Sri Lankan Varai

This isn’t so much a recipe, but a what-do-you-do-with-veggies-that-you-need-to-use-up approach to cooking. My default is to turn it into a Sri Lankan varai, a lightly cooked vegetable dish.

In this case, I had leeks, cabbage, and carrot that I needed to use.

  • Chop leeks (remember to rinse them, or you may end up eating grit)

  • Sauté in a bit of oil until golden-translucent, with mustard seed and cumin seed.
  • Add chopped cabbage. Add carrots, cut up small. (This method also works with thawed frozen mixed veg; drain the excess water).

  • Stir on medium-high for 5-10 minutes, until partially cooked and a little browned. If you want it spicier, add chopped green chilies (or crushed red pepper, or cayenne).

  • Stir in desiccated (not sweetened!) coconut, salt (1 t.), and a little turmeric

  • Cover and turn to medium low for 5-10 minutes, so veggies can cook through (depending on what veggies you’re using, you may be able to skip the covering stage — peas don’t need it, for example)

  • Remove lid and cook a few minutes more, stirring, until water has evaporated. Serve hot with rice and curries.

NOTE: Day after, this is easy to reheat with a little oil and leftover rice, scrambling a few eggs in, to make a healthy and filling vegetarian meal. You could also sauté some ground beef, and stir this in with rice similarly; we’ll be doing that for dinner tonight.

Sri Lankan Chicken Curry

This is a dish you can get in restaurants and homes all over Sri Lanka, just a classic. It’s my parents’ 50th anniversary today, and this is one of the dishes I learned from Amma. She made chicken curry probably once a week for my entire childhood, and my recipe is still pretty much identical to hers, almost thirty years later. Standing the test of time!

3-5 medium onions, diced
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
3 whole cloves
3 whole cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 3 pieces
1-2 TBL red chili powder
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
12 pieces chicken, about 2 1/2 lbs, skinned and trimmed of fat. (Use legs and thighs — debone them if you must, but they’ll be tastier if cooked on the bone. Don’t use breast meat — it’s not nearly as tasty.) (Alternately, use 6 pieces of chicken, and three russet potatoes, peeled and cubed)
1/3 cup ketchup
1 heaping tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 TBL lime juice

1. In a large pot, sauté onions in oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seed, cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon pieces, until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add chili powder and cook one minute. Immediately add curry powder, chicken, ketchup, and salt.

2. Lower heat to medium. Cover and cook, stirring periodically, until chicken is cooked through and sauce is thick, about 20 minutes. Add water if necessary to avoid scorching. Add potatoes if using, and add milk, to thicken and mellow spice level; stir until well blended. (Be careful not to cook on high at this point, as the milk will curdle.)

3. Cook an additional 20 minutes, until potatoes are cooked through. Add lime juice; simmer a few additional minutes, stirring. Serve hot.

Anniversary Sale!

It’s my parents’ 50th anniversary today, and due to coronavirus, we can’t throw them a big party. But I thought maybe a little flash sale of my cookbook would be a nice celebratory event — my mother’s fabulous cooking was the seed for these recipes, of course, and my dad is also super-proud of this book. 

I’ll do a proper anniversary celebrating post later, but for now, here, have a cookbook sale! $10 off the ebook price, so $14.99 for a beautifully formatted electronic edition, ideal for browsing on the couch or propping up on a stand in the kitchen while you cook. One day only!

Happy anniversary, Mohan and Jacintha!

Feast Amazon Sale!

SALE! It turns out that Amazon will sometimes do discounts on books, which doesn’t affect how much I make (as the amount they pay the distributor doesn’t change), and right now, Feast is discounted from $40 down to $26.49 on their site, which I have to tell you, is a heck of a bargain.

We’re probably going to be running a sale ourselves soon out of the house, but our price won’t be dropping quite that much, so unless you want a signed copy from me, and/or some homemade curry powder, I’d love it if you’d buy a discounted copy from Amazon.

Maybe one for a friend? Your parents who are getting bored cooking at home for themselves? Your best friend from college who you haven’t called in too long? So many options…spread the word!

Roses and Hibiscus Tea

If you’re growing roses and hibiscus, you can easily make yourself a lovely tea. I actually didn’t use my own hibiscus flowers for this, I should note — they aren’t blooming yet, so I used some purchased dried hibiscus, which you can buy in bulk online.

I added some citrus peel — slice thin and dry in a 200F oven for 20-25 minutes or so. Also some Ceylon cinnamon, but that, I didn’t try to grow myself.  I’m not sure I can manage cinnamon trees in Oak Park.

The little packets will be going out in the Patreon June treat boxes, though I did also pack up a nice big bag for a local friend. I like this tea with honey, lime juice, and a little candied ginger — brew a pot, and then enjoy it chilled on a hot summer day. Though it’s also tasty hot!

