The following recipes are taken with permission from the new Sri Lankan cookbook “Milk, Spice and Curry Leaves” (to be published Oct. 20, TouchWood Editions) by Ruwanmali Samarakoon-Amunugama.

Mercer Island cookbook author Ruwanmali Samarakoon-Amunugama brings the flavors and spices of Sri Lanka to the Pacific Northwest

Devilled Prawns (Isso Badthum)

In Sri Lanka, a devilled dish is most often equated with “very hot!” This may be true, but devilling is also a method of cooking in which the main ingredient (vegetable, fruit or protein) is marinated with chili (chili sauce or ground or crushed chiles), and often sautéed with garlic and ginger. Reminiscent of Portuguese influences with a modern fusion of Asian flavors, devilled dishes often include tomatoes, capsicums and onion. I love that this dish has a bit of sweetness due to the caramelizing of ingredients at the end of cooking. Serve with rice.

Makes: 4 servings


  • ½ pound fresh large prawns, shelled or unshelled, tails left on, and deveined
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated, divided
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes, divided
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon chili paste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • ½ red onion, sliced
  • 1 Roma tomato, cubed (optional)
  • 1 red bell pepper or banana pepper, deseeded and sliced
  • 3 green scallions, cut diagonally into long pieces


  1. Place the prawns, half the garlic, ginger, salt, ½ teaspoon of the chili flakes, lime juice, and chili paste in a bowl.
  2. Mix together, cover and let marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  3. Place the oil in a wide frying pan set over medium-high heat, and fry the remaining garlic and ½ teaspoon chili flakes to release their aroma. Add the prawns and, stirring constantly, cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the sugar, stirring quickly to coat the prawns. When the prawns are nicely browned, add the onion, tomato (if using) and capsicum (or banana pepper). Adjust salt. Stir to combine and let cook for another 1 or 2 minutes.
  5. Finish by sprinkling the green scallions over top, give it all a quick stir, remove from the heat and serve right away.

Coconut Roti (Pol Roti)

The coconut roti from “Milk, Spice and Curry Leaves” by Ruwanmali Samarakoon-Amunugama showcases a staple of Sri Lanka cooking: coconut.  (Courtesy of TouchWood Editions)

At my grandmother’s home in Peradeniya, a breakfast of hot coconut roti and fresh coconut sambol was a wonderful start to the day.

In fact, these are delicious any time of day, and when served at lunch or dinner they are accompanied by coconut sambol and a meat curry.

Makes: Approximately 12–14 roti


  • 2 ½ cups fresh scraped coconut or frozen grated coconut, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt

Once the dough is prepared, it is rolled into balls and flattened into individual rounds, then flipped into a hot pan. Keep an eye on them as you brown each side, as you’re also preparing the next roti, so you can keep things moving. As a beginner, don’t worry as much about making the rounds into perfect circles as you do about getting the method down as you go.


  1. Place a square piece of parchment/wax paper on which you will mold each individual roti on your work surface. It should be just small enough to handle but large enough to work on (approximately 8 inches by 8 inches; you may wish to precut a few to have handy). Once each roti is shaped, it will be easier to take from the wax paper to the pan and then carefully drop it in.
  2. In a large bowl, place the coconut, soft butter and 2 cups water. Gradually add the flour, 1 cup at a time, kneading the mixture into a large ball. The mixture should be moist but not sticky. (It should not stick to the bowl or your hands. Add a little bit more flour if needed.) Let rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Keep a bowl of cold water next to you as you prepare the roti. Dampen your fingers and palms with water and pull off a piece of dough, slightly smaller than a tennis ball.
  4. Dampen your hands again and flatten and shape the ball of dough into a 6-inch round on the wax paper surface.
  5. Set a wide nonstick, ungreased frying pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, place the roti in it. Sprinkle the side that is facing up with a little water (use a tablespoon to sprinkle and smooth across the surface). When the moisture on the side facing up has evaporated, prepare to flip the roti.
  6. Each roti will take approximately 3 minutes per side to cook. Once flipped, the cooked side facing up will be speckled with dark-brown patches.
  7. Use your spatula or the back of a spoon to firmly press across the face of the roti to let out the air and moisture (you will hear popping and squeaking sounds) and ensure the roti has cooked through. Repeat with the remaining dough. Serve hot.

Note: Use frozen coconut for this recipe and make the side or accompanying dishes such as coconut sambol or beef curry in advance.