Yesterday, I posted a recipe for my dad’s Sri Lankan deviled shrimp curry. That recipe was 100% my dad’s invention, and if you search for deviled shrimp recipes online, you’ll find a great deal of variation in general. Curries tend to be that way – particularly Sri Lankan curries, which (here in the USA, at least) are still almost exclusively refined in the realm of home cooking and less frequently found in restaurants. Every family seems to have their own version of the classics, refined by generations of men and women who spent lifetimes familiarizing themselves with the flavors. My dad was an excellent cook, and whenever I crave Sri Lankan food, I tend to first crave his flavors. After he passed away in December of 2017, I began the process of trying to archive his recipes. I’ve been collecting my own handwritten notes and collaborating with my mom, who learned most of his recipes and took over the cooking duties when he started having issues with tremors in his hands. Over the coming weeks, I’ll share these recipes as my mom and I work through them, so that you too can enjoy a little taste of my childhood home if the mood strikes.
This recipe isn’t one of those dad-tailored dishes. You see, my dad literally never made pork curry in my lifetime. The story goes that when he was a student back in college here in the states, the most affordable meat was pork. So he prepared pork curry all the time. Apparently, he ate the dish so often that once he finished his studies and had a decent income, he never made pork curry again.
The recipe below is actually an adaption of a dish my husband and I sampled during our 2015 trip to Sri Lanka. We were staying at a villa in the tea country when one of our relatives requested pork curry for breakfast one morning. What the chef created for him was exceptional – flat out one of the tastiest curries I’d ever tried. The fatty, salty meat combined with the piquant blend of spices to create a dish that was spicy, savory, sweet and rich. I could have eaten the entire bowl, but all I had was one, lonely taste – a taste that I’ve been chasing for three years. A few weeks ago, I think I finally, finally landed on a close version. This is that recipe.
- 2 lbs pork belly, cut into ½ – 1-inch cubes
For the marinade:
- 2 to 3 tsp ground black pepperI use 2, but I have tried 3, and it’s delish – just hotter than I like. Also, crushing/grinding your own whole black pepper adds an extra dimension to the flavor, but real talk, that’s more work than I often feel like – so regular, ground black pepper works fine.
- 6 cardamom pods seeds
- ¼ tsp cardamom
- 1 heaped teaspoon of Sri Lankan Roasted Curry Powder Here’s a link for online shopping in the USA: https://www.lokubox.com/country/usa/Currypowder/
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional – adjust based on your heat tolerance)
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 3 tsp tamarind paste
- 1 tbsp Canola oil
For the curry:
- 2 tbsp Canola oil
- 1 green chile, sliced
- 1 inch of peeled ginger, minced – or substitute 1 tsp ginger paste (great if you’re tired and impatient, which I often am)
- 4 to 5 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ large onion, quartered and sliced
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp sugar
- ½ cup water
- Salt to taste
- 4-5 curry leaves
- Mix together the cardamom seeds, black pepper, curry powder, salt, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and ground ginger.
- Add 2 tbsp of this spice mix, the tamarind paste, and 1 tbsp oil to the cut pork and mix to coat. Leave to marinate for a few hours (up to 12 hours/overnight).
- About an hour before you’re ready to cook, remove the pork marinade from the fridge to allow it to warm to room temperature.
- Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a non-stick wok or frying pan over medium heat.
- Note: you want a pan with a lid (although in a make-it-work situation, covering that bad boy with a cookie sheet will get it done).
- When the oil is hot, add the bay leaves, ginger, and onions, and sauté until the onions become translucent. Add the garlic and sliced green chiles, and sauté for another minute.
- Add the marinated pork and sugar, and stir to mix well. Add ½ cup of water and bring this to a boil.
- Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Finish the last 15 minutes uncovered.
- If the curry is drying out, add a little more water. This dish has a drier gravy than many Sri Lankan curries, but it shouldn’t be totally dry. Lots of the pork fat will render as well, so chances are, you won’t need more water.
- Add the curry leaves and turn a few times to release the flavor/aroma. Taste the curry and add more salt if needed.
- Serve hot – or let it rest and serve it the next day. The flavors marry, and it becomes even more delicious.