Spice of Life: Sri Lankan Devilled Prawns {Isso Thel Dhala}

Sri Lankan Prawn Recipe Devilled

These divine richly flavoured dry fried prawns are so straightforward to make. Isso Thel Dhala or Sri Lankan "devilled prawns" are a hot and spicy prawn dish made with succulent prawns and tomato as well as a helping of paprika and turmeric to give it its gorgeous deep red colour.

Sri Lankan food is generally spicier than Indian food and after making a Kerala fish curry I found myself with a surfeit of Maldive fish, a dried fish that imparts an intensely salt (and yes fishy) flavour much like South East Asia's shrimp paste. Enter Dear Reader Romany who oh so kindly sent me a package full of 10 Maldive fish recipes! I was so delighted but being a rather forgetful sort I didn't make them straight away.

Sri Lankan Prawn Recipe Devilled

That was to be to my own detriment because I wish I had made this stir fried prawn dish straight away. It cooks in about 10 minutes and you can see that the ingredients are simple, even if you do have to find Maldive fish but use fish sauce or shrimp paste in a pinch too. I haven't been to Sri Lanka yet but one day, perhaps I will (you can always hope for these things!). With such a big coastline seafood prawns and fish feature on the menus. The sauce is so flavoursome but it was a very rich dish. I lightened it by adding lots of stir fried cherry tomatoes that gave it is good amount of sweetness and then it became a one pot dish (because the less cleaning up the better).

Speaking of travelling, we ate something really interesting recently on our trip to Cambodia. It was a dish called "grilled beehive" that they call "honeycomb". It was something that was not on a menu so we had to ask for it. It's a dish that is quite expensive and is regarded as a bit of a treat. I thought that it would be grilled honeycomb sweet with little cavities of honey but when we peeled back the banana leaves inside were a little shocked.

Sri Lankan Prawn Recipe Devilled

It was a bee brood and inside were bee larvae. Hundreds of them really. And for Cambodians that is a delicacy and high in protein. Eating it does impact the bee life cycle so that isn't great at all for the bee population. I did try one and it popped in my mouth releasing a creamy liquid. I guess that was the larvae. It wasn't unpleasant but it was very rich and I have to be honest here, it was a bit confronting. I might just stick with these prawns instead ;)

So tell me Dear Reader, would you try the bee larvae? Have you ever been to Sri Lanka?

Sri Lankan Prawn Recipe Devilled

Devilled Prawns {Isso Thel Dhala}

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Adapted from Charmaine Soloman

Degree of difficulty: very easy

Preparation time: 20 minutes (if you are peeling the prawns, less if they are already peeled)

Cooking time: 10 minutes

  • 1kg/2.2lbs raw prawns
  • 3-4 tablespoons oil or ghee
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 350g/12.36ozs. cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 teaspoons Maldive fish (or 1cm square cube shrimp paste)
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Buyer's tip: Maldive fish can be purchased from Sri Lankan or Indian grocery stores. It comes in a large bag and is also used in making Kerala fish curry.

Sri Lankan Prawn Recipe Devilled

I went for green banana prawns as I was peeling them myself. Tiger prawns have a harder shell and are a bit painful to peel at times.

Step 1 - Remove heads, peel and devein prawns. I reserved the shells and heads and made a prawn broth in the pressure cooker (it was SO delicious and concentrated!). This will probably take you the longest as the rest of the recipe is very easy. Have all of the other ingredients ready as it doesn't take long once you start.

Sri Lankan Prawn Recipe Devilled

Step 2 - Heat a frypan on medium high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the the ghee and fry the onions for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic and when translucent add the cherry tomatoes and fry until starting to soften. Add the paprika, salt, chilli and turmeric powder and fry for 1 minute adding more ghee or oil if needed.

Sri Lankan Prawn Recipe Devilled

Step 3 - Add the Maldive fish and the prawns and fry for 3 minutes. Then add the water, tomato paste and sugar. Serve with rice or Charmaine also suggests putting the prawns on squares of fried bread too for party food.

Sri Lankan Prawn Recipe Devilled

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