HERE I am in Sri Lanka wading out through the warm sea to the tiny island of Taprobane off Weligama on the South Coast. There’s no other way to get there, it’s just 100 yards off the coast, palm fringed of course.
I’d been invited to cook dinner for a Saint Patrick’s Day Ball. Irish stew and Champ in 35 degrees! Cooking at the other side of the world is a challenge in all kinds of unexpected ways. The most mundane ingredients at home can be the most exotic here.
Lamb is not a common Sri Lankan meat; it has to be imported from New Zealand so the Irish Stew had to be made from mutton which is actually goat. It’s got tons of flavour, makes a great stew but does take hours to cook to melting tenderness. I found lovely little young leeks in the local market so we tossed those in butter and served them on top. The meal started with Spiced cabbage soup, a fusion of Irish and Sri Lankan cultures, then some fat sweet local prawns cooked in their shells then tossed in salt, freshly crushed black pepper and chilli powder and served with cucumber pickle and mustard and dill mayonnaise. If you want cucumber that resembles ours ask for a Japanese one.
We used a mixture of pale Sri Lankan kekiri and Japanese cucumber and used the angular cut so familiar to Asian chefs, rather than rounds. There were beautifully fresh red scallions in the market so they perked up our Champ to serve with Irish Stew.
Apart from ingredients, basic kitchen equipment is quite different and some seemingly similar ingredients behave in a different way in a tropical climate. Fresh cream simply isn’t available. UHT cream, which I hate with a passion, is the only option.
Meringues are not that easy to pull off either in an area of high humidity yet people love them, so I decided to have a go at Coffee Meringue with Irish Whiskey Sauce, what a mission. Fortunately I’d brought a food mixer from Ireland. Icing sugar is not a problem; I also brought instant coffee and parchment paper. The meringues whipped up ok, I dolloped them out in blobs on the baking tray and slid them into the oven hoping for the best in temperature terms. Virtually all cooking is done on the stove top so ovens can be a bit unpredictable — anyway they peeled beautifully off the parchment paper within 30 minutes.
Meanwhile I made a dark caramel sauce and laced it liberally with Paddy whiskey — it was dark and bitter and very good. Next I whipped the cream but it simply wouldn’t stiffen, so I sweetened the cream a little and added some more Paddy.
The biggest hit was the piece of home-made cheddar cheese from our herd of three Jersey cows and some home-made crackers and a loaf of Ballymaloe bread.
Taprobane Coffee Meringue with Paddy Caramel
Serves 6 – 8 2 egg whites 4½ ozs (125g) icing sugar 2 tsp instant coffee powder (not granules) ½ pint (300ml) very softly whipped cream 2 tbsp approx. Paddy whiskey Parchment paper Paddy Caramel 8 ozs (225g) castor sugar 3 fl ozs (80ml) cold water 4 tbsp Irish Paddy whiskey 22 fl ozs (60ml) hot water
First make the meringue. Put the egg whites into a spotlessly clean and dry bowl. Add all the icing sugar except 2 tablespoons. Whisk until the mixture stands in firm dry peaks. It may take 10-15 minutes. Sieve the coffee and the remaining icing sugar together and fold in carefully.
Pre-heat the oven to 150C\300F\Gas Mark 2. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Scoop 8 blobs of meringue onto the parchment. Cook for 30 – 40 minutes or until the meringues will lift easily off the paper.
Meanwhile make the sauce. Put the castor sugar into a saucepan with water, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves and syrup comes to the boil. Remove the spoon and do not stir. Continue to boil until it turns a dark chestnut-brown colour. Remove from the heat and immediately add the hot water. Allow to dissolve again and then add the Irish Paddy whiskey.
Allow to get cold. To serve, choose shallow wide soup bowls, put a scoop of softly whipped whiskey cream in the base, top it with a meringue blob and drizzle with a little Paddy Caramel, so good…
Spiced Cabbage Soup
Serves 6 - 55g (2oz) butter 140g (5oz) chopped potatoes 115g (4oz) onions, chopped Salt and freshly ground pepper 900ml (1½ pints) homemade chicken stock 250g (9oz) chopped cabbage leaves (stalks removed) chopped 50-125ml (1½-4 fl oz) cream or creamy milk 4 tbsp vegetable oil 1 tbsp whole black mustard seeds 4 cloves garlic, peeled and very finely chopped ½-1 hot, dried red chilli, coarsely crushed in a mortar ½ tsp sugar Freshly ground pepper Garnish Crème fraiche and fresh coriander leaves
Melt the butter in a heavy pan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions and turn them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock (heat it if you want to speed things up) and boil until the potatoes are soft. Add the cabbage and cook, uncovered, until the cabbage is just cooked — a matter of 4 or 5 minutes. Keeping the lid off retains the green colour. Pureé immediately and add creamy milk.
