Quinoa / Red Rice with Tandoori Chicken, Lime-Masala Mushrooms, Roasted Red Peppers, Chopped Green Chilies, and Honey-Lime-Yogurt Drizzle

These fancy bowl things have long names. Another yummy experiment, and only about 30 minutes to make (assuming you pre-marinated the chicken in a tandoori-spiced yogurt earlier in the day).

Pre-heat your grill pan, then start the chopped mushrooms sautéing in a separate pan in butter, masala powder, salt and lime juice. Five minutes in, the grill should be hot, and you can turn the mushrooms down to simmer while you roast the peppers and then grill the chicken (3 minutes each side on high). Chop some chilies and mix up a drizzle while the chicken’s finishing cooking (3 more minutes each side, on low, covered), and you’re good to go. (The chopped chilies could be served on the side so people can spice to taste; I love chomping into them.)

I have to be honest, though, chicken breast doesn’t excite me. It’s just a little dry, even when you marinate it in overnight. But the roasted peppers, sautéed mushrooms, and yogurt drizzle did do a nice job balancing that, esp. with a little lemon squeezed over the top. Personally, I like breast better when it’s chopped in more of a chicken salad sort of thing, so it stays really moist. But truly, if I made this particular dish again, I’d use chicken thighs instead.

 

(As a side note, while the bowl looks very pretty like this, it would be easier to eat if you cut the chicken and bell pepper into smaller pieces. And that slice of grilled lemon on the top is purely decorative!)

Curried Chicken Livers with Onion

Note to self — on a day when you had a fair bit of blood drawn (routine check-up stuff, not to worry), maybe it’s not the brightest choice to a) eat lightly and then b) go workout with the trainer at the gym. I had to sit down partway through because I got light-headed! It’s all fine; a few minutes of rest put me right.
 
Then I came right home and made myself a quick batch of curried chicken liver — high in iron, rich and fortifying. You could eat it with rice, but I like it best on buttered toast. Small portions would make a great (intense) appetizer. I’m feeling much better now.
 
Curried Chicken Livers with Onion
(15 minutes, serves 2)
 
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1 T butter or ghee
1 t. red chili powder
1/2 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
3/4 t. salt
1/8 c. ketchup
1 T lime juice
1/2 lb. chicken livers
1/4 c. coconut milk
 
1. Sauté onions in butter on high, stirring, until golden.
 
2. Add chili powder and stir about 30 seconds, then turn heat down to medium and add curry powder, salt, ketchup, lime juice. Stir to combine, then add chicken livers and fry for a few minutes, stirring very gently.
 
3. Stir in coconut milk and simmer about 5 minutes more, until livers are cooked through. Serve hot with rice or bread.
 

Spicy Chicken with Carrots and Sultanas

(2 hours, serves 6)

This came out SO GOOD. I adapted this from an America’s Test Kitchen Moroccan tagine recipe, amping up the chili powder to my taste, reducing the sweetness, increasing the tang, and switching out sultanas for apricots. The result is somewhere halfway between Sri Lankan and Moroccan food, and absolutely delicious served over couscous. My daughter loved the chicken (though she is not yet a couscous fan). It only has about 30 minutes of active cooking; after that, you’re mostly just letting it simmer while your home fills up with incredible aroma. Clementines for dessert finish this meal off nicely!

4 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
salt and pepper
2 T olive oil
1 large onion, diced small
peel from half a lemon, cut into strips
1 t. chili powder
1/2 t. cumin powder
1/2 t. ginger powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
2 c. chicken broth
2 carrots, peeled and cut into diagonal chunks
1 c. sultanas
3 T lemon juice

1. Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper (about 1 t. each). Heat oil in extra-large frying pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add half of chicken and cook until well-browned, about five minutes per side; transfer to large plate. Repeat process with second half of chicken. Pour off all but one tablespoon of fat from the pan.

2. Add onion and lemon to pan and cook, stirring, for about five minutes. Stir in spices and cook a minute or two ore, then add broth, scraping up any browned bits. (If you wanted to add a cup of white wine here, it wouldn’t hurt.)

3. Add chicken to pan along with any accumulated juices and bring to a simmer. Reduce hat to medium, cover, and cook twenty minutes.

4. Stir in carrots, return to simmer, and then re-cover and cook on medium-low for another 40 minutes, until carrots are cooked through.

5. Transfer chicken to a bowl tented with aluminum foil and let rest while finishing your sauce. Skim off any excess oil. Discard the lemon peel, stir in the sultanas, and cook about five minutes. Add lemon juice and return the chicken and any juices to pan, simmering a few minutes more to combine. Serve hot over couscous or rice.

