Let me talk to you about Lamprais.
The wonderfully smelling parcel that comes to you beautifully wrapped in charred banana leaf is not just one dish, but the loving collaboration of many very special recipes unique to the Ducth Burgher community in Sri Lanka. In the olden days, the lamprais was a firm Sunday favorite that took about 2 whole days of preparation and a whole morning of cooking and is truly a labor of love, unwrapped and devoured by family, extended family and guests after returning home from morning church service with equal vigor.
The term lamprais is derived from the Dutch word lomprijst which loosely translates into ‘packet of rice’ as the lamprais is really just that – a packet of rice. The original lamprais consisted of the fragrant rice cooked in meat stock, the mixed meat curry, blachung, frikkadels and prawn seeni sambol with the ash plantain curry and a cooling cucumber salad served on the side, outside of the packet. Today, lamprais comes with a single meat curry option while the frikkadels have been replaced by cutlets and the addition of a fried egg is standard. In some lamprais packets available in the market today, one even finds seeni sambol while the ash plantain curry is also tucked into the parcel at the same go.
I have given into the peer pressure and added an egg into the pictured lamprais that I made the other day. I just couldn’t go through the drama (WHAT? A lamprais without an EGG? *gasp*) and have omitted the frikkadels from the picture as well. I will however, be sharing with you the complete range of recipes (cz I’m nice like that).
The cooking of the lamprais is a communal affair that starts the previous day. Banana leaves are cut and prepared by cleaning them and then lightly roasting them over an open flame to make them more pliable for folding. The shin, bones and meats are boiled for over two hours – chicken, beef, mutton, pork and lamb – to make the stock to cook the rice in the next day. I also usually prepare the blachung and the prawn seeni sambol in advance because I am never the one to get up before 9.30 am on weekends and we are a lot that gets hungry early.
Next day morning, once the rice, the mixed meat curry, the blachung and the frikkadels are prepared, the ladies of the house make an assembly line on the back verandah of the house, usually adjoining the kitchen. One by one the elements are added – one spoons in the rice while the other waits with the meat curry, next comes the frikkadels and then the prawn seeni sambol. The final assembly line member then gathers up the parcel and wraps it up neatly to stack it into a large tray that will next go into the oven for baking. Then the group will get to making the ash plantain curry, the brinjal pahi and whatever other condiments that will accompany the parcels at the table.
The banana leaf serves more purpose to the rice parcel than simply serving as wrapping material. When baked, the banana leaf also lends the rice a unique flavor and aroma that is hugely desired and is part and parcel (pun intended) of the exquisite beauty that is the lamprais.
Ready for a lengthy (and a tad frightening) recipe that never seems to end? Here we go!
Say hello to the Sri Lankan Lamprais!
- For the Rice
- Long grain rice - 1kg, washed and drained
- Ghee - 5tbsps
- Onion - 1
- Cardamoms - 16
- Cloves - 16
- Pepper corns - 20
- Cinnamon - 6 inch piece, broken
- Lemon grass - 2 inch piece
- Meat stock - 6 ½ cups
- Salt - To taste
- Lamprais curry
- Beef - 1 lb
- Pork - 1 lb
- Lamb - 1 lb
- Chili - 1 tsps, toasted, ground
- Coriander - 1 tsps, toasted, ground
- White & Black Cumin - ½ tsp, roasted, ground
- Garlic - 16 cloves, minced
- Ginger - 2 inches, minced
- Chilies - 4, ripe
- Pandan leaf - 5 inch
- Curry leaf - 4 sprigs
- Coconut - 3 Tblsps, grated
- Cardamoms - 6
- Cloves - 6
- Cinnamon - ½ tsp, powdered
- Vinegar - 2 tbsp
- Coconut milk - 3 cups, thick
- Onions - 5, sliced
- Tamarind pulp - ¼ cup
- Salt - To taste
For the rice
- Heat ghee in a large saucepan. Add the onion and fry till translucent. Add in the pepper corns.
- Add in the rice. Fry for a few minutes until fragrant and nutty.
- Add in the meat stock. Before lowering the heat and shutting the lid on the rice, bundle all the spices in a muslin bag tied tightly and throw this into the pot as well.
- Cook until the rice is tender.
For the Lamprais curry
- Roast the garlic and ginger and the ripe chillies in a pan along with the coconut until fragrant. Once cooled, grind and set aside.
- Cut the meat into small pieces. Add in the chili powder, the coriander powder, cumin powder, the vinegar and the ginger-garlic mix into the meat. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a pan. Add to this the cloves, the cardamom, the onions, the pandan leaf, the lemon grass and the curry leaves. Fry till fragrant.
- Add the onions. Fry till translucent.
- Add in the meat mixture and fry till fragrant. Add the coconut milk and simmer until the meat is cooked.
- Add in the tamarind paste. Cook for about 5 more minutes and take off heat. Add salt to taste.
