Stronger Together

All the curry powder I roasted this weekend is spoken for now; very satisfying, getting it fresh and out the door quickly. (I’ll start prepping to roast another batch when the next order comes in…I’m out of cloves, so have to get some more of those first!)

Some curry powder packets were individual sales, but many were packaged with copies of Feast (hardcover and paperback). Three of those were birthday presents, which I find particularly lovely. What a nice thing to do for a friend, to introduce them to cooking a new cuisine. 🙂

Maybe I’m a little over-emotional, after long pandemic and with the election bearing down on us. It does make me happy, to see how in difficult times, we take care of each other and put in a little extra effort to strengthen bonds. Stronger together, right?

Fiberworld Grind-a-long

Quick save-the-date that I’m going to host a free virtual spice-grinding demo / grind-a-long for Fiberworld on November 18, 5:30 CST. I’ll show you how to roast and grind spices for your own Sri Lankan curry powder blend, and answer any questions you might have for 45 minutes or so. Followed by an hour of knit-a-long and chat, hosted by Fiberworld.

Flyer with more details to follow. 🙂

Sri Lankan Milk Rice / Kiri Bath

(with Bottle Gourd variation)

Kiri bath (pronounced ‘buth’), rice cooked with coconut milk, is an essential part of Sinhalese culinary tradition in Sri Lanka. It’s a required element on New Year’s Day (celebrated in April on a lunar cycle), and often eaten on the first day of each month. Kiri bath is generally served with lunu miris or other spicy sambols, although some prefer it sweet, with jaggery.

Sri Lanka has been a multi-ethnic society for over 2000 years, and when my parents’ Sinhalese neighbors made kiri bath, they would always bring some over to share with their Tamil friends. I didn’t grow up cooking it myself, but it was always a particular treat when my Sinhalese friends made it for me. I love kiri bath with pol sambol plus a nice curry, and a little paruppu (dal / lentils) never goes amiss. Maybe a bit of brinjal moju (pickle) too!

I ran across an interesting variation through a cooking video (by Chandeena and her mother at Village Life:, where you add bottle gourd to the dish — it lends a lovely delicacy to the finished kiri bath, and may also serve to lighten it up a bit, for those who love the richness of flavor, but are perhaps being careful about their portion sizes of luscious rice and coconut milk.

2 c. short grain white (or red) rice
3 c. water
2 c. thick coconut milk
1 1/2 t. salt

2 c. shredded bottle gourd (or cucumber), optional

1. Put rice, bottle gourd (if using), and water in a pan and bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook 15 minutes. The rice should be mostly cooked at this point, but it’s fine if it’s a little firm still.

2. Add coconut milk and salt, stir well. Cover the pan again, turn heat to low, and cook for a further 10-15 minutes, until the milk is entirely absorbed.

3. Traditionally, you’d let it cool a little, turn it onto a flat plate, and smooth it (using a spatula or banana leaves) into a firm, flat round. Mark it off in squares or diamond shapes, and serve with your favorite sambols.

Bottle Gourd (or Cucumber) and Spinach Curry

Bottle gourds are one of the original immigrating foods, their seeds drifting across the ocean and making their way from Africa around the world to North America, South America, and Asia, over 10,000 years ago. Amazing!

Because bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) is also called calabash, they’re sometimes confused with the hard, hollow fruits of the unrelated calabash tree (Crescentia cujete).

Bottle gourd flesh is mild, very similar to cucumbers, but a little sweeter. Young seeds and bottle gourd skin are also edible, so you might want to save those for other dishes. But for this curry, you’ll be working with the flesh of the vegetable.

This is a simple curry on its own (lots of spices, but very few steps!), and can be easily varied by adding eggplant, lentils, or in this case, fresh spinach. Bottle gourd also makes a nice stir-fry (varai), or soup.

