Can't afford to jet off for some winter sun? A Sri Lankan curry should hit the spot instead.

Too often, the cuisines of South Asia are lumped into one pot and blandly labelled 'curry'. The nuances between Keralan and Nepalese, Bangladeshi and Pakistani food are largely ignored - especially if your only contact with them is via your local takeaway.

Until recently, Sri Lankan food was similarly neglected, but British chef Emily Dobbs is single-handedly trying to raise its profile. With an interest in fresh, seasonal dishes, she wants to "remove the stigma that curries have to be greasy, oily and a takeaway food".

"I often have a curry with scrambled eggs and salad; they can be really light and really colourful," she enthuses.

It's time we see Sri Lankan food as a distinct cuisine

The 29-year-old Londoner's debut cookbook, Weligama is like sunshine distilled. The pages are filled with coconutty curries, zingy salads, hot and sour sambals and her egg hoppers - lacy crepe bowls hollowed out with a soft boiled egg perched in the middle ("they look really cool, and they're really delicious").

Emily made her name whipping up hoppers, selling them from her one-man market stall in south London. "Egg hoppers will become as recognisable as eggs benedict," she says, adamant.

She reckons that so far, the flavours of Sri Lanka - think turmeric, cinnamon and tamarind - have been prevented from travelling further because of the country's recent civil war, but that's set to change.

"People ask me why I cook Sri Lankan food, and it's because I like it," explains Emily, who started visiting her uncle in the country as a child. "The first time I ever tried avocado, it was in a sweet Sri Lankan dessert. We ate with our hands, and ate things like shark curry - everything was so exotic and exciting."

It's OK to tweak and develop traditional recipes

However, don't pick up Weligama expecting traditional recipes that have been handed down through the generations. "You wouldn't get food like this in Sri Lanka - I take classic Sri Lankan recipes and British recipes and modernise them."

By 'modernise', she means lightening and brightening dishes, and, where possible, swapping ingredients for ones you can actually find in the UK - for instance, you can't get "beetroot the size of my head" in Britain, nor "this amazing buffalo curd yoghurt" that Emily loves, which is kept in clay terracotta pots and left out all day in the sun: "It's just really satisfying to eat."

Emily, who eventually trained at Ballymaloe Cookery School, began cooking in her early-20s, after studying for an art degree in Manchester. To tackle artists' block, she went travelling and wound up cooking to support herself. She made her first curry while working with a "hillbilly" on a ranch in Wyoming. "He would just let me cook anything," she remembers. "Thursday was my night and I'd cook curries. My granny, who's 86 and once lived in Delhi, she'd email me recipes." The recipe for the first curry she attempted, her grandmother's peas and cheese dish, is in Weligama.

"I was really experimental and inquisitive," adds Emily, recalling how at uni, she'd mix turmeric with egg yolk to make paint, while in America she'd prepare beef carpaccio using meat from the cattle on the ranch, and go foraging. "Wyoming had the best rocket I've ever had, really spicy and white dotted."

Always be curious about what you're eating

That inquisitiveness hasn't faded, and comes in handy when trying to navigate Sri Lankan produce on her annual trips to the country. "I'll go to a market and point at a vegetable and ask, 'What is this?' And they'll say, 'Madam, it's 50 rupees', and I'll be like, 'No! What's it called?!"

Emily's egg hopper street food stall is currently on hiatus, but she runs supper clubs and pop-ups, and dreams of running her own restaurant one day. "I'm always cooking, I feel my most relaxed when I'm cooking - it really calms me down," she says thoughtfully. "I put all my creativity into food, it's a mindful thing, it's very artistic and creative - all the colours and textures - it's how I express myself."

  • Weligama: Recipes From Sri Lanka by Emily Dobbs, photography by Issy Croker, is published by Seven Dials, priced £25. Available now.