My gosh, they do feed us well here

At the commencement welcome, one of the conference chairs of SALA made a joke about how we’re going to talk well and eat well. I’m not sure I’m talking all that well (still tired and a little out of it!), but my gosh, they do feed us well here.

Breakfast & lunch for two days are included in your registration, along with a very hearty closing reception that they said could easily be your dinner that night; coffee and tea service is also laid out throughout, which has been very handy for me, as I duck out of my room, grab some hot coffee, and duck back in to work a little more.

But just look at what they’ve served us so far! (I forgot to take photos of the avocado tartine and the fig tartine at breakfast, but they were very pretty.) One slight tweak I’d suggest for the hotel — I love that they used chicken thighs instead of breast, in terms of flavor, but personally, I wouldn’t have served it on the bone for a buffet like this. Too difficult to eat while sitting on low couches, managing drinks, etc. Nothing that requires knives!

I think my favorite, flavor-wise, was the combination of the curried salmon w/ the roasted sweet potatoes. Mmmm… I liked it so much I decided to skip dessert and go back for seconds of that instead. The roasted potatoes were also perfectly done, and delish.

#serendibwriting
#serendibkitchen

Funny travel / eating moment

Funny travel / eating moment. So yesterday, I was VERY tired, and I really just wanted some spicy Asian comfort food for dinner. Luckily, there was a Vietnamese restaurant with good reviews (Long Provincial) half a block away from my hotel. So I staggered in there, made it to a table, and ordered a dish I knew I liked, Cá Kho Tộ, which is caramelized and braised catfish.

The waiter asked if I wanted rice with that, which I mean, what kind of question is that? Does anyone actually eat this intensely flavored dish — sweet and salty and spicy — without rice? Maybe white people do? Surely Vietnamese people don’t? I don’t really know, but I was startled.

Anyway, I said yes, and he went away and came back eventually (service was a little slow; I think they were understaffed). I’d offer photos of the food at the restaurant, but they seated me in an area that was so moody and dark that I could barely see my food, much less photograph it.

Luckily, the book I had brought to read was on my Kindle; otherwise, I would’ve asked to be moved to the brightly-lit section. (Re-reading Civil Campaign, because when I’m that tired, all I want is comfort reading, and Miles being an ass and everyone he knows calling him on it is about as comforting as it gets. I love Miles, I identify intensely with Miles, but Miles is also often a very cogent warning as to how I might go horribly astray…anyway. Back to our story.)

So he brings me this beautiful big clay pot full of fish and intense sauce, and this teeny tiny bowl of rice. Hm. I started eating, but usually I don’t eat very much at any given meal (I eat many many small meals), so I only finished about a third of the fish and all of the rice.

You really needed the rice! I honestly don’t know that I could’ve borne to eat the fish & sauce otherwise, because the flavors would’ve been unpleasantly intense. But balancing each bite of delicate fish and savory sauce with an appropriate amount of rice, it was just perfect.

(Not the best Cá Kho Tộ I’ve had, and $22 was rather a lot for catfish, but eh, it’s downtown Seattle, and as I said, half a block from my hotel. I’m not complaining about the price (well done gouging the tourists, Asian peeps, say I!), and the dish itself was fine. I’d eat there again! And besides, it makes three meals for me, so it all works out. Only because of the rice, though, so onwards…)

Here’s the funniest bit, at least to me. When I’d finished, I asked him for a container to pack it up, but also, if I could have some more rice. And I swear, he almost laughed when he said yes. I can’t be sure. But when he brought back the container for the fish, he also brought back rice — TWICE AS MUCH as he’d originally served me. And he didn’t charge me for it either.

So, I dunno, because I’m not an expert in Vietnamese food, and I honestly don’t know how this dish is typically eaten in Vietnam. But I wonder if the first serving of rice was geared for white tourists, and the takeaway much larger portion was because he’d realized that I knew how to eat the dish properly…? Hmm…

Regardless, I ate half of my leftovers for first breakfast, and they were delicious. 

