feast of Serendib and is coming out with a sequel, Vegan Serendib, in November. Learn more about Sri Lankan cuisine and Mohanraj in our feature about her, and try a recipe from Vegan Serendib below.
Kaliya Curry (Eggplant, Plantain, and Potato)
A traditional Sri Lankan curry from our Muslim community, featuring fried eggplant, plantain, and potato, simmered in a rich coconut milk curry.
One of the main characteristics of Sri Lankan cooking is that the spices are dark roasted. You cannot simply substitute yellow curry powder! If your local Indian grocery store carries Jaffna Curry Powder, that’s from northern Sri Lanka and an excellent option; it can also easily be bought online. Or you can make your own; a recipe is included in the Vegan Serendib cookbook.
1 large eggplant, cubed
2 plantains, cut into similar sized pieces
5-7 small potatoes, cubed
1 tsp turmeric
2 pinches of salt
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 tbsp ginger, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
1 stalk curry leaves (about a dozen)
1 inch pandan leaf (optional)
1 tablespoon Sri Lankan roasted curry powder (see note above)
1 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 tablespoon jaggery or dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups coconut milk
1. Dissolve 1/2 tsp turmeric and pinch of salt in a bowl with 1 to 1 1/2 cups water; stir to dissolve. Repeat in a second bowl. To prevent discoloration and add a little flavor, once you cube eggplant and plantains, submerge them (separately) in bowls of water.
2. Heat vegetable oil for deep frying in a large, deep pan. Drain eggplant (water will make it splatter when it hits the oil, and can be dangerous). When the oil is hot, working in small batches, fry eggplant until lightly browned, then remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat process with plantains and potatoes.
3. In a large pot, heat 1/2 cup oil (you can use the frying oil), then add sliced onion and sauté, stirring, until golden-translucent.
4. Add ginger, garlic, cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, curry leaves, pandan leaf (if using), curry powder, cayenne, jaggery, tamarind paste, salt, and 1/2 cup coconut milk.
5. Gently stir in fried ingredients; add enough water to cover, bring to a boil, cover, and turn down to a simmer. Simmer 10 minutes; vegetables should be cooked through.
6. Remove lid and add remaining 1 1/2 cup coconut milk. Stir very gently to combine, then taste and adjust seasonings; you may want more salt or a little more tamarind. Simmer 5-10 more minutes, to a thick, rich gravy. Serve hot (or room temperature) with rice; dal is a nice accompaniment to add protein and make a complete meal.