Saturday, 13 August 2011

Tamil Tigress by Niromi de Soyza

The big I understand it

Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is a small island in the Indian Ocean off the cost of India which has been inhabitated by the Sinhalese and Tamils since 2BCE.  It became a British Colony 1802-1948 and  became well known for its exports of tea, coffee, cinnamon and  rubber. The major religions include Hindu, Muslim, Buddhism and Christianity.

In 1948 Sri Lanka gained its independence and the Sinhalese quickly took control to redress the imbalance caused by the British who had favoured the Tamil's work ethic and educational ambitions. Sinhalese were given employment and university placement which angered the Tamils who said it should be based on merit. Ethnic clashes became common in the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's and culminated in the bloody genocide and human rights abuses, watched by the world in 2009, when at the hands of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, the Sinhalese and Indian Governments the Tigers were annihilated.

The quest for justice and freedom is not new to the human condition. In Sri Lanka it was the children and young adults who took up guns and put their bodies on the line for Tamil Eelam - the quest for an independent Tamil State. For children to think they could challenge the unitary government of Sri Lanka and India (which is the seventh largest country and tenth largest economy in the world) was both heroic and foolish and  in retrospect very under-informed??

Niromi was one such child, who at 17, joined the first female unit of Tamil Tigers. She took up a gun to achieve altruistic goals only to find herself questioning the methods, lawlessness and the human sacrifice expected of the Tigers' leadership and their individual agendas - the tit for tat reprisals, the in-fighting, torture and murder. 

From 1983-2009 civil war and unrest against the government was waged in a sophisticated, well funded, well resourced and brutal war by the LTTE Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam taking on the Sri Lankan Armed forces of 230,000 active soldiers.

 "April 1987 saw some of the worst violence in the country. Scores of Tamils were murdered by Sri Lankan armed forces...and in revenge the Tigers massacred Sinhalese civilians..." p64

Niromi's Story of Survival

She was an educated, privileged, middle class student who by 1987 had become both wiser and even more disallusioned having seen her comrades fall around her in the line of duty, clutching their wounds and calling their mothers' names as they died.

Child soldiers quickly lost their innocence and frequently turned on each other in true Lord of the Flies fashion.

While her younger sister pinned posters of pop stars to her bedroom wall, Niromi  found herself starving, shoeless, menstruating, covered in lice and dermatitis, running through the jungle with her unit dodging soldier's bullets. All the while clutching AK-47 and M16's, T56 and ATKMs, RPG's and G3's supplied by a global network (many of whom denounced the terrorist group) and paid for by overseas Tamils.

Niromi questioned why she survived and the haunting faces of her friends - now a lifetime away - did not. As I read  her  shocking memoirs I believe she survived for two reasons. The first reason is due to her ability to overcome her learned cultural submissiveness and her combatant loyalty to question the right and wrongs within her ranks. The second reason is that it was her destiny to tell their stories - and so she was allowed to resign in 1987. Others were not so lucky.

Today Niromi is a survivor, a lawyer and a mother living in Australia. Each night she can safely tuck her children in to bed knowing that in this democratic land, minorities are self determining, with equal rights and responsibilities, protected by parliamentary laws.

"We devoured our first real meal in four days, then stretched out on the dirt and went to sleep." p261 

Tamil Samosas. Makes 16

3 large potatoes boiled, drained and mashed
1 cup cooked green peas
1 diced red onion
1 tspn Garam Masala
I tspn ground coriander
1 tspn ground chilli powder or fresh chillies to taste
1 tspn each garlic and ginger
500gm minced meat (lamb, beef or chicken) Optional.


Fry the onion until soft, add spices, garlic and ginger and continue to fry until fragrant. Add mince and brown. Combine peas and potato. The mix should be dry so that it doesn't make the pastry soggy. Season.

Traditional Pastry
1 3/4 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon oil


Combine ingredients. Roll in to a dough and form in to rounds (like pasties) to be filled 
with mixture and deep fried.


Use Spring roll pastry sheets, fill and roll into triangles and deep fry until golden. 
Or do as I did and use 4 sheets of puff pastry cut in to quarters and baked 160 degrees
 for 20 minutes until golden. I know, I know  - not traditional 
but very convenient and just as tasty.

Tamils from Jafna in the north of Sri Lanka, who fought for Eelam (homeland) 
are not to be confused with Indian Tamils or Tamil Moors.
"Stop all this fighting, children! We can't cope any longer!" wept an old woman. A large group joined the chorus. "Please give up this futile war," they pleaded. Over the next few days, the Indian soldiers ravaged the village, setting fire to many properties, raping many women and killing many men. p202    

Red Lentil Curry

2 cups of red lentils washed and drained
4 cups thin coconut milk
1 large onion chopped
2 tablespoons ground/pounded dried fish (I used Ikan bilis)
1 tspn tumeric
2 tspn ground cummin
1 tspn cinnamon
Chillies to taste (I used 1 tspn cayenne pepper) and garnished with chillies.
2 tablesponns tomato paste
50g butter or ghee


In one pot boil the THIN coconut milk with the lentils until soft.
In another pot/pan fry the onions, dried fish, chillies and spices in butter until fragrant and onions are soft. Combine the mix with the softened lentils. Add tomato paste and 1 cup of THICK coconut cream and simmer until it resembles the consistency of porridge. Serve with rice or naan.

