Green Plantain Curry

(45 minutes, serves 4)

Green plantains are starchy and not sweet, more like a vegetable than a fruit — if you’ve had tostones, those are made from green plantains. Expect these fried green plantain bites to be much like potatoes in texture, but with a flavor all their own; I like them simmered in a mild coconut milk curry, with just a hint of green chili.

NOTE: You can save plantain peels to cook them too.

3 green plantains (about 4 c. sliced up)
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. turmeric
oil for deep frying
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
2 green finger hot chilies, chopped
1 stalk curry leaves, about a dozen
1/4 t. fenugreek seeds
1/2 t. salt
1 c. coconut milk
1 c. water

1-2 T lime juice

1. Cut plantains in half lengthwise and remove peel with a paring knife. Slice plantains on the diagonal in roughly 1/4″ slices, then toss with 1/2 t. salt and turmeric.

2. Heat oil and fry plantain slices until golden; remove to a plate lined with kitchen towels and set aside.

3. In a separate large sauté pan, heat 1-2 T of the oil and add onion, chilies, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds, and salt. Sauté about 10 minutes on medium-high, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and translucent.

4. Add coconut milk and water, then add fried plantains. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer 15 minutes, until curry sauce has thickened. Serve hot with rice or bread.

Spicy Plantain Curry

(30 minutes, serves 4)

Sri Lanka grows a host of plantains and bananas; this type of curry is typically made with a variety known as ash plantain. That’s not easy to find in America, but luckily, plantains generally have become much more available, and they work beautifully in this dish. You can even use very green bananas if you like.

After the first frying stage, the plantains should be just a little bit sweet, and can be eaten straight up if you like as a snack, or added to a plate of rice and curries. But add them to this curry sauce, and the spicy, tangy sauce meets the sweetness of the fried plantain, for what I can only call a taste explosion. In a good way!

NOTE: You can save plantain or banana peels to cook them too.

3 plantains, peeled (about 4 c.) (or very green bananas)
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. turmeric
oil for deep frying
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
2 green finger hot chilies, chopped
1 stalk curry leaves, about a dozen
1/4 t. fenugreek seeds
1 t. cayenne (or less, adjust to taste)
1/2 t. Sri Lankan roasted curry powder
1/2 t. salt
1 c. coconut milk

1-2 T lime juice

1. Slice plantains on the diagonal in roughly 1/4″ slices, then toss with 1/2 t. salt and turmeric.

2. Heat oil and fry plantain slices until golden; remove to a plate lined with kitchen towels and set aside.

3. In a separate large sauté pan, heat 1-2 T of the oil and add onion, chilies, curry leaves, and fenugreek seeds. Sauté about 10 minutes on medium-high, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and translucent.

4. Add cayenne, curry powder, and 1/2 t. salt, and stir a few minutes more, then stir in coconut milk.

5. Add fried plantain and lime juice; stir gently to combine. Turn off heat and let sit for 5-10 minutes; the plantains will absorb much of the sauce. Serve hot with rice or bread.

Bottle Gourd (or Cucumber) and Spinach Curry

Bottle gourds are one of the original immigrating foods, their seeds drifting across the ocean and making their way from Africa around the world to North America, South America, and Asia, over 10,000 years ago. Amazing!

Because bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) is also called calabash, they’re sometimes confused with the hard, hollow fruits of the unrelated calabash tree (Crescentia cujete).

Bottle gourd flesh is mild, very similar to cucumbers, but a little sweeter. Young seeds and bottle gourd skin are also edible, so you might want to save those for other dishes. But for this curry, you’ll be working with the flesh of the vegetable.

This is a simple curry on its own (lots of spices, but very few steps!), and can be easily varied by adding eggplant, lentils, or in this case, fresh spinach. Bottle gourd also makes a nice stir-fry (varai), or soup.

2 T vegetable oil
3-4 shallots (or red onion), finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 stalk curry leaves (about a dozen)
1 green chilli pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 t. cayenne (or to taste)
1/2 t. Sri Lankan roasted curry powder
1 t. salt
4 cups (about 300 grams) bottle gourd (or cucumber), peeled, seeds removed and discarded, and chopped or shredded
2 c. coconut milk
juice of 1/2 – 1 lime (about 1-2 T)

1 bag baby spinach leaves (about 4 oz.), optional

1. Heat oil in a pot, and add onions, garlic, spices, and bottle gourd. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, until onions are golden and a little browned.

2. Add coconut milk and simmer 5 minutes, stir in lime juice, then add spinach if using, and simmer 5-10 minutes more. Serve hot, with rice or bread.

Last Night’s Dinner

Chicken thighs rubbed with oil, salt, and roasted Sri Lankan curry powder, grilled on the stovetop grill pan, then added to a warm baguette slathered with butter, along with my pickled cucumber and carrot, for a Vietnamese banh mi-style sandwich. Delicious, though I think it’d be even better with some avocado slices. Next time.

Pickled cucumber-carrot recipe can be found here.

Green Tomato and Lentil Curry

(45 minutes, serves 4 as entree, 8 as a side)

Green tomatoes are a lovely end-of-summer curry on their own, beautifully tangy, but add some lentils and you have a complete and nutritious meal. It’s perfect with a little rice or bread, or just on its own. In Sri Lanka, earthy red lentils (masoor dal) are most common, and have the advantage of cooking in half the time of most lentils; you could certainly use them in this dish. But I like split mung lentils here; they have a mild, sweet flavor.