Fusion Food: Tamales with Beef Curry

I was a little frustrated yesterday when I steamed a dozen frozen tamales (handmade by a local mom) for a potluck we were hosting, and discovered after steaming them that we were out of tomatillo sauce.  I’d sworn we had at least half a bottle left in the fridge, but no, there was no tomatillo sauce to be had for love or money.  I was craving that tangy flavor, and I knew that my tamales would be a little sad and dry without it.  But then I had a flash of what I swear is brilliance — I had a little beef curry left, and it was also beautifully tangy.  Could I possibly combine it with the tamales?

Dear reader, the answer is yes.  Chicken tamales pair fabulously with a tangy slow-cooked, meat falling off the bone beef curry, topped with a generous dollop of sour cream.  Guess I know what I’m having for my next few meals…

Ginger-Garlic Chicken and Cauliflower with Rice

(30 minutes, serves 4)

The goal for this dinner was to make the spicing very simple, make something the kids would happily eat, and have it all ready in thirty minutes, for an easy weeknight meal.  Success on all counts!

The flavors are honestly a little too similar for what I’d consider ideal — normally, I’d cook either the chicken or the cauliflower, and serve it with a contrasting curry.  But when you’re tired and want dinner on the table quick, this’ll do nicely.  If you have the energy to chop up some cucumbers and tomatoes, they’d add a nice crunch and contrast.  You could stir them into a bit of yogurt for creaminess too.

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 head cauliflower
1 c. white rice
2 t. onion powder
2 t. ground ginger
2 t. garlic powder
2 t. salt + a pinch
2 t. turmeric
2 t. pepper
vegetable oil for frying & roasting (about 1/2 c.)

1. Pre-heat oven to 400.  Cut chicken into bite-size pieces, mix with 1 t. each of the spices, set aside in a bowl.

2.  Cut cauliflower into bite-size pieces, mix with 1 t. each of the spices, along with 1/4 c. of vegetable oil.  Spread on a foil-lined baking tray and put in oven to roast.  Set timer for 20 minutes (or 25 if you prefer them entirely soft).

3.  Start rice:  Add 1 c. rice to 2 c. water, with a pinch of salt, in a sauce pan.  Turn to high.

4.  In a frying pan, add remaining oil and heat on high for a few minutes.  When the rice starts bubbling, turn to simmer and cover.  (Set a timer for 15 minutes.)

5.  Add chicken to frying pan and brown nicely on high, stirring occasionally.  When it’s browned well, turn heat down to medium and continue stirring for another 3-5 minutes, until chicken pieces are cooked through.  Drain excess oil.  (I do this by setting the pan on a tilt on the edge of the stove, scooting the chicken up to the higher edge.  Leave it alone for a few minutes, so the oil collects, then use a paper towel to sop up the excess oil, and dispose of the paper towel.)

6.  When the timer goes off for the rice, give it a stir, and then leave it for a few more minutes to finish cooking.  (My friend Kat and I disagree about this — she thinks my rice is undercooked this way, but it seems perfect to me.  Your mileage may vary — you can leave it to sit covered another 5-10 minutes if you like.)

When the timer goes off for the cauliflower, serve with rice and chicken, hot.

 

Chicken, Asparagus, and Penne with Parmesan

(30 minutes, serves 4)

New year, new eating plan.  Our kids are eight and ten, and we’re trying to eat a little healthier all around, and hopefully get them to eat more of the same foods we do; we’ve spent too long making separate meals.  All of us could stand to rely a little less on packaged meals and easy carbs.  So we’re trying to do some joint family meal planning, which is challenging because I have to give up a little control.  I love control.

But that said, it’s also a good way to get me out of my default curry-all-the-time rut.  I used to cook lots of other things. 🙂  Tonight, we went Italian, with plenty of protein and vegetable, a little pasta to fill things out, and not stinting on the butter and Parmesan, salt and pepper. I was aiming for an easy weeknight meal, taking no more than thirty minutes to cook.

The trickiest part about this, I think, is sequencing it so that you’re never really pausing, but you’re also not hurrying, and it’s all done at about the same time.  If you’re more of a new cook, this will probably take a little longer, until you get the hang of moving smoothly from task to task.