#serendibkitchen
#serendibtravel

Sunday Dinner

Kavi forbid cooking pictures yesterday, because her hair was a mess (I may have made her pull it back in the kitchen with a carabiner clip because that’s all that was handy), but the first Sunday night dinner went reasonably well.

Anand got to pick, so we went with lasagne, his favorite. Kavi browned the sausage and ground beef (maybe her first time cooking meat?), cooked down the tomatoes into sauce, and seasoned both meats and sauce with salt, pepper, Italian herbs, onion powder. Then both of them layered the sauce / noodles / meat / ricotta / mozzarella in the pan a few times.

Kevin and I mostly just talked them through the recipe (such as it is), and offered some tips, like tilting the pan to drain the excess fat from the meat and using paper towels to sop that oil up and toss it away. Covered the lasagne with foil (talking about why you’d want to use foil and not, say, plastic wrap!), stuck it in the oven at 375 for an hour. Later, removed foil, let lasagne cook an additional 15 minutes (browning the top, letting the liquid cook off), then grown-ups pulled the hot, heavy pan out of the oven and let it cool for 15 minutes on the counter while the kids set the table, before we all sat down to eat.

Anand was pretty distractible, and kept running off to watch YouTube when he didn’t have an active task, but he did come and do everything he was asked to, and I think he had fun layering the ingredients in the baking dish. He was pretty stressed yesterday about vacation break ending and school starting again today, so we were inclined to let him self-soothe with electronics as needed. We’re going to try to wean everyone off electronics for the cooking Sunday dinner time, but it’ll be a process, I think. (I had to pause my online game with Jed to later eat, and it took some willpower!)

We really should’ve made a salad, garlic bread, and dessert — there was plenty of time while the lasagne was cooking, but Kavi had a book to finish reading for school, and as I said, I had a game going, so we all dispersed instead. Luckily, there was some leftover broccoli from lunch, and Kev cut up a bell pepper, so that counted as sufficient veg. to accompany.

And then we actually:

– set the table (kids)
– got everyone water (kids)
– washed hands before dinner (everyone)
– sat down and talked together while eating (everyone)
– used utensils to eat the lasagne (everyone, even Anand, which is new for him — he is not a utensil fan, but as we said, eventually he might be asked to eat with the president, who won’t be Trump, and then he’ll need to use utensils. Or if not the president, then his grandmother (Kev’s mom), who is also big on utensils
– cleared up afterwards (mostly Kev)

There’s plenty of lasagne left for dinner tonight, and today’s lunch for the grown-ups at work, so that’s also a nice way of easing into the work week. We’ll try to plan on making enough at Sunday night dinner to cover Monday, at least.

There was an extended discussion of whether Anand was allowed to repeat phrases because he thought it was funny. Kavi first came up with the rule that he couldn’t say specific phrases, but he just kept changing the phrases (there was a lot of ‘but why?’ for example). Finally she hit on: “No deliberately annoying people at the dinner table,” and Anand laughed. While he didn’t explicitly concede the point, he did stop the repeating, which I think we all took as a win. 

It was really nice. They’re now old enough that we can have interesting conversations; I honestly didn’t have the patience for doing this with little ones, and I salute those of you who do! I know many families do dinner together every night, and we’ve never done that — we’ve always just wandered off to eat with our books and shows separately. But at least once a week, sitting together, being off electronics for a few hours, and teaching the kids some basic dinner table etiquette seems useful.

It’s a piece of the parenting project that we’ve somewhat neglected, but teaching them how to get along in community and not deliberately annoy people just because you think it’s funny seems worth the expenditure of a little effort and energy. Even if it means I have to delay the last few moves in my game. (Jed was stomping me anyway!)

Pictured: Anand demonstrating what he considers proper use of a fork…

#sundaydinner
#serendibkitchen

Curried Chestnut, Leek, and Carrot Soup, with Fried Prosciutto (or Sautéed Mushrooms)

The semester is over, so I had time to actually come up with a new recipe tonight, for a curried chestnut soup.  So seasonal!

