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Memories of Colombo

Passport & Plate - Spicy Crab Curry

Sri Lanka | Friday, 6 March 2015 | 5 photos

For the masala, you will need:
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fenugreek
1 small stick cinnamon
5 red dried chilies
1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
4 cloves
1 teaspoon white rice (raw)

For the crab curry, you will need:

2 boxes of blue crabs (brown also work. If you buy frozen, thaw them out before cooking)
2 medium sized red onions
3 medium sized tomatoes
5 cloves garlic
1 thumb peeled ginger (about 2 inches)
4 green chilies
1 stick cinnamon
4 cardamom pods
10 curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon tumeric powder
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 lime
1 pack moringa leaves
5 cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste
1 can coconut milk

Cooked basmati rice.


How to prepare this recipe
The Masala
Like any curry, the key to this recipe is the masala. It brings the party with a burst of flavours and smells.

1- Place a small pan on the stove and set to medium heat. Except for the rice, add all the masala ingredients to the pan. Swirl the pan a few times to get an even coat of heat throughout.
2- When the mixture shows signs of browning, add raw rice. Once the rice is in, cook it for 2 minutes while slowly swirling the pan.
3- Empty the pan into a bowl and let cool for a few minutes.
4- Use a grinder (or mortar and pestle) and grind the masala into a fine powder. Set it aside.

The Crab.
1- Chop the following into small pieces and set aside: onions, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes.
2- Set a large pot (20L is good) on the stove and set to medium. After a minute, pour the olive oil and follow with cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. Add the chopped red onions.
3- Stir the ingredients with a wooden spoon. When the onions start to brown, add the garlic and ginger. Follow with two sprinkles of salt.
4- Toss in the tomatoes and curry leaves. Stir for a few minutes.
5- Add the turmeric and chill powder. Let it cook for 5 minutes while occasionally stirring.
6- Add the crabs to the mixture.
7- Cover the pot and let it cook for 5 minutes.
8- Add the coconut milk to thicken the curry. Stir the pot
9- Cook for another 5 minutes, and then add the moringa leaves. These leaves are also known as drumstick leaves.
10- Cover the pot an let it cook. Every few minutes open and toss the crabs, stir the pot. Repeat for 10 minutes.
11- Shut off the heat and add the masala mixture into the pot. Use a big pair of tongs and toss the crabs until the masala is evenly coated.
12- Let it sit for a few minutes. Add the juice from a lime, toss again, serve.

What's the best way to enjoy it? Place a mound of cooked rice on each plate, then top it with a generous helping of crab and curry. As you poke and prod, suck and bite, all the juices will fall on the rice and flavour it.


The story behind this recipe
This long-standing family recipe has many meanings for me. As much as it is a super delicious curry, it is also about life and journey.

I was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka. My parents -- two scholars and food lovers — took me around the world a few times while I was still very young. I spent most of my first 13 years of my life on the pear shaped island. Some of the memories are still very vivid. I remember riding on the back of a motorbike on hot summer nights and seeing streets filled with music and peanut vendors. Accompanying my parents on walks along Galle face, feeling the cold ocean breeze against my face and hearing its morning roar. I also spent a lot of time in the kitchen, watching my mother and nana (grandma) prepare family feasts. I used to dream of a solid granite mortar and pestle that occupied a corner of the kitchen space, commanded daily by nana. It was used daily to do everything from grinding spices to making dosa batter.

In 1990, after being frustrated with the economic and political situation in the country, my parents decided to move to Canada. We were tired, depressed, and we needed to feel safe. It was difficult at first to adapt, and food quickly became the conduit to memories of life back home.

Through the family meal, we shared memories, we cried, but we also laughed a lot. My mom cherished all the recipes and cooking techniques she brought with her. The crab curry is a very special dish. My great grandmother came up with it based on her memories of the seafood town of Chilaw. It was passed down to my mother; she would cook it often, whenever we missed home. As a family, we would spend hours digging through each crab leg for meat, and sharing stories. Eventually after years of nagging, she finally shared the recipe.

My mom’s kitchen quickly became a portal, whisking me away from sub-zero temperatures to a tropical place I missed dearly, filled with sun and crab curry. This is the dish I cook when I miss Sri Lanka.

About Me
Sri Lanka is the reason I followed my dream to becoming a food writer and explorer. I remember my early teen years, walking through the streets of Colombo 13. I would take a variety of streets and laneways to get to school, but get easily distracted by colours of fruits on market stalls. I would stop by a street food vendor for a quick snack of spicy mango achar. A favourite memory is helping grandma host a dosa stand for St. Lucia Cathedral benefit. We left Sri Lanka when I was 13, my parents emigrated to Canada with my two younger sisters and myself in 1990. They wanted a brighter future for us, they wanted to feel safe. With little warning, hot summers, beaches, and street food were gone. Over the years I’ve tried to re-live these memories in the kitchen. After spending a considerable amount of time in the field of I.T, I decided to become a food writer. Toronto’s culinary scene has evolved very quickly in the last 10 years, the city flaunts its multiculturalism best through food. I am involved as a food writer, and as an organizer of food events. Drawing from my mom’s experience as a Tamil cook, I've tried to learn more about our roots, and Sri Lankan cooking. For me, it was a way to learn about a country that I haven’t visited since we left, and to overcome feelings of loss and regret that were endured during harsh times. Food became a way of therapy and a way of celebration. It has been a dream to walk barefoot by Galle face, and feel that familiar breeze again.

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