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Colombo Prawn Curry

30 Apr

This is a lovely curry, a little like a Parsi prawn patia, with a hot, sour, aromatic flavour and a touch of sweetness. I have called it colombo prawn curry because the flavouring comes from a spice mix called colombo. Colombo curry powder is common in France where an Indian curry powder like Madras is more common in England. It gets its name from the former capital of Sri Lanka where this mix originated. The spices were brought from Sri Lanka with plantation workers to the French West Indies, particularly Martinique and Guadeloupe. In the French West Indies this spice mix is used to make a stew or curry of meat. Here I make a much simpler and quicker dish using prawns.

Serves 2-3  Prep 5mins cooking 25mins

  • 2-3 tbsp oil, vegetable or corn
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • salt and cracked black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp colombo spice mix (my blend contains: ground cumin, coriander, caraway, fennel, bay leaves, and turmeric).
  • 1-2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 cup water
  • Fresh red chilli sliced or pickled jalapeno peppers to taste
  • 2 big handfuls cooked frozen prawns
Fry the sliced onions in a heavy pan with the oil and a good pinch of cracked black pepper and salt. Cook the onions slowly until they are very soft and starting to brown, this takes about 15 minutes, then add the garlic and tomato purée cook stirring until the aroma rises from the garlic then stir in the curry powder and fry for a minute. It is important to cook the tomato paste like this in order to bring out its sweetness. Add a cup of water and the chilli, as much or as little as you want for your taste and heat tolerance. I like to use hot pickled jalapeno peppers in this recipe as they add an extra sour note. If not using add a little vinegar or some lemon juice at the end. Cook for around 10 minutes keeping an eye on it to make sure the sauce does not catch or get too dry just add a little more water if it does. Cook until the oil separates from the sauce and rises to the top then add the prawns stir a few times and continue to cook for only a minute or two until the prawns are heated through and ready to serve.
Cooks TIP Do not over cook the prawns they need to be only just cooked. This is a good dish to make ahead of time so its great for a dinner party. You can make the sauce and add the prawns at the last moment just before serving or add the prawns and set aside immediately where they will soak up all the flavours of the sauce then heat the dish when you are ready to serve. You can also use raw prawns and cook them in the sauce before serving.
Note Colombo spice blends can vary but tend to contain at least 5 of the following: cumin, coriander, fenugreek, caraway, nutmeg, cinnamon, fennel, black pepper, brown mustard, turmeric, bay leaves and cloves. Some recipes also call for ground rice in the mix but that really is just adding bulk and I don’t use it. It does not normally contain chilli powders and is a fairly mild but aromatic curry powder which makes it very versatile in the kitchen. You can buy  Epices Colombo also known as Caribbean Curry Powder or Colombo spice mix easily in France or you can find an online spice retailer such as Seasoned Pioneers  or The Best Possible Taste which deliver worldwide or better still make you own.

Spiced Veg Salad (Cachumber)

12 Sep

This spiced salad of raw vegetables is known as Cachumber, Kachumber or Kachmbar in Southern India and Koshumbir or Koshimbir in Western India. These small side dishes of seasoned raw vegetables can be as simple as chopped onion seasoned with lemon and salt or a complex mixture of many vegetables and fried spices. This one is on the more complex end of the spectrum and is really delicious, it adds a lovely crunch to any meal. Choose your own variety of vegetables, whatever is in season, and feel free to experiment with other spices.

  • Onion
  • Tomato
  • Peppers (sweet or hot)
  • Carrot
  • Cucumber
  • salt
  • lemon juice
  • Herbs; Coriander leaf (optional), garlic chives (optional)

Seasoning for 2-3 cups of vegetables

  • 1-2 tbsp descicated coconut
  • 1/2-1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2-1 tsp whole cumin seeds
Finely chop the vegetables, for this recipe i usually do about 2-3 heaped tablespoons of each vegetable, aiming for about 2-3 cups of vegetables altogether.
Heat 1 tbsp of oil and when hot add the mustard and cumin seed then add the coconut. Stir and lift off the heat as soon as the mustard seeds crackle and the aroma from the coconut rises. Stir the fried spices into the freshly chopped vegetables add the juice of half a lemon or more and salt to taste. Leave for 1 hour before serving so that the flavours and juices of the vegetables mingle. Serve with a little extra coconut sprinkled on top.
Variation freshly grated coconut would be great but as i cannot grow it here i keep some bought unsweetened descicated in the pantry.
For other Koshumbir type recipes have a look at:

Spicy Chicken Wings (Thai)

7 Aug

Delicious wings marinated in coriander seed and leaf along with chilli, lemon, garlic and black pepper. Cook over coals or under a grill and cook until crisp. Serve as a main dish with rice or salad or one or two pieces as a starter.

