Sri Lankan seafood dishes

In his new book, 'My Feast', Peter Kuruvita explores the cuisines of Asian and South Pacific islands. Here he helps you rustle up quick seafood feasts from Sri Lanka. Many of you will have seen his cooking shows on T.V. An Australia who has brought his style of cooking to the world.

Jaffna crab curry

Now that the civil war is over in Sri Lanka, the people are returning to claim their ancestral land. On Delf Island, despite the ravages of war, not much has changed and the people continue to celebrate their food traditions. There I found a wonderful lady who taught me how to make the best crab curry on the planet. The time and effort she spent in grinding the coconut was praiseworthy. Her paste was incredibly toasty and rich. If you don't have time to grind the paste by hand, a blender does the job nicely.

Serves: 4-6


2 live mud crabs (about 1.2kg each)
2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 cup freshly grated coconut
1 tsp black peppercorns, ground
1 golf ball-sized piece tamarind pulp
400ml coconut milk
50g ghee
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 red onion, sliced
1 sprig curry leaves, leaves picked
3 small green chillies, finely chopped
1 tbsp Jaffna curry powder
1 tbsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
500ml water
1 sprig drumstick leaves
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt, to taste
Coriander (cilantro) leaves, to garnish


1. Put the crabs in the freezer for 1 hour to immobilise them or in a bucket of iced water for 15 minutes. Pull off the top shells, pull out the spongy grey gills and remove the guts. Chop the crab into 6 pieces and crack the large claws but leave them attached.

2. In a dry frying pan over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds, coconut and pepper until the coconut is golden. Grind to a smooth paste using a large mortar and pestle or in a blender and set aside.

3. Combine the tamarind and coconut milk in a small bowl and mix until it forms a thick paste. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, extracting as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Set aside until ready to use.

4. Heat the ghee in a large heavy-based saucepan over high heat, add the mustard seeds and cook until they start to pop, then add the fennel seeds and cook until they are lightly toasted. Add the onion, curry leaves and chilli and cook for a few minutes or until the onion is golden.

5. Add the curry powder, chilli powder and turmeric and mix in. Add the crab and cook for 3 minutes. At this stage you need to stir it a lot so the spices don’t burn. Add the coconut paste, stir and add the water. If the curry is too dry, add more water.

6. Cover and simmer for 12 minutes or until the crab is just cooked through and the sauce has thickened. Add the tamarind liquid, stir through and bring back to the boil.

7. Remove from the heat, stir in the drumstick leaves and lime juice and season with salt. Garnish with the coriander to serve.

Squid curry

This is a family favourite and a real southern Sri Lankan dish. Squid is plentiful all over the world and the secret of cooking squid perfectly is not to overcook it. I am happy not to clean the squid completely. Simply remove the head, cut out the beak and remove the innards – the rest is edible. 

Serves: 6

Ingredients: 350g squid, cleaned, heads cut into
1cm (3/8 inch) thick rings and tentacles reserved
3 pieces goroka
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
50g ghee
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 sprig curry leaves, leaves picked
2 small green chillies, chopped
300ml coconut milk
100ml coconut cream
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt, to taste


1. Place spices in a bowl and combine well. Heat the ghee in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat, add the onion, garlic, curry leaves and green chilli and cook, stirring regularly, for 4 minutes or until the onion is golden.

2. Increase the heat to high, add the squid and stir for 3 minutes.

3. Add the coconut milk, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes or until the squid is tender. Stir in the coconut cream and lime juice and season with salt. The sauce should be thick and dark.

Devilled tuna

This is a delicious Sri Lankan delicacy best eaten with a stiff Scotch or local Arrack, a spirit distilled from coconut juice.

Serves: 2


300g tuna fillet, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp salt
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 sprig curry leaves, leaves picked, plus extra to serve
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, quartered
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 leeks, washed and chopped
3 banana capsicum (peppers), chopped
2 long red chillies, finely chopped
2 green chillies, thinly sliced
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Sweet and sour sauce:

60ml (3 tbsp) tomato sauce (ketchup)
60ml (3 tbsp) white vinegar


1. Place the tuna in a bowl with the salt, chilli powder, curry leaves and lime juice. Stir to coat the tuna and set aside to marinate for 10 minutes.

2. To make the sweet and sour sauce, combine all of the ingredients and set aside until ready to use.

3. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Once it is hot, add the onion, garlic and leeks and cook until fragrant and the onion is starting to turn translucent. Add the chillies and fry, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes. Add the tuna and toss to coat in the onion mixture.

