Hoppers / Appam

If I had to pick the perfect Sri Lankan meal, this would be it. There’s nothing like breaking off a crisp piece of hopper, dipping it into broken egg, and scooping up some curry and a bit of seeni sambol. Delectable.

These rice flour pancakes have a unique shape; fermented batter is swirled in a special small hemispherical pan, so you end up with a soft, spongy center, and lacey, crispy sides — that contrast is the true glory of the hopper. Typically you’d make one egg hopper per person, plus another plain hopper or two, and maybe a sweet hopper to finish up.

If you don’t have a hopper pan, you can make hoppers in a regular frying pan; you just won’t get quite as much of the crispy sides. It’s a little time-consuming to make hoppers, since each one must be individually steamed for a few minutes, but with practice, you can have four hopper pans going on a stove at once. I’d recommend starting with just one pan at a time, though! Serve with curry and seeni sambol.

2 cups South Asian rice flour (or a mix of rice and wheat flour)
1 tsp sugar
pinch of baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups coconut milk
eggs for egg hoppers
extra coconut milk and jaggery for sweet hoppers

1. Mix first five ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl, cover, and set in a warm, turned-off oven to ferment overnight. (In a cold climate, fermentation may not occur without a little help—I turn my oven on to 250 degrees, and when it’s reached temperature, turn it off and put the covered bowl in the oven to stay warm.)

2. Mix again, adding water if necessary to make a quite thin, pourable batter.

3. Heat pan (grease if not non-stick) on medium, and when it’s hot, pour about 1/3 cup batter into the center. Pick up the pan immediately and swirl the batter around, coating the cooking surface. The sides of the hopper should end up with holes in them: thin, lacy, and crisp – if the batter is coating the pan more thickly, mix in some hot water to thin it down. Cover and let cook for 2-4 minutes — you’ll know it’s ready when the sides have started to brown and the center is thoroughly cooked. A silicone spatula will help with getting the hopper out of the pan.

4. For egg hoppers, after swirling, crack an egg in the center before covering. The egg will cook as the hopper does, finishing in about 3-4 minutes.

 

5. For sweet hoppers, after swirling, add a tablespoon of coconut milk and a teaspoon of jaggery to the center of the pan, then cook as usual.

 

Whitefish Bagel

With the New Year, I’m trying to more consciously eat plenty of fish (and serve it to my kids).  I’ve been eating lox and bagels for years, but only recently have I discovered whitefish salad.  I think it was at my friends Ellen and Delia’s apartment in New York, where we had a weekend writing workshop and they laid out a beautiful bagel spread with lox and multiple fish spreads, along with everything else you might want.  SO GOOD.

Next up in the queue is figuring out how to make my own whitefish salad (please do feel free to point me to your favorite recipes!), but for right now, I’m very happy that my local Whole Foods carries ‘whitefish paté’ in their seafood case.  Toast a bagel, layer it up with lettuce, tomato, capers, red onion (not pictured, because I was out, but trust me, that makes it even better), and you have yourself a delicious breakfast.

(And for those counting calories, if you pile this all on a mini bagel, it’s still only about 200 calories, which is kind of amazing.  Have two!)

Hawaii: Local neighborhood + malasadas @ Pipeline

After brunch at Koko Head Cafe yesterday, we did a little Christmas shopping in that neighborhood, which has a bunch of small mom-and-pop stores. We hit up two separate comic book stores, where I found a Goku action figure for Anand, and a compendium of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld comics for Kavya, score! I hope she likes it; Amethyst was my introduction to comic books, found flipping through bins at my local library. It’s a shame that it’s only been reprinted in black and white, though — a lot of what was appealing about it to ten-year-old me was all the PINK, which showed up shockingly well amidst all the dark-toned Batman, etc. comics.

We also found several small holiday gifts (like Hawaii-themed hair ties) at Sugarcane (https://www.facebook.com/sugarcanehawaii/), an adorable little gift shop with a mix of local-made, vintage, and other items.

When we had a little more room in our tummies, we walked over to Pipeline (all of these were within a few blocks) where we had PERFECT malasadas, light and airy and made fresh to your order. Jed went for the classic sugar-coated one; I reveled in the li hing sugar-coated one, which had a slightly tangy-salty flavor, which contrasted beautifully with the haupia (coconut) vegan ice cream, made with straight up coconut milk, and you could totally tell; nothing like any coconut ice cream I’ve had on the mainland. So good.

  

Then we drove over to South Shore Market to finish our holiday shopping; several nice stores selling fairly standard gift-y things, but many made by smaller local businesses.

Hawaii: Koko Head Redux

Second meal at Koko Head Cafe as good as the first! I had the delectably creamy poke omelette: fried local poke, masago aioli (SO GOOD), salad, with rice, along with a KHC Sunrise – tequila, bell pepper, orange-pineapple, chili. (I couldn’t really taste the chili, but it was still good.) Jed got a special, the vegetarian luau, I think it was called, a terrific combination of ‘ulu (breadfruit), taro, yam, with a yummy green sauce, a fried egg, and rice, topped with pickles and fried onion. So good.

 

Hawaii: Farmer’s Market Bread and Fruit

Last night we ended up swinging by the farmer’s market set up in the mall across the street and making our dinner out of what was on offer — basically sweet breads and fruit. Works for me. The apple bananas continue delicious, but the big find was a Spanish sweet bread by way of the Philippines, ensaimada, which I am now madly in love with.
 
It reminds me of SOMETHING else that I really like, but I can’t place it. Is there some Sri Lankan baked good like this? I don’t think so, so what am I forgetting? Well, regardless, delicious. Butter + sugar = can’t go wrong, really.
Here’s a little article about it:

“The ensemada has absolutely no nutritional value, unless you consider happiness to be good for the health.