Marinade for about 600g of chicken.
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp pepper flakes
  • 1 tp coriander seeds, crushed
  • lemon zest & juice of half lemon
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • coriander leaf, minced
  • 2-3 tbsp fish sauce (optional)

Prick the chicken pieces with a knife or sharp fork to help get the flavours into the wings and lay in a dish. Mix the marinade ingredients together and pour over the chicken and rub into each piece. Leave in a cool place to marinate over night or for at least 4 hours.
  1. Barbecue When the barbecue coals or grill are good and hot, put the pieces over the hot coals.  Turn and brush with any remaining marinade until the chicken is cooked and the skin is crisp, about 10-15 mins depending on the size of the chicken pieces and heat of the coals.
  2. Grill Cook under a hot grill for 15-20mins, checking and turning, until the chicken is cooked and the skin is crisp.
  3. Oven Roast Put pieces on a rack over a baking tray and brush with marinade. Bake in a preheated oven 220c/Gas 6 for 15-20mins until the chicken is cooked through and golden brown.
Cooks Tip
Mix up the chicken and marinade in a plastic bag as it will make it easier to rub the marinade in and to carry it out to the barbecue.

Green Coriander Seeds

13 Oct

Green coriander seeds are one of my favourite spices in the kitchen. While still green they taste quite different to the dried seeds and along with the leaves are very useful and highly prized in my kitchen.

For cooking green, harvest the seed heads as you need them and pull off the seeds, use whole or bashed to release their flavour in dishes such as Aloo Paratha, Prawn & Tomato Curry, Aubergines with Coriander. If you keep the seeds for even a few days in the kitchen they will start to dry out, change colour and flavour. The dried seeds are the same as the ones you can buy from an Asian grocer, very useful but really not the same as the green ones for taste.

If you want to harvest dried seeds for the kitchen or for seed production; leave the seeds on the plant until they start to turn brown then harvest.

I harvest and sow the seed almost monthly to keep an ongoing supply of leaf and green seed. For more on growing coriander see Asian Herbs for the Kitchen.

Chilli & Paprika Powders

5 Oct

Make your own chilli powder so you can blend it to get just the right amount of heat and flavour to suit your taste. It tastes so much better and fresher than the shop bought stuff and it is so easy just dry some chillies then grind them to a powder.

Drying Chillis
Collect mature chillies on a dry day. Spread out on a large metal surface (the heat of the metal speeds drying in the sun) or basket where air can circulate. If you’ve no sun stack on top of a radiator to dry. Once the chillis are dry store in an airtight container until ready to use.

I make small batches of powders from the dried chillies as I need it because once it is ground it will start to lose its flavour. The dried chilli I use the most for grinding is a Cayenne, it is hot and can be made hotter still if you grind the whole pepper, seeds and all.

Mild Cayenne
Slit the dried peppers and remove everything but the red outer shell. Grind to a fine to medium powder in a coffee grinder. Nice medium to hot heat and good flavour.

Hot Cayenne
Remove the stalks from the peppers break into pieces and put everything into a coffee grinder, including the pith and seeds, grind to a fine to medium texture. The resulting powder will be more orange than red and VERY hot.

Chilli Flakes or Kirmizi Biber
Kirmizi Biber is the kind of chilli flakes you would find in a Turkish food store and is one of the most useful spices in the kitchen mild enough to go in salad dressings but with plenty of flavour. The flakes are rubbed with olive oil to help preserve both the colour and flavour. Use a medium heat but flavoursome variety of chilli such as Acri Sivri or milder to suit your taste. Use a mixture to get a more complex flavour. Slit the dried peppers and remove everything but the red outer shell. Grind to a course powder or flakes in a coffee grinder and add a tiny drop of oil on the last wizz to coat the flakes. Pour into a bowl and rub adding a little more oil if necessary to coat the flakes pour into clean glass jars and store.

Once ground store chillis powders in airtight glass jars, away from light, to preserve its colour and flavour.

