Srilankan Ambarella Curry is an awesome vegetarian curry spiced using the uniquely aromatic Thuna Paha or Srilankan Roasted Curry powder.
Srilankan Ambarella (Ambulla) Curry is inspired by our recent travel to Srilanka which in hindsight, was inspired by voraciously watching and drooling over Peter Kuravita’s cookery shows.
In the lovely hotel that we stayed in Kandy (Kandha in Sinhala meaning mountain), we had feasted on a variety of local dishes – String Hoppers, Sambols, Curries including the Ambarella Ambulla or Ambarella Curry paired with steamed Srilankan red rice.
Ever since our Srilanka trip in Sep 2017, I’ve been only dreaming of Srilankan food that I fell in love with. Mr K, the good man that he is, when he happened to visit Srilanka again on work recently, brought back some fresh Ambarella thanks to the one hour flight and the warm hospitality of his Srilankan clients.
With that pleasant surprise, I knew I had to make good use of this amazing opportunity.
I haven’t seen something like Ambarella in India. However, it is certainly quite reminiscent of Indian Hog Plums or Amtekayi and seems like a wild variety of that. I’m pretty sure it must be growing in the Dakshina Kannada / Malnad regions of Karnataka or somewhere in the hilly regions of Goa or Kerala.
Ambarella looks like a small sized Avocado in shape and color of the skin and the insides are very much like Amtekayi with a tough fibrous centre. It has a mild flavor and is tart with a hint of sweet after taste.
I found that one can draw quite many similarities between Srilankan and South Indian food. So similar in taste, yet so different and wonderful. Their cooking is not without generous doses of their world famous Ceylon Cinnamon. It has a distinctly delicate flavor compared to the Cinnamon bark pieces we find here.
The national food is Rice and curry and Srilankan curries are traditionally made in clay pots. What makes this curry unique is the dark brown Roasted Curry powder called Thuna Paha in Sinhalese (learnt this from an enthusiastic instagram follower). Thuna Paha means three to five based on the number of ingredients used. The spices that go into making the Roasted Curry powder are the same as Indian spices and Black Pepper is used for heat instead of red chillies. The combination of spices used gives an amazing aromatic twist nothing short of a flavor bomb. So smitten by the aroma!
Just like in South Indian cooking, Curry leaves aka Karapincha (my favorite word in Sinhalese!) are a must in Srilankan cooking. Maldives fish are added in most curries which is obviously omitted in this vegetarian version.
This curry is meant to be spicy, sweet and tangy. Paired with red rice or Kerala Matta rice, it will be an amazing combination you will want more of. Even if you do not have Ambarella, it is worth giving a try with any other vegetable like potatoes. The curry impresses with its flavor profile and an added bonus that it is gluten free and vegan.
While it did not taste exactly like the way the chef in Kandy made it, I was thrilled that it came close to it. And that we could enjoy it in India right in the comfort of our home. I couldn’t ask for more.
Hope you enjoy making this curry.
Srilankan Ambarella Curry and Roasted Curry Powder Recipes
Recipe for Roasted curry powder is loosely adapted from theflavorbender.com
- 7 Ambarella about 1/2 Kilo
- 3/4 cup freshly grated coconut for thick and thin coconut milk
- 3 tbsp coconut oil
- 3-4 garlic cloves or 2 small organic garlic about 1 tsp of crushed garlic
- 1 green chilli cut into 3-4 pieces
- 1 stalk Curry leaves Karapincha in Sinhala, washed and dried well
- 2-3 1 inch pieces Pandan leaves
- 2 small red onions chopped
- 1/2 stick cinnamon 2 inch long piece
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tbsp red chilli powder
- 2-3 tbsp roasted curry powder
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- salt to taste
- 2 cups water
- 3 tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 inch long cinnamon stick
- 6 cloves
- 5 cardamom pods
- 2 stalks curry leaves washed and dried well
Heat a kadai or skillet on low-medium heat. Pour coriander seeds and roast for couple of minutes on medium heat. Then add all the other ingredients except cloves and cardamon and roast while constantly stirring till the spices are aromatic and coriander seeds turn golden brown. Do not let them smoke or burn. Turn off the heat and add cloves and cardamom and fry for a couple of minutes to bring out the aroma of these two.
When the roasted spices have cooled off, place in a spice grinder or small jar of the mixer and pulse-grind to a fine powder. Makes more than what is needed for this recipe.
Store it in an airtight container and it will stay fresh for up to a month
Grind freshly grated coconut (freshly grated is vital) in the small jar mixer with 1/2 cup water. Pulse it in intervals.
Strain the first thick coconut milk into a bowl. Add the strained coconut pulp back to the jar with another 3/4 cup water and grind well pulsing in intervals.
Strain the second thin milk. Set aside.
Do not discard the ground coconut. Use it in any other dish like chutney or curry.
Wash Ambarella and towel dry. Peel and cut into lengthwise quarters. If the center is too tough and fibrous, cut around the center leaving the center out). Discard the peels.
Heat coconut oil in a clay chatti or pan or kadai on medium heat. Do not let it smoke.
When the oil is hot, add crushed garlic followed by green chillies. When garlic is beginning to brown, add cinnamon stick, curry leaves, pandan leaves, chopped onion, turmeric and a pinch of salt and stir fry till onions are soft.
Add red chilli powder and roasted curry powder and mix well. Toss in Ambarella quarters. Sprinkle salt and give it a good stir to coat the spices well. Let it cook for 3-4 minutes till Ambarella begin to pale then add 1/2 cup water and cook covered until the Ambarella quarters are soft and translucent. Poke with the back of a spatula to test.
Now add brown sugar, stir well and turn the heat to sim. Add the thick and thin coconut milk one after the other and stir well. Taste and adjust for salt and sugar. Simmer for couple of minutes and switch off. Do not let it boil. Otherwise the coconut milk will curdle. The curry should be semi thick.
Serve hot with steamed red rice or Matta rice.
I like to drizzle a few drops of Ghee on the rice.
Omit if you can't find Pandan leaves.