2 T vegetable oil
3-4 shallots (or red onion), finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 stalk curry leaves (about a dozen)
1 green chilli pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 t. cayenne (or to taste)
1/2 t. Sri Lankan roasted curry powder
1 t. salt
4 cups (about 300 grams) bottle gourd (or cucumber), peeled, seeds removed and discarded, and chopped or shredded
2 c. coconut milk
juice of 1/2 – 1 lime (about 1-2 T)

1 bag baby spinach leaves (about 4 oz.), optional

1. Heat oil in a pot, and add onions, garlic, spices, and bottle gourd. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, until onions are golden and a little browned.

2. Add coconut milk and simmer 5 minutes, stir in lime juice, then add spinach if using, and simmer 5-10 minutes more. Serve hot, with rice or bread.

Compote Comfort

I wanted dessert last night, something fruity, but not too rich. I sliced a slightly underripe pear and a few similarly underripe figs, then sautéed them for a few minutes in butter. Added a drizzle of bourbon maple syrup, and it was done. Moderately healthy, for a dessert, since it’s mostly fruit, and delicious.

A bowl of warm autumn compote comfort.

Last Night’s Dinner

Chicken thighs rubbed with oil, salt, and roasted Sri Lankan curry powder, grilled on the stovetop grill pan, then added to a warm baguette slathered with butter, along with my pickled cucumber and carrot, for a Vietnamese banh mi-style sandwich. Delicious, though I think it’d be even better with some avocado slices. Next time.

Pickled cucumber-carrot recipe can be found here.

Montreal Coverage for Feast

Woot — Montreal coverage for Feast! This is our first international coverage aside from the actual Sri Lankan coverage, so lovely to see. Canada peeps, look!…/six-oclock-solution-beet…

Although I have to note, someone wrote a subhead that says: “If you can’t find curry leaves, you can substitute them with lime zest and basil leaves in this recipe for beet curry,” and I disagree. If you can’t find curry leaves (they can be ordered online at Amazon and elsewhere), leave them out. I haven’t found anything that replicates that particular flavor.

And in fact, in the article itself, the writer includes this:

“Shopping for the essential seasonings is easiest in Indian stores, but supermarkets increasingly stock these products, says Mohanraj, who includes one of the best ingredient chapters I have ever seen in a book. Avoid yellow curry powder; Sri Lankans use dark-roasted, and she includes a recipe so you can make your own. Curry leaves come fresh, frozen or dried; if you can’t find them, skip them, Mohanraj directs.”

They also changed my recipe a bit, adding this parenthetical:

“green chilies (jalapeño, Anaheim, banana or poblano)”

Um, no. Serrano is your best bet for something readily available in North America, and what you’re ideally looking for is green fingerhot chilies. I wouldn’t use Anaheim, banana, or poblano, which have very different and distinct flavors.

I hope I’m not being churlish here — I do appreciate the coverage, very much. But it’s a little distressing seeing them leading people astray, flavor-wise. I know they want to be helpful, but I wish they’d dropped me a note to check these changes.

Six O’Clock Solution: Beet curry straight from Sri Lanka

Think of curry with a salty-sour-sweet taste and a bit more heat than in Indian cuisine, and you have the most popular dish from Sri Lanka, the island off the coast of India that was once a crossroads of European exploration and trade.

The Vegan Serendib Timeline

I woke up thinking about how goofy it was to be pushing so hard to get out Vegan Serendib for Christmas. I mean, yes, we COULD do it, and Christmas sales are significant. But it would be very hard, and not done well in terms of promotion.

I ended up sending this message to the Serendib Press team on Slack, copying it here in case anyone is interested in how a teeny tiny press figures out a little bit more about how we ought to be doing things.

We’ll make it to professional eventually. Someday, I’d love to publish other peoples’ books too, but I figure we should make all the mistakes on my books first. 🙂


Hey, team. So I’ve been thinking about the timeline for Vegan Serendib and I think it’s putting too much time pressure on all of us to get that done, especially me and Stephanie, and there’s really no reason we have to have it for Christmas. We might get a few extra Christmas sales, but it’s not worth doing it badly or killing ourselves.