You can roast the chestnuts yourself — a little more effort, but it’s tasty to peel and eat some of that sweet nuttiness while it’s hot. Just be careful when cutting crosses into the chestnuts before you roast, so your knife doesn’t slip. Or you can buy a jar of them already roasted, though you may need to find a specialty shop for that. If you cleverly reserved turkey stock after Thanksgiving, you could pull some out of the freezer and use it for this. That was my plan, but I forgot to freeze the extra stock until it was too late this year. Oh well.

I used Sri Lankan roasted curry powder, but I think any standard South Asian curry powder would be tasty. The complex spicing balances the sweetness of the chestnuts and the saltiness of the prosciutto (or the mushrooms sautéed in butter with salt). Substitute in vegetable oil, vegetable stock, and coconut milk to make this a filling, nutritious, and delicious vegan meal.

*****

Curried Chestnut, Leek, and Carrot Soup, with Fried Prosciutto (or Sautéed Mushrooms)
(serves 4, about 30 minutes (aside from chestnut roasting time))

3 T unsalted butter
2 leeks, white parts sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled and chopped finely
1/2 t. salt
1 t. pepper
about 15 oz. (3 c.) roasted and peeled chestnuts
6 c. chicken stock
1 t. curry powder
1/4 c. heavy cream
additional salt and pepper to taste
1/2 t. lime juice
Optional: either fried prosciutto or mushrooms sautéed in butter for garnish — make them while the soup is simmering

1. Heat butter in large soup pot and stir in leeks, carrots, salt, and pepper. Sauté, stirring, about 5 minutes.

2. Add chestnuts and chicken stock, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.

3. Transfer soup carefully to blender — I’d use a large ladle rather than trying to pour a pot of hot soup! (If you have an immersion stick blender, that’s even easier.) Purée, and return to pot. (It’s fine to leave a cup or so of broth in the pot; just stir it into the purée when you return it to the pot.) Add cream and stir. Taste and add salt / pepper as desired; if the soup is too thick, add a little more stock. Stir in the lime juice and simmer a few more minutes, until well blended.

4. Serve hot, garnished with prosciutto or mushrooms. (I don’t recommend both together — I tried it, and oddly, they clash.) If you want to make it even prettier, you could drizzle a little cream into the bowl, or add a scattering of chives. Mmm….

Simple comforts: improvising and using what you have

As part of this publishing-a-cookbook thing, I’ve learned a lot more about how people approach food and cooking. It’s made me really sad, learning just how many people never learned how to improvise tasty meals out of what’s in the fridge, or from leftovers. It can be a huge timesaver and moneysaver, letting you use up ingredients efficiently (almost nothing in our fridge ever goes bad), while still keeping plenty of delicious variety in weekly meals. A well-stocked spice cabinet lets you bring in lots of international flavors too!

Pictured below are three dishes we made post-Thanksgiving with the leftover turkey: Thai yellow curry turkey, with plenty of veggies, served with a little rice. Turkey and bacon with broccoli and pasta in a Parmesan-y white sauce, which the kids devoured. Turkey mulligatawny soup with apples, mild enough to feed my in-laws, but with enough South Asian flavor to make me happy.

None of these are difficult, but I didn’t have a recipe for any of them; after many years of cooking, I just know how to take leftovers and make up dishes with them. And this isn’t because I’m some sort of fabulous cook — it’s the kind of basic home-cooking skills that I have to think were common across America a few decades ago, and which seem to have gotten lost a little along the way. I didn’t actually learn how to do this growing up, but picked it up in my 20s and 30s. I started with recipes, but over time, learned enough basic approaches to food to not need recipes most nights.

Take the Thanksgiving turkey, for example. Okay, so you make a turkey, you feed a lot of people for dinner, it’s the end of the night. What next? Well, in my house, we pick the meat off the bones, as much as you can. If you’re fastidious, you can use a knife and fork for this, but it’s easier to do thoroughly with your clean hands. Put all the meat in a storage container in the fridge, wrap up the remaining carcass in foil and throw it in the freezer. Go to sleep, replete.

