Tag Archives: sri lanka

Salted Caramel Tart with a Lankan twist

I’ve just returned from a very last minute week in Sri Lanka – aka the motherland. My dad’s family were the patrons of a temple in their home village (Kondavil in Jaffna) and the temple has recently been refurbished (in all of the colours) so my dad wanted to go for a pilgrimage. Now, I haven’t been to his (or mum’s) home towns since the mid-80s (you know, war) so I volunteered to go along with him. I know, I’m a saint, it was such a chore heading over to 31c, sunshine, beaches etc etc…

IMAG1799

It was a hugely emotional trip for many reasons – not least because of my current generally emotional state (see previous post). But rather than go into that, instead, I’m going to sing the praises of my new favourite ingredient that I brought home – palmyra jaggery.

IMAG1800

So as you probably know, jaggery is unrefined sugar made from plants with a considerable amount of sucrose – usually sugar cane. But palmyra jaggery is made from the sap of the palmyra tree which grows in abundance in Jaffna. Mum had asked me to bring some home and being a sucker for packaging, when I saw it, I decided to get some for myself too (see pic below – it’s in a case made from palmyra fronds). And what with it being mother’s day yesterday (in the UK, don’t panic, rest of world) I thought it’d be nice to make her something with it because she inspired me to buy it. In terms of flavour, the palmyra jaggery has a really rich deep taste, almost coffee like. Or cinder toffee.

And then I thought, god, this would make an amazing salted caramel which naturally took me to thinking about the lovely popcorn cheesecake recipe by Rosie Birkett. But given I’ve made that about 680 times in the last twelve months (because it’s AMAZING, go on, try it), I thought I’d try something different.

I found a recipe on Great British Chefs which I modified a little because life’s too short to weight out grams of eggs (and I wanted to incorporate the jaggery, obviously). But the original recipe is here if you fancy making it (it also gives you a great option for what to do with seven left over egg whites. Mine have just gone in the freezer). Also this is possibly the tastiest sweet pastry recipe I’ve ever tried – but don’t do what I did and trim it before you bake as it’ll collapse on itself and you’ll have to try and fix it in the oven with a spoon. Hence the slightly wonky base.

IMAG1981

Salted Caramel Tart with Palmyra jaggery – serves 10-12 (or 8, if you’re hungry buggers) 

For the pastry base:
NB this makes enough for two tarts but can be frozen so you’ve got the best pastry on hand all the time – honestly, it’s delicious.  

  • 400g plain flour
  • 180g icing sugar
  • 130g ground almonds
  • 4g salt
  • 240g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2 eggs, beaten

For the filling:

  • 140g caster sugar
  • 500ml of double cream
  • 100g palmyra jaggery (or any jaggery or dark muscovado)
  • 7 egg yolks
  • Pinch of salt

Method

Prepare the pastry first – this probably needs to chill for a minimum 5 hours so you don’t end up with a fat bottomed pie.

Sift together all the dry ingredients and then add the cold butter. Using your fingers, rub the ingredients together till it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Then pour in the beaten egg and stir till the mix comes together. If it’s a little wet, add a tablespoon of flour at a time, till it comes together and away from the sides of the bowl. tip onto a clean surface and knead briefly then pat into a flatish disk, wrap in clingfilm and put it into the fridge.

For the caramel filling, melt the caster sugar over a low heat. You may need to swirl the pan to help things along but try not to stir it too much – it may seize. Once the sugar has melted, add the double cream and stir to bring together. Then add the salt, remove from the heat and set to one side to chill.

Meanwhile, grate the jaggery into a large bowl and beat in the egg yolks. Pour over the warm double cream mix whilst continually beating. Then add the pinch of salt. Using a fine meshed sieve, pour the mix through into a clean bowl and leave to cool. Once the mix is cool (30-40 mins), skim off any bubbles from the top of the surface, cover and put into the fridge.

You can do all of this up to three days in advance.

When you’re ready to prepare your tart, remove the pastry (well, half of it) and caramel mix from the fridge and bring to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 150c and prepare a pie tin (I did mine in a 20cm springform cake tin as I couldn’t find a pie tin – worked just as well…) Lightly flour a surface and a rolling pin and roll out the pastry to a thickness of approx 5mm and then line the tin, taking care not to rip the pastry (if you do, simply patch it up with any excess). Make sure you’ve got enough to hang over the edges of the tin – this is where mine collapsed and created a wonky base.

Put it back in the fridge for 20 mins to firm up again, then line the base with greaseproof paper and baking beans, pop onto a baking sheet and put into the oven.

Once the sides are golden, remove the baking beans/paper and put back into the oven for the base to cook and colour (approx 5-10 mins). Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10-15 mins. Meanwhile, reduce the heat to 100c.

Once the base is cooked, pour the salted caramel filling into the tart case and put the whole thing back into the oven. The tart is cooked when the filling barely wobbles when you shake the tin. It will take at least one hour depending on how accurate your oven is, but check it after 40 mins, and then every 15 mins after that.

Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin. Serve with a drizzle of cream or a random selection of macarons, praline and ice cream if you want to be all Great British Cheffy. Or just eat as is.

 

Advertisements

What I think about when I think about being brown

I mentioned in my last post about how this referendum is making me feel like the country  I was born and brought up in doesn’t really want me here.

But that got me to thinking about all the brilliant things about being an immigrant (or child of) and I thought, hell, let’s write a list. Because I’m bloody pleased that I’m a child of immigrants, and I’m (often – not always) bloody proud to call myself British and here are some reasons why the combination of my two cultures is actually a really good thing.

Something to rebel against

I did not have a bad childhood. Far from it, I had a great childhood. But I can only say that now with the benefits of hindsight. Ooh, I was a nightmare child. I mean, probably no worse than most teenagers, but I always felt the need to push against my heritage by way of rebellion, from wearing Doc Martens with saris to becoming vegetarian just to be stubborn (I get that my people generally are vegetarian what with the holy cow and all but the first gen Lankan contingent were committed meat eaters so being a vegetarian did not make them think I was pious and worthy and instead, it simply highlighted my brattishness). Also, weird shit like dressing me up in a sari and inviting all the locals over to gawp at me when I started my period (not even lying – see photo below) didn’t help me feel like being an immigrant was something to enjoy. My white friends just got given a box of feminine hygiene products and left to get on with it – I had a priest, pouring milk over my head, then getting dressed up like a 10 year old child bride in a sari with (fake) diamonds dripping off me and all of the Lankans in the extended family come over to watch the spectacle of me bleeding. Where are they now, eh? Maybe I should revisit this fun time once a month – they can watch me yell at the husband, cry and binge watch TV whilst eating all the Minstrels, I’m sure I could do that in a sari too.

IMAG5275 (1)
So this is me, aged 10 with my ma and pa, on the day they dressed me up as a little bride to celebrate my monthly chum. I am not sure why I’m green, when my folks are definitely brown. Let’s go with embarrassment?

So yeah, whilst I love the mad insane lot of them, being a child of immigrants gave me something to rebel against that helped me develop my personality (I have maintained the brattish behaviour throughout my life) when actually, all things considered, I had a very lovely childhood (and I wish I’d appreciated it more then).

(Swearing in)many languages. 

My mum likes to tell a story about the time when I was in a Sri Lankan shop with her best mate who told me to put something down so I called her a litany of swearwords in Tamil. I was 35. Not really, I was like 10. Possibly not dressed like above (more likely to be in some sort of batwing and legwarmer – it was the 80s, after all. Admittedly I still love a batwing).

Oh, they laughed and were mortified all at the same time. Mortified because the only reason I’d know such filthy language was because my mum had used them on me in times of ultimate brattery. Your fault, mother. But in all honesty, more than swearing, I love the Tinglish of my people – you get them in a room and the words flow in all the languages and make a beautiful cacophony of sounds. It’s just great to be able to understand go to India or Sri Lanka or Wembley or Tooting and understand  people talking around you (not all the people, obviously, there’s a lot of languages there)

A naturally built in community

So I have many communities. Friends, colleagues, the people you see when you get the same train every day, I would say the gym/yoga/running club but that’d be a lie. But you get the drift. But what  I love/loathe more than anything is being able to spot a Sri Lankan Tamil at 100 paces. We have a ‘look’ you see. Depending on who I’m with (mostly my dad, really) you’ll then get the whole ‘which village are you from’ conversation – and invariably, you’ll find out that their mother’s second cousin, twice removed’s husband’s sister’s dog was walked by your cousin’s second wife’s sister’s neighbour. And you’ll be like, whoa, small world. But outside of those almost family members, there’s always all the actual aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins as well as the family by heritage (mum and dad’s friends mostly) who turn up to the opening of an envelope. They’re ace. Annoying as all sin, but ace to know they’re there. It’s difficult to be alone when you’ve got a whole race that could potentially have walked your grandparent’s dog (not a euphemism) back in the home lands.

IMAG4624
Some of my fam making merry and a couple pretending not to know us. We’re that cool.

F(orce)feed Me

I have no idea if this is because they didn’t have much back in the home country (I don’t know that this is true for I’ve been force fed there too), but fuck me, we love to feed people. I get anxious if someone just pops in for a visit if I don’t at least have a bag of Doritos to forcefeed down their throats. Honestly, there’s a generosity of feeding that I blame entirely for my inability to fit my fat ass into anything gorgeous and ethereal and elegant, and instead has given me the delightful dumpy figure I endure today. But in all seriousness, I love that I can pop in to my cousin’s to drop off a bowl and be there hours later, eating all the mutton rolls – it shows such generosity of spirit (and food) and makes you feel part of a family. It’s also considered rude to visit someone without eating something. Honestly, I’m just realising why I’m fat.

mutton rolls
Mutton rolls, fish patties. Actually licking the screen right now.

