Sri Lankan Beetroot Curry & Kale Mallung

   60 Comments

Beetroot curry

Where do I even begin?

I guess I’ll start by saying that I feel like I am waking up from the most spectacular, flavourful, technicolour dream. Sri Lanka deeply touched me, from its incredible landscape, beautiful people and of course, the food. The food! The food.

When I was first invited by Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts to go on a food tour of Sri Lanka, I was a bit uncertain – to be honest, I didn’t know anyone who had visited Sri Lanka before, and I especially had no idea what the cuisine was like. I assumed that it was probably very much like Indian, but what I discovered is that it has its own totally distinctive flavours and cooking techniques.

Sri Lankan people are very passionate about their food and the culture around it. From my perspective, they seemed especially connected to the earth and the bounty that springs year-round from their incredibly fertile land. Many of the world’s spices are grown on the island, so you can imagine how rich and complex their traditional dishes are. Sri Lankan food is also hot. Like, crazy hot. Chilies play a dominant role in everything from curries to relish and are accompany every meal of the day – even breakfast. An interesting way to start your morning, I might add, is being startled awake by an explosive plate of food. And with coconuts quite literally dripping from the trees everywhere you look, the backbone of many Sri Lankan dishes, both savoury and sweet, is coconut water, milk and flesh. Heavenly. And a welcome antidote to all that chile.

beetcurry6

Rice and curry is a Sri Lankan staple, and in fact the word “food” there is synonymous with this combination. Happily for me, there are countless vegetarian and vegan options to choose from. My favourites were jackfruit curry (mindblowing!), cashew curry (yes, a whole pot of cashews cooked in coconut milk), wingbean curry, mung bean curry, eggplant curry, lentil curry, and pumpkin curry. But my favourite curry of all? Beetroot curry. Surprising, eh? The first time I was offered this dish, I kind of thought that it was an accommodating east-west mashup or something, but no! It’s a thing. And a wildly delicious thing at that. I never imagined combining beets and coconut before, but it works incredibly well. The earthiness of the beets contrasts perfectly with the sweetness of the coconut milk, and the beets are neither crunchy or mushy, but a perfectly balanced succulent-tender texture that pairs so well with rice.

beetcurry4

The other major love affair I had in Sri Lanka was with all the little side dishes that come with the curries themselves: sambol and mallung (or mallum). Sambol is like a relish, typically based on freshly shredded coconut (but not always), with a featured vegetable, along with chilies and lime. Pol sambol (coconut sambol) is ubiquitous and served at every meal I can remember. It varies in spiciness from table to table, but more often than not I couldn’t eat more than a couple teaspoons with my curry – which was already insanely hot enough, thank you.

Mallungs are “green dishes” made with cabbage, kale, broccoli, beans or other leafy veg. These are always cooked without any oil, and instead use just the heat of the pan and a little bit of water to steam the vegetable – a groovy technique in my opinion. Spices are used in mallung as well, and vary from recipe to recipe. They can be served warm or at room temperature, almost like a lightly cooked salad.

beetcurry11

Curry leaves are an essential ingredient in Sri Lankan food. Many people are confused by this name because they associate curry with a spice blend, and assume that curry powder must then come from dried and ground curry leaves. In truth the word curry vaguely refers to a dish prepared with spices, but means very little to Indian or South Asians, where “curries” originate.

Curry powder is largely a Western creation, and should in fact be referred to as masala, meaning a spice mix. Most curries in Sri Lanka rely on whole spices, not ground or pre-mixed ones, so that the cook can balance flavours according to his / her tastes.

Anyway, back to the curry leaves. Small, dark green and glossy, they are deeply aromatic with a distinctive savoury-smoky scent that is difficult to describe. And no, they don’t smell like curry powder – we’ve already established that. They can be difficult to find fresh here in Copenhagen (and I would imagine, many places in the world!), but dried ones are available at most ethnic grocers or specialty shops. With about half the pungency of fresh curry leaves, the dried ones are an okay substitute if that’s all you’ve got, but do try and seek out some fresh ones – you’ll never look back! Plus, if you find them fresh, you can easily freeze them until your next curry.

beetcurry10

It was very difficult to decide what kind of Sri Lankan dish I would post first (oh yea, there’s more to come…) but I chose beetroot curry and kale mallung because they are both relatively seasonal here in Denmark, and because I think that both of these recipes take us out of our comfort zone with familiar veggies, and make use of entirely unique cooking techniques. You’ll find both applications totally surprising, I guarantee that, and I hope that they inspire you to make curry out of things you wouldn’t normally, or try an oil-free, steamy stir-fry. Yum town.

There is so much complexity and diversity to Sri Lankan food and I am forever inspired. I cannot wait to go back to this enchanted island to explore, and eat, once again.

