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A lesson in Sri Lankan cookery

Licking the spoon is one of the guiltiest pleasures in cooking. But one that's actively encouraged in Samantha Brown's Sri Lankan cookery school in Waterloo. Ben Patey went along

Published on September 2nd 2008.

A lesson in Sri Lankan cookery

IT'S one thing enjoying a special meal in a restaurant. However when it comes to replicating those intricate flavours at home, it's often a case of “can't cook, won't cook”.

While many Brits still cook without reflecting too much on the ingredients they use, Sri Lankans are big on the philosophy of Ayurvedia, the idea being that one's general health and well-being depends on one's choice of nourishment, lifestyle and habits

With Sri Lankan cuisine, where to start? An average curry usually contains over a dozen ingredients, and you won't find many jars of Sri Lankan curry paste in Tesco's, should you be minded to cheat.

Luckily, the real deal is close at hand. Samantha Brown, owner of one of the few Sri Lankan restaurants we know, The Ceylon Spice Company, in Waterloo, runs a monthly cookery school designed to have you whipping up Sri-Lankan dishes in no time as well as educating your palate to recognise all the elements.

As well as cooking a bona fide Sri Lankan meal during the session, you'll then sit down and eat it with a guest of your choice. Alternatively, you could take it home to share with your significant others there.

While many Brits still cook without reflecting too much on the ingredients they use, Sri Lankans are big on the philosophy of Ayurvedia, the idea being that one's general health and well-being depends on one's choice of nourishment, lifestyle and habits.

A Sri-Lankan curry contains 13 key ingredients: onions, garlic, chillies, lime, turmeric, cumin, fennel, coriander, fenugreek, ginger, rampe, curry leaves, and lemongrass. Each of these has its own Ayurvedic effect and health benefit, as well as imparting great flavour.

In Sri Lanka, it's strongly believed that, for every ailment and illness, there's a dish to combat the problem. And so it can be very healthy. They rarely use dairy products, so its coconut milk rather than yoghurt, and the combination of vegetables and spices clearly have remedial advantages. Sam showed us a picture of her 75-year-old dad who looked 30 years younger and still had his black hair.

One previous attendee of the cookery school had undergone a heart bypass and wanted to find out how he could cook without the use of oils and fatty foods. In this way the course is extremely educational and can be tailor made to suit any dietary needs.

Freedom and choice are very much promoted from the outset. The first question you're asked is whether there are any particular foods you don't like. Of course, if the answer is no, you're very much encouraged to try everything you can. With a maximum of four people on each course there is plenty of time for individual attention with the course being as informal as it is informative.

The restaurant and cookery school were clearly set up for the love of food rather than the love of money, and it shows right down to the authenticity of the interior which Samantha designed herself. Customers at the Ceylon Spice Company are even permitted to go up to the kitchen when they eat in the restaurant and watch the chefs at work.

In the kitchen last Sunday, the quartet of aspiring chefs looked a little nervous.

The coconut crème caramel would have to have time to set, so that was the first dish to whip up. Beating a few eggs, adding some coconut milk, brown sugar, a few spices… Nothing too distressing just yet. But the tears came with the making of the starters...

Well no one likes chopping onions, do they? Except contact-lens-wearing John who looked competent (and smug) hacking into his.

The stuffed poppadoms with a tuna, turmeric potato and spice filling smelled amazing. Initially, they didn't look all that hot. Joe's first effort resembled, at best, a wonky Cornish pastie, but fairly soon, everyone got the hang of the rolling technique.

The atmosphere in the kitchen was reminiscent of school days. Days when you'd return home proudly with some chocolate brownies that had surely been cooked in an incinerator.

On to the main courses and the aromas were whipping the kitchen into a frenzy. Gary waxed lyrical over the scent of the ginger and garlic paste. Sam was clearly in agreement. as she licked the spoon for the third time in as many seconds.

Samantha, in fairness, had encouraged this. The chefs were expected to taste the food in order to know what do add to the dish to balance the flavours. Coconut milk seemed to be the choice ingredient, bringing equilibrium to dishes that were both too hot and too salty.

The mains consisted of a tamarind chicken curry and a lamb buduma with coriander leaves. To accompany the dishes were Indian five-spice aubergines and shredded cabbage with coconut.

By the end of the afternoon, the aspiring chefs were tossing food in the air, adding strangely coloured powders to the pans, making things a bit spicier, a little saltier, a little less creamy, chopping things at obscene speeds and basically getting very confident indeed, bordering on the flippant.

When everyone eventually sat down to tuck into the delicious feast, there was nothing but glowing reports and talks of returning visits to the restaurant.

"I think we'll all go away and recommend this to ten friends," said Gary.

"I'll definitely be coming back. I've got to try those king prawns. They were literally the size of my hand, " added Sam.

We had all gained a lot from the experience. Aside from the great insight and introduction to Sri Lankan cuisine, everyone also had knowledge of different foods, the confidence to cook new things and of course a full stomach.

What do you usually do on a Sunday? Maybe it's about time you acquired a taste for something different.

NB: The Ceylon Spice Company Sri Lankan cookery course runs on the last Sunday of every month. It includes all ingredients, lunch with wine, an apron, a booklet with the recipes in and also a glossary of all the spices used and where to find them in the Liverpool area.

Cost £95.00. For more details please enquire at the restaurant, or email: info@ceylonspicecompany.co.uk or visit the website

All the courses can be purchased as Gift Vouchers and are valid for one year.
Duration of Course 10.30am -3.30pm approx.

The Ceylon Spice Company Restaurant
92 St Johns Road
L22 9QQ
0151 928 3880

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