Saris and shalwars

So as I’ve mentioned (once or twice) I am short and rotund. It’s OK, one day I’ll come to terms with this. But the best thing about that is saris specifically are made for short rotund people like me – you get a blouse made to measure to your specific requirements and then acres of beautiful fabric, folded and draped over your womanly curves to make you look as though you have actual womanly curves rather than gigantic sofa cushions stuffed in clingfilm (thanks skinny jeans and lying magazines). Similarly – having a day where you just want to eat all the food and nap on the sofa – throw on a shalwar kameez. Drawstring pants and baggy tops can still look elegant if a cousin pops over to drop something off/get fed till they explode. And being a child of immigrants means that you’ve got all those outfit choices at the back of your wardrobe along with all the clothes of your adopted country too. It’s superficial, sure, but it makes me happy.

wedding
See? Womanly curves, not lumpy lardy bits (sorry about insane face – whodathunk I was excited about getting hitched?)

 

The opportunities

I should probably say here that had I been born and brought up in Sri Lanka, I may be a step closer to the ‘castle/sprog/Indian version of Dior’ dream I had at 11. But having known my parents for like 40 years now, I don’t know that would be strictly true, but it might have been. I may have been less brattish after all. I grew up here, I got educated, I went to university, I lived on my own, I met my own husband (rather than one being chosen for me). I never felt like the world wasn’t mine for the taking – everything was available to me. Sure, I get that some people don’t have that, but going back to my first point, part of my rebellion was to ensure that I could go out and grab the world, and I never felt like I should be held back (and god help anyone who tried to).

 

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve realised that not much is simply down to the fact that my folks moved here in the 60s and are brown. These things: generosity of spirit, community, support, multiculturalism, saris; are there for the taking for anyone at all – we’re one big melting pot of cultures and classes and that’s a bloody brilliant thing in my book. But some people don’t like it. And that makes me sad. So my request for all my tens of followers is that you go out and learn something about your own culture or one you want to be part of and you’ll soon see, that we’re all more similar than you think.

My food youth

My parents came to Britain from Sri Lanka in the 1960s and for as long as I can remember, my family has been made up of those related by shared ancestry and those who are as close as blood relatives simply due to the fact that their surnames have a lot of letters and cause no end of fun when you’re spelling them for the 17th time to a call centre employee who inevitably asks “oooh, how long did it take you to learn that then?” And then they ask you to pronounce it, to which my standard response is ‘how it’s spelled, obviously’. Because that’s just it.

Anyway.

Because of this large and sprawling family unit, food and feeding people has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Weekends in Peterborough meant all the Sri Lankan families within my home town getting together at one person’s house, bringing a dish each, shoving all the children into a TV room upstairs whilst the women gossiped and the men folk drank whisky and solved all the problems “back home”.

P1010131

Wherever these dinners took place, the format was always the same.

The grown ups would be of similar ages, brought together by a shared heritage.  Within each family unit, there’d be at least one kid each, usually two. My sister was often the oldest, I was often the youngest. As there’s only four years between us, as grown ups that’s hardly anything, but as kids it was a lifetime apart.

The kids would always get shoved into a room together to ‘play’. If we were lucky, the house we were in would have a TV in a bedroom so we could all watch something together – Blind Date or Noel’s House Party (TV in the 1980s left a lot to be desired) and not have to play but if we did have to play something, it inevitably ended in tears for someone.

You’d be given a bowl of crisps or peanuts, a bottle of Coke or Fanta and left to get on with it. When dinner was ready, you’d be called downstairs and because no one had a table big enough for us all to fit around, we’d sit on the stairs because it’s weird to eat a plateful of curry in a bedroom, right? Whilst there were always variants, the basic meal was always the same – rice, a few vegetable curries, always paripu (dhal) and at least one meat curry – and if the meat curry was perceived to be too hot, one of the aunties would have roasted some chicken with milder spices ‘for the children’.

IMG_20141025_202212

Desserts were also much the same every time: someone would have made a traditional Sri Lankan pudding – wattalapan was the worst (like a sludge coloured, spiced baked caramel pudding – I realise this doesn’t sound that weird, but my god it was disgusting). Or biscuit pudding – Marie biscuits soaked in milk, layered with chocolate mousse (actually not bad). Or pineapple fluff – sickly sweet and weirdly pink. The best of all dessert options was if someone had bought a Vienetta for the kids because it was the 1980s and that was the best dessert ever.

Whilst those regular gatherings stopped for me after I moved to London for university, it’s still incredibly lovely when the whole clan gets together for meals or events. The men’s conversation hasn’t changed – still solving the problems of the world, and the women continue to cook and feed us all. And I’m often still considered one of the kids – refreshing when you’re too old to shop at Forever 21…

For the last few months, I’ve been looking to do something that nourishes my soul and I’ve realised that cooking and entertaining is ingrained in me and energises me. I love to gather together groups of people I love and feed them until they are close to exploding, then forcing another small morsel down their throats. In a nice way. So that’s what I’m going to do. But more on that later.