Beetroot curry

 

A huge thanks to Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts  and Sri Lankan Airlines for making this incredible trip possible!

 

Chickpea & Sweet Potato Noodle Soup

   64 Comments

Sweet Potato Noodle Soup

It’s pretty clear how I’m handling winter this year: lots of big, bold, spicy food. Chili, saffron, ginger, and paprika are on heavy rotation these days, and I’m surviving cold days with hot meals infused with far-away flavours.

The inspiration for this dish came from harira, a spicy Moroccan and Algerian soup that is traditionally eaten during Ramadan. I made it a lot when I first went vegetarian, about 16 years ago, but after adding several more recipes to my repertoire, kind of forgot about it. In the interest of internally thawing out my bod, I thought I would dust off this old favourite and give it a couple updates.

sweetpotatonoodles10

You’ll often see a lot of harira recipes calling for rice or pasta, but I wanted to go the grain-free route on this one, so I pulled out my trusty spiralizer and make noodles out of sweet potatoes! As much as I love “raw noodles” like spiralized zucchini and beet and carrot, let’s face it: beyond their appearance, they aren’t fooling anyone into believing they are pasta. But something really amazing happens when you cook vegetable noodles just a little bit – they actually become rather tender, yielding, and able to absorb other flavours. Sweet potato noodles are definitely a favourite of mine, especially in cooked dishes like this one. They add great texture, and of course, noodle-free oodles of nutrients (try saying that five times).

Sweet Potato Noodle Soup

You don’t have to soak the lentils for this dish, but it will cook faster it you do, plus the lentils themselves will be far more digestible. And of course you can use canned chickpeas instead of cooking them from dried, but because you won’t be blending them up (into hummus, for instance) I promise it’s worth the effort for not-totally-mushy results. If you’ve never tried cooking your own chickpeas from scratch, maybe now is the time to take the plunge! You’ll never go back, I promise. 

Sweet Potato Noodle Soup

 

In other news, I’ve added two new recipes to the My New Roots App! If you’re craving a little more in the way of raw, juicy sunshine, here are two brand-new and exclusive smoothie bowls for your pleasure: the Zippy Zucchini Smoothie Bowl and the Plum Dandy Smoothie Bowl. If you have the app already simply update it, and if you don’t, you can download it here.

appcollage

And this week I’m in Sri Lanka, all thanks to Cinnamon Hotels for kidnapping me from the icy cold and transporting to me to a tropical paradise full of exotic fruits, cerulean 29° ocean water, and annoyingly perfect palm-tree-sunset-white-sand-beach situations. If you don’t want to be jealous, you should probably avoid my Instagram, okay?

Stay cozy out there!
xo, Sarah B

Harissa Carrots and Fennel with Lentils

   56 Comments

harissa
My trip to Seattle to work on the Cody nutrition video series proved to be a pretty ragin’ food fest. The pre- and post-production days, along with nights off gave me some time to explore the city, meet the amazing locals, and sample, er, quite a bit of fantastic food. You know, for research purposes.

When I travel, I put wish-list restaurants in two groups: the vegetarian restaurant, and the non-vegetarian restaurant that has enough veg-friendly options to be worth the visit. As much as I find a lot of inspiration at both of these types of establishments, they can also have their drawbacks. First, the vegetarian restaurant, bless them, can tend towards the dated, you know what I mean? Overly-sauced, overly-cheesed, overly seitan-ed out places that offer satisfying, but not very health conscious dishes reminiscent of 1997. Yea. The second place is great if you want to eat out with meat-loving friends (and thank goodness most American restaurants recognize that vegetarians don’t always travel in packs!). The issue is that these places don’t recognize that we also need substance. There are plenty of creative veggie-centric plates, but nothing that is going to really fill me up! When I was in Seattle, I rarely saw a single bean, lentil or a cube of tempeh on a menu. If I was lucky enough to see a whole grain, it was a sprinkle on top like a garnish. I feel like I’m always compromising somehow, which sounds ridiculously gripe-y, but maybe this is my PSA to say that both types of restaurants are so close to getting it so right that it is worth putting it out there in hopes that someone hears my cry.

One of my most favourite dishes at a hip and trendy non-vegetarian spot was a roasted carrot, fennel, harissa and yogurt combination, that was as strong in its presentation as it was in flavour. The plate was literally piled with roasted carrots and fennel – a stellar sight for ravenous eyes – bathed in the silkiest scarlet sauce, all nestled in a generous swathe of thick yogurt. It was kind of thing I could barely wait to dig into (I had to share with the rest of my table…rough!), and sad to see the server remove the licked-clean plate. BUT! Where was the rest of it? I realize that this was intended to be a side dish, but there were literally no other options on the menu unless I was to join my table mates and dig into a roast chicken.

