A Feast of Serendib

A Feast of Serendib will be produced in e-book, trade paperback and hardcover, featuring 106 Sri Lankan recipes.  A Kickstarter offering discounted pre-orders launched April 2, and will run through April 30th.  You can also pre-order directly in our shop.


Introduction

The first time I started writing a Sri Lankan cookbook, A Taste of Serendib, it was meant to simply be a Christmas present for my mother—writing down some of her recipes. The book offered a few recipes in each section, and featured sketches that a friend drew, illustrating me and my mother cooking, including a few choice quotes of my mother scolding me in the kitchen: “You cannot read and stir at the same time!”

It quickly spiraled into a little book, but the focus was still simple—what little I knew of her recipes. It was designed to be accessible to college students, like the one I was at the time. I was an immigrant who had come to America very young, had grown up eating rice and curry every night, but had only a tenuous connection to the food culture of the homeland.

My mother had had to make many adaptations when she came to America in 1973. She used ketchup instead of tomatoes, for example, because she didn’t have access to coconut milk, and cow’s milk didn’t have sufficient sweetness. (Ketchup also sped along the sauce-making process, since it’s basically a cooked down mixture of tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and salt.)  My mother’s recipes had already changed in America, and as I made them myself, they changed further, adapting to my tastes. When I gave my mother the finished book, she was pleased, I think, but also immediately started pointing out where I’d gotten things wrong. For a while, I threatened to do a second edition of the book, with “Amma’s corrections” all through it in red. I still think that would have been a good book, actually, but she didn’t go for it.

So the book stayed as it was for many years. It could have been left there. But instead, more than a decade later, I started working on a new cookbook, A Feast of Serendib.

My husband, Kevin, and I were talking recently about how I choose which projects to work on. There’s often a pressure to spend my time and energy on more commercial projects, the ones that have the best odds of a good payout. This new cookbook should sell some copies; hopefully, it’ll sell lots of copies. But it’s hardly the most commercial project I could work on, and making the recipes, some of them over and over again, trying to get them right, has been exceedingly time-consuming. If it were just about the money, this cookbook would make no sense at all.

But it’s rarely just about the money. Over the years since I did the first cookbook, I have added more and more Sri Lankan recipes to my repertoire. My cookbook shelf has been overtaken by Sri Lankan cookbooks: from classics like the Ceylon Daily News Cookbook; to conflict-related books like the beautiful and heartbreaking Handmade; to fancy coffee table books full of glorious photos like The Food of Sri Lanka; to what is still my favorite, Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Asian Cookbook—her Sri Lankan recipes taste like my mother’s, like home.

I enjoy cooking dishes from other cuisines. Ethiopian is one of my favorites, and there are days when I crave sushi. Pizza is a family standby, and my children are built in large part out of mac-and-cheese. But I come back to Sri Lankan food—I cook it at least once or twice, most weeks. These days, I go online and read a dozen different recipes for a dish before I even start making it. I interrogate my Sri Lankan friends (both diasporan and homelander) about their recipes. I want to know how these dishes were typically made, in the villages, for generations and generations back. What should the balance of salty-sour be? How thick do we want the finished gravy?

If I can’t get a certain leafy green considered key to traditional cookery, I feel such frustration. But I try to accept the truth, that I will likely never cook exactly how how homeland Sri Lankans would. My adaptations of my mother’s adaptations are still tasty.

My husband is white American, for enough generations that he’s not sure exactly where all his ancestors came from. Once, when Kevin and I were talking about naming our first child, he asked whether we wouldn’t be better off if we didn’t cling so hard to ethnic, racial, nationalist traditions. Divisions. In some ways, I think he’s right. Sri Lanka was riven by ethnic conflict for decades, and the country and its people are still dealing with the aftermath — surely, it would be worth giving up much, if you could thereby make the conflicts end.

But this is who we are; this is what it is to be human. We are composed of our mother’s hand with a salt shaker, the squeeze of fresh lime at the end of the dish. For those of us who are attenuated from the food of our grandparents and great-grandparents, learning how to cook this food, in its many iterations, can feel like filling a hole in your heart.

So I choose this. I choose to put time and energy into learning this food, into serving it to my mixed-race children, with the hopes that they will grow to love it too. Kavya comes into the kitchen to ask excitedly, “Oh, are you making the yellow chicken?”—the Sri Lankan ginger-garlic chicken that she likes better than any other chicken. My heart skips a beat. She’s a big fan of papadum too. We try to teach the children to be loving, to be fair and welcoming to all, whether or not they share our cultural traditions. Can we choose the good parts of our culture to cherish, and leave the darker aspects behind? We’ll see.

I still make no claim to authenticity—there are many more authentic Sri Lankan cookbooks, painstakingly researched. But if there was a thin line drawn with that first cookbook, connecting me to the food of my ancestors, then the last few years of researching and adding recipe after recipe to this cookbook have thickened and strengthened the thread of connection, into a sturdy rope. One that you might use when lost, to find your way home.

I’ve come to appreciate the long history, the gathered wisdom of a thousand thousand cooks, who have know that with the perfection of hoppers at breakfast, all you need is a little fresh coconut sambol to accompany it, with perhaps an egg cracked into the center to steam. The more I cook these recipes, the more I grow to love this food. I hope other readers of this cookbook will feel the same.

