Sri Lankan lentils without coconut

What if you want to try Sri Lankan food, but are allergic to coconut? At some point when I have free time (hah), I’d love to create a section of the Serendib Kitchen website that suggested adaptations. (Stephanie, add to queue?) Vegetarian / vegan, allergies, low-carb / keto, etc. For example, yesterday I was cooking dinner for 30 students, for my colleague Anna Guevarra‘s food and culture class, and there were a few restrictions we had to work around:

We had:
– a vegetarian (so I just kept it all vegetarian, super-easy to do well with Sri Lankan food)
– a cashew allergy (so we skipped the cashews toasted in ghee for the rice pilaf, and it was still good with saffron, rose, and sultanas), and
– a coconut allergy.

Now THAT one is tricky, as I’d learned back when I was cooking for my roommate Cliff Winnig, also allergic to coconut! (And nutmeg, and nuts — he says he had a lexical allergy…) We could just leave the coconut out of the kale mallung, bumping the sugar up a bit to compensate for the sweetness. It’s still tasty and worth making, but honestly, it’s not as good as it is with coconut, and so far, I haven’t come up with anything that would really work as a substitute.

But for the dal (lentil curry), it proved surprisingly easy to compensate for lack of coconut milk. I started with using cow’s milk instead, but as I asked the students, there’s still two major elements missing that we’d want to add back in. After a few moments, they correctly identified them.

Want to try to guess before reading further?

(The pictures may have given you hints!)

1) Sweetness, since coconut milk is sweeter than cow’s milk. We added in a little sugar, in the form of grated jaggery, and that worked very nicely to bring out the sweetness of the onions and help balance the dish.

2) Fat! Coconut milk has notably more fat than cow’s milk, and while the lentils were still tasty on their own, stirring in a stick of butter towards the end of the cooking time gave them that lusciousness that has you coming back for seconds and thirds. 

I’ve heard that the latter is actually a common restaurant technique when making sauces (maybe a French thing?), to stir in a stick of butter towards the end. I don’t indulge in that normally, and honestly, I don’t even want my daily dinner food to be that rich.

But in this case, a stick of butter stirred into a big double batch of lentil curry, feeding 30 people, was the perfect addition.  Mmm…


A little surprise treat for locals

Hey, locals — here’s a little surprise treat! This Sunday, Amanda Daly and I are hosting a Sri Lankan bagel brunch. This was part of the Kickstarter Amanda ran to raise funds to help open a physical Daly Bagel shop (coming soon to 130 Chicago Ave. in Oak Park), and we have a few more slots left.


Tickets are $60, for this coming Sunday, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. and include an experimental but guaranteed delicious fusion of Sri Lankan cuisine and Amanda’s awesome bagels, mango-passionfruit mimosas, and as much conversation about bagels, Sri Lankan food, and women starting up their own businesses (both brick-and-mortar and online) as you can stand.

Attendees will also get a little packet of my homemade Sri Lankan curry powder to take away with them, and I’ll have discounted copies of my new cookbook, A Feast of Serendib, available for purchase. (It’s not in stores ’til March!)

Hope you can attend! Would be a fun activity with a girlfriend — maybe you know someone who’s been thinking about starting their own business? Also a great and unique date with partner or spouse! Come join us!

Buy a ticket:

Read some glowing cookbook reviews:

Join the Daly Bagel group on FB:

Read more about the Daly Bagel:…/the-daly-bagel-finds-a-home/

Melissa Elsmo talks about the cookbook at Oak Park’s Wednesday Journal:…/lunch-at-a-sri-lankan-table/

ACCESS NOTE: The event will be held at my house, an old Victorian — as a result, it’s sadly not wheelchair-accessible, and we do have a dog and two cats on the premises.


My glorious Publisher’s Weekly review for Feast has been updated with the correct ISBN

Quick note that my glorious Publisher’s Weekly review for Feast has been updated with the correct ISBN. Booksellers, librarians, etc., apologies for earlier error, but it should be all set now! Hope you order lots!
My understanding is that Mascot Press will start taking pre-orders in mid-December (as we’re aiming for a March launch), when they have books in warehouse, though I’m still not quite sure how all this works. But maybe make a note for yourselves?

Reducing Anxiety around Cooking (Salmon and Potato Sothi)


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.


Summer book tour with Benjamin Rosenbaum

Okay, instead of writing, I spent the last 45 min. planning summer book tour with Benjamin Rosenbaum, which is also necessary and time-sensitive. I’ll be promoting Feast, he’ll be promoting his first novel, The Unravelling, which is AWESOME. If you are interested in gender stuff esp., recommend pre-ordering it!
Somewhere in the July 9 – 26 range next summer, he and I may be driving from Boston to Chicago, hitting possibly all these cities?
(Is this a terrible idea? You’d tell me, right?)

Boston –>

CT –>
New York —>
Philadelphia –>
Pittsburgh –>
Columbus –>
Dayton –>
Cincinnati –>
Lexington –>
Louisville –>
Indianapolis –>
It does sound both exhausting and tremendous fun. 🙂

Recipe cards ordered

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.)


Feast recipe cards

The Feast recipe cards are almost ready to order. I do hope people are okay with them being bigger than would fit in an actual recipe box — I realized that I’d promised to put recipe and image on the front, and room to address them and write a note on the back, so you could actually send them through the mail. If I’d done those 4×6 size, the recipes would be unreadably small, I think!
So they’re 6×9, and they’ll hopefully make fun postcards for Kickstarter recipients to mail to their friends, or even to frame. They are: ribbon tea sandwiches, eggplant sambol, hoppers / appam, chai, flood, and rosewater & pistachio marshmallows.
Huge thanks to Sophie Malik Hurst for saving my butt on getting these done and actually looking good — you wouldn’t want to see just how bad my version looked like. BAD. Must up my game on graphic design skills at some point, but in the interim, hooray for helpful folks. Check out her shop, The Biscuit Tin Studio, for truly adorable graphic design work!

Sandalwood and rose — soaps and bath salts

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. 

Cute little elephant soaps

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.

Marshmallow-rocky road experiments!

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.