Dyshni's Tamil Kitchen
by Joanna Sable | May 5, 2017
As I walk in to a sunny apartment in downtown Toronto, I notice a beautiful view, but not much of a kitchen. The place isa hub of activity as I am warmly greeted by my friend, Dyshni, and she introduces me to her beautiful Mama, Jeya, her cousin whose apartment we are in and finally, Dyshni’s handsome boyfriend who is setting up video and taking photos. Now, this is my kind of set up.
I am told to have a seat and taste some “Short Eats” which are beautiful home made potato and veggie Samosas. Also considered among these delicacies are Vadai, little crispy doughnuts made of white lentils, curry leaves, green pepper and onions. And to finish, and not to be left out, was a delicious savoury Massi Seeni Sambal bun, filled with Salt Cod. I love the name "Short Eats," and asked how it came to be. Dyshni told me that these are quick snacks that are eaten anytime. Some have them for a breakfast on the run, others as an after school snack or mid day break. I am also served a cup of sweet milky tea that is reminiscent of Thai tea, but that may just be my weird taste buds.
Dyshni and her mother had begun to chop and prepare but not a thing was cooked before I arrived. With Sri Lankan cooking, like many Asian cuisines, the prep time is high with lots of herbs, spices and vegetables but cooking time is quick. Even with stewy things they are often small pieces, so it takes less than an hour and it does its own thing in a pot.
The Portuguese invaded Sri Lanka and you can really tell in some of their dishes. Although though the fish is kingfish or mackerel they dry and salt it the same way.
Dyshni was born in Canada as her young mother came here in 1988. Her uncle, living in Germany to escape the civil war, was first to arrive in 1985. After making enough money, he came to Canada and claimed refugee status because of the war. Like many newcomers to Toronto, King Street and its environs was home. As they worked and began to make money, they moved to the suburbs and landed in the Markham area. Now, like many looking for more space, the community is in Ajax.
Tamil people are from the northern area of Sri Lanka with the main city being Jaffna. They remind me of the Quebecois and the people of Catalan, all fiercely loyal to a region, more so than the country surrounding them. With this comes a truly incredible regional cuisine which I learned about on this sunny Sunday.
Curry, as we all know, means "sauce," and so we did foods with varying curries. I am not sure if you know this but Tamil’s like their food hot, and I don't mean temperature, although it is. It is also searingly spicy, insanely spicy, so much so that when my Jamaican Stepfather went to Sri Lanka on business and ate the food it almost blew off his head. I was very grateful this day that Dyshni and Jeya toned it down for me. The mother and daughter cook like dance partners, each moving in and out of each other’s spaces. Today, Dyshni was cooking the way her mother wanted to. Growing up in Canada and learning about healthy food, Dyshni often lowers the amounts of oil and salt and brings in even more vegetables to set own style of cooking. They have a little game where Dyshni will cook her way, and then test it on family members to see if it will pass.
I learned that there is such a food as Milky Curry. It is made more of seeds like fenugreek, mustard and cumin with fresh coconut and coconut milk base unlike a more traditional curry that is made up of dried spices. In Indian cuisine each protein has its own spice blend, but not so with Tamil cooking. There is one blend that each family sort of tweaks to their own tastes and this is used on many dishes, like the chicken curry we had on this day. I loved that the chicken was cut into small pieces, but, what was even more interesting, was the addition of bone in pieces that are chopped up to allow the marrow and bones to flavour the sauce.
Sambal, a mixture of fresh coconut, red chili, green onion, red onion, garlic and lemon juice is a staple and served with most meals to flavour all the dishes for a fresh hit but mostly for the rice.
Dyshni made the most incredible soft eggplant and another dish of spinach that were, for me, the highlights of the meal. Both were made in a very interesting fashion where you pile into small pots the main veggie and then top with chilis, garlic, onions and more. Then you virtually let them steam without stirring until the very end. You will get step by steps in the recipes below.
I asked them if Sri Lankan people prepare, and enjoy, dessert, and for the most part the answer was yes, but mainly fruit and ice cream. There is a place in Jaffna called Lingan Cream House where they serve beautiful Jelly Ice Cream, fresh fruit Sherbet, served just like this. The stuff looks to die for and luckily because we have such a large Tamil culture we have Lingan Cream House at 6055 Steeles Avenue East in Scarborough.