 

 – March 2019


Contents

 

Introduction                                                         

      Ethnic Heritage and Colonial Influences       

      Sri Lankan Meals

      A Few Caveats

      Spices and Ingredients

     

      Master Recipe:  Sri Lankan Curry Powder

      Master Recipe: Seasoned Onions

 

Appetizers / ‘Short Eats’ and Snacks

      Chili-Mango Cashews / Kari-Maangai Kaju

      Chinese Rolls (usually Mutton)

      Curried Mushroom Spread

      Curry Buns / Mas Paan

      Fish (or Ground Beef, or Vegetable) Cutlets

      Plain or Prawn Lentil Patties / Kadalai or Iraal Vadai   

      Patties (usually Chicken)

      Ribbon Tea Sandwiches (Carrot, Beet, and Spinach)

      Tangy Shrimp on Toast

 

Eggs, Poultry, and Meat

Introduction to Meat and Poultry Curries     

      Deviled Chili Eggs

      Egg Curry / Muttai Kari

      Omelette

      Omelette Curry

      Eggs in Meatballs / Scotch Eggs / Nargisi (Narcissus) Kofta

      Braised Pepper Chicken

      Chicken Curry / Kozhi Kari

      Deviled Chicken

      Ginger-Garlic Chicken

      Roast Barbecue Chicken

      Fried Liver Curry / Eeral Kari

      Black Pork Curry / Panri Iraichchi Kari / Padre Kari

      Meatball Curry / Frikkadel

      Goat (Mutton) Curry / Aattu Irachchi Kari

      Lamb Curry / Semmari Aattu Iraichchi Kari

      Beef Smoore / Mas Ismoru

      Beef and Potato Curry / Mas Kizhangu Kari

      Tangy Peppered Beef Stew

 

Fish and Seafood

      Crab Curry / Nandu Kari

      Cuttlefish or Squid Curry / Kanavai Kari

      Deviled Shrimp

      Fish White Curry / Meen Kari

      Mackerel and Egg Curry                               

      Tamarind Shrimp Curry / Iral Kari

      Spicy Fried Fish / Poricha Meen

      Spicy-Tangy Fish / Ambulthiyal                     

 

Vegetables

Basic Approaches to Vegetables

Curry (vegetables cooked in coconut milk)

      Beet Curry

      Carrot and Green Bean Curry

      Cashew Curry / Kaju Kari

      Drumstick Curry / Murungaikkai Kari

      Eggplant Curry / Kathrikkai Kari

      Green Mango Curry / Mankkai Kari

      Green Jackfruit Curry / Pilakkai Kari

      Okra Curry / Vendikkai Kari

      Ripe Jackfruit Curry / Palapazham Kari

 

Deviled (vegetables fried with cayenne, tomato and onions)

      Deviled Potatoes / Urulai Kizhangu

 

Poriyal (vegetables fried with seasoned onions)

      Asparagus Poriyal

      Brussels Sprouts Poriyal

      Cauliflower Poriyal

      Eggplant, Potato, and Pea Pod Poriyal

      Mixed Vegetable Poriyal

 

Tempered (cooked vegetables mixed with seasoned onions)

      Tempered Lentils / Paruppu

      Tempered Potatoes

 

Varai (steamed or stir-fried vegetables with coconut)

      Broccoli Varai

      Cabbage Varai / Muttaikoss Varai

      Green Bean Varai

 

Special Dishes

      * Lime-Masala Mushrooms

      Vegetable and Lentil Stew / Sambar

 

Accompaniments

      Cucumber Salad

      Pickled Beet Salad

      Green Coconut Chutney / Thengai Chutney

      Mango-Ginger Chutney

      Bitter Gourd Sambol / Paavakkai Sambol

      Chili Onion Sambol / Lunu Miris Sambol

      Coconut Sambol / Thengai-Poo, or Pol Sambol

      Eggplant Sambol / Kattharikkai Sambol

      Kale Sambol

      Sweet Onion Sambol / Seeni Sambol

      Coconut Milk Gravy / Sothi

      Coriander Soup / Kothamalli Rasam

      Cucumber-Tomato Raita

      Leeks Fried with Chili

      Mango Pickle / Maangai Oorukkai

 

Grains

      Bombay Toast / Bombatoast

      Chopped Roti Stir-Fry / Kottu Roti

      Golden Rice Pilaf

      Herbal Porridge / Kola Kenda

      Hoppers / Appam

      Lamb Biryani (or Goat, Beef, or Chicken)

      Noodles

      Plain Roti / Kothambu Roti

      Red Rice Congee

      Savory Rice Pancakes / Thosai

      Steamed Rice Cakes / Idli

      Steamed Rice Flour and Coconut / Arisi-Maa Pittu

      Steamed Rice Flour and Coconut with Milk / Pal Pittu

      Stir-Fried Semolina / Uppuma

      Stringhoppers / Idiyappam

      Stringhopper Biryani / Idiyappam Biryani

      Vegetarian Biryani

     

Drinks

      Chai

      Cocktails

      Falooda

      Fresh Sweet Lime Juice / Thesikkai Saaru    

      Mango Lassi

      Mango-Passionfruit Punch or Mimosa

 

Sweets

      Love Cake

      Mango Fluff

      Marshmallows

      * Milk Toffee / Pal Tofi – milktoffee.jpg

      Rich Cake

      Spiced Coconut Custard / Vattalappam

      Sweet Thosai / Inippu Thosai

      Tropical Fruit Salad with Ginger-Lime-Honey Dressing

      Tropical Fruit Salad with Chili, Salt, and Lime

 

After-Dinner Digestive

 

Acknowledgements