1 cup split mung lentils (moong dal or payatham paruppu)
½ tsp turmeric
cinnamon stick
1 dried red chili, broken into pieces
1 c. coconut milk (optional; you can cook in water if preferred)
1 c. water (plus more as needed)

1/2 t. salt

Green Tomato Curry:
1 medium onion, chopped
1 t. vegetable oil
1 t. black mustard seeds
1 t. cumin seed
1 t. fenugreek seeds
1 stalk curry leaves (about a dozen)
5 medium green tomatoes, chopped (about 4 cups)
1/2 t. salt

chopped cilantro to garnish

1. Add 1 c. split mung lentils to a saucepan (with a lid). Add turmeric, cinnamon stick, chili, coconut milk, water, and 1/2 t. salt. Bring to a boil, cover, then turn to medium-low and continue cooking until the lentils are very tender and soft, about 40 minutes. (This can be sped up in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot.) Check periodically and add more water if needed to keep lentils from sticking to the pan. (If they do start to stick, just scrape them up — as long as they don’t actually start to burn, they should be fine.)

2. In a separate pot, sauté onion in oil with mustard seed, cumin seed, feungreek seeds, and curry leaves, until onions are golden-translucent.

3. Stir in chopped green tomatoes, cover and turn heat to medium-low; cook 10 minutes.

4. Add the cooked dal to the tomatoes, along with any remaining cooking water. Let the tomatoes and dal come to a boil. Taste, and adjust seasonings to taste — you might add a little more salt, or some lime juice, or more coconut milk.

5. Simmer another 5 minutes, then turn off heat and add chopped cilantro to garnish.

Eggplant Sambol / Kattharikai Sambol

(1 hour prep, 20 minutes cooking, serves 8)

My vegetarian friends are particularly fond of this dish. It offers a bright note, with its raw onion and lime juice, that wakes up a plate of rice and curry.

1 eggplant
1 rounded tsp salt
1 rounded tsp turmeric
oil for deep frying
3 fresh green chilies, sliced thin
1 medium onion, sliced thin
lime juice

1/4 cup coconut milk, optional

1. Cut eggplant into quarters lengthwise and then slice thinly. Rub with salt and turmeric, spread on a few layers of paper towels and leave at least 1 hour. Bitter water will rise to the surface of the eggplant; blot that water with more paper towels. This will make for much tastier eggplant.

2. Heat about an inch of oil in a deep frying pan and fry eggplant slices slowly until brown on both sides. Lift out with Chinese spider (mesh metal spoon) and put in a dry bowl.

3. Mix with remaining ingredients; serve warm.

Vegetables at Dinner

School lunch today — apple-cheddar crescent rolls + slices of apple. Vegetables at dinner, really. 🙂

I admit, I use Pillsbury crescent rolls to make these, because while I *can* and *have* laminated dough for croissants, I definitely don’t have the time during the school week! So these aren’t fancy, but the kids adore them.

Slice apples and roll up each crescent roll with a slice of apple and some grated cheddar, sprinkle more cheddar on top, bake at 350 about 12 minutes or so.

Roux to the Rescue!

I was watching a re-run of the Great British Baking Show, and they had them making soufflés for the technical challenge (which, for the record, I have never made, Kevin makes the soufflés in this house generally), and one of the contestants said she’d never made a roux, and they were all ‘what, never?’ and she was all ‘shut up,’ but more polite and British about it. Poor thing!

I can’t remember when I first learned to make a roux, but I was probably at least thirty. Which is sort of astonishing to me now, because I do the basic, stripped down version of it all the time. I mean ALL the time. Basically every week we end up in a situation like the one we were in last night, where we had some leftover chicken thighs that had gotten a little dry, and some cooked asparagus that wasn’t so appealing on day two. We needed a little sauce, desperately. Roux to the rescue!

I generally do sort of a haphazard version of it. I set the water boiling for pasta, then threw a knob of butter in a sauté pan. Added some sliced red onion because I had it on hand and onion is never going to to hurt a savory pan sauce. If I hadn’t been feeling lazy, I would’ve peeled and smashed some garlic and added that too, but I was tired, it was a weeknight, we just wanted to eat something decent. Let the onions get golden, stirring a bit, added the chicken and asparagus, stirred it all together.

Now, I could’ve done a proper roux in a separate pan, but that would make an extra pan for cleaning up. No good. I just scooched the chicken and asparagus and onion over to one side of the pan, and tipped it a little so the melted butter gathered at the other side.

Added a bit of flour — not too much, or you’ll end up with something gluey and sad. Maybe 1/2 a teaspoon? I suppose it depends on how much sauce you want, though! Stirred the flour in the butter for a few seconds, letting it cook a little and start to get golden brown (raw flour, no good). There’s the roux, done! Then I added some milk, stirred it in (maybe 1/2 a cup?). Cream would’ve been good too. I happened to have some shredded Gruyere left over, so I stirred that in too. Tasted, added a bit of salt, and then stirred that lovely sauce in with my chicken and asparagus.

Somewhere in there, the pasta water had boiled, I’d tossed in some fresh tortellini (careful not to boil it too furiously, or fresh tortellini tends to burst; you want a gentle boil), cooked it 7 minutes, then drained it. Gently folded the tortellini into my creamy chicken and asparagus in sauce, and it was just enough sauce to very lightly coat the pasta. The kids loved it. Dinner was saved (and lunch the next day).

It should be a slogan, or a cooking show: Roux to the rescue! 🙂

Cooking While Sick

Kevin wasn’t feeling great yesterday, and as a result, he overcooked the broccoli for Anand’s birthday dinner. (Cooking while sick generally doesn’t go well.)

But no worries! Today, we turned it into broccoli cheddar soup, sprinkled some more cheese on the top and served with a loaf of hot, crusty bread. Fabulous for a cool early autumn day. All is well. 🙂

(This is one of many reasons to always keep chicken stock on hand.)