This recipe was originally posted on  

Chilli Paste (Harissa)

28 Sep

This is a thick sauce type of harissa, the kind you can serve with everything, even spread it on bread. It is  hot, but not REALLY hot, made with fleshy red peppers and chillis. I came up with this Harissa because our friend Graham, who came over here a few summers ago, wanted to know if I had a recipe for the harissa we all ate one morning at a local market because he’d been dreaming of it and wanted to make some back home in Australia. So I started experimenting and came up with this which I think, is even better than the one we ate in the market.

  • 500g red pepper puree (fresh peppers ground and sieved)
  • 3-5 fresh hot red chillis (to taste)
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tsp coarse sea salt
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp caraway
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 tbsp dried mint leaves, crumbled finely

Make the puree
To make red pepper puree choose thick fleshed peppers; sweet, hot and medium heat if you can, to give a more complex flavour. Wash the peppers, cut in half and remove the seeds and stalks. Put the peppers in a food processor and grind to a paste. Put the paste in a pan and cook for 15 minutes or so. Leave to cool. Press the pepper paste through a sieve, or use a vegetable mouli, to make a smooth paste and to get rid of the skins and any loose seeds.

After sieving I ended up with about 500g of pure pepper puree, which I put back into a clean pan. Dry roast the cumin and caraway, cool and grind with the fennel to a powder. Add the spice powder along with the remaining ingredients and cook until the mixture thickens. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. For storage; heat process the jars in a water bath, for 20 minutes. It should keep for a year or more. If you don’t want to keep it that long it will store in the fridge, for a month or more, in a clean jar, topped with oil to exclude air.
Note on the Heat
I used a mixture of sweet peppers and medium heat paprika peppers; Doux D’Espagne, Nardello, Paprika, Pimento de Barcelona, Pepperoncini, Buran, Satans Kiss and Anatohl. If you use only sweet peppers for the paste add more chilli peppers to increase the heat to taste. For the hot peppers I used cayennes & jalapenos .
Note on Texture
If you don’t want to go to the bother of sieving the pepper paste and don’t mind eating the skins by all means leave this step out. I had to do it because one variety of paprika peppers I grew had such tough skins they really indigestible and little bits can get stuck in your throat.

This recipe was originally posted on  13/10/2008

Spice Mixes (Indian Masalas)

1 Jan

It is sometimes useful to have a few home made spice mixes ready to hand, to speed things up in the kitchen. I would only ever make ground spice mixes that I use a lot as spices are best freshly ground. These are the Indian spice mixes or Masalas I use most often.

Panch Poran or Bengali 5 Spice 
Panch Poran literally means 5 spice or condiment. A lovely blend of cumin, fenugreek, fennel, mustard and nigella seeds. The spices are mixed and left whole ready to use whole or ground freshly for the dish. It is excellent for flavouring vegetable dishes or chutneys and can be used in dal or fish dishes. I mix this in batches because I regularly cook a number of dishes that have this mix as their main spicing.
*2 tbsp fenugreek seeds
*2 tbsp nigella seeds (Indian black onion seeds)
*2 tbsp black mustard seeds
*2 tbsp cumin seeds
*2 tbsp fennel seeds
Mix all of the above spices together. Save the spice mixture for use in your Bengali dishes. Most recipes call for about a teaspoon of the mixture.

Vindaloo Masala (Michael Pandya)
This is a hot masala great for meat curries. This recipe is for a fairly large batch but it is easy to scale it down.
*2 tbsp dried red chillis
*1 tbsp black peppercorns
*1 tbsp cloves
*2 tbsp mustard seed
*50g coriander seed
*1 tbsp fenugreek seed
*6-8 black cardamoms
*10 bayleaves
*5 sticks or 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
*2 tbsp turmeric powder
Roast the whole spices set aside to cool. Grind to a fine powder and mix in the turmeric and ground cinnamon.

Madhur Jaffrey’s basic curry powder
*2 tbsp whole coriander seeds
*1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
*2 tsp whole peppercorns
*1½ tsp whole brown mustard seeds
*5-6 cloves
*3 dried hot red chillis, crumbled
*1 tsp whole fenugreek seeds
*1 tsp ground turmeric
Roast the first 6 ingredients in a cast iron skillet and stir for a few minutes until the spices emit a light roasted aroma add the turmeric and fenugreek stir for ten seconds. Turn out onto a plate and leave to cool grind in a clean coffee grinder.

