Dried Hibiscus Poriyal

(15-20 minutes, serves 4 as a side)

In Sri Lanka, hibiscus grows freely in many gardens, and it’s easy to pick some for a curry. It’s a little harder to come by fresh hibiscus blossoms here in Chicagoland, but dried hibiscus is readily available in local Latino markets and online, and coconut milk helps rehydrate the dried blooms.

This poriyal is a bright, tangy element on a rice and curry plate. Be sure to use edible food-grade hibiscus blossoms.

2 T vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped (about one c.)
1 t. mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1 stalk curry leaves (about a dozen)
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. salt
1 c. dried hibiscus flowers
1/2 c. coconut milk

1 c. grated coconut

1. Heat vegetable oil in a medium saucepan and add onion, mustard seed, cumin seed, curry leaves, turmeric, and salt. Sauté on medium high, stirring, until onions are golden-translucent.

2. Add dried hibiscus flowers and stir for a few more minutes until well blended, then add coconut milk and simmer, stirring, for 3-5 minutes more.

3. Stir in fresh grated coconut and serve with rice and curries.

Quick-Pickled Cucumber-Carrot Relish

This relish grew out of a need to use the last of my pickling cucumbers from the garden (we’d already pickled so many!), and a recipe from Jehan at Island Smile (https://www.islandsmile.org).

Their original recipe was a simple quick pickle, and you could certainly do just that, for a fresh note on your rice and curry plate or in your sandwich; it reminds me of the quick pickles you find in Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine, retaining a little toothsome bite.

If you’d like, though, you can add an extra step, tempering some mustard and fennel seeds to add a seasoned complex note to the dish. Tempering spices in hot oil is a classic South Asian technique, and I really love what it does for these pickled veggies.

We had this relish with grilled pork chops (rubbed with Sri Lankan curry powder, salt, and oil) for our dinner last night. I kept eating carrot and cucumber slices straight out of the bowl while waiting for the pork to finish cooking. Yum.

2 T vegetable oil, optional
1 t. black or brown mustard seeds, optional
1 t. fennel seeds, optional
3 T sugar
1/2 c white vinegar
1 T red chili flakes
2 t. salt
3 cucumbers, sliced in paper-thin rounds
3 carrots, sliced in paper-thin rounds
3 green chilies chopped fine

1 medium onion (red or yellow), sliced fine

1. OPTIONAL: Heat oil in a small frying pan, add mustard seeds, cook until seeds begin to pop, releasing mustard scent. Turn off heat and stir in fennel seeds, frying for another 30 seconds or so. Let cool.

2. In a large bowl, combine sugar, vinegar, chili, and salt.

3. Add chopped veggies and mix (easiest to do with your clean hands.

4. If using tempered spice oil, pour into bowl and mix well.

5. Let sit 10 minutes or so, then enjoy!

NOTE: Will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.

Sri Lankan Green Tomato Chutney with Apples

In America, this is the perfect end-of-season chutney, using up the tomatoes that didn’t have a chance to ripen. It balances sweet, tangy, spicy, and salty, but the fabulous part of making your own chutney is that you can easily adjust seasonings to taste. So if you want it a bit sweeter, add a little more jaggery; if you want less heat, reduce the cayenne, or omit it entirely.

I’ve combined mine with apples and other fall flavors. For a more traditional version, substitute in more green tomatoes for the apples, and use white wine vinegar.

This chutney would be delicious at the Thanksgiving table, alongside a honey ham, and it’s also yummy on crusty bread slathered with a little butter, with grilled pork or leftover roast turkey. It’s also terrific with rice and curry, of course!

2 T vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 c. green tomatoes, chopped
2 green apples, chopped
1 oz. ginger, minced
1 c. apple cider vinegar
2 T jaggery or brown sugar
1/4 – 1/2 t. cayenne
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon

Sauté onions in butter with black mustard seed in a saucepan on medium-high high until onions are golden-translucent, stirring regularly.

Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, cover, and cook 45 minutes.

Variation: Add 1/2 c. sultanas or chopped apricots for a fruitier version.

Note: Will keep refrigerated for a week or two in the fridge; follow proper canning instructions to store safely for months in the pantry; refrigerate after opening.

Confectionery Experiments

Late night confectionery experiments. I wanted to try honey in my mulled apple cider marshmallows. Good! I think I’m going to make one more batch in the next few days, trying jaggery instead of white sugar. More complex flavor = good. I’m also wondering if I can use apple cider instead of water in the syrup-making stage — is that going to cause any difficulties, do you think? If I can amp up the apple, that would be great…

Calm, Mary Anne. Calm

A little chaotic today, trying to prep for the TV show tomorrow (I’ll be on live TV, WGN’s Sunday Brunch segment, around 7:35 or so, teaching how to make kale sambol), while also attending ReconveneSFF convention (on a Wild Cards panel in a few hours), and also get the new 100 days challenge kicked off on my fitness group AND start a new writing accountability group, with a 100 days challenge too. It’ll all be fine, but it feels like a LOT of moving parts. 