For religious reasons, Tamils do not eat meat on Thursday and Friday. What is really cool, and is similar to Kosher Jews, they have separate utensils for meat and vegetarian foods.
Do not miss trying some of these dishes below. The heat has been modified so add more if you are brave.
Tamil Chicken Curry:
- Chicken – 3 chicken legs
- Oil - 3 tbsp
- Onion - 1 (chopped finely)
- Tomato - 1 (chopped finely)
- Ginger and garlic paste - 2 tbsp
- Green chilies – 3-5
- Chili powder - 2 tsp
- Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
- Salt - as per taste
- Cardamom – 4 to 5
- Cinnamon stick - 1
- Cloves - 4 to 5
- Fenugreek seeds - 1 tsp
- Cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
- mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
- Coriander leaves - few for garnishing
- Curry leaves – handful
- Marinate chicken with mild or spicy curry powder.
- Heat oil in a pan over medium heat.
- Add mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds and gently wait until the seeds start popping. Be careful not to burn it!
- Add chopped onion, chopped green chilies, ginger and garlic paste
- After this mixture gets brown, add curry leaves for fragrance
- Stir for 3 minutes and then add chopped tomatoes
- Mash tomatoes with the rest of the ingredients in the pan and then add chicken pieces.
- Add turmeric powder, salt and chili powder if you want it extra spicy
- Cover and cook over medium heat until chicken is nearly cooked through.
- Reduce heat when almost cooked and add garam masala*
- Add water if you want more gravy, if not, open the lid and cook uncovered.
*Garam masala: equal parts fenugreek seeds, cardamom, cinnamon stick, cloves are dry roasted and then grounded.
Spinach Milk Curry
- 1 Spinach bag
- 1/2 a medium onion chopped
- 2-3 red or green chilies chopped
- 1/8 cup milk
- 1/2 lime/lemon juiced
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1-2 tsp salt
- 4 tbsp of shredded coconut
- In a medium pot, add chopped spinach, sliced green chilies, chopped onions, salt and half cup water
- Let it cook covered over medium heat.
- Once the spinach has cooked, add 1/8 milk or coconut milk
- Stir ingredients and add squeeze lemon juice for taste
- Remove from stove and serve!
Eggplant Milk Curry
- 2 long eggplants chopped
- ½ of a medium onion chopped
- 3 green chilies
- 1/8cup milk
- 1-2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Add chopped eggplant to a medium pot and ½ cup water
- Add onions, green chilies and curry leaves
- Let it cook over medium heat until the eggplant gets mushy
- Add turmeric powder and salt
- Once cooked, add milk and mash with a spoon
- Turn off the heat, add lemon juice and stir well
- Remove from stove and enjoy!
Tamil Style Omelette:
- 3 eggs
- 1 tbsp Mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp Cumin seeds
- 3 green chilies chopped
- ½ chopped red onion
- Handful of curry leaves
- 4 tbsp oil
- 1-2 tsp curry powder
- Add curry powder and salt to eggs and beat with a fork in a small bowl
- Heat sauce pan (non-stick) and add oil
- Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds
- Once seeds start popping, add onions, chopped green chilies and curry leaves and stir fry until golden brown
- Add all the ingredients from the pan to the beaten eggs mixture
- Beat eggs with the ingredients until everything is combined
- Reduce the heat on the stove and pour egg mixture into the pan
- Cook egg on medium heat
- Check if it’s done from one side, if not allow to cook more. I prefer my omelettes slightly brown and not yellow so cook it for some more time.
- Flip the omelette other side and cook uncovered.
- Once cooked from both sides, transfer it to a plate to serve.
3 Grocery stores to get Tamil ingredients:
- New Spice Land - 6065 Steeles E, Toronto, ON M1X 1N5
- ERRA Supermarket - 2607 Eglinton Ave E, Scarborough, ON M1K 2S2 - Second location: 5930 Finch Ave E, Scarborough, ON M1B 5P8
- New Ocean Supermarket - 5635 Finch Avenue East, Toronto, ON M1B 5K9
4 spots to check out Tamil food: