Watalappam

Wattalapam - Sri Lankan Spiced Coconut Custard Pudding

Watalappam is a traditional coconut dessert enjoyed in Sri Lanka.

This luscious custard is spiced-up with cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom, often with a hint of vanilla, and a smattering of nuts or dried fruits. The taste reminds me of a spicy, aromatic Indian cup of chai. But cold, coconutty, and soft! As with all recipes, everyone has their very own version. The Tamils make it different than the Singhalese, and the Muslims have another delightful variation.

I invented a vegan version of the coconut custard, and I added some variations of my own– including fresh (or frozen) berries. I often top it with dark, rich, sweet coconut blossom syrup (AKA palm syrup) which is extremely popular in Sri Lanka – and recently gaining popularity in Europe and the Americas. Sometimes I top the custard with blackstrap molasses or dark agave syrup, or some fresh fruit and nuts and maybe a bit of homemade fruit syrup, like I do with my vanilla muffins (also in The Lotus and the Artichoke – SRI LANKA cookbook.)

There’s actually a good story with the first time I had Watalappam in Sri Lanka. It highlights the need to stay cool, and remember that how we react in unexpected situations always influences how others perceive not just us as people, but whatever groups of people with whom we are associated – as foreign tourists, guests, citizens of particular countries, …and as vegetarians and vegans. In my travels, I try to be modest and respectful, and traveling vegan certainly comes with challenges here and there. Usually it’s much easier than others imagine, but I guess experience, a fair amount of luck and communication are all important factors.

One night I was invited to dinner at home with a Sri Lankan family in the small, charming town of Midigama.

Midigama is on the south west coast of Sri Lanka, and known for several great surfing spots, and I wanted to check it out. Sharani and her husband, a local tuk-tuk driver, lived with their two small children – and a funny green parrot that could talk – on a narrow, unpaved road a few minutes walk from the beach. She cooked for the better part of an afternoon, and by time dinner was ready, we were super hungry and totally curious what kind of deliciousness awaited us. Everything smelled fantastic! And then dinner was served: 5 Sri Lankan curries… including stir-fried Bonchi (green beans), spicy sautéed Brinjal (eggplant/aubergine), Carrot Curry, Dal (lentil) Curry, Soymeats Curry, and of course papadam, rice, and a simple salad of cucumbers and tomatoes.

After we finished eating, Sharani asked, “Do you like Watalappam? Sweets? Want to try?”

I was immediately curious, and asked her to describe it. “Made with coconut. Like a pudding. But very special flavors!” I tried once more, politely, to find out how it was made. “With eggs? Milk?” “No, no. Coconut!” “Butter?” “No, no. Coconut. And sugar! Palm syrup.” At this, she slid her chair back from the table, dashed to the kitchen, and returned with a chilled tray covered with plastic foil, which she was peeling back as she walked. Continue reading

Sri Lankan Jackfruit Curry

Jackfruit Curry Dinner from The Lotus and the Artichoke - SRI LANKA!

Sri Lankan Jackfruit Curry

This is absolutely one of my favorite dishes and recipes from my SRI LANKA vegan cookbook & ebook! I make it often at home, and have cooked it up for many dinner parties, cooking shows, and it’s regularly featured at the cooking classes I do, too. It’s really easy to make and it’s one of those dishes that’s a real crowd-pleaser, for vegans, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.

Strangely, Sri Lankan food is still not really that well-known in the world culinary scene — and the vegan scene, but it’s popularity and visibility has improved in the last few years. It’s kind of like jackfruit itself, which only recently has started to get really hyped and celebrated outside of Asia, where it has a long tradition and has been enjoyed for… well, practically forever! I suspect as Sri Lanka becomes more popular as a travel destination, more people will fall in love with the cuisine. Admittedly, I fell in love with Sri Lankan food about 10 years before my trip to Sri Lanka — there are some amazing Sri Lankan and South Indian eateries in Paris and Berlin that blew me away!

This Sri Lankan Jackfruit Curry is made with coconut milk, and it’s really creamy and intense. Jackfruit, kind of like plain tofu or tempeh or soy chunks (TVP), takes on the flavors of the sauce and marinade. The texture and freshness are amazing, and I enjoy it much more than the soy and faux-meat variations. (Which all work in this curry mix, too, btw!) You can use all kinds of coconut milk, or even make your own. If I buy coconut milk, I always try to get organic coconut milk with no weird additives and preservatives. In Germany, my favorite coconut milk is from Dr Goerg. It’s super rich and creamy, and combined with a little hit of coconut blossom syrup in the curry, this dish gets crazy delicious!

The main thing to know about cooking with jackfruit outside of Asia is: It’s easy to find! It’s inexpensive and really nothing bizarre. Almost every Asian import grocery store I’ve been to in the US, Canada, Germany, France, England, Holland and other parts of Europe, whether big city or little town, has Green Jackfruit (unsweetened!) in a can… but the yellow jackfruit which is primarily for sweet dishes and desserts is also usable, if you rinse off the syrup and adjust the spices / salt accordingly. Green jackfruit is the unripened, slightly tougher, less sweet fruit.

I had Jackfruit Curry in at least 10 different places in the 10 weeks I spent in Sri Lanka. Each restaurant and every family make it a bit different. I’ve also made lots of different variations on this one– sometimes sweeter, sometimes spicier, sometimes creamier, sometimes with other fun stuff like greens… or even pineapple! Continue reading