Karuna’s Culinary Wisdom

7 Aug

During our April break, Ginette and I took a brief holiday in Unawatuna, the touristy town set on a lovely beach just a few kilometers from Galle. Right across from the access road to our hotel was a sign advertising “Karuna’s Cooking Class.” Thanks to the New Year festivities, we had eaten our fill of amazing Sinhalese meals and, upon finding out its price of just 2,500 rupees per person, we decided we’d take her class come next month.

As circumstances would have it, our interest swelled to include five participants–all fellow volunteers in Matara clamoring to partake in the dissemination of the local cuisine–and then collapsed down to just me as everyone else fled for a day on the beach instead of in the kitchen. On the day of our class, I strolled over to Karuna’s kitchen and found a large German woman (by then, all Westerners looked large to me) who would be joining me for the class.

Karuna took us to the Galle market to buy the fruits, vegetables, and herbs we’d need. On the list was brinjal, pumpkins, beans, onions, garlic, tomatoes, curry leaves, and more.

On the road back to Unawatuna (because this road ultimately led to Matara, it was called Matara Road), we stopped at one of the many fish shacks that littered the ocean side. Karuna swiftly selected a fine slice of tuna for our fish curry.

We then proceeded to cook kokis and wellawahum, two popular teatime snacks. While we sipped our tea, consuming our creations, Karuna explained to us what exactly goes into curry powder. Then it was time to chop and stew and make seven curries (including dhaal).

By mid-afternoon, we had produced pumpkin curry, bean curry, carrot curry, pineapple curry, fish curry, fried brinjal curry, and dhaal. I was given the rest of the afternoon off to grab some sun and lead our small entourage of now-well-tanned volunteers–Ginette, Sophie, Vivian, and Denise–back to Karuna’s kitchen for dinner.

All was consumed within the half-hour. I also took the opportunity to teach Karuna some sign language before we bade her farewell.

Fast forward two and a half month later and 16,000 kilometers away in San Diego. Liz decided that on my second night back in the United States, the two of us would cook an authentic Sri Lankan dinner for the family using Karuna’s recipes. The search for exotic ingredients led us to our local Ralphs as well as the Little India shopping center in Miramar, a slice of Bollywood bumping up against a Marine Corps air base.

A few hours later, Liz and I had created a four-curry (plus papadam and lunumuris!) dinner for my parents, and there was no tempering down of the famous South Asian spiciness for my parents’ tough palates. We washed our hands, grabbed our plates, slapped red rice on them, and poured each curry onto the rice bed.

My family dug in right away with their fingers, squashing and mixing and throwing morsels into their mouths. There were few moments where I was more proud of my family than I was during that dinner. It really meant a lot to me to have them accept so completely an artifact that had been an essential part of my life for nine months–the fiery rice and curry dish.

Fortunately, you can do the same thing because I’ve finally typed up the handwritten recipe book I made during Karuna’s class. It’s actually more for Liz than anyone else, but if you’d like to try out a curry dish, here’s the 11-page cookbook. Cook away!

9 Responses to “Karuna’s Culinary Wisdom”

  1. sophie 07. Aug, 2007 at 11:29 pm #

    I’m sooo hungry now! Thanks for the book… i will be having a dinner party soon and will keep u posted
    Loads and loads of love
    Soph x x x x x

  2. sophie 08. Aug, 2007 at 12:02 am #

    ooh i just remembered…. you should put the rotti recipie in there!!
    So simple; 2 parts flour to one part dessicated coconut, then tiny bit of water to make it doughy. Break off pieces so they are smaller than a tennis ball but bigger than a ping pong ball, roll and roll around then squash by smacking in between your hands (hence the sign for rotti!!), then fry, in small amount of oil, either side of the rotti, till golden brown (less than 5 mins)…. so so good!!
    x x x x

  3. Uncle Jim 08. Aug, 2007 at 7:25 am #

    Wow–I’m hungry!! You must cook something up when you visit Michigan at the end of the month! Nice pictures. I’m proud of your parents and sister, too. And they still have all their digits? Your Dad can eat in such a ravenous fashion, I thought that maybe he’d bit off a little more than he could chew!

    Uncle Jim

  4. Adamzmom 08. Aug, 2007 at 9:53 am #

    Mmm, this is so beautiful I can almost smell it. I’m ready for another Sri Lanikan meal Adam, spices, sans utensils, and all. You can cook for us any time.
    love mom

  5. hui 08. Aug, 2007 at 10:30 am #

    this looks amazing.. i swear once i get my own place.. i’m gonna cook this up ! not too hard? no?

  6. Ginette 08. Aug, 2007 at 11:38 am #

    I am so proud of the Stone family for getting fully involved in the Sri Lankan food experience! I have tried to convince the Rawlinson family, they’re not quite as keen. I must say, I went to the pub for dinner with my friend last night and ordered a plate of nachoes…before I knew it I was eating like I was back in Sri Lanka – mixing the sour cream, beans and nachoes together. It wasn’t until I saw my friends facial expressions of disgust that I realised what I was doing. Habits!
    I will try and do some cooking for my family soon, thanks for the cookbook! Oh and bring on the rotti!
    Miss you heaps! xx

  7. Debbie, Ginette's mum 10. Aug, 2007 at 10:51 pm #

    Ginette lies as to our not being keen on Sri Lankan food eaten with hands, she has not cooked a meal, but has left a Sri Lankan cook book on her bed with the comment on I must cook something up one day, she has also painted my toe nails and finger nail since being home, so… I will let her do a manicure before we procced with the meal that one day she will cook. I’m not sure if the manicure should be before or after the meal or both.

    Ginette is home next weekend, hopefully. I’ll be sure to get out our spices and curries, her cook book and the nail clippers.

    Pleased to see you’re back into your home environment.

    Take care.

    Say hi to your parents and thank them for helping to create a caring son.


  8. anne 11. Aug, 2007 at 12:11 pm #

    Hi Debbie Ginette’s Mum!
    The cook book was my farewell gift to Ginette – I hope she cooks something from it for you soon! It was lovely working with Ginette both at Oak Lodge and at Rohana.

  9. markus 07. Sep, 2009 at 10:54 pm #

    how can i contact karuna? i am about to visit sri lanka and would like to spend 2 days at a cooking school!