Lime, Rosewater, and Candied Ginger Shortbread, decorated with Pansies and Violas

When you find yourself going back into the kitchen to see if there are any crumbs left on the plate, you know you have a winning recipe; I think this is now my absolute favorite shortbread. Adding in some citric acid gives a seriously tangy punch to these buttery-rich bites.

Note: I find that a pair of kitchen shears is much easier to work with than a knife for cutting up sticky crystallized ginger.


3/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature

1 c. sugar

2 scraped vanilla beans or 2 t. pure vanilla extract

3/4 t. salt

1 lime, zest and juice

1 t. citric acid (optional)

1 T rosewater

3 1/2 cups flour

1/2 c. crystallized ginger, chopped fine

edible flowers, pressed flat (this can be done over a few weeks in the pages of a book, or done quickly in a microwave or with an iron — google for instructions on those processes)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.

2. Cream together the butter and sugar; add the vanilla and salt, citric acid, lime juice, lime zest, and rosewater. Then add flour and mix on low until dough forms. Stir in ginger.

3. Turn out dough onto floured board. (If it’s not coming together into a dough, the heat of your hands will help.) Firmly pat flat (to desired cookie height, usually about 1/2 inch). If using cookie cutters, cut out shapes, place on parchment-covered baking sheet, and chill for 15 minutes (to help hold shape).

NOTE: Can be kept chilled at this point for several days, covered in plastic wrap, and then rolled, cut, and baked fresh.

Alternately, press into baking pan or shortbread mold, prick with fork. You can also cut shapes out after baking — shortbread is very forgiving that way — but then the individual cookie edges won’t be browned.

4. Remove from fridge and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the edges begin to brown, then remove to wire rack to cool.

5. Gently press flowers into the tops of cookies while still warm; the moist heat should help it adhere. If any don’t stick, a little fondant dissolved in warm water makes an excellent edible glue.  Sprinkle with a little sugar.


(I appear to have graduated to the BIG bags of candied ginger. The Patreon treat boxes will be getting one each of the large rounds and little hearts. The elephants, it turns out, are very tricky to un-mold, so getting sixteen of them without broken trunks was quite beyond me. I’m just not that patient, I think…we’ll just have to eat those.)

Now that Roses are Blooming

Now that the roses are blooming, we can start making all the edible rose things. I used a bit of rose extract, lemon extract, and lemon oil in these lollipops, then sprinkled in dried rose petals and luster dust. Fit for a princess. 

Now, I really don’t know how you’re supposed to work fast enough to make a whole batch of lollipops before the sugar cools too much. I got about halfway through, and then I needed to reheat, which of course caramelizes the sugar more. So the second batch of lollipops is distinctly caramel in flavor, which isn’t a bad thing in itself, but the rose & lemon notes do get lost. I think I’m just not fast enough, and should work in half-batches.

I mean, not that I’m planning to make a ton of lollipops, these were just for the June treat boxes, but still, good to know. Maybe we’ll put them in a Serendib Confections cookbook someday.

Playing with Sugar Syrup

More playing with sugar syrup. Now I have to make a cake so I can use some of this to decorate it. Apparently sugar art doesn’t keep very long, tending to melt (you can store it in an airtight container with desiccant to help it last a little while longer, but still), but maybe I can manage some cake for Sunday dinner this weekend.

That third photo is all one piece. It reminds me of Gallifreyan Time Lords. 

Sugar Art

I had some sugar syrup left, so I thought I would try to do sugar art for the first time. I’m here to tell you, it’s not as simple as they make it look on GBBO!  I’m honestly not sure how you’re supposed to get the sugar traceries out of the bowls without breaking them.

The bowls are greased, but the sugar seemed to cling anyway — maybe I should’ve been more careful to grease the rim too?

The sugar also collected at the base, which is okay, but not the tracery I was hoping for. I think that might be because it was still a little too hot and liquid, though — this was at 300-degrees F (for the lollipops), and maybe sugar art should be at a slightly lower temp?

An Ode to the Pansy

Harvested pansies and violas today after doing the morning’s hour of weeding. We’re getting to the end of the season for them, though they’ll come back in the coolness of fall, so if you pull them out of planters to do summer annuals, do stick them in the ground somewhere if you can. Now is the perfect time to cut some for:

– candying (egg whites and superfine sugar, perfect for the top of a cake or cupcakes)
– pressing (to make botanical art — bookmarks, cards, etc.)
– adding them to cookies (look for pansy shortbread)
– making flower lollipops
– adding them to a Vietnamese spring roll wrap
– just tossing them into salads

I harvested all the pretty ones, cut off all the fading ones, and will probably get at least one more flush before it gets too hot, fingers crossed.

If you didn’t plant pansies or violas or violets this year, do think about them for the fall, or next spring. You can plant them very early, since they can tolerate a little frost, so they really give months and months and months of pleasure. One of the most hard-working flowers in my garden, and so cheery. Now I want to write an ode to the pansy…