Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Think Spice...Think Fenugreek...Think Sri Lankan Red Shrimp Curry

When Kittie announced that her choice for this month's Think Spice was Fenugreek, my first thought was, "fenu-wha?" I may have seen the word in a recipe now and then, but I wouldn't know fenugreek if it hit me in the face.

Not knowing where to start, I figured, I'll Google it and see if anything strikes my fancy. Lo and behold, I found a recipe for Sri Lankan Red Shrimp Curry.

This will only be my 2nd foray into Sri Lankan food. You can read about my first experience here. The stand out dish from the previous meal was the shrimp curry. So, I jumped on the chance to make this dish.

I started with a trip to my local spice store (I can't tell you how glad I am to have a store nearby that sells a wide range of spices and herbs). When I returned home, I realized that I didn't buy a critical ingredient, Rampe Leaf.

Rampe leaf

The information I found says, Also known as pandan leaf. Almost every kitchen garden in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand boasts a pandanus plant, the leaves of which are used in both savoury and sweet dishes. A strip of leaf about 10 cm (4 in) long is dropped into the pot each time rice is cooked, to perfume it. Two or three strips are simmered with curry.

At first I had no idea where to find this, but with a quick Google search, I found a store 5 minutes from my place. I didn't even know it was there. Or rather, I saw it and never knew what the store sold.

I was given the option of choosing fresh leaf or dried. I went with fresh. But, I wasn't sure exactly how to use it. So...I did what came naturally. I tied it in a knot and threw it in a pot with the rest of the ingredients. If you have experience with this plant and know how should be used, please feel free to let me know.

Sri Lankan Red Shrimp Curry

* 750 g small raw prawns
* 1 medium onion, finely chopped
* 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
* 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated
* 1 small cinnamon stick
* 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
* 3-4 curry leaves
* 1 stalk lemongrass, bruised (or 2 strips of lemon rind)
* 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
* 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
* 2 teaspoons paprika
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 2 cups coconut milk
* 1 strip of daun pandan or rampe leaf
* good squeeze lemon juice


Wash prawns and remove heads but leave shells on (in Sri Lanka prawns are cooked with the shell on for better flavour).

Put all ingredients, except lemon juice, into a saucepan and bring slowly to simmering point.

Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes or until onions are soft.

Add lemon juice and stir. Taste and add more salt

Verdict: The dish was quite hot. I'm sure it would be easy to tone down with sweet paprika, rather than spicy. I followed the recipe quite closely and left the shells on the shrimp. But, I'd have to say that it wasn't the most appetizing that way. The issue is that you have to peel off the shells, which can be a problem when dealing with tumeric. You can read about my last experience with tumeric here.

Not unlike other curries I have made, I do not find that they actually have the same consistency and sweetness as curries I have tried in Thai or Indian restaurants. It was pretty good on the first night, but I wasn't very interested in it as leftovers. R enjoyed it, but found it not very filling.

One theory I have about the problem with my curry is the use of canned coconut milk. Through an email exchange with Dharm, I learned that fresh coconut milk come from adding a little bit of hot water to freshly grated coconut. This is squeezed to extract milk. Then, a little more hot water is added for a second squeeze. One grated coconut should give you about 2-3 cups milk.

Other than the coconut milk theory, I don't know what else could be wrong. I followed the recipe very closely. So, I don't think I would make this again, but I would like to figure out more about Fenugreek and Rampe Leaf. If you have any good recipes, please share! I will continue in my search for a good curry recipe and will keep an eye out for more Fenugreek recipes. I can't wait to see the roundup!



glamah16 said...

Well it sounded good to me. Sorry you didnt care for it. I love leaving the shells on because it adds to flavor. But it can be a pain to eat. I can never find fenugreek seeds!

Melanie said...

I'm not going to lie - that recipe looks totally intimidating to me and I'm impressed you tackled it!!

Anonymous said...

Never heard of it either, if it's too hot it's not for me either! But it looks pretty!

KJ said...

