I’ve been watching GBBO: Masterclass, and one thing I’ve noticed is that Mary says that things are ‘easy’ really often. So much of teaching everyday cooking is about reducing people’s anxiety about it. I’m still startled by how many people don’t cook at all; they assume that it’s going to be hard, time-consuming, etc.
There can be tricky aspects, of course, but most of basic cooking is dead easy, honestly. The key is not get flustered when you make a mistake. If you’ve learned how to drive a car successfully, which requires a lot of simultaneous actions and paying tons of attention, then I’m pretty sure you can make a curry too. (And if things do go wrong, instead of dealing with the consequences of a crash, all you need to do is throw out a pot of burned food and start over.)
Also, don’t get thrown by the long list of ingredients for many of my curries — having twelve different spices to toss in just means opening twelve jars; it isn’t materially more difficult than a recipe with just salt!
Here’s an example of the kind of thing I might make if I’m in a hurry. In Feast, I generally gave you the full recipe — how I’d do it if I were cooking for my mom or for guests, if I wanted to be sure I did it right, to get full flavor of what it’s supposed to be. But for everyday, there are all kinds of shortcuts you can take. I give you permission!
Salmon and Potato Sothi
This is a salmon and potato sothi that I served over from-frozen store-bought pittu, though if you don’t have that available in your area, rice will work just as well. This is me coming home Friday from an exercise walk with Roshani, realizing I wanted this for lunch, and making it in 25 minutes, in between packing up to go to the airport. It made four servings, so three of them are in the fridge, waiting to feed me when I get home from this trip.
1. Open a pack of frozen onions; if it has other frozen aromatics in there, like bell pepper or carrots, that’s fine (assuming you like those elements). They won’t hurt the dish. Add to pot with a few T of oil (I don’t measure usually, just guesstimate), start to sauté on high, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. (2 minutes in)
2. Get a cutting board and knife, pull out a few green chilies, chop, and toss them in. You could skip this if you don’t want it spicy, or remove the seeds for less heat, or use black pepper instead. (5 minutes in)
(If using rice, set rice going in a separate pot at this point: 2 c. rice, 4 c. water, pinch of salt.)
3. Add 1 T fenugreek / methi seeds (normally you’d soak them for a couple hours beforehand, but it’s still tasty even if you don’t), a stick or two of cinnamon, a dozen curry leaves if you have them on hand (skip if not), 1/2 t. turmeric, 1 t. salt. Cube some potatoes and add those too — I’d cut them fairly small if I were in a hurry, so they’d cook faster. Don’t bother to peel — the skins are good for you. (I do usually rough-peel russets.) Add 2 c. water.
(We’re now 10 minutes in, and you’re almost done with active cooking.)
(If using rice, turn that pot down to a simmer and cover somewhere around this point — whenever it starts to boil. It’ll cook 15 more minutes, so should finish about when the curry does.)
4. Add two salmon fillets. Here, I added them straight from the freezer, not bothering to thaw or cut them up at all. Stir it all together gently, cover the pot, and cook on medium for 10 minutes. Wander off and do something else for a bit, but set a timer if you’re likely to forget about it.
(If using frozen pittu, take it out of the package and microwave for 4.5 minutes before the next step).
5. Take off the lid, stir, and add in 2 cups coconut milk, 1 c. water, and 1-2 T lime juice. Taste it, and if you think it needs it, maybe another 1/2 t. of salt. Simmer a few more minutes, just to blend all the flavors, and it’s ready. Serve hot with rice or pittu.
Pittu can be a little dry, esp. from frozen, so make sure to ladle plenty of that sothi (sauce/gravy) over the pittu to soak through and soften it up. I added some store-bought coconut sambol from a can.
Mmm…a little taste of a Sri Lankan breakfast; sit in the sun to enjoy it if you can.
And if you’re NOT in a rush, this is the regular recipe:
Coconut Milk Gravy / Sothi
(45 minutes + soaking time, serves 8)
This is a delicious traditional accompaniment for stringhoppers, served with a little coconut sambol. When I last visited Sri Lanka, that was one of my favorite meals to have for breakfast, in the very early morning at the hotel, while I was still jet-lagged. It’s quite soothing. This makes a fairly large quantity, suitable for feeding several people; just cut ingredients in half for a smaller portion.
