I’m going to talk about Rambutan as that’s the Sri Lankan cookbook I have, and I have cooked recipes from it and it’s worthy of review.
Rambutan is an award-winning Sri Lankan cookbook published by Bloomsbury. As part of writing this book, Cynthia spent six months in Sri Lanka researching and testing her 80 recipes. The recipes reflect her northern Sri Lankan roots, more specifically, Jaffna.
Why is the Rambutan cookbook important?
In the context of Sri Lankan cookbooks, it’s essential. A lot of Sri Lankan cookbooks will feature some Tamil recipes. They never seem to be integrated into the books, often confined to their own chapter. It’s great to see Tamil Sri Lankan food celebrated in this way.
And, this book reflects Cynthia’s Tamil heritage, and mine too.
The only other cookbook that I have seen that focuses on Tamil cooking is Handmade, an Australian-published cookbook that takes you on a journey of amazing food shared through the stories of 34 women – their struggle, hope and strength as they rebuild their lives after decades of civil conﬂict. Accompanying these stories are their recipes that celebrate a rich food tradition.
I managed to get a copy a few years ago. It’s a beautiful book with a few select recipes. Funds from book sales go towards Palmera an organisation that helps support vulnerable families in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka’s recent history told through personal stories
Back to Rambutan.
Rambutan is more than just a cookbook though. It’s a personal testimony of Sri Lanka’s recent history told through family stories and local history. And Cynthia hasn’t shied away from addressing Sri Lanka’s painful past.
I found some passages hard to read because they reflected some of my family’s own experiences and struggles. The book is beautifully written and very moving and coupled with the recipe makes it deeply personal.
I know many people complain about personal stories that preface a recipe. But here, the stories are a vital component of the book.
As Meera Sodha said: “I picked up this book for the food, but I’ll treasure it forever for the stories.”
I dip in and out of the cookbook, sometimes purely reading for pleasure other times to cook.
A Sri Lankan cookbook packed with over 80 recipes
There are some great recipes in this cookbook.
I love the roasted aubergines sambol. I first tasted this in Kotthu, a new-ish Sri Lankan restaurant in Tooting and couldn’t get the flavour out of my head and knew I had to make this.
It was a fist pump when I saw the recipe in the cookbook.
I’ve made it many times.
If you know me and how I cook, I never stick to a recipe (unless I’m testing my own!). I’m always changing this, taking this out adding that. It’s just the way I cook. I picked this habit up from my parents.
This aubergine sambol is an incredibly versatile recipe. You don’t have to make it to eat with Sri Lankan food. A bowl of roasted aubergine sambol would be a great addition to a summer barbecue spread. It’ll be one of those dishes you’ll want more, more, more.
I prefer yoghurt to coconut milk (personal preference), so I swapped that, which makes my version more of a raita than a sambol, yet equally delicious.
I’ll get this recipe out to you super soon.
The pickled pork curry was great too. Very different to how I normally make a pork curry. The curry is deliciously tart.
The fried chickpea sundal is a Sri Lankan street food. It’s a crowd-pleaser. When friends came for lunch, I cooked a Sri Lankan spread and I kid you not, my guests were fighting for the last chickpea in the bowl.
For a mild, and soothing curry try the chicken sodhi. Ridiculously easy to make, chicken spices and coconut milk are all cooked together and what you get is a heartwarming, not-too-spicy chicken curry. It challenges the received wisdom that all Sri Lankan curries are fiery hot!
Getting honest about the biryani
I’ll be honest and say I found the sticky chicken buriani (or biryani), I found less satisfying. My biryanis need to be jam-packed and full of flavour. Every bite of your biryani has to sing with its spices.
I’ve tried biriyani’s from other cookbooks and have had a similar experience.
I have a couple of biryani recipes on my site both are easy-to-cook versions. And are great to make and eat and I think they are pretty good. I know one of my readers has shared this recipe with her family.
The biryani recipe I rate is Anita Dickman’s from the cookbook Anita Dickman’s Cookery Course. This cookbook was first published in 1988, and it’s hard to come by. Anita’s daughter, Shanthi Casie Chetty write the cookbook to capture her mother’s recipes. It’s a book that is well-loved by the Sri Lankan community.
There is a mix of recipes in this book, some not very Sri Lankan recipes, chicken vol au vents, and lemon souffle. Anita spent some of her youth in Switzerland where she trained to cook and brought her learning back to Sri Lanka where she started to run cookery classes.
Anita Dickman’s lamb biryani recipe is full of flavour, it’s insane. I know this book is cherished by many Sri Lankans. The recipe is for a big belly-buster biryani, the whole shebang. It’s the type of biryani you’ll have to devote a day to.
That said, I made the Rambutan’s roasted pumpkin curry which I made using butternut squash was a knock-out. I’ve filed it away for autumn. It’d definitely work well with something like a black pork curry or the pickled pork curry and will warm you up when the cold weather sets in.
Should you buy the Rambutan cookbook?
If you are new to Sri Lankan cooking, or if you are on the lookout for a new cookbook, love Sri Lankan food and want to know more. Or if you looking for modern Tamil recipes, then get this book.