Now heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium flame. When hot, put in the mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop, put in the garlic. Stir the garlic pieces around until they turn light brown, (be careful not to burn or it will spoil the flavour). Put in the crushed red chilli and sugar and stir for a few seconds. Add this spice to pureéd soup to correct seasoning. Serve piping hot with perhaps a blob of crème fraiche and a few coriander leaves.
Sri Lankan Goat Stew with Baby Leeks
Serves 4–6 - 1.3kg (3lb) goat shoulder chops not less than 2.5cm (1 inch) thick 6 medium or 12 baby onions 6 medium or 12 baby carrots Freshly ground pepper and salt 850ml (1½ pints) lamb stock or chicken stock (see recipe) or water 12 potatoes or more if you like (Golden Wonder or Kerr’s Pink are excellent) Sprig of thyme About 1 tbsp roux, optional Garnish 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley 1 tbsp freshly chopped chives Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
Cut the goats meat in 50g (2oz) pieces and trim off some of the excess fat.
Set the pieces aside and render down the fat on a gentle heat in a heavy frying pan (discard the rendered down pieces). Peel the onions and scrape or thinly peel the carrots (if they are young, leave some of the green stalks on the onions and carrots).
Cut the carrots into large chunks, or if they are young leave them whole.
If the onions are large, cut them small, if they are small they are best left whole.
Toss the meat in the hot fat until it is slightly brown. Transfer the meat into a casserole, and then quickly toss the onions and carrots in the fat. Build the meat, carrots and onions up in layers in the casserole. Season each layer generously with freshly ground pepper and salt. Deglaze the frying pan with lamb or chicken stock and pour into the casserole.
Peel the potatoes and lay them on top of the casserole, so they steam while the stew cooks. Season the potatoes. Add a sprig of thyme and bring to the boil on top of the stove.
Then cover and transfer to a moderate oven or allow to simmer on top of the stove until the stew is cooked, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
When the stew is cooked, pour off the cooking liquid, degrease and reheat the liquid in a saucepan. If you like slightly thicken the juices with a little roux. Check the seasoning, then add chopped parsley and chives and pour it back over the stew. Bring it back up to boiling point and serve from the pot or in a large pottery dish.
Serves 8-10 - 2lbs (900g) leeks (once prepared) 2 ozs (50g) butter 2 tablespoons water if necessary Salt and freshly ground pepper Chopped parsley or chervil Cut off the dark green leaves from the top of the leeks.
Slit the leeks about half way down the center and wash well under cold running water. Slice into 1/3 inch (5mm) rounds. Melt the butter in a heavy casserole; when it foams, add the sliced leeks and toss gently to coat with butter. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a paper lid and a close-fitting lid. Reduce the heat and cook very gently for 8-10 minutes approx., or until semi soft and moist. Check and stir every now and then. Turn off the heat and allow to continue to cook in the heat. Serve on a warm dish sprinkled with chopped parsley or chervil.
Note: The pot of leeks may be cooked in the oven at 160C/325F/gas mark 3 if that is more convenient.
Darina Allen and Rachel Allen will do a cookery demonstration to raise funds for the ICA (Irish Countrywomen’s Association) in the Grainstore at Ballymaloe House on Wednesday, Apr 17 at 7.30pm. Tickets 25, available at the Ballymaloe Cookery School shop or book online www.thegrainstoreatballymaloe.com
Glenilen Farm artisan dairy products have wooed many people since Alan and Valerie Kingston began to experiment in their dairy and farmhouse kitchen in 1997. Look out for the new Glenilen Farm range of products at www.glenilenfarm.com/product/tea-towel/
Book of the Week: In Recipes from the English Market, published by Cork University Press, author Michelle Horgan, who describes herself as a ‘market anorak’ manages to tease favourite recipes from everyone from Donogh O’Reilly, third generation tripe seller to one of its fish merchants, Pat O’Connell.
Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize Award Ceremony: Each of this year’s three winning poets will read a selection of their work, and guests will be invited to partake of a glass of wine and a selection of delicious canapés. This evening, 5pm to 7pm. Tickets: 10 – email email@example.com to book.
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