The next day, turkey sandwiches are classic and so satisfying. There are lots of interesting recipes online, but I’m perfectly happy with some good white bread, mayo, turkey, and cranberry sauce. I’m too tired to cook the day after Thanksgiving, but honestly, I’m mostly just eating stuffing out of the Pyrex, standing in the kitchen with a fork.

By day three, if you’re like me, you’re craving something spicy and also easy, because you don’t really want to do a lot of cooking yet. Thai curry to the rescue — Thai curry paste makes the seasoning part easy (I like Maesri brand), and it’s a one-pot dish. Thai curries kept us going through the infant / toddler years — Kev and I probably made one at least once a week, and managed it through a sleep-deprived haze. Kev actually made this one — he texted me when I was coming home on the train and asked what I wanted for dinner — I requested Thai yellow curry, and thirty minutes later, walked in the door to this.

Add a can of paste and a can of coconut milk to the pot, bring to a boil, add in some turkey, chicken broth, and whatever random veggies you have on hand that you want to use up, bring to a boil, simmer 20 minutes. (Carrots and potatoes and such, put it in with the turkey, since they’ll need longer cooking; bell peppers and green veggies, add near the end, so they don’t get mushy.) Nice additions include a can of bamboo shoots, drained, a little fish sauce, some brown sugar, Thai basil if you can get it, Italian basil if not. Crushed chili peppers if you want it spicier.

Put on some rice (which will also take 20 minutes to cook), or if you really want it one pot, you can add rice noodles directly to the curry in the last few minutes of cooking. The whole thing takes 30 minutes tops. Once you’ve made a Thai curry from a recipe a few times, you can probably do this without a recipe, and without thinking very much; a pot of this will provide several meals, so that should hold you a day or two. We keep several cans of Thai curry paste in our pantry (yellow, red, green, panang, massaman) at all times, and a good supply of Chaokoh coconut milk.

But the kids don’t like Thai curry, you say? No problem — that’s when you boil some pasta — rotini, penne, whatever you like. I always set a timer for the boiling, so I don’t lose track while doing other cooking and end up with mushy noodles, yuck.

In a separate pan, sauté some bacon (because turkey on its own can be a little dry) and add the turkey. Then you make a sort of roux — put a tablespoon or two of flour in the pan, sauté it in the bacon fat (add oil or butter if needed), stirring until it browns a bit, a minute or two, then add enough milk (maybe a cup?) and stir to make a creamy sauce.

I think I was in my 30s before I learned how to do this — ‘roux’ sounded so fancy and sort of intimidating. But it is EASY and the resulting sauce is fabulous for rejuvenating tired pasta, meats, veggies, etc. I am pretty sure this is technically a béchamel, one of the French mother sauces, which also sounds fancy and intimidating, but don’t let that fanciness get in your way! Fat + flour + milk. That’s all it is. (If you add gruyere cheese or white cheddar, it becomes a Mornay sauce. Extra-fancy.)

Grate in some Parmesan for extra yumminess (you can use the shaker-style Parmesan if you’re tired, but it doesn’t blend quite as well; it stays a little gritty because of additives they use to keep the cheese in the shaker from clumping). If the sauce gets too thick, add more milk and stir it ’til well blended (and maybe turn down the heat).

Taste — add salt / pepper as desired, then stir in the pasta. I had some leftover cooked broccoli, so I added that too — frozen peas are also a standard addition to this kind of thing around here. We make some version of this pretty often with the leftovers from the cooked rotisserie chicken we pick up at the grocery store, maybe every two weeks? It’s a staple in our house.

There are a lot of ways these dishes can go wrong, of course, and that’s the bit where I think people often get frustrated and give up. They put green veggies in too early, and so they come out mushy and flavorless. They cook the dish on too high a heat, or get distracted by the baby or the internet, so the sauce scorches. (Timers are your friend. Also stirring.) They forget the salt (it’s not as good if you just shake it on after cooking is done), or worse, put in too much salt accidentally (hard to recover from).

And when you’re cooking tired, or in a hurry, you’re more likely to make that kind of mistake, and more likely to get really frustrated when you do, so there’s a class-based element to this that I want to highlight. It’s so much easier to become a good cook if you have the time and energy to spare for the learning.

Which is a sort of horrible catch-22, because not knowing how to do this kind of cooking leads so many 20-somethings and 30-somethings to rely on a lot of takeout, which ends up costing them much more money in the long run. I feel like we really did an entire generation a massive disservice when so much of schooling switched over to college prep and cut home ec (and shop!) to make room in the curriculum. I don’t know what it would take to bring all of that back to the public schools, along with basic civics and budgeting, but I’d like to see an effort.

I mean, I teach college, and I do think the students learn something worthwhile in my English classes. But as a parent myself, I want to launch my kids with better-than-basic domestic skills, as well as the ability to write a coherent, well-argued paper utilizing strong critical thinking skills. Do we really not have time to teach both?

The last dish here is the soup, made with turkey stock. That’s for a weekend day, maybe the week after Thanksgiving, maybe months later. That turkey carcass will be good for quite a while! You pull it out of the freezer, throw it in a big pot with plenty of water and some coarsely chopped onions.

Depending on what ethnic direction you’re leaning in for the meals that follow, pick your additions — carrots are often good, or celery. They’ll all basically dissolve, along with the onions, making the stock flavorful, and if you want, you can just fish them out at the end, though I don’t generally bother. I wanted South Asian spicing for my soups, so I went mulligatawny-style: garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, plenty of black pepper, salt. Bring it to a boil, let it simmer, 3-4 hrs. Now you’ve got a great turkey stock. Portion whatever you’re not using right away out and freeze it for a tired day.

I made the soup just a week or so after Thanksgiving, so we still had some turkey meat left in the fridge. (Some people aren’t comfortable eating meat that’s been in the fridge for a week; our stomachs are fine with it, but use your judgement and experience here!) So this was just the easiest thing to do for my visiting in-laws; heat up some stock, simmer the turkey in it for 15-20 minutes or so, add some quartered apples and cook just until they’re softened, but still have some bite to them. Serve hot; we added some buttered French bread, which felt oddly appropriate for a colonial soup. And very tasty.

There was plenty of stock left for several more soups later in the year, when the nights get long and cold and dark, and all you want is to huddle around a tasty warm bowl of soup.

Simple comforts — at least, they ought to be simple. I wish they were for everyone.

Sri Lankan Shepherds’ Pie

Sri Lankan Shepherds’ Pie
(15 minutes cooking time + 40 minutes baking / cooling)

Usually mashed potatoes go pretty fast around here, but we made so much for Thanksgiving that we actually had some leftover. Shepherd’s pie to the rescue — but I had a long work day today, so I wanted a version that required the minimum of actual cooking.

Could I avoid chopping onions and carrots the way we usually would for shepherds’ pie, and still come up with a tasty dish? Yes, as it turned out, if I combined it with the approach we use for ginger-garlic chicken. Though if you don’t have leftover mashed potatoes, you’ll need to make them fresh, which will add a bit of cooking time, I’m afraid.

Ingredients:

2-3 cups leftover mashed potatoes
1.5 lbs ground lamb (you could use beef or another meat instead instead)
1 heaping teaspoon ground ginger
1 heaping teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 – 1 t. black pepper (or cayenne)
1 teaspoon Sri Lankan curry powder
2 T flour
1/4 c. ketchup
1/8 c. Worcestershire sauce
1 c. chicken broth
1 T lime juice
1/2 c. frozen peas
1/2 c. frozen corn

NOTE: If you don’t have leftover mashed potatoes, boil the potatoes and mash them first, before starting the meat, as there isn’t really a good pausing point during the meat-cooking process.

1. Set oven preheating to 400F. Turn lamb into a sauté pan, add ginger, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and curry powder, and fry on high until browned — the lamb should give off enough oil that you have no need for more, although do add oil if needed.