Sambhar Masala
Also known as Sambaar or Sambar Powder is a blend of ground dry-roasted spices and pulses commonly used in South Indian cooking. Particularly for cooking Lentils (Dhal or Dal) and mixed vegetable dishes.
Makes 16 tablespoon
*10 dried red chilies
*6 tbsp coriander seed
*2 tbsp cumin seeds
*1½ tbsp ground turmeric
*2 tsp black pepper
*2 tsp fenugreek
*2 teaspoon urad dal or dhal (white split gram beans)
*2 teaspoon channa dal or dhal (yellow split peas)
*2 teaspoon mung dal or dhal
Remove the seeds and stalk from chilies. Toast all the spices except the turmeric in a dry cast iron pan to give rich aromatic flavour. Set aside to cool. Do the same thing with the pulses and when cool grind with the spices and mix with the turmeric. Store in an air tight container away from light.

Spice Mixes

1 Jan

It is sometimes useful to have a few home made spice mixes ready to hand, to speed things up in the kitchen. I would only ever make ground spice mixes that I use a lot as spices are best freshly ground.  However, if you have a partner who will chuck ANYTHING into the pot, whether or not they even know what it is, then a labelled ready made mix can be a safety precaution in the kitchen, It also great for knocking out quick tasty dishes on the barbecue.

Turkish Mix

This mix is perfect for seasoning meat or vegetables before they are barbecued. I used to use this mix so regularly that I would make up batches of it rather than get out 5 jars to deliver a pinch of seasoning.
Dried Mint
Kirmizi Biber (dried pepper flakes)
Dried Thyme
Black pepper
Experiment with the proportions to get a balance you like. I tend to be heavy on the mint and chilli. You can also add oregano to the mix and if you can’t get hold of sumac you can use dried grated lemon peel instead.
Spice-Mix_chinese-5-spice.jpg Chinese Five Spice
A very aromatic spice mix, use sparingly. It is particularly good rubbed onto the skin of birds before roasting or in stews and stir fries.
2 whole star anise
1 tsp whole fennel seeds
1 tsp whole cloves
5cm stick cinnamon
1 tbsp Sechuan peppercorns.
Grind as finely as possible in a clean coffee mill. Makes about 3 tbsp 

This is the classic French spice mix
1 heaped tsp black pepper
2 tsp whole cloves
2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp dried ground ginger
Grind and mix the dry spices and store in a airtight jar in a dark place.

Spice Mixes (Garam Masala)

1 Jan

Garam Masala is a blend of ground spices commonly used in Pakistani and Indian cooking. The literal meaning is ‘hot (or warm) spice’. If you like cooking Indian food you really need to make your own garam masala or marsala. It is easy to find in shops but buying ready ground spices is never a good idea, as so much of the flavour is lost. Shop bought garam masala is particularly bad, it has little flavour and a texture like sawdust, so what’s the point when you can easily make your own.

Garam Masala can be used during cooking, but unlike many spices, it is often added at the end of cooking, so that the full aroma and flavour of the freshly ground spices is not lost. There are many variations of the mix but most traditional mixes use just cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg/mace, black pepper and cardamoms. What you do need is an electric grinder, I use an old coffee mill, or a pestle and mortar and plenty of elbow grease.
Garam Masala I 
1 tsp cardamom seeds
 2 tsp cloves
 2 tbsp cumin seed
 2 tbsp corriander seed
 3 dried bayleaves
 3″ stick cinnamon
 1 tbsp black pepper

Garam Masala II 
1 tbsp green cardamom pods
 3 inch stick cinnamon
 2 tsp black pepper corns
 3-5 black cardamom pods
 1/4 nutmeg grated
 1 tsp whole cloves
 1 tsp black cumin seeds
 Dry roast the spices in a heavy skillet until aroma rises, cool slightly then grind in a coffee grinder.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Garam Masala 
1 tbsp cardamon seeds
 1-2 inch stick cinnamon
 1 tsp black peppercorns
 1 tsp black cumin seeds
 1 tsp whole cloves
 1/4 of a nutmeg grated
 Grind the spices to a very fine powder Once ground store in a clean airtight jar, away from sunlight. The ground spice mix will keep for two months or so before the flavour starts to deteriorate.