Well that's a shame. But you got to discover a new ingredient - always a good thing. I've never heard of rampe leaf before. And I completely understand about the tumeric. Tumeric and I have a very testy relationship.

Dee said...

I'm half Sinhalese (that's also Sri Lankan) and you 've put me to shame with this curry!

You did right with the pandan. To release more of the flavour, tear a leaf into two or three shreds lengthways, and then tie the lot into a knot before you throw it into the pot :)

Larissa said...

I just made South Indian style curry last night. Once I get my next curry craving, I'll be sure and try this recipe.

Deeba PAB said...

Good for you...how adventurous you are. I'm gonna make a fenugreek chicken curry with fresh leaves soon...to give you some more fenu-waaaaaaaah ideas!! The fresh leaves can be substituted for the dry ones. I'm glad you thought spice...very sporting of you!!

Shreya said...

looks great, fenugreek in shrimp is new to me. Nice entry for the event..

Julia said...

It *looks* like a great recipe -- all the elements are there. And as Dee said, you got the pandan right. If you add pandan leaf to a pot of regular rice, it scents the rice like Jasmine.

A few thoughts about improving the recipe: Western Chili Powder is usually a blend of spices (cumin, parprika, cayenne...). Perhaps what was intended is plain ground chili, or chili flakes. 1 1/2 tsp. is a lot for my taste, I would probably use less. Maybe 1 1/2 tsp. of chili paste. I agree, that peeling the shrimp first would make the dish easier to eat (but as glamah16 says, they do add extra flavor) My other recommendation would be to saute the aromatics in a little oil first, then add the spices, and then the shrimp and liquid. This will mellow the onions and garlic, and help release all the flavors.

Mary said...

Your curry looks very pretty.

I don't know if you knew this or not, but according to my 660 Curries cookbook (which is excellent if you like Indian food), Fenugreek is the same thing as methi. So if you are having a hard time finding fenugreek or a recipe with fenugreek, it might be labled as methi.

Cakelaw said...

Sounds delicious, even if it did not turn out as you'd hoped. I like prawns, but have never tried them in a curry.

kat said...

It certainly looks good but I know from experience makign curry at home is just harder than it seems it should be

Bunny said...

It looks very good, I'd have to tone it down a bit (hot wise) for the kids.

grace said...

this dish is completely foreign to me, but if you say it's hot, i'm immediately interested. :)

Ivy said...

Fenugreek, although it has the word Greek in it, I have seen it only in recipes and don't know much about this spice. I tried cooking shrimps with the shells on and we didn't like that either.

Laura Paterson said...

Oh, I'm so jealous you found rampe leaf (I only heard of pandan recently, but can't find it here...)

I'm sorry it didn't press your buttons though. I would try using dried red chillies, and maybe a tsp of ground cumin/coriander too.

Thanks for submitting to Think Spice!

Adam said...

Good for you for getting out and trying curry :) I think I'm inspired now. I never knew what to do with fenugreek and a funny looking rampe leaf. Awesome job

Beth (jamandcream) said...

I love using fenugreek - its adds a great flavour. This is going to be a must try

Darius T. Williams said...

This sounds good...and looks good. I'm not sure I'd have been able to even do it. Thanks for sharing!


Barrie said...

Fascinating. And now I've learned a little about fenugreek and pampe leaf and curry and Sri Lankan culture. Thank you.

What's Cookin Chicago said...

I've used pandan in Filipino recipes and a small town/province in Philippines is actually said to be the "pandan capital of the world" (the town/province is called Mangaldan, where some of my family is from). Aside from cooking, pandan is used to make mats, furniture, etc. It's quite a versatile plant with many uses, mainly to provide a fresh aroma and light flavor to foods.

Lori Lynn said...

I had high hopes for this dish. Oh well. Thanks for the lesson on rampe leaf...
I like your ingredient still life photo too.

Hopie said...

Hey wonderful mentors - you have an award over on my site (in the English version of the post, although perhaps I should've made you practice your French Psychgrad!) :-)

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