2. Add flour and stir for a few minutes, until flour is browned and the ground lamb is thoroughly coated.

3. Add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and chicken broth; cook a few minutes, stirring, until well-blended. Simmer a few more minutes until liquid thickens into a sauce. Add lime juice, stir, and adjust seasonings to taste. If there’s excess oil, blot it up with a paper towel or skim it off at this stage.

4. Stir in frozen peas and corn until well blended. Turn off heat and turn mixture out into a casserole dish. Spread with mashed potatoes.

5. Bake at 400F for 25 minutes, until top of potatoes are golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool (and set) for 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Chicken Mulligatawny (Soup or Stew)

Chicken Mulligatawny (Soup or Stew)

This is a great recipe for a slow weekend. Yesterday, I made enough to feed soup to the people who were over for afternoon board games, then added some rice, lentils, and coconut milk, turning it into more of a stew, and took it to the potluck last night.

This morning, I scooped out four Ziploc bags’ worth and stored them flat in the freezer (careful not to scoop up the potatoes and carrots, which don’t freeze well), saving them for a rainy day when I’m too tired to cook and want some hearty, easy comfort food. And there’s just enough left for lunch today. 

Many mulligatawny recipes add apples, which would be a fun fusion approach — mulligatawny is thought to be a colonial-era adaptation of earlier South Asian soups like rasam, and is often vegetarian. But I chose to go with chicken, carrots, and potatoes this time. Yum.

(This recipe is gluten-free, and I’m planning to include it in the new gluten-free ebook.)

*****

INGREDIENTS

BASE SOUP:
– 1/4 c. vegetable oil or ghee
– 2-3 onions, chopped coarsely
– 3 cloves garlic, chopped
– 1 T ginger, chopped
– 1 stick cinnamon
– 3 cloves
– 3 cardamom pods
– 1 t. black mustard seed
– 1 t. cumin seed
– 1 T ground black pepper
– 4 c. chicken (or vegetable) stock
– 2 c. (or more) water
– 1 tomato, chopped
– 1 T tamarind paste

ADDITIONS:
– one roasting chicken, cut up, skin removed
– 3 carrots, cut in chunks
– 4 – 6 new potatoes, cut in chunks
– 1/2 – 2 c. lentils (optional)
– 1/2 – 1 c. rice (optional)

FINAL SEASONINGS:
– 1-2 t. salt (to taste)
– 1-2 T lime juice (to taste)
– 1 c. coconut milk (optional)

1. Sauté onions, garlic, ginger, mustard seed, cumin seed, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and black pepper on medium-high until onions are golden.

2. Add potatoes, carrots, and chicken pieces (on the bone), turn up the heat to high, and sauté for a few minutes, stirring occasionally as you brown the chicken (careful not to burn).

3. Add stock and water and bring to a boil. Stir in tomato and tamarind paste, and lentils if using. Cover and cook at a simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.

NOTE: Lentils may need a bit longer, depending on how soft you want them — just add more water, bring it up to a boil, and then turn down to a covered simmer, until lentils are as soft as you like.

4. Remove chicken pieces to a bowl and let cool. Remove meat from the bones, shred with your fingers, and add meat back to the pot. Taste and add salt / lime juice as desired.

NOTE: If using lentils and/or rice, you’ll probably want to add more tamarind or lime juice, and/or bump up the pepper — adding lentils / rice will mute the overall flavor of the dish.

5. If using rice to make it more of a stew, add the rice now, bring the pot back to a boil (adding water and/or coconut milk if needed), cover, reduce heat to simmer, and cook an additional 15-20 minutes, until rice is cooked.

6. Serve hot! Toasted naan would be nice as an accompaniment to the soup, and if you’re feeling fancy, you could top each bowl with a dollop of yogurt and a scattering of chopped cilantro.)

