Four Sri Lankan recipes for a spicy staycation treat

Karan Gokani

THE GUARDIAN – A rich, coconutty mussel soup, devilled prawns, fragrant mackerel wrapped in banana leaves, all topped with a good sprinkling of coconut chutney


Prep 10 min, plus soaking

Marinate 30 minutes – two hours

Cook 35 min

Serves four as a main

Two tsp sea salt

Two tsp turmeric powder

Four limes, two juiced, two cut in half, to serve

Two whole mackerel, cleaned

Two tsp cumin seeds

Two tsp fennel seeds

300g fresh coriander

Five garlic cloves

Five cm piece fresh ginger, peeled

Three green chillies

Three stems fresh lemongrass, trimmed – remove the huskier outer layers and use only the first five to seven cm of the white bit at the bottom

Four tbsp desiccated coconut, soaked in a little warm water for 30 minutes (or four tbsp fresh grated coconut)

10-12 curry leaves, ideally fresh

Three quarter tsp sugar

Two tbsp coconut oil

Two banana leaves, for wrapping (or use baking paper and kitchen foil)

In a small bowl, mix half a teaspoon of salt, the turmeric and lime juice, then rub all over the fish and leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes, and up to two hours.

Toast the cumin and fennel in a dry pan for two minutes, until fragrant, then tip into a processor with the remaining ingredients, and blitz to a thick, coarse paste – add a splash of water, if need be. Taste for seasoning, and add some more salt if needed.

Banana Leaf Mackerel. PHOTOS: THE GUARDIAN
Mussel Hodi
Devilled Prawns

Heat the oven to 180C. Spread the paste generously over each fish, then wrap each one, first in a banana leaf, making a neat parcel, and then double wrap with tinfoil and crunch the ends together to seal; if you can’t find banana leaves (most Asian food stores have them), wrap first in baking paper, then in tinfoil. Do not wrap too tightly – you need to leave space for the fish to steam.

Put the parcels on a baking sheet and bake for 22-25 minutes (if you have a large enough steamer, this fish is great steamed, too, but avoid using tinfoil, if so), then unwrap at the table. Serve with charred lime halves – simply lay the lime halves cut side down in a dry hot pan and leave for a minute; you can do this ahead of time, if need be.


Prep 15-20 minutes

Marinate one hour

Cook 25 minutes

Serves four as a starter or part of

a spread

350g prawns, peeled and deveined

Two tsp red chilli flakes

Salt and black pepper

Two tbsp vegetable or rapeseed oil

Six cm cinnamon stick

Three cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

Six garlic cloves, peeled and

finely chopped

Two green chillies, finely chopped

Eight to 10 curry leaves

One large, ripe tomato,

finely chopped

Two tbsp tomato ketchup

One tbsp tomato paste

Two tsp coconut vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)

Four spring onions, trimmed

and sliced

Two medium red onions, peeled and finely chopped

One green or red pepper, stalk, seeds and pith removed, cut into one cm cubes

Sugar, to taste

Finely chopped coriander and spring onions, to garnish

Put the prawns in a bowl with half the chilli flakes and half a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and leave to marinate for an hour.

Heat the oil in a wok on medium heat, add the cinnamon, ginger and garlic, and stir-fry until the garlic turns golden brown. Add the remaining red chilli flakes, green chilli and curry leaves, and take off the heat.

Stir in the tomatoes, paste and ketchup, put back on the heat and stir-fry for three to four minutes. Add the vinegar and spring onions, and stir-fry on a medium heat for six to eight minutes, until the sauce is thick and glossy.

Add the onions, green peppers and prawns, stir-fry on high heat for five to seven minutes, until the prawns are pink and cooked through, then add sugar and salt to taste.

Tip out on to a platter, garnish with chopped fresh coriander and sliced spring onions, and serve hot.


Prep 15 minutes

Cook 20 minutes

Serves four as a starter or part of

a spread

One tbsp coconut oil

One tsp fenugreek seeds

One cinnamon stick

One brown onion, peeled and

finely sliced

Three garlic cloves, peeled and minced

Three quarter tsp turmeric powder

400g coconut milk

Two fresh lemongrass stems, bashed

Two green chillies, slit lengthways

Eight to 10 curry leaves

Sea salt, to taste

500g live mussels, washed and beards removed

One lime, juiced

Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the fenugreek and cinnamon, fry for 30 seconds, then add the onion and garlic and keep stirring until soft but not coloured – three or four minutes. Add the turmeric and cook, stirring, for 15 seconds, taking care it doesn’t catch and burn.

Add all remaining ingredients except the mussels and lime juice, bring up to a simmer and leave to cook for 10 minutes – do not let it boil or the coconut milk might split. Check the seasoning (keep it a touch under-seasoned, because the mussels are quite salty), then turn off the heat. You can do all this ahead of time, up to a couple of days in advance, and store the sauce in the fridge until you are ready to steam the mussels.

When you’re ready to cook the mussels, bring the sauce to a simmer in a deep, lidded saucepan (again, don’t let it boil). Add the mussels (discard any with damaged shells or any that do not shut when given a sharp tap), cover the pan at once, and leave to cook for three to four minutes, shaking the still covered pan every 30 seconds or so.

Discard any mussels that do not open, then serve at once in bowls with a squeeze of lime to finish.


Prep 10 minutes

Cook 15 minutes

Serves four as a relish

Three quarter cup freshly

grated coconut

Two green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped

One small banana shallot, peeled and finely chopped

One tbsp bright red chilli flakes

Half tsp crushed black peppercorns

Half tsp Maldive fish pieces – you can buy these from many Asian food stores (or use one tsp fish

sauce); optional

One tsp sea salt, or to taste

Juice of half lime, or to taste

Tie the coconut in muslin cloth and squeeze out as much liquid as possible so it’s dry as can be (or press it down in a fine-mesh sieve to extract the liquid); reserve the liquid for a curry.

In a mortar, bash the green chillies, shallots, chilli flakes, black pepper, Maldive fish (if using) and sea salt until broken up, but do not paste them.

Add the coconut and continue pounding until its all mixed through and you’re left with a coarse, bright-red mix. Mix in the lime juice and stir thoroughly. Adjust the salt, lime and chilli to taste, and serve immediately alongside curries, rice or roti.