1-4 TBL fenugreek seeds, soaked for two hours beforehand
1 TBL toasted rice powder (optional)
1 large onion, diced
12 curry leaves
1 small stick cinnamon
2 fresh green chilies, seeded and chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 cups water
1 russet potato, peeled and cubed (optional)
3 cups coconut milk
4 hard-boiled eggs, cut in half lengthwise (optional)
1-2 TBL lime juice, to taste
Note: Traditionally, this dish was made with quite a lot of fenugreek; modern recipes tend to reduce to about 1 TBL, instead of 4. But fenugreek is a potent galactagogue, so if you’re making this dish for a nursing mother, you may want to go old-school.
Note 2: Toasted rice powder is used through Asia (especially in Thai cooking) to thicken and add flavor and fragrance to dishes. It’s best made fresh, in the quantities needed. To make, take one TBL rice and sauté over medium heat in a dry pan for 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly. It’ll release a beautifully nutty, toasted scent. Then grind to a powder — I use a coffee grinder that I keep dedicated for spices, but you could also use a food processor, or the traditional mortar and pestle.
1. Put all the ingredients except the last three (coconut milk, eggs, and lime juice) in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer, covered, until onions are reduced to a pulp and the potatoes are cooked, about 30 minutes.
2. Stir well, add thick coconut milk and heat without bringing dish to a boil. Stir in lime juice, and/or additional salt to taste, and then carefully add the eggs. Simmer a minute or two longer, stirring, and then serve hot, with stringhoppers or rice.
Recipe cards ordered — this is the final piece of the puzzle, and I’m sorry that it’s going to take one more week for them to get to me — they’ll be arriving on November 15th. Then we’ll swing into shipping on Nov 16 (and Stephanie is going to kill me that it’s one more week, because all the stacks in my dining room are making her stressed out), sorry! I suspect we’ll do one more packing party, just to get them out quickly. Feed people rice & curry, stuff envelopes. Good strategy.
Honestly, I probably need that week for roasting curry powder anyway, because we somehow totally miscounted, and I need to make something like twice as much curry powder as we thought. (It’s in 4 oz. bags, and somehow we missed that all the hardcovers come with 8 oz. of curry powder, which is good, lots of curries for people, but it’s going to take a little more time to roast and grind all that!)
But then we’ll be really, really done. Really. I swear. I won’t add any other items, no matter how many good ideas I have between now and then….
(How many times can I say ‘sorry for the delay’ and ‘thank you for your patience’ and ‘this has been a learning experience for me!’ to my Kickstarter backers? A lot. I can say it a lot.)
Sandalwood done, rose done — soaps and bath salts. I don’t think I’m going to try bath bombs — I wasn’t really happy with how they came out last time, and I don’t want them falling apart on people as they open them.
I think a batch of jasmine, and maybe one of lime, and then the bath products will be done. I’m tempted to start experimenting with blends, which would also let me give them fun names, but will save that for another day.
One side benefit of soap-making — my kitchen is so clean.
Ongoing soap-making for the Kickstarter’s Island Relaxation packages. Almost done!
Look at the cute little elephants. An experiment. I die.
Kavi *begged* for one for her bathroom. She’s going to end up with a lot of soap, that girl.
I’ll have to make this again so I can write it up into a proper recipe, but here are the marshmallow-rocky road experiments. I made three different varieties; the clear favorite was the ruby chocolate with passionfruit marshmallows and dried mango. Mmmm….so good! I served these at the Feast packing party, and they were quickly devoured by my hardy volunteers.
Rocky road is so simple to make, and great to use up leftover bits of nuts and fruit and mango. Melt chocolate on half power in microwave, stirring every 30 seconds after the first minute, so as to not burn it. When it’s melted, stir in whatever bits you like; you can keep adding until it’s mostly bits with a thin coating of chocolate. Spread on a sheet of parchment paper, stick in the fridge and let it cool. Snap apart (this part is fun) or cut into squares (which is cool for showing the cross-sections), and serve.
I wish the new ruby chocolate was more widely available; right now, I mostly have to order the bags of chips online, though sometimes I can find a bar in a grocery store. I love its fruity tang; I think it might be my favorite chocolate now.
The other versions were good too, but in retrospect, I think the dark chocolate + cashew version would’ve been better with a sprinkling of flake salt over the top, and possibly a bit of cayenne mixed in. Ditto salt on the ruby chocolate and cashew, though I wouldn’t use the cayenne for that.
I could barely taste the dried coconut in one batch of ruby chocolate rocky road, so not sure it’s worth adding unless you use more / bigger pieces. Ditto the candied ginger in the dark chocolate actually, which surprised me — just need more, I think. MOAR GINGER.
Hey, here’s something exciting. Mascot has their pre-order page up for A Feast of Serendib! What does this mean? Well, they’ll fulfill orders as soon as they have books on hand, even though the official ‘launch’ date isn’t until March 6, when we’ll start doing a host of events around the country.
