Archives For Culinary

J is for Jambu

April 30, 2013 — 2 Comments

Jambu

Jambu!

Sri Lanka was referred to by the ancient Arab traders as Serendipit is the root word for serendipity. Part of the reasoning was that a man could cross the island with nothing but the clothes on his back, and emerge well fed. As one of the most bio diverse islands in the world, Sri Lanka is home to many interesting species of spices and fruits. One of my favorite things to do is to buy strange fruits and vegetables, and to try my hand at cooking them. Sometimes the results are great… 

Jambu have recently come into season on the island. This small fruit is also known as rose apple; its scientific name is SyzygiumThere are 1100 species of Syzgium, and I believe the ones in Sri Lanka are Syzygium samarangense

The fruit has a light flavor, and they’re slightly sour. Jambus are juicy and fragrant, and they have a nice crunch to them. The exterior of the fruit has a been of a sheen to it, they are primarily green with hints of pink. The bulb shaped fruits are tasty, and a refreshing treat on a hot day.

These little fruits are chockfull of vitamins: thiamin, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium and sulfur. The jambu is a source of fiber and is low in fat and calories, with 56 calories per 100g.

A kilo of Jambu will cost you SLR 100/ ($0.79 USD). Not a bad price at all for such a tasty fruit.

Coffee is something I’ve struggled to live without while living abroad. After a month of living off of instant coffee, a friend turned me on to Hansa Coffee.

Great coffee can be found on Fife Road, in Colombo

Great coffee can be found on Fife Road, in Colombo

Hansa is a local coffee producer, and they’ve quickly turned into my favorite coffee brand. They have a small shop in Colombo, where you can purchase a variety of coffee drinks, snacks, and packaged coffee.

Hansa is unique because they roast their beans at the same altitude as they are grown, which is supposed to improve the taste and flavor of the bean. Sipping the Arabica blend – a favorite of mine – one picks up subtle notes of blueberry and chocolate. Needless to say, I’m glad to have made their coffee a part of my life.

Aside from producing coffee with a rich, fresh taste, Hansa makes coffee that you can feel good about drinking. Over the past few years I have grown more aware of the effects of my consumption on the rest of the world. My experiences in Kenya opened my eyes to the shocking working conditions and standards of living that tea and coffee workers often endure. Designations such as fair trade, organic, and rainforest alliance can help guide consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions, but there are flaws with these systems.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Hansa’s roasting operations in Nuwara Eliya. Lawrence, the founder and master roaster of Hansa, gave the Fulbrighters an open invitation to visit whenever we were in the area – I’m glad I obliged. Hansa might not be certified organic or fair trade (yet), but after visiting Lawrence I have no doubt that they are among the best coffee producers in the world.

The coffee used by Hansa is sourced from small growers in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, in contrast to the original coffee industry that existed on the island under British colonial rule. During that time, Ceylon was the world’s largest exporter of coffee in 1870, producing  51 million kilograms of coffee annually. The coffee plantations were built in deforested lands, and their monoculture ultimately led to the entire industry being wiped out by 1890. Hansa educates small scale farmers on techniques such as shade-growing, composting, and organic farming.

Hansa is trying to revive the coffee industry without causing further deforestation. Shade grown coffee has a longer yield cycle, but this slower growth leads to a coffee with more complexity and taste. By teaching farmers the benefits of a polyculture farm, Hansa is reducing their dependence on fertilizers and pesticides.

Once the beans are harvested, they are brought to the factory, where they are sorted by hand. Beans with any defect – insect damage, mold, or cracks – are removed. As it turns out, half of the coffee in America is contaminated with mold. This mold produces mycotoxins (not only do mycotoxins make your coffee taste bitter, they cause cancer and brain disease). After the defective beans are sorted out, it is time for the roasting to begin.

Hansa's Roaster

Hansa’s Roaster

When I entered the roasting room I was struck by the intense heat and the overwhelming smell of fresh coffee. The coffee is roasted in small batches, and their special Indian-made roaster is a relic of a bygone era. Periodically the beans are checked for their progress in the roasting process. Watching the pale coffee beans transform into the familiar black ones was fascinating. When I started to hear a cracking noise, the beans were released from their primary chamber and emptied into the bottom hopper. The steaming beans continued to crack. The roaster was brought back to temperature before more beans were poured in.

Hansa is my coffee of choice for a multitude of reasons. It is delicious, but it is also made in a socially and environmentally thoughtful manner. Lawrence is a humanist, who cares deeply about the tenets of organic farming. His company is both a reflection of his beliefs and an attempt to make a better cup of coffee.

Article Published

February 12, 2013 — 1 Comment

In light of my New Year’s resolution of getting more article published, I’m happy to announce that I’ve gotten a new article posted on Under30CEO: How to Host a Dinner Party That Gets Everyone Talking.

The post was inspired by an ebook written by Michelle Welsch.