1 lb. asparagus
1-2 T olive oil for asaragus, plus 1-2 T olive oil for chicken
one onion
three cloves garlic
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs (you can use breast if you’d prefer)
4-8 oz. penne
1 T butter (optional)
Parmesan for grating
salt and pepper to taste

1.   Start oven (I use the toaster oven for this) heating to 350.  Break ends off asparagus (at natural snapping point) and discard; toss asparagus spears with 1-2 T olive oil, salt (about 1/2 t.) and pepper (ditto).  Spread on foil on a baking pan, and put in oven for about 20 minutes.  (Set timer!)

2.  Set a pot of water boiling for pasta.

3.  Slice onion thinly, start sautéing in a large frying pan with 1-2 T olive oil. Turn heat down to medium, so you don’t need to watch it like a hawk. Chop three cloves garlic, stir them in.

4.  Cut chicken into bite-size pieces, stir them in. Season with salt (about 1/2 t.) and pepper (ditto). Turn heat up to high for a bit, so the chicken will sear; cook, stirring. Then you can turn it back to medium or even low if you like, and let it keep cooking, stirring occasionally. If it seems a little dry, add a T of butter at this point.

5. By now, your water should be boiling. Add penne, stir, and set timer for 10 minutes. Check on the asparagus; it should have a few more minutes to go. Stir the chicken. Pour yourself a glass of white wine, if you’d like. Pour a little into the pan, if you like.

6. When the asparagus timer goes off, remove it from the oven. Eat a few spears right then, because they are at their most delicious like this. Try to save most of them for the children. Transfer to a cutting board, and cut into bite-size pieces. Add asparagus to the chicken in the pan, stirring to combine.

7. When the pasta timer goes off, drain the pasta. Add it to the chicken and asparagus, stirring to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired (though not too much salt, as the Parmesan is also salty.)

Serve hot, with fresh Parmesan to grate over. Yum.

NOTE:  If you have picky eater suspicious of bits of onion / garlic, you can just toss the chicken in 1 t. each of onion and garlic powders before sautéing.  You can also serve the asparagus on the side, instead of cutting it up and mixing it in.  And finally, if you happen to have cherry tomatoes on hand, cutting them in half and stirring them in at the very end would not be a terrible idea.  I was sadly out of them, or I would have!

Stock

“But why are you making stock?”

It was a fair question — Kevin had asked what I planned to do today, on New Year’s Eve, and I said, ‘make stock,’ and that was confusing because while we cook with stock all the time, we generally just buy it ready-made.

But it made sense to me — I was recovering from a winter sickness, craving soup, and supposedly making stock the old-fashioned way, with all the bones in, actually was good for your immune system, or so I’d read somewhere, at some point.  And more than that, it felt right for New Year’s Eve, to head into the next year using up the bones of the old, making something good and fresh and strong for going on with.

It was going to be a slightly unusual stock, because our grocery delivery had failed to materialize, so no celery, and no wings I’d ordered to supplement the chicken breast I had on hand in the freezer.  But it turned out that a friend had stored a turkey neck in our freezer (long story), so once she gave us her blessing, that joined the chicken breasts in the pot.  I never liked celery anyway, so even though it’s classic for stock, I was pretty sure I could get along without it.

I cleaned the kitchen too, with Kevin lending me a hand when I got tired, because in my family, it’s traditional to start the New Year with a clean house.  I didn’t quite manage the clean house (sorry, Amma), but a clean kitchen is the most important part, I think.  Heart of the home.

And now the stock is simmering, and Kevin and I have poured out glasses of the 25-year-old vintage port that he got us for our 25th anniversary — which was several months ago, but we were having a party then, and it was a little busy, so we’ve only gotten around to opening it now.   It is tasty.

He’s putting the children to bed, and then we will curl up in bed ourselves and watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with our port and chocolate cupcakes.  In an hour and a half or so, the stock will be simmered sufficiently; I’ll chill it overnight in the fridge, and then skim off the fat and scum from the top in the morning, so it’ll be all ready for soup experiments, or whatever else the new year brings us.

Wishing you a good skimmer for ridding yourself of last year’s scum.

More importantly, wishing you plenty of rich, hearty soup — or whatever else you find nutritious and sustaining and delicious — to carry you through the new year.

Mas Paan (Meat Bun)

Mas Paan is literally ‘meat bread,’ and is a favorite snack sold at roadside stands, hotel cafes, and transit stations across Sri Lanka.  The yeast bread may be filled with whatever curry you like — fish and vegetarian options are also common.  This batch, I made with some leftover pork and potato curry, but most often, I would make this with beef and potato curry.  Regardless, having thirty mas paan in my fridge and freezer means that I’ll snack happy for a few days, take them with me while traveling — they’re great to have on the road — and be able to pull some out of the freezer to toast up when I get home again.  It’s best piping hot, but may also be happily eaten at room temperature.

