Manike’s Thuna Paha

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Thuna paha means ‘three by five’ in Sinhala and is a spice mix found in most Sri Lankan kitchens. Each family has their own special blend — I have eaten the same curry in different homes across the island, yet each was slightly different. Manike makes hers the traditional way, where the spices are left to dry in the sun for a day and then ground on a heavy stone slab. The spice mix can be used when making just about any curry.

Ingredients

  • 50 g ( oz/heaped ½ cup) coriander seeds
  • 25 g (1 oz/ tablespoons) cumin seeds
  • 25 g (1 oz/ tablespoons) fennel seeds
  • 6 cm ( inch) piece rampe (pandanus) leaf*
  • 1 sprig curry leaves, including the stem
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

Method

Put the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds in a shallow tray or dish. Place the rampe leaf and curry leaves in another tray or dish. Leave to dry in the sun for a day. When dried, break the rampe into 2 cm (¾ inch) pieces. Pick the curry leaves off the stems and cut the stems into 1 cm (½ inch) pieces.

In a small wok or heavy-based frying pan, dry-roast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds over very high heat for 3-5 minutes, or until fragrant, tossing them continuously. Add the rampe pieces, curry leaves, chopped stems and cinnamon stick. Immediately remove the wok from the heat, but keep stirring so the curry leaves become roasted from the residual heat contained in the spices.

Set aside to cool. Using a mortar and pestle (or spice grinder), pound the spices into a fine powder. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

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