And now, for an excerpt:

The internet is the greatest connector in the world, it facilitates meaningful and powerful connections. Over the past several years there have been waves of startups that are trying to leverage this connection machine. There are firms like Twitter and Facebook, whose entire model is based upon connecting people and building a community. There are also the less obvious firms, likeShapeways or Quirky, that have built communities as an integral part of their business model. They have been successful because they create value by connecting people around their products. More and more companies are realizing that to be successful they have to connect individuals and build a community.
Seth Godin defines the Connection Economy, in his new book the Icarus Deception, as “value created not by industry, but by trust and interaction.” Digital connections have become more prevalent, but they should not replace offline connections. In the era of digital collaboration, the face-to-face element can be lost. There is something so remarkable about sharing a meal with someone else, and the web has yet to replicate that experience.

To continue reading click here.

L.R. Cake Shop

January 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

The first time you attend a wedding in Sri Lanka you will likely notice a beautifully decorated cake somewhere in the reception area. You may be surprised when you are served an individually wrapped piece of cake, not from the wedding cake. Upon close inspection of the cake you may realize that the core of the cake is styrofoam; cakes are made this way so that they can hold up to the heat and humidity during the entire wedding day.

My Amma (Sinhalese and Tamil for Mom) is the founder of L.R. Cake Shop, Trincomalee’s only degree granting cake decorating school. She makes the most whimsical cakes; American cakes do not compare at all. Last week, when I stopped into the shop, I was delighted to stay and watch a cake be made. I was only present for the final assembly, which took nearly an hour. It was amazing watching plain cake and pink fondant being sculpted into a princess’ dress. Next, white fondant was formed around the Barbie doll, to complete her dress. Lace was intricately cut to layer around the base of the dress, as a bow was made for the back. A lucky little girl will get this princess cake for the cost of 3,000 SLR ($23 USD).

All of the cakes are made to order. You cannot walk into the shop and buy a cake like you can in Colombo. It seemed odd to me at my first visit, but since I’ve gotten better acquainted with the area it makes sense. Trinco’s economy cannot yet support an on demand bakery, and Amma’s cakes are so varied and unique that it would be impossible to forecast the demand for something like a princess cake.

Amma can turn just about anything into a cake. She won third place in a national competition for cake making. For years she has been providing the area with cakes as well as training out of her home. It wasn’t until the end of 2012 that she felt comfortable taking the risk and opening up her store front, things were just too volatile in the East. Now every time I stop in town I visit her shop, which is usually full of students or customers placing orders. Sitting and talking with Amma is great, except for the constant barrage of cake being offered; I tell Amma she will make me fat.

It was no surprise when she told me that she will be making a cake for the President when he visits Trinco on Monday for Independence Day celebrations. Just a day in the life of Trinco’s premier baker.

Pol Sambol

October 15, 2012 — 2 Comments

Sweat rolling down your face. FIrst your mouth goes numb, and then the sensation envelops your esophagus and stomach. Quickly, you reach for water. Then you scoop rice into your mouth to try and balance out the intense heat of the meal you are eating.

Sri Lanka is renowned for its spicy food. It is really quite delicious, but if you’re not careful it can be a challenge. You must eat strategically here, as most meals are a combination of rice and three to five servings of curries or other side dishes. Saving a portion of mild food until the end helps cleanse your palate.

One of my favorite dishes in Sri Lanka is Pol Sambol, a sweet and spicy dish made out of coconut. It’s refreshing, chewy, and savory. Tonight I made some of this for dinner, and I’ve included the recipe I followed. All you need is one coconut, a tomato, onion, lime, some garlic, and a few spice.

  • Grate a bowl of coconut
  • Chop one small purple onion, peel and chop 2 cloves of garlic, chop one small tomato
  • Add a scoop of red chili powder and course black pepper and mix with the coconut
  • Mix tomato with coconut mixture
  • Pound (with a mortar and pestle) the onion, then add garlic, then coconut mixture. Pound together
  • Add juice of one lime and mix by hand in a bowl

Enjoy!

My father is one of my greatest sources of inspiration, so it’s only fitting that my first post on my new blog be about him.

At the age of 13 my Dad posed as his brother to work as a dishwasher at a local restaurant/bar. He worked his way up to eventually own that restaurant. There qa a falling out among partners there, and he went through bankruptcy. Though he didn’t let that hold him back, he went out and purchased a new restaurant, The Cambridge Inn, and he’s been there for the past 16 years.

Three months ago he called and told me a local bagel shoppe was up for sale, and he had put a bid in. I asked him what he knew about bagels, he laughed and said, “I can run a restaurant, and I’ll learn how to make a bagel.”

The night before the first day of business he went in at 1am, he was too excited to sleep. He’s been working long hours, working to get the business moving smoothly. I haven’t seen him this happy or energized in years. I’m really proud of him, and wish him the best of luck at the new shop!

If you’re in Monroe NJ stop into the Camelot Bagel Shoppe!