Note:  If you don’t want to make the dough by hand, and your grocery store carries frozen loaves of bread dough, I’ve thawed and used a pair of those for this recipe to good effect.  This recipe adapted from Charmaine Solomon’s _The Complete Asian Cookbook_, with very little change.

Note 2: Minal Hajratwala has a fascinating chapter that explores the political significance of similar buns in South Africa, in her book on the diaspora, _Leaving India_. Highly recommended.

Mas Paan
(about three hours + currying time, makes 30)

1 batch meat and potato curry (about 2-3 lbs. meat, 3 russet potatoes)
Dough:
1/2 c. milk
3 t. sugar
2 1/2 t. salt
3 oz. butter
1 1/2 c. warm water
1 packet (about 2 1/4 t.) active dry yeast
5 1/2 – 6 c. all-purpose or bread flour

1. Make curry, if needed; it’s tempting to make it while the dough is proving, but the timing can be tricky, since the curry needs to cool down, and your dough may overprove, turning yeasty. (I admit to risking it on occasion, though, for efficiency’s sake.) The curry should be cooked until it is very dry, and then cooled down to room temperature.

2. Make dough: Scald milk, stir in sugar, salt and butter and cool to lukewarm. Measure warm water into a large bowl; stir yeast into water until dissolved. Add milk mixture and 3 c. of flour; beat until smooth. Add enough flour to make a soft dough. Turn onto a lightly floured board, and knead until smooth and elastic, about ten minutes. Grease a bowl with butter, then put the dough ball in, turning it to make sure it’s all greased. Cover with plastic wrap or a cloth and allow to prove in a warm place until doubled in bulk (inside a turned off oven works well), about 1 – 1.5 hours. (This recipe is also used for making breudher in Sri Lanka.)

3. Divide the dough into 30 equal portions, flatten each portion to a circle and put a spoonful of meat and potato curry in the center. Bring the edges together, pressing to seal. If you keep the dough thinner at the edges when you’re flattening it, that’ll help keep it from being too bready at the bottom.

  

4. Grease baking trays and put buns with the join downwards on the trays, leaving room for them to rise and spread. Cover with a dry cloth and again, leave in a warm place for 30-40 minutes until nearly doubled in bulk.

5. Brush with egg glaze (egg whites or even heavy cream may be used instead) and bake in a hot oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Lovely with hot, sweet, milky tea.

Master Recipe: Curry Sauce for (Leftover) Meat

I’m not sure this problem ever came up in Sri Lanka, but we eat Western food about half the time, and I like lots of it, really I do, but then sometimes I go to the fridge to eat some leftovers and there is no curry to be found and I am sad.  Over the years I’ve learned that it’s actually easy to take a standard plain-cooked meat, chicken, or fish, and turn it into an acceptable curried version.  When a girl is desperate for curry, she does what she needs to do — she makes a curry sauce, adds some cut-up leftover cooked meat, simmers it for a little bit, and eats happy.

3 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 T ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1 dozen curry leaves
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1 2-inch piece cinnamon
1-2 T chili powder
1 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1 t. salt
1/4 c. ketchup
1-2 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 – 1 c. (or more, if you like) coconut milk
2-3 lbs. leftover cooked meat, cubed (may also be left on the bone)

3 russet potatoes, cubed (optional)

1.  Sauté onions in oil or ghee on medium-high, stirring as needed, with ginger, garlic, mustard seed, cumin seed, curry leaves, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, until golden-translucent, about ten minutes.

2.  Add chili powder, Sri Lankan curry powder, and salt, stirring for a few minutes more.

 

3.   Add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and coconut milk, stirring each ingredient in.  You now have a basic curry sauce, suitable for meat, chicken, or fish.  (It also works with seitan or young jackfruit, for vegetarian options.)

 

4.  Add leftover cooked meat, stirring until well combined.  Turn down to a simmer, cover, and let cook ten minutes or so; the meat will impart some flavor to the sauce, and vice versa.  Add water if necessary to prevent burning.

5.  Add potatoes (and probably more water) if using, bring to boiling, then turn back down and simmer until potatoes are cooked through.  (You can speed this part up by par-cooking them in water in the microwave earlier, perhaps while your onions are sautéing.)  Cook sauce down until it has a thick consistency, like gravy.

 

Serve hot, with rice or bread.