Morning cooking was carrot and green bean curry, which I’m planning to have out on the counter tomorrow, as something you might include in a Sri Lankan meal, along with kale sambol.

Carrot curry was a staple of my early cooking and got me through a lot of grad school, sometimes alternated with green bean curry — at some point, I decided to try putting them together, since the cooking method is almost identical, and yup, I like it. 

Just cook the carrots for a while first, so they’re almost cooked through, then add the green beans and cook for a few minutes more. Yumyum.


Okay, going to go color my hair now, and then I need to prep the beef smoore, and test-run the actual video, and and and….well, we’ll see. One step at a time. Calm, Mary Anne. Calm.

How to Make Coconut Sambol

This week’s cooking video — coconut sambol, which is just a great accompaniment. Sharp and tangy and spicy, yum. I think I’m going to have some on a grilled chicken sandwich later today.

I forgot to mention in the video, it freezes well too, so if you make more than you’ll eat in a week, I’d freeze half. That’s what I did! Then it’s easy to pull out when you’re in the cooking doldrums, to add some zest to your meals.

I feel personally betrayed by this lovely gravy boat

I must note that I feel personally betrayed by this gravy boat. I just bought it, and I think it’s SO lovely, but it doesn’t work for gravy. The spout is narrow enough that the gravy doesn’t pour out fast enough, and so it spills out over the neck instead, leading to many jokes about the bird that’s just had its throat slit — I think it was Kevin who suggested using it for red sauce instead, to intensify the effect, and Anand thought that was hilarious. Hmph.

Part of me wants to return it to Anthropologie with indignant complaints, but I *think* it will actually work just fine for something more liquid, like an au jus, so I’m going to test that, and if so, we’ll keep it. Because it’s so, so pretty. I have a real weakness for animal-themed dinnerware. But if you had seen just how dismayed I was yesterday, as I tried over and over to pour it without gravy gushing down its neck, you would have laughed. 

Sourdough Soup Bowl & Watermelon Salad

One consequence of writing a cookbook is that now when I eat out, I find myself taking mental notes and/or critiquing the food. These are two dishes from the Marriott I was staying at in Walnut Creek. The clam chowder was delicious, but the best part was how they served it in a little individual bread bowl, that they had buttered and crisped up before filling it with soup. Great contrasts of crispy bread exterior with soft, soup-soaked interior. Would make a fabulous autumn / winter appetizer or light meal.

I also liked this watermelon salad appetizer — so pretty! But the raspberry dressing was too sweet; it needed to be more citrus, to contrast with the candied nuts. And while the long cucumber slices are pretty, they required pulling out a knife, which none of the rest of the salad did, which was sort of annoying. I’d do it on a bed of round cucumber slices instead.

Leeks Fried with Chili

(50 minutes, serves 8)

This accompaniment offers a little extra heat and onion-y zing to a plate of rice and curry.

4 medium leeks
1/4 cup oil
1/2 rounded tsp turmeric
1 1/2 rounded tsp chili powder
1 rounded tsp salt

1. Rinse dirt off outside of leeks. Discard any tough or withered leaves, but do use the green portions as well as the white.

2. With a sharp knife, slice the leeks thinly across the stalk, making thin rings / chiffonade; when you’re slicing the green leaves, make a tight bundle in your hands for easier slicing.

3. Wash the sliced leeks very thoroughly. The soil trapped between the leaves won’t actually taste particularly bad, but the grittiness is unpleasant. I recommend not simply running the sliced leeks under a colander—rather, put them in a large bowl of water and wash them vigorously, changing the water at least three times. This is labor-intensive, but well worth it.

4/ Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the leeks. Sauté, stirring for 5 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients and stir until well blended.

5. Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The leeks will reduce in volume. Uncover and cook, stirring, until liquid evaporates and leeks appear slightly oily. Serve hot.


Coconut Sambol / Thengai-Poo or Pol Sambol

(10 minutes, serves 8)

This is meant to be an accompaniment—make a batch (it keeps for weeks in the fridge) and then put a teaspoon or two on your plate with your rice/bread and curries. In Sri Lanka, they would just use straight up chili powder, instead of a mix of chili powder and paprika, which would make it fiercely spicy. If I were only going to make one accompaniment for the rest of my life, pol sambol would be my choice, although seeni sambol would be a very close second.

1 cup desiccated unsweetened coconut

3 TBL hot milk (I heat mine in the microwave)

1 rounded tsp salt

1 rounded tsp chili powder

2 rounded tsp paprika

2-3 TBL lime juice, to taste

1 medium onion, minced fine

1.  Reconstitute coconut in a large bowl with the hot milk. I recommend using your fingers to squeeze the milk through the coconut. (If you can get fresh or frozen grated coconut, that is, of course, even better, and you can skip this step.)

2.  Add salt, chili powder, paprika, lime juice, and onion. Mix thoroughly with your hand, rubbing ingredients together until well blended.

Note: If you don’t feel that your onion is minced sufficiently fine (ideally, to match the texture of the coconut), you can use a food processor to chop it more finely, or grind it with a mortar and pestle. You can grind just the onions, or the whole mixture.