- ¼ lb, dried Shrimp
- 50, dry Chilies
- 1/8 lb, ground to a powder Maldives fish
- 4 cloves, chopped fine Garlic
- 1 inch, chopped fine Ginger
- 2 inches Pandan leaf
- 2 sprigs Curry leaf
- 2 inches Lemon grass
- 1 tblsp Sugar
- ½ cup, thick Coconut milk
- 1 tblsp Tamarind juice
- 1 tblsp Coconut oil
- To taste Salt
- Roast the shrimp and the chilies and grind to a powder.
- Heat a wok and add in the coconut oil. Add in the onions, garlic, ginger, the pandan leaf, curry leaves and the lemon grass until fragrant.
- When the onions have browned, add in the powdered shrimp, the Maldives fish along with the coconut milk and tamarind pulp.
- When drying, add in sugar and salt to taste.
- ½ lb, minced Beef
- ½ lb, minced Pork
- 5, sliced Onions
- 2 tsps, chopped Garlic
- 2 tsps, chopped Ginger
- 1 tsp Pepper
- To taste Salt
- ½ tsp, powdered Cinnamon
- ½ tsp, powdered Clove
- 2, juice of Lemons
- 2 Eggs
- Bread crumbs
- Oil to fry
- Mix together the meats, the onions, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, clove salt and pepper, the juice of 2 lemons and 2 egg yolks.
- Roll into small balls. Dip in beaten egg whites and cover in bread crumbs.
- Fry till golden.
Ash plantain curry
- 1 lb, cut into ½ inch pieces Ash plantain
- 1 tsp Curry powder
- 1/ tsp Turmeric powder
- 1 tsp Cumin powder
- 2, chopped Onions
- ¼ tsp Fenugreek seeds
- 2, chopped Green chilies
- 1 tblsp Vinegar
- 1 sprir Curry leaves
- 1 inch Pandan leaf
- 1 cup Coconut milk
- To fry Coconut oil
- Mix with salt and turmeric the ash plantain. Deep fry in oil till golden.
- Heat a pan with 1 tsp oil. Fry the curry leaves, pandan leaf, fenugreek and green chili till fragrant.
- Add in all the ingredients except the ash plantains. Once the mixture comes to a boil, add in the ash plantains.
- Add salt to taste. Take off heat in about 2 minutes.
- 1 lb, chopped into thin slices Brinjal
- ¼ lb, small Dried prawns (shrimp)
- ½ lb small red onions or pearl onions
- ¼ lb, cut in the middle Green chilies
- 2 tblsps, crushed Dried red chilies
- 10 cloves, finely chopped Garlic
- 1/3 cup of coconut vinegar
- 3 tsp, powdered Mustard
- 5 tsp Sugar
- 1 piece Pandan leaf
- 2 sprigs Curry leaves
- 2, powdered Cloves
- 2, powdered Cardamoms
- 200ml coconut cream
- Salt to taste
- To fry Coconut oil
- Deep fry the brinjal. Drain and set aside.
- Fry the small onions and the green chilies briefly. Drain and keep aside.
- Fry the shrimps. Set aside.
- In a separate pan, sauté the dried chilies and the curry leaves and the pandan leaves. Set aside.
- Mix garlic mustard, cardamom, cloves and sugar together with vinegar. Boil for a minute and add in the previously fried ingredients.
- Add in the coconut milk. Simmer for 2 minutes and take off heat.
- Once all the elements are ready, take the prepared banana leaves (the banana leaves have to be cleaned, dried and burned slightly over an open flame to make them pliable) and place them flat on a table.
- Place one measure of rice and add in the rest of the condiments around it. The original lamprais does not serve the ash plantain curry and the brinjal pahi within the packet – they are served separately Wrap well and secure the leaf with a piece of ikle.
- Place the packets on a baking tray and pour a ladle of coconut milk over each packet. Bake at 180 C for about 20 minutes.
- Serve warm!
I don’t know about you, but my heart still beats extra fast whenever I unwrap a packet of lamprais. The aroma first hits you with its distinct smell of baked banana leaf and spiced rice so that you are well intoxicated before you even begin eating. The rice is incredibly moist and seeped in the banana leaf essence as well as the cardamom, clove, the cinnamon simply making it richer with the essences of that rich meat broth that you prepared the previous night in which the rice is cooked. The meats are extra tender and flavorsome with a kick of chili and spice while the blachung provides that extra shrimpy-salty kick necessary to meld well with the softness of the rice. Prepare to serve at least two packets per person because in my experience, you NEVER really stop at one.
- I’ve also added chicken to the lamprais curry by popular demand. I am of the opinion that more meat, the better!
- I’d highly advise that you start prepping the day before if you are going into the whole width and the breadth of the lamprais. I usually go with the rice, the blachung, the meat curry and frikkadels. For me, that suffices for a formidable treat.