Sri Lankan food without coconut

What if you want to try Sri Lankan food, but are allergic to coconut? At some point when I have free time (hah), I’d love to create a section of the Serendib Kitchen website that suggested adaptations. (Stephanie, add to queue?) Vegetarian / vegan, allergies, low-carb / keto, etc. For example, yesterday I was cooking dinner for 30 students, for my colleague Anna Guevarra‘s food and culture class, and there were a few restrictions we had to work around:

We had:
– a vegetarian (so I just kept it all vegetarian, super-easy to do well with Sri Lankan food)
– a cashew allergy (so we skipped the cashews toasted in ghee for the rice pilaf, and it was still good with saffron, rose, and sultanas), and
– a coconut allergy.

Now THAT one is tricky, as I’d learned back when I was cooking for my roommate Cliff Winnig, also allergic to coconut! (And nutmeg, and nuts — he says he had a lexical allergy…) We could just leave the coconut out of the kale mallung, bumping the sugar up a bit to compensate for the sweetness. It’s still tasty and worth making, but honestly, it’s not as good as it is with coconut, and so far, I haven’t come up with anything that would really work as a substitute.

But for the dal (lentil curry), it proved surprisingly easy to compensate for lack of coconut milk. I started with using cow’s milk instead, but as I asked the students, there’s still two major elements missing that we’d want to add back in. After a few moments, they correctly identified them.

Want to try to guess before reading further?

(The pictures may have given you hints!)

1) Sweetness, since coconut milk is sweeter than cow’s milk. We added in a little sugar, in the form of grated jaggery, and that worked very nicely to bring out the sweetness of the onions and help balance the dish.

2) Fat! Coconut milk has notably more fat than cow’s milk, and while the lentils were still tasty on their own, stirring in a stick of butter towards the end of the cooking time gave them that lusciousness that has you coming back for seconds and thirds. 

I’ve heard that the latter is actually a common restaurant technique when making sauces (maybe a French thing?), to stir in a stick of butter towards the end. I don’t indulge in that normally, and honestly, I don’t even want my daily dinner food to be that rich.

But in this case, a stick of butter stirred into a big double batch of lentil curry, feeding 30 people, was the perfect addition.  Mmm…

#serendibkitchen

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