Odiyal Kool

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This thick seafood soup is one of Jaffna’s signature dishes and each family makes it slightly differently. The soup is thickened with odiyal flour, which is made from the roots of a young palmyra plant. For many Sri Lankan families kool is not just about the food, it’s about bringing family and friends together and should always be prepared and eaten by a lot of people.

Ingredients

  • 6 dried long red chillies*, stalks removed
  • teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 80 g ( oz/2 tablespoons) tamarind pulp*, soaked in 250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) warm water
  • 100 g ( oz/ cup) odiyal flour*
  • 1 small whole bulb garlic
  • salt
  • 80 g ( oz/3 tablespoons) red samba rice*
  • 300 g (10½ oz) pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) cubes
  • 350 g (12 oz) manioc* (cassava) (or 300 g/10½ ozfrozen), peeled and cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) cubes
  • 100 g ( oz) bitter gourd* (bitter melon), seeds removed and cut into 1 cm (½ inch) pieces
  • 16 green (raw) king prawns, peeled and deveined, leaving heads and tails intact
  • 2 small blue swimmer crabs (about 330 g/11½ oz each), washed and quartered, guts removed
  • 200 g (7 oz) firm white fish fillets (such as whiting), cut into 4 cm ( inch) pieces
  • 200 g (7 oz) cuttlefish, cut into 4 cm ( inch) pieces
  • 150 g ( oz) snake beans*, cut into 3 cm ( inch) pieces
  • 15 g (½ oz/½ cup) drumstick leaves* (or English spinach leaves, chopped)
  • 100 g ( oz) dried fish*, burnt over a flame, then chopped into2 cm (¾ inch) pieces (optional)

Method

To make the chilli paste, soak the dried chillies in water for 1 hour until soft. Drain and place the chillies in a small food processor with the peppercorns and 2 tablespoons water. Process to a smooth paste.

Prepare the tamarind pulp following the method. Set the tamarind water aside. Mix the odiyal flour with 250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) water in a small bowl and leave to soak for 30 minutes, or until it forms a thick paste.

Peel the garlic cloves. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and 2 teaspoons salt into a paste. Set aside.

Wash the samba rice well, and place in a large stockpot with 1.25 litres (44 fl oz/5 cups) water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the pumpkin, manioc, bitter gourd and 1 teaspoon salt; simmer with the lid on for a further 5 minutes, or until the vegetables and rice are tender. Add the prawns, crab pieces, fish, cuttlefish, snake beans, drumstick leaves and enough water to cover (about 500 ml/17 fl oz/2 cups). Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the chilli paste, garlic paste and burnt dried fish (if using) to the pot. Gently stir to combine and simmer for a further 2 minutes. Add the odiyal flour paste, gently stir to combine, then add the tamarind water. Simmer for 2 minutes, or until the kool is thick and glossy. Season to taste with salt, remove the pot from the heat and serve.