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.
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.
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
“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.”
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).
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.
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…
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.
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?
Apple-cheddar biscuits. Barely a recipe, since this is a weeknight quick thing — Pillsbury biscuits sliced in half, layered with sliced apples and pre-shredded cheese. I’m sure it would be tastier if you grated your own cheese and baked the biscuits from scratch, but sometimes tired mama just needs to do five minutes of prep and toss it in the oven.
My kids LOVE them, and sliced in half, they’re a nice addition to this evening’s wine-and-cheese political meet-and-greet with Brandon Johnson (running for Cook County Commissioner), esp. if anyone coming brings their kids.
When you want curry for breakfast but you don’t have curry so you start to get sad but then you remember you have a jar of seeni sambol and you put on toast and fry two eggs and eat them with seeni sambol and you are happy again.
Sweet Onion Sambol / Seeni Sambol
(1 hour, serves 8)
The Sri Lankan version of caramelized onions is sweet, spicy, and tangy. It’s important to cook the onions slowly—all the liquid in the onion must evaporate if you want the sambol to keep well. Made properly, this dish can keep for several weeks in the fridge, so you can enjoy a little with each curry meal for quite a long time. An essential accompaniment for hoppers, and delicious with many other meals.
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 TBL Maldive fish, powdered (optional)
4 medium onions, finely sliced
2 rounded tsp chili powder
1 inch cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods
1 stalk curry leaves
1 tsp salt, or to taste
2 TBL tamarind pulp
2 TBL sugar
- Heat oil in a large frying pan and start sautéing onions on low (with Maldive fish, if using). Add cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, curry leaves, and chill powder; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until soft and transparent, about 30 minutes.
- After about 30 minutes, cover pan, and simmer 10 minutes.
- Uncover pan and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates and oil starts to separate from other ingredients. Season to taste with salt.
- Remove from heat, stir in sugar and tamarind pulp and allow to cool before putting in a clean dry jar. Use in small quantities.