©2011 My Novel Idea by Ann Etcell-Ly/All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The One Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

The One Hundred-Foot Journey was written by first time novelist Richard C. Morais whose experience as a foreign correspondent and Forbes' European bureau chief has given him the edge to create a fictional story that reads like an autobiography.

I was first attracted to this book by its vibrant cover and the title "one hundred foot". For those of you who only know metric measurement, a one hundred foot journey won't take you very far. It is about as basic as say, crossing the road.

This made me ask what the main character was running from or to? Was it a spiritual, emotional or physical journey? Was it one that went back in time or forward in to the future? And as it turns out, the story is all of these.

In the opening paragraph we are introduced to Hassan Haji, one of six children born in to a Muslim family who lived above their grandfather's restaurant in Mumbai, India.

" I suspect my destiny (as a chef) was written from the start, for my first sensation of life was the smell of machli ka salan, a spicy fish curry." p3

Morais has written a realistic story about a family who leaves Mumbai, immigrates to London and settles in Lumiere in France. But this is NOT that journey hinted at in the title. The seeds of the one hundred-foot journey were sown two generations ago before THE notable one hundred-foot journey which is more prosaic than the epic that encapsulates it.

"And so next day...I crossed the street. A lot of emotion went in to that one hundred-foot journey...It was a small journey in feet, but I felt I was striding from one universe to another." p179

On this day, Hassan left his father's Indian restaurant and crossed the road to the rival French restaurant - Le Saule Pleureur - where he began formal training with his mentor and twice-awarded Michelin Star chef, Madame Mallory.

This well-constructed story makes many references to exotic Indian dishes and fine French dining. In this book, food flies the cultural flag for two countries with long culinary histories.

For the Haji family, food represents a way out of the slums towards independence and the importance of gathering around the family table.  For Madame Mallory, food is an art form representing technical expertise and the expression of what it is to be French.

A sobering thought in this book is the sacrifice that has to be made for the perfect meal. From the description of an halal butchery in Mumbai, to a wild boar hunt in France. And from the ceremonial slaughter of a pig on Madame Mallory's property to the forced feeding of ducks for their livers.

While Hassan evolves, assimilates and conquers French cuisine to the adulation of his peer group in Paris, the real hero in my mind is his father Abbas Haji. Abbas overcomes personal grief and shepherds his family to a better life. He may be loud, uneducated and come across to some readers as an offensive "foreigner" but his instincts are good. He is the bow that shoots his son towards his future as a 3-star Michelin chef.

Chicken Tikka

"There was an urn of Goa fish stew, thick and gooey. Chicken Tikka marinated in pink spices and lemon...' p121

Chicken Tikka is a Hindi dish marinated in yogurt, spices and tomatoes, that can be baked, grilled or barbequed. Tikka means "pieces". The Haji family is Muslim and maybe influenced by Arab Afghanistan as they have a similar dish using yogurt and spices.

1kg chicken breast cut into bite sized pieces and marinated


1 cup Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3cm ginger grated
2 teaspoons ground cummin
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons black pepper

If you intend to grill or BBQ thread chicken pieces on to skewers that have been pre soaked in water to prevent them burning.Prepare the sauce separately. If you intend to bake add the sauce to the marinated chicken pieces. Bake at 160 degrees for about 45 minutes or until cooked.


50gm butter
3 teaspoons crushed garlic
Chilli to taste
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
2 cups of crushed tomatoes
300 ml of thickened cream
Coriander to garnish

Serve with rice or naan

Foi Gras

"Madam Degeneret was a feisty old woman who kept her farm ticking over with the money she earned from force feeding 100 Moulard ducks...a farm hand was busy plucking and bleeding the ducks before removing the prized foi gras." p165

Foi gras is a French delicacy. However, the practice of force feeding ducks is outlawed in many countries. Due to this inhumane and outdated practice I have chosen to do Chicken Liver Pate instead.

Chicken Liver Pate

750 gm chicken livers washed, trimmed of fat, sinew and bile sacs and pat dry.
1 large eschalot
100 gram butter
1/4 cup brandy
50 gram unsalted butter


If you wish, a rasher of bacon(chopped)can be fried with the onion and Grand Marnier can be used instead of brandy. The addition of herbs such as thyme adds another dimension to this flavoursome dish.


Fry the onion in a small amount of butter until softened. Remove from pan. Heat remaining butter and lightly fry chicken livers until pink. Return onions to pan and add brandy. Simmer one minute. Season. Place in food processor and blend. Push liver through sieve to get rid of any remaining bits of sinew. Put into ramekins. Heat 50gm of unsalted butter and once melted pour over the top of the pate. Garnish with herbs and refrigerate for up to 5 days. Serve with mini toast.

©2011 My Novel Idea by Ann Etcell-Ly/All Rights Reserved