I often feel that it must be easy being a vegan or vegetarian in Sri Lanka. I savor all of the local vegetable dishes more than anything on our trips to Sri Lanka to visit my husband’s family. Local fruit, vegetables, seeds and nuts are used in ways that I would never have imagined, transformed into vibrant curries where they’re often featured as the sole star ingredient. Mangoes, ambarella (aamra in Bengali), jackfruit (and their seeds), beets, pumpkin, cashews and even simple potatoes all hold their own in unique curries that can easily outshine any meat or fish at mealtimes in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan pineapple curry is one such dish, bursting with flavor while beautifully showcasing the bounty of fresh produce, herbs and spices that are found across the tropical island.
Pineapple curry is typically eaten alongside a variety of other curries and rice, and is best served with at least one other spicy meat or vegetable curry and a creamy dhal curry (tempered lentils). It is more popularly found on meal spreads at lunch (some say due to superstitious reasons Sri Lankans often avoid pineapple at nighttime), which is sometimes the bigger meal at home for many families (or at least all the ones my husband seems to know). Sri Lankans love eating their rice and curries with a side of crispy papadum and fiery sambols, particularly a type of coconut-chili relish known as pol sambol (if you’re Bengali, think of it as a narkel & morich bhorta of sorts).
If you ever find yourself in Sri Lanka and see pineapple curry on a restaurant menu or buffet spread, please try it! You’ll also find it at some Sri Lankan restaurants abroad, although for some reason the fruit curries don’t seem to feature as prominently on restaurant menus outside Sri Lanka. If you live in New York, my recommendation is to head to Lakruwana, a wonderful family-owned establishment in Staten Island, NY, where you’ll find pineapple curry on the buffet every weekend along with other delicious curries. The place itself is also very interesting, filled floor-to-ceiling with decor flown in from Sri Lanka. If you happen to be there before 5pm on weekends, be sure to also check out this Sri Lankan arts and cultural museum nearby that was founded by Julia Wijesinghe, whose family owns Lakruwana, to learn a bit about the tiny island nation.
In the case that neither a trip to Sri Lanka nor Staten Island are in the books for you anytime soon, I’m leaving you with a recipe for pineapple curry. Enjoy!
This recipe was featured in a travel edition of ICE Today, a lifestyle and fashion magazine in Bangladesh, printed and published online for their August 2018 issue.
If you try this recipe out please let me know what you think or feel free to share a photo with me on Instagram (@noorieboorie, #noorieboorie), I’d love to see it!
This is a unique Sri Lankan fruit curry with distinctive sweet and tart notes from fresh pineapples, lots of heat from chillies and aromatics from spices like curry leaves, mustard seeds, rampe (pandan or screwpine) leaves and cinnamon. I have listed a guide at the end for where to source these ingredients if you live in New York or in the US.
- 2 tablespoon coconut or vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 10-12 curry leaves
- 3-4 pandan/rampe leaves, inch-long pieces (optional)
- 2-3 cinnamon sticks
- 1 small onion, chopped or sliced thin
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic paste
- 1 teaspoon ginger paste
- 1/2 teaspoon Sri Lankan roasted curry powder
- 1 tsp Sri Lankan raw/unroasted curry powder
- 1/3 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
- 1 fresh pineapple, cut into bite-size chunks
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- 2-3 green chillies
- 1 cup coconut milk
- Sugar, to taste (optional)
- Heat oil in a pot over medium heat.
- When the oil is hot, add mustard seeds, curry leaves, pandan leaves (if using) and cinnamon sticks and fry for about a minute. Then add the onions, ginger and garlic and cook for a several minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent.
- Add the curry powders, red chili and turmeric and cook for a few more minutes, incorporating small splashes of water as needed to keep things from drying out.
- Mix in pineapple, salt and green chillies with the onions and spices. Cook for for about 10-15 minutes, or until the pineapples begin to soften.
- Add coconut milk to the curry, cover the pot and cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until the pineapples have cooked through completely. You should be able to pierce it easily with a fork when it has cooked completely.
- Taste and adjust salt and any seasonings as needed.
- Simmer on low heat for a few more minutes without the lid, to slightly thicken the gravy to a desired consistency, before removing from heat.
- Serve hot, with rice and accompaniments.
- Curries with coconut milk often require more salt, especially depending on the type of coconut milk used. Adjust salt levels according to taste.
- If your pineapple is ripe, the cooking time should be a bit shorter. If using overripe pineapple that is very sweet, it sometimes helps to add a bit of vinegar or tamarind to bring out the tang. The curry should be a good balance of sweet and hot with a bit of acidity that blends well with the rest of the flavors.
- Similarly, if your pineapple was not ripe enough or was very sour it will lead to a curry that might be lacking sweetness, in which case you may add a bit of sugar to taste.
- Add more green chillies towards the end of the cooking process if you like a hotter curry.
- Some people finish this curry with a small sprinkling of roasted curry powder towards the end to add more flavor and fragrance.
WHERE TO BUY SPICES FOR SRI LANKAN COOKING:
Manhattan - You'll find all of the ingredients listed here, except pandan leaves, at Kalustyan's in Murray Hill (you can also order online from anywhere in the US, although fresh curry leaves are only available in store) and most of them at the Dual Specialty Stores on the Lower East Side.
Queens - You'll find fresh curry leaves and most of the other spices at Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights, Queens, although not the Sri Lankan curry powders.
Staten Island - You will find most of these, including the curry powders, at certain Sri Lankan grocery stores on Staten Island in New York and possibly in parts of New Jersey. Online in the US - I've never purchased any of these items online but seems like many of them are available online from Kalystyan's or on Amazon.