 

Chinese Rolls

Chinese Rolls
(3 hours, makes 50)

Chinese rolls (whether made with meat, chicken, or vegetarian) are an essential Sri Lankan party food. People look forward to them with anticipation, and greets their arrival with glee. They’re also a sign of love—in college and after, whenever I visited home, my mother or one of my aunts would make sure that when I left again, it was with a bag of freshly-fried rolls. It was sometimes a little challenging managing the still-steaming bag on the airplane, but it was the sort of gift that was impossible to turn down—made with love and labor, and eventually consumed with delight.

I believe they’re called Chinese rolls because they look a little like Chinese egg rolls; during colonial times, Chinese laborers were brought to Sri Lanka and settled there in a small but significant minority community; I assume this dish was invented then. They taste nothing like egg rolls, though.

Growing up, my sisters and I would often be pressed into service for the various stages of roll-making, all sitting around the dining table and working. My mother and aunts made them in a group as well. Especially if doing a larger batch, I highly encourage cooking this dish as a group activity (perhaps inviting a few select friends to come a few hours before your party), which will speed things up by as much as an hour. The final step is best done right before serving.

Portion and serving suggestion:
For a cocktail or other large-ish party, I’d aim for two rolls per guest. It’s a filling, rich treat. The recipes scales up or down easily—my mother would generally make 200 at a time, or more, for the Sri Lankan-American parties of my childhood, when immigrant families would gather, hungry for a taste of home. The dish is complex and labor-intensive enough that I woudn’t normally make rolls for a small dinner party, but you certainly could serve them as an appetizer, allowing two per person. Simply divide the recipe as needed.

Note: There are several points in the process where you can pause, refrigerate or freeze, and pick up again later. This is tremendously helpful when prepping for a party—you can do the bulk of the work days, weeks, or even months in advance, as long as you plan appropriately.

For the filling:
6 medium onions, chopped fine
1/4 cup vegetable oil + 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp cumin seed
1-2 TBL red chili powder
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
2 lbs ground beef (or goat, or chicken)
1/3 cup ketchup
3 TBL Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp salt + 1 tsp salt
3 medium russet potatoes, diced in roughly 1/2-inch cubes

(Note: for a vegetarian filling, see the cutlets recipe.)

For the crepes:
4 cups cold water
2 cups milk
2 tsp salt
2 eggs
4 cups of all-purpose flour

For frying:
2 eggs
2 cups breadcrumbs
4 cups vegetable oil

1. In a large frying pan, sauté onions in 1/4 cup oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seeds until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add chili powder and cook 1 minute. Immediately add curry powder, ground beef, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and 1 tsp salt. Sauté until cooked through. Drain any excess oil, transfer to a large bowl, and let cool. (You can refrigerate for a few days or freeze for up to six months here.)

2. In a clean frying pan, heat 1/4 cup oil and fry potato cubes with 1 tsp salt on medium-high, stirring, until cooked through. Drain any excess oil and let cool. (You can refrigerate or freeze here—to best preserve potato texture for freezing, spread them out in a flat sheet and freeze, then transfer to large plastic sealable bags.)

3. Combine meat and potato mixture. (You can refrigerate or freeze here.)

4. Make crepes: Combine crepe filling ingredients and mix thoroughly until it forms a thin pancake batter. Heat an 8-inch non-stick frying pan and grease with a little oil between each pancake. Pour a ladle full of batter into the pan and swirl it around gently until it forms a thin pancake. Cook until set without browning; flip and briefly cook other side. Remove and stack on a plate. (If you have a friend with you, you can do steps 4 and 5 together, one making the crepes while the other fills.)

5. Place a cooked pancake on a plate and add about 2 TBL of filling. Proceed to roll the pancake like an egg-roll. Note: Try eating one or two at this stage (not required, but recommended, as there’s something deliciously unctuous about them, and I always used to steal some at this point when rolling for my mom).

7. In a small bowl, beat 2 eggs. Set up a plate piled with bread crumbs. Dip rolls in egg mixture, then roll in breadcrumbs, then remove to a separate plate. (Don’t pile them up, as they’ll squish — use multiple clean plates.) Continue until all rolls are encased in bread crumbs.

8. Heat vegetable oil in a large pan until quite hot, then, using a Chinese spider (recommended) or spatula, fry until golden, removing to separate plates lined with paper towels. (I usually turn the heat down a little after the first batch, which helps avoid burning them.) Serve hot as an appetizer, with a little spicy sauce (MD sauce can be found online, and is a classic choice) as accompaniment if desired.