4. Stir in the sweet and sour sauce, cover and cook for a few minutes or until the tuna is just cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

These recipes have been taken from Peter Kuruvita's new book, A tempting collection of dishes from the islands of the South Pacific, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Sri Lankan Drinks

Author Bree Hutchins discovered these three refreshments from local kitchens in Sri Lanka

Spicy Ceylon tea

Even though William’s tea is only a simple blend of powdered milk and strong black tea, it is very popular among the stallholders and coolies. I was inspired by his tea to create this recipe, using spices that are sold at the markets and grown locally in Sri Lanka.

Serves: 4


12 green cardamom pods
12 black peppercorns
6 cloves
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
3cm piece ginger, roughly sliced
500ml full-cream milk
1 tbsp jaggery powder*
1 tbsp Dilmah Pure Ceylon tea leaves (or any other full-bodied black tea)


1. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the cardamom pods, peppercorns, cloves, fennel seeds, cinnamon stick and ginger into a coarse paste.

2. Put the pounded spices and the milk into a small saucepan and place over medium heat.

3. Stir in the jaggery and bring to the boil. When the milk reaches boiling point, immediately remove from the heat and gently stir in the tea leaves. Cover and infuse for 5 minutes.

4. Pour the tea through a small sieve into a jug. To create a froth, pour the tea into four small glasses from a height (about 30cm).

*Jaggery powder: An unrefined palm sugar made by boiling the sap from palm trees. Kithul palm jaggery is the sweetest and most prized, with coconut palm jaggery and palmyra palm jaggery being more common. Sold in blocks, which can be grated or chopped into pieces, and in powered form, which looks similar to brown sugar. Jaggery varies in colour from light golden to dark brown and has a rich, caramel flavour. Available from Asian grocers and some supermarkets. Substitute with soft brown sugar. 


Faluda is a sweet drink made from rose sherbet syrup, milk, basil seeds, vermicelli noodles and red jelly. When Fareena offered me a glass, I was a bit apprehensive because of its pink colour and musky smell, but it was delicious and really refreshing. I guzzled it  down quickly, completely forgetting that it was made with Colombo tap water.

Serves: 6


85g packet strawberry or raspberry jelly crystals
1 tbsp basil seeds*
35g dried seviyan vermicelli noodles*
1 litre full-cream milk
2 tbsp sugar
185ml rose syrup (or rose sherbet syrup)
270g ice cubes


1. Prepare the jelly according to the instructions on the packet and set aside to cool to room temperature. Line a rectangular container (measuring approximately 12 x 20cm) with plastic wrap, leaving some plastic wrap hanging over the sides. Pour the jelly into the lined container, then place in the refrigerator to set.

2. Soak the basil seeds in 500ml cold water for 15 minutes, or until soft and plump. While the seeds are soaking, bring 500ml water to the boil in a saucepan, add the vermicelli noodles and cook for 2–3 minutes, or until tender. Drain, rinse under cold running water to stop the cooking process, then drain and set aside.

3. Bring the milk to the boil in a large heavy-based saucepan. Stir in the sugar, then reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for 2–3 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the rose syrup, and set aside to cool slightly.

4. Drain the basil seeds and add to the faluda, followed by the vermicelli noodles. Transfer to a large jug or container and chill in the refrigerator.

5. When the faluda is chilled, carefully remove the jelly from the container and cut into 2cm cubes. Take six tall glasses and fill each one halfway with the jelly and ice cubes, then pour over the faluda. Serve as a drink or dessert.

*Basil seeds: Tiny black seeds from the basil plant, which swell and develop a glutinous coating when soaked. Added to drinks and desserts. Available from Asian grocers and specialist spice stores.

*Seviyan vermicelli noodles, dried: Thin, dried vermicelli noodles made from semolina and broken into small 1.5cm pieces. Used in a variety of Tamil desserts.

Ginger and coriander tea

I had my first cup of ginger and coriander tea at a dansal in Kirulapone that Sajeeva, my Sinhalese tuk-tuk driver, took me to. It was delicious, and judging by the number of  tuk-tuks, motorbikes, cars and buses that stopped for a cup, everyone else thought so too. The tea is believed to have many medicinal benefits and is used as a remedy for  colds, sore throats and muscle pain.

Serves: 4


50g coriander seeds, washed
40g piece ginger, roughly sliced
Sugar or honey, to taste


1. Combine the coriander seeds and ginger in a saucepan with 1 litre water. Bring
to the boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

2. Strain and add sugar or honey to taste, stir well and serve.

Recipes and images taken from Hidden Kitchens of Sri Lanka by Bree Hutchins published by Murdoch Books