HOWEVER, they probably won’t have books in hand until end of December. So if you want books in time for the holidays, do still order them directly from my Serendib Kitchen site for the next few weeks.
ALSO, right now, you can only order paperbacks and ebooks from my site. (www.serendibkitchen.com). ALSO if you’d like curry powder with your book, OR if you’d like the print books signed or personalized (and Stephanie, we should make that an option on that order page — I don’t think it’s set up for that yet.)
But if you don’t mind an unsigned hardcover arriving in January-ish, feel free to order directly from Mascot:
They’ll take care of fulfillment on all of those, so as soon as we’re all switched over to them, I’ll be doing a lot less packing of things and a lot more writing.
(I honestly don’t know off the top of my head whether I make more money on books I ship out myself or through Mascot, but both are absolutely fine.)
Woot! This is starting to feel more and more real.
A book, a book!
Feast packing party! I highly recommend feeding your friends and having them help pack if you are trying to indie publish your first book. Like a barn raising!
It was such a big pile of books and sheets of paper, and I hadn’t even finished grinding the hand-roasted spices for the curry powder packets. I would’ve been quite discouraged, facing that alone. Luckily, Paul and Craig were perfectly willing to grind spices and fill bags. Teri, a former bookseller, even brought her packing tape gun!
Paul, Teri, Alli, Karen (and her kids!), Stephanie, Eulàlia, and and Craig all came by to help — we certainly didn’t finish packing that night, but we made very good progress. And may I recommend a big pot of rice as the base for your packing? Rice will sustain you! I made a vegetarian pilaf with a mix of red and basmati rice, and a nice chicken biryani. Mmm…
Even just sorting out all the packing sheets was a big task, because due to our inexperience (I think), we didn’t manage to get BackerKit to sort it all out properly for us. So there was much shuffling of papers and many questions about who exactly was getting WHICH postcards.
Honestly, I’m sure we’ve added hours and hours to the task of just packing up the books, this first time through. Thank all the little gods for friends, and their willingness to take salmon curry and pol sambol in exchange for labor!
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have had quite so many different reward tiers and BackerKit items — they added exponentially to the complexity of it all. Stephanie estimated that there were at least 30 different unique sets that people could order, and SKUs are more complicated than you’d think.
If I ever indie publish another book (I do love the putting-the-book-together part, if not the business side — I think I could use a business partner should that happen), at least we’ll have learned from our mistakes along the way here!
With the ‘help’ of a #spacecat, we worked steadily for hours, from 6-9 on Wednesday night. It didn’t FEEL like the stacks of books were getting any smaller, but some eggplant curry and Roshani‘s lentils kept us going.
She’d brought over a huge batch for an earlier lunch with a visiting writer, and I’d frozen the extra, so was able to serve them for this. SO helpful. One fabulous aspect to our food is that so much of it freezes beautifully.
If you need to feed vegetarians Sri Lankan food, I’d particularly recommend eggplant curry + lentils; you get that rich curry flavor and luscious mouthfeel with the eggplant & the substantial protein of the lentils. Also excellent for non-vegetarians.
That looks like good progress, doesn’t it? It does! Look at all those neat rows. I think we’ll be ready to actually start taking packages to the post office by….I want to say Thursday of this week? If not, definitely next Tuesday (11/12).
And Jed has just finished the ePub (yesterday!), and ALMOST finished the Kindle formatting, so those lovely electronic editions will be flying through the electrons towards Kickstarter backers momentarily.
Print books would go out sooner, but World Fantasy in L.A. and Scott Woods‘s Parallels writing conference in Columbus next weekend are intervening. I can’t pack if I’m not actually physically there! But 11/12 shipping out should still get A Feast of Serendib to Kickstarter backers and other pre-orders everywhere in the U.S., at least, in good time for holiday gifts.
The current plan is that you can still order copies of books and packets of curry powder from me on the Serendib Kitchen website directly, through the end of November. #Spacecat Aryabhata says, “You need a Sri Lankan cookbook! And your friend / relative / co-worker does too!”
That’ll be it, though; I need to take a break and ‘go dark’ for a while after that, to recover and write a novel. I may even turn off FB for a week or two. (What? Will I be able to breathe without FB? We’ll see.)
Then back for the official launch in March. Thankfully, THAT distribution will be handled by Mascot Books (though I’ll still be able to send out signed & personalized copies directly.
My packing friends loved this dessert experiment, by the way — I took the leftover bits of marshmallows and made…umm…not sure what to call it actually. Marshmallow brittle? Tropical rocky road? Something like that! Details and more photos of that coming soon.