So I had another thought — since this is the second edition, one thing we could do is set a launch date for say, May 1, 2021, which gives us a proper six-month timeline for promotion. You can start working now on the press releases for that, and start sending them in the next few weeks, giving us a chance at some magazine coverage. We won’t have physical copies to send out right away, but should have them by end of the year, I think.

And then another thing we can do is start taking pre-orders AND say that anyone who pre-orders we’ll immediately send them a digital copy of the first sampler edition of Vegan Serendib (bonus), so they can start cooking right away. Then they’ll get the full volume next May. I think overall, that makes a lot more sense. What do you think?

If we do this, then I think the next step is to ask Stephanie to go back through what we did for Feast, and make a calendar for what we’re aiming to have done each month in the next six months. Some of the things:

finalize 40 new recipes (MA)
retake photos as needed (MA)
revise intro materials (MA)
talk to Ingram Spark and figure out what they need and when (Stephanie)
draft new press release for Vegan (Stephanie?)
draft back cover copy for Vegan (Stephanie?)
ask Jeremy John Parker to do final cover design (and pay him) (Stephanie)
figure out who we want to send copies to for review (Stephanie)
put up pre-order page for Vegan (Stephanie?)

plan some kind of holiday promotion for both books (Stephanie)

redo interior design (Stephanie)
re-index (can we do this in house? Anyone here interested in learning how to index?)

copyedit and proofread (Darius or Emmanuel or both? check with Jed re: errors from Feast we want to correct here too)

keep making cooking videos — maybe one every two weeks (MA and Darius)

start writing food essays and sending them out (MA, who needs deadlines for this clearly, so maybe one every two weeks)

JAN/FEB/MAR/APR/MAY (promotion):
set up virtual cooking classes?
book more virtual events?

depending on COVID, maybe an outdoor in-person event in May for launch day?

And heck, while we’re calendaring, we can look ahead to the NEXT book, which should be Gluten-Free Serendib. Let’s say we aim for December 1, 2021 launch of that.


develop recipes for GF (MA)

design / index / copyedit / proofread book (Stephanie and team)

draft press releases for GF, update press database, send out first wave


Green Tomato and Lentil Curry

(45 minutes, serves 4 as entree, 8 as a side)

Green tomatoes are a lovely end-of-summer curry on their own, beautifully tangy, but add some lentils and you have a complete and nutritious meal. It’s perfect with a little rice or bread, or just on its own. In Sri Lanka, earthy red lentils (masoor dal) are most common, and have the advantage of cooking in half the time of most lentils; you could certainly use them in this dish. But I like split mung lentils here; they have a mild, sweet flavor.

1 cup split mung lentils (moong dal or payatham paruppu)
½ tsp turmeric
cinnamon stick
1 dried red chili, broken into pieces
1 c. coconut milk (optional; you can cook in water if preferred)
1 c. water (plus more as needed)

1/2 t. salt

Green Tomato Curry:
1 medium onion, chopped
1 t. vegetable oil
1 t. black mustard seeds
1 t. cumin seed
1 t. fenugreek seeds
1 stalk curry leaves (about a dozen)
5 medium green tomatoes, chopped (about 4 cups)
1/2 t. salt

chopped cilantro to garnish

1. Add 1 c. split mung lentils to a saucepan (with a lid). Add turmeric, cinnamon stick, chili, coconut milk, water, and 1/2 t. salt. Bring to a boil, cover, then turn to medium-low and continue cooking until the lentils are very tender and soft, about 40 minutes. (This can be sped up in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot.) Check periodically and add more water if needed to keep lentils from sticking to the pan. (If they do start to stick, just scrape them up — as long as they don’t actually start to burn, they should be fine.)

2. In a separate pot, sauté onion in oil with mustard seed, cumin seed, feungreek seeds, and curry leaves, until onions are golden-translucent.