Light, buttery and full of sugar, it is the ultimate empty carb. But you only live once, right?
For those unfamiliar with this fabulous pastry, an ensemada — sometimes spelled ensamada or ensaimada — has Spanish origins, but is best known in Hawaii in its Filipino version, a large, coiled bun spread with a butter and sugar topping.”
   
 
 
  
 

Hawaii: Koko Head Fish and Eggs

Big thanks to Kavita for the recommendation for Koko Head Cafe — we *loved* it. Had brunch there yesterday, got a scone and muffin to take away for later, and are going back for brunch today because there were just too many delectable-looking things on the menu, and it was too hard to pick.

I got the ‘fish and eggs,’ which is an unassuming name for one of the best dishes I’ve ever had. Sweet miso marinated local fresh fish, soft scrambled eggs, ong choy (water spinach), ocean rice, house made pickles. So, so good. (Also very filling, only finished half of it, but am saving the rest for another meal.)

 

Jed got the volcano eggs (baked eggs, spicy tomato based sauce, cheddar cheese, choice of daily north shore vegetables or diced Portugese sausage), also yummy, in a more comfort food kind of way.

 

Kimchi bacon cheddar scone (v. intense flavors, delicious and spicy-salty, but does need juice or tea to cut it, IMHO) & black sesame yuzu muffin (good, complex flavors).

Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #4: Patties!

And we have a winner — seeni sambol & egg patties.  They are so, so good.  I took our standard Sri Lankan patty dough, rolled it thin, cut circles, all the way you would for typical chicken patties.

I did some extra small, to see how they’d come out, and they were very cute when fried, and a nice little snack — I ate some on the flight today, and they were lovely with tea at room temperature.  (I also tried baking one, and it was, I’m afraid, pretty eh.  They want frying.)

But when they’re that small, there isn’t room for egg, and I wanted the unctuousness of the egg balancing the intensity of the seeni sambol.  So I went back up to typical patty size (which is just fine for a tea or cocktail party anyway), filled it with seeni sambol and a sixteenth of a boiled egg (you could do an eighth, but I wouldn’t recommend anything bigger), folded it and crimped it up.  (I tried making one that was round, which was a fun experiment, but I didn’t like it as well as the classic patty shape.)

Then, for a little added color and zing, I brushed it all with an egg wash, and then deep-fried it.  It. was. perfect.  I’ll write the recipe up properly the next time I make it; all the experimenting meant that I wasn’t up for measuring everything until I knew which was the winning approach.  Maybe for New Year’s!

But in the meantime, if you know how to make patties already, it’s very easy to adapt for seeni sambol.  Leave out the Maldive fish if you like, and your vegetarian friends will thank you for this delectable little snack.

 

Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #2: Buns

As we discussed possible containers for the seeni sambol, Kevin advocated for buns — which, fair enough, is actually traditional.  Seeni sambol buns can be found sold in roadside stands across Sri Lanka, so obviously, people like them.

But there was a problem — those buns were too big for cocktail / tea party.  Could I make mini buns instead?

The answer was yes — I made the buns half-size (which, if you use my mas paan recipe, means that you’ll end up with 60 little buns), which was just big enough that you could dollop a teaspoon of seeni sambol and an eighth of a hard-boiled egg into the center, before closing them up.

  

The end result was just fine, I’d say, and I would be happy to serve them to people.  This would be a great option for taking them on the road as a snack, as they’re nicely closed up and will keep well.  You should even be able to freeze them, I think, though I haven’t tried that, and I’m not positive what the cooked egg would do.  I also tried slashing the top in a criss-cross pattern, which makes for a more interesting presentation for a cocktail / tea, and lets you see a little bit of the bun.

Overall, I’d grade these as a B+.

But I was pretty sure I could do better…

Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #1: Wontons

I’m a little obsessed with seeni sambol, the Sri Lankan traditional accompaniment of caramelized onions, cooked long and dark with tamarind and chili — made vegetarian if you like, but even tastier, I have to say, with some dried Maldive fish simmered in.  The perfect accompaniment to an egg hopper — but egg hoppers are actually kind of a pain to make, especially for a party, as you have to cook each one individually and steam them slowly.  And they’re not bite-size  treats — I wondered how I could introduce my American friends to the glory of seeni sambol at a cocktail party or tea.  And thus, we set out on our quest — to create the perfect seeni sambol appetizer.

The first attempt was, I’m sad to say, a failure.  I was in a hurry, cooking a lot of things for our holiday party, and so I went for the simplest option available — pre-made wonton shells from the grocery store, filled with seeni sambol.  They were…all right, I suppose?  The wonton shells felt wrong, though; they were too crispy, and they didn’t meld with the sambol.  Adding some cooked egg helped — that was definitely the right flavor the seeni sambol needed to mellow the pungency and make a rich, yummy bite.  But I didn’t think the wontons were the right container.  I’d have to try something else.

 

Also, when I tried pre-filling the wontons and refrigerating them, the seeni sambol gave off oil that discolored the wontons and made them a little greasy to pick up.  Not ideal.  If you really want to go with the wonton option, fill them right before serving.

Desi Crepes

We had crepes for dinner last night, and I started with my favorite, lemon + sugar. Delicious as always, but then I thought, what if I desi-fy’d (desified?) it? So I tried lime + jaggery, and reader, it was good.

We also had some ripe persimmon, which I love, so I tried that — interestingly, the version I did with nutmeg / cinnamon / allspice, which I thought would work well, didn’t excite me. But the version with persimmon / salt / pepper was surprisingly delicious. I think it’s because the persimmons were so sweet?