Four Sri Lankan seafood recipes for a spicy staycation treat

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A rich, coconutty mussel soup, devilled prawns, fragrant mackerel wrapped in banana leaves, all topped with a good sprinkling of coconut chutney

Banana leaf mackerel (pictured above)

Prep 10 min, plus soaking
Marinate 30 min-2 hr
Cook 35 min
Serves 4 as a main

2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp turmeric powder
4 limes, 2 juiced, 2 cut in half, to serve
2 whole mackerel, cleaned
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
300g fresh coriander
5 garlic cloves
5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled
3 green chillies
3 stems fresh lemongrass, trimmed – remove the huskier outer layers and use only the first 5-7cm of the white bit at the bottom
4 tbsp desiccated coconut, soaked in a little warm water for 30 minutes (or 4 tbsp fresh grated coconut)
10-12 curry leaves, ideally fresh
¾ tsp sugar
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 banana leaves, for wrapping (or use baking paper and kitchen foil)

In a small bowl, mix half a teaspoon of salt, the turmeric and lime juice, then rub all over the fish and leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes, and up to two hours.

Toast the cumin and fennel in a dry pan for two minutes, until fragrant, then tip into a processor with the remaining ingredients, and blitz to a thick, coarse paste – add a splash of water, if need be. Taste for seasoning, and add some more salt if needed.

Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/gas 4. Spread the paste generously over each fish, then wrap each one, first in a banana leaf, making a neat parcel, and then double wrap with tinfoil and crunch the ends together to seal; if you can’t find banana leaves (most Asian food stores have them), wrap first in baking paper, then in tinfoil. Do not wrap too tightly – you need to leave space for the fish to steam.

Put the parcels on a baking sheet and bake for 22-25 minutes (if you have a large enough steamer, this fish is great steamed, too, but avoid using tinfoil, if so), then unwrap at the table. Serve with charred lime halves – simply lay the lime halves cut side down in a dry hot pan and leave for a minute; you can do this ahead of time, if need be.

Devilled prawns

Prep 15-20 min
Marinate 1 hr
Cook 25 min
Serves 4 as a starter or part of a spread

350g sustainably sourced prawns, peeled and ‘deveined’
2 tsp red chilli flakes
Salt and black pepper
2 tbsp vegetable or rapeseed oil
6cm cinnamon stick
3cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
8-10 curry leaves, ideally fresh
1 large, ripe tomato, finely chopped, or tinned plum tomato)
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp coconut vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
4 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
2 medium red onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 green or red pepper, stalk, seeds and pith removed, cut into 1cm cubes
Sugar, to taste
Finely chopped coriander and spring onions, to garnish

Put the prawns in a bowl with half the chilli flakes and half a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and leave to marinate for an hour.

Heat the oil in a wok on medium heat, add the cinnamon, ginger and garlic, and stir-fry until the garlic turns golden brown. Add the remaining red chilli flakes, green chilli and curry leaves, and take off the heat.

Stir in the tomatoes, paste and ketchup, put back on the heat and stir-fry for three to four minutes. Add the vinegar and spring onions, and stir-fry on a medium heat for six to eight minutes, until the sauce is thick and glossy.

Add the onions, green peppers and prawns, stir-fry on high heat for five to seven minutes, until the prawns are pink and cooked through, then add sugar and salt to taste.

Tip out on to a platter, garnish with chopped fresh coriander and sliced spring onions, and serve hot.

Mussel hodi

Prep 15 min
Cook 20 min
Serves 4 as a starter or part of a spread

1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1 brown onion, peeled and finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
¾ tsp turmeric powder
1 x 400g tin coconut milk
2 fresh lemongrass stems, bashed
2 green chillies, slit lengthways
8-10 curry leaves, ideally fresh
Sea salt, to taste
500g live mussels, washed and beards removed
1 lime, juiced

Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the fenugreek and cinnamon, fry for 30 seconds, then add the onion and garlic and keep stirring until soft but not coloured – three or four minutes. Add the turmeric and cook, stirring, for 15 seconds, taking care it doesn’t catch and burn.

Add all remaining ingredients except the mussels and lime juice, bring up to a simmer and leave to cook for 10 minutes – do not let it boil or the coconut milk might split. Check the seasoning (keep it a touch under-seasoned, because the mussels are quite salty), then turn off the heat. You can do all this ahead of time, up to a couple of days in advance, and store the sauce in the fridge until you are ready to steam the mussels.

When you’re ready to cook the mussels, bring the sauce to a simmer in a deep, lidded saucepan (again, don’t let it boil). Add the mussels (discard any with damaged shells or any that do not shut when given a sharp tap), cover the pan at once, and leave to cook for three to four minutes, shaking the still covered pan every 30 seconds or so.

Discard any mussels that do not open, then serve at once in bowls with a squeeze of lime to finish.

Pol sambol

Prep 10 min
Cook 15 min
Serves 4 as a relish

¾ cup freshly grated coconut (or frozen grated coconut, defrosted; at a pinch, you could also use desiccated coconut soaked in warm water for 30 minutes and then squeezed as dry as possible)
2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 small banana shallot (or 2 shallots), peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp bright red chilli flakes
½ tsp crushed black peppercorns
½ tsp Maldive fish pieces – you can buy these from many Asian food stores (or use 1 tsp fish sauce); optional
1 tsp sea salt, or to taste
Juice of ½ lime, or to taste

Tie the coconut in muslin cloth and squeeze out as much liquid as possible so it’s dry as can be (or press it down in a fine-mesh sieve to extract the liquid); reserve the liquid for a curry.

In a mortar, bash the green chillies, shallots, chilli flakes, black pepper, Maldive fish (if using) and sea salt until broken up, but do not paste them.

Add the coconut and continue pounding until its all mixed through and you’re left with a coarse, bright-red mix. Mix in the lime juice and stir thoroughly. Adjust the salt, lime and chilli to taste, and serve immediately alongside curries, rice, roti or hoppers – keep any excess in the fridge and use within two days.

Recipes by Karan Gokani, director, Hoppers, London.

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