3. Stir in chopped green tomatoes, cover and turn heat to medium-low; cook 10 minutes.

4. Add the cooked dal to the tomatoes, along with any remaining cooking water. Let the tomatoes and dal come to a boil. Taste, and adjust seasonings to taste — you might add a little more salt, or some lime juice, or more coconut milk.

5. Simmer another 5 minutes, then turn off heat and add chopped cilantro to garnish.

Hibiscus (Shoeflower) Curry / Sembaruthipoo Kari

(45 minutes, serves 6)

In Sri Lanka, hibiscus is commonly known as shoeflower, and is a popular edible flower used in sambols, curries, and beverages. The variety grown there (rosa sinensis) is not quite as tangy as sabdariffa (the variety most commonly used for hibiscus tea), but has a similar delicate flavor.

Where I live, tropical flowers can only grow in pots. I have a host of them in my sunny windows: jasmine and bougainvillea and hibiscus, mandevilla and duranta. They move out for the summer, then move back inside for the winter. It’s perhaps not entirely practical, growing tropicals in Chicagoland, but they speak to something in my heart.


IMPORTANT HEALTH NOTE: Chicago does have hardy hibiscus that grow as perennials outdoors (var. moscheutos and others), but those varieties are less commonly used in cooking. The casual reading I’ve done on the subject indicates that they are probably also edible, but there are some indications that they may interact with other medications, and there’s even one case I ran across of hardy hibiscus acting as an abortifacient. And of course, individuals can have different reactions to different plants.

In general, if you’re considering experimenting with plants that aren’t established as safely edible, it’s recommended that you try very small portions first, checking for negative effects. While I’ve eaten hardy hibiscus in this preparation and survived, I’d recommend sticking to rosa sinensis for safety. And of course, you’ll want to be sure that any flowers you consume were grown for human consumption, without use of pesticides, herbicides, etc.


All that said, this is a dramatic and unusual curry, and could easily be the star of a dinner party. I was introduced to it through Charmaine Solomon’s _Complete Asian Cookbook_, and Solomon recommends battering and frying the hibiscus, then simmering it in a curry sauce. That is likely the traditional preparation, but I admit, I don’t love it that way — the batter becomes entirely soft. I prefer to drizzle curry sauce over the battered flowers, to retain a little crisp along with the savory softness.

Whichever option you choose, while you can make the curry sauce in advance if you’d like, I’d recommend battering and frying the flowers just before serving, to retain maximum crispness.

12 hibiscus flowers (hibiscus rosa sinensis), traditionally red
1 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 egg, beaten
1 c. water

oil for deep frying

Curry sauce:
1 small onion, finely chopped (about one c.)
2 green fingerhot chilies, seeded and chopped
1/4 t. ground turmeric
one stick cinnamon
2 c. coconut milk
1/2 c. water
1 t. salt

juice of 1/2 a lime (about a T)

1. Rinse the flowers and blot water with paper towels. Pick off the calyx and stamen. Combine flour, salt, beaten egg, and water to create a smooth batter.

2. Heat oil in a small deep pan. When hot (ideally between 350-375F), dip each flower in batter, shake off excess, and fry in oil until golden. Remove to paper towels to drain and absorb excess oil.

3. Make curry sauce: Heat 2 T vegetable oil in a sauce pan and sauté onions and chilies until golden-translucent. Add turmeric and cinnamon, stir for a minute, than add coconut milk, water, and salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer.

4a: Option 1 — add fried hibiscus to the pot and simmer 10 minutes; stir in lime juice, and serve hot with rice.

4b: Option 2 — simmer sauce down on its own for 10 minutes; stir in lime juice. Serve battered hibiscus with rice, with sauce alongside to drizzle over.

Vegan variation — substitute 1/2 c. aquafaba for the egg, beaten until frothy, and cold sparkling water (or beer) for batter water.