Being back home in Copenhagen in the thick of winter, I felt the urge to bring a little light and spice to the table. Fondly recalling the jolt to my taste buds that carrot dish conferred, I decided to make my own version that included a simple upgrade with lentils that any vegetarian would be happy to call dinner. Or anyone for that matter.

harissa4

Harissa is a north African chili pepper paste traditionally added to meat and fish stews, and to spice up couscous, but I think it’s delish with all the things, especially winter veg that could use a major flavour injection. If you have not made your own harissa before, it’s a relatively quick and painless process that can give your food a serious wake-up. It is bright, bold, spicy, smoky and just plain yummmm. It keeps well in the fridge and a delightful thing to have on hand when you’re not really sure what to do with that pumpkin (slather it in harissa and roast it!) or that tempeh (marinate it in harissa and fry it!) or that kale (dress it in harissa and stuff your face!). If you can’t wait another second to make this dish, you can also buy pre-made harissa paste at ethnic grocers and gourmet markets. It’s sold in small tins, tubes, or jars – just look for versions without any preservatives or unpronounce-ables (but it goes without saying that the homemade kind is best, obvi).

You can really use any kind of chili to make harissa, and I suggest a variety to achieve a deep and complex flavour. Some of the ones I chose (based solely on the fact that I already had them in my pantry) were smoked whole ñoras peppers, guajillo, and bird’s eye for some serious heat. Chipotle would be very tasty (it’s a good idea to have at least one smoked pepper variety), or de arbol, jalepeno, ancho…you get the idea. You can also make harissa with crushed chili flakes if that is all you have, just make sure that you balance it out with perhaps more tomato paste and roasted bell peppers. I believe that you should be able to eat a small spoonful of pure harissa without blowing your head off. You’re after something spicy, but also rich and savoury, so strike that balance as you’re choosing the ingredients.

harissa6

It’s Getting Hot in Here
Chili peppers are a fantastic food to add to your diet, especially in the colder months, as they actually heat us from the inside out! Chilies contain an active substance called capsaicin that significantly increase thermogenesis (a.k.a. heat production), in our bodies. This is precisely why eating spicy food makes us turn read. break a sweat, and can even aid weight loss, as thermogenesis literally burns calories! These burned calories translate into warmth in the cells and therefore heat in the body. This is the exact same process that takes place in hibernating animals to stay warm.

Other foods that have this thermogenic effect are horseradish, mustard, cinnamon, fennel seed, garlic, ginger, ginseng, and turmeric.

harissa5

I love this kind of dish from a construction standpoint. The first bites deliver the big bold flavours of the roasted veg dripping in smoky sauce alone, and then as you begin to go further and dig around, everything kind of melds together, creating mouthfuls with a little bit of this, a little bit of that. The lentils start hanging out with the lemon-spiked yogurt giving the smooth consistency some tooth and texture, which the veggies then become coated in. The harissa drippings work their way into all the nooks and crannies, and the mint pokes you every so often with a “hello, my name is FRESH!” It hits all the texture notes, the flavour notes, and you’re left feeling, well, really satisfied. Not to mention, full.

This dish is totally vegan aside from the yogurt, which could even be replaced with a cashew yogurt, like the one in my cookbook, or another plant-based one. You can even leave it out all together if you like, but it’s a great team player with the other elements. The lentils could easily be replaced by the beans of your choice, and the veg you can change up according to what you have available. You can even make the harissa dressing for any manner of green salad and serve it over raw things too. This dish would also be really tasty with some toasted nuts or seeds sprinkled on top.

harissa2

Note: If you are in Copenhagen and looking for high-quality organic spices for this recipe or any others, check out ASA spice shop in Torvehallerne! They are simply. the. best.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Oh yea, Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone’s 2016 has started off on the right foot.

Here are a couple things I’ve been up to:
Cody app and I have collaborated to create an online video series with 21 episodes geared towards anyone who wants to learn how to cook healthy, plant-based meals! I have been wanting to put together an educational + cooking video program for so long now, and I am very proud of how this has turned out. I hope you check it out.

Cody - Healthy, Whole, Fit

We’ve added four brand-new and exclusive recipes to the My New Roots app. These recipes are specifically for cleansing and detoxification, so if you’re January hasn’t been as “clean” as you would have liked, maybe this will give you some inspiration! Update your app or download it now and get this recipe for Nori wraps with Cleansing Broccoli Pesto along with three other delicious and detoxifying delights (use the filter button to select “Super Clean 2016″) Check out the recipes here.

My New Roots iPhone app

And I was invited to speak on Jessica Murnane’s podcast, The Things that Freaked my Week. It was fun. Listen here.

BIG love and best wishes for your year ahead.
xo, Sarah B

Show me your harissa on Instagram: #MNRharissa