#serendibkitchen

Sri Lankan lentils without coconut

What if you want to try Sri Lankan food, but are allergic to coconut? At some point when I have free time (hah), I’d love to create a section of the Serendib Kitchen website that suggested adaptations. (Stephanie, add to queue?) Vegetarian / vegan, allergies, low-carb / keto, etc. For example, yesterday I was cooking dinner for 30 students, for my colleague Anna Guevarra‘s food and culture class, and there were a few restrictions we had to work around:

We had:
– a vegetarian (so I just kept it all vegetarian, super-easy to do well with Sri Lankan food)
– a cashew allergy (so we skipped the cashews toasted in ghee for the rice pilaf, and it was still good with saffron, rose, and sultanas), and
– a coconut allergy.

Now THAT one is tricky, as I’d learned back when I was cooking for my roommate Cliff Winnig, also allergic to coconut! (And nutmeg, and nuts — he says he had a lexical allergy…) We could just leave the coconut out of the kale mallung, bumping the sugar up a bit to compensate for the sweetness. It’s still tasty and worth making, but honestly, it’s not as good as it is with coconut, and so far, I haven’t come up with anything that would really work as a substitute.

But for the dal (lentil curry), it proved surprisingly easy to compensate for lack of coconut milk. I started with using cow’s milk instead, but as I asked the students, there’s still two major elements missing that we’d want to add back in. After a few moments, they correctly identified them.

Want to try to guess before reading further?

(The pictures may have given you hints!)

1) Sweetness, since coconut milk is sweeter than cow’s milk. We added in a little sugar, in the form of grated jaggery, and that worked very nicely to bring out the sweetness of the onions and help balance the dish.

2) Fat! Coconut milk has notably more fat than cow’s milk, and while the lentils were still tasty on their own, stirring in a stick of butter towards the end of the cooking time gave them that lusciousness that has you coming back for seconds and thirds. 

I’ve heard that the latter is actually a common restaurant technique when making sauces (maybe a French thing?), to stir in a stick of butter towards the end. I don’t indulge in that normally, and honestly, I don’t even want my daily dinner food to be that rich.

But in this case, a stick of butter stirred into a big double batch of lentil curry, feeding 30 people, was the perfect addition.  Mmm…

#serendibkitchen

Halibut with Roasted Spicy Beets, Beet Green & Coconut Mallung, and a Dill-Citrus Gremolata

    I’ve been wanting to learn how to cook different kinds of fish, so tonight, I took on halibut. This seems like a fairly delicate fish, and many of the recipes I reviewed were very simple and lightly seasoned. Which is fine, but, y’know, Sri Lankans gotta bring a little heat, right?

So I took an pleasant-looking recipe on Epicurious, which made use of both beets and beet greens for a very pretty result, and started messing with it. Lime and lemon instead of orange, mostly to lead it in a Sri Lankan direction. A little green chili improved the beets, and a little lime juice improved the halibut.

The real excitement was taking the beet greens and using a mallung-style approach with coconut, lime juice, and sugar. So good! On roasting, the greens sitting under the fish soaked up lots of flavor, and the greens on the edge got delightfully crispy. I could’ve made a meal out of beet greens alone, which is not something I say every day! But they were delicious with the halibut and the roasted beets.

If you wanted to make it just a little more South Asian, I think you could add a t. of cumin powder to the halibut, and/or 1-2 T of coriander seeds and maybe a few T of yogurt to the beets. I’ll be trying that next time!

Ingredients:
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Gremolata:
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel + 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel

Beets:
3 medium (1 1/2- to 2-inch) beets with green tops attached; beets trimmed and scrubbed
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
1-3 green chilies, chopped fine (optional)

Beet greens mallung:
Beet greens very coarsely chopped (about 4 cups, ideally)
1/2 c. grated dried coconut (unsweetened)
1 t. lime juice
1/2 t. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper

Halibut:
4 6- to 7-ounce halibut fillets or mahi-mahi fillets (about 1 inch thick)
2 T lime juice
more salt and black pepper to grate over

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Cover large rimmed baking sheet in foil and brush with 1 tablespoon oil. Mix chopped dill and grated peel in small bowl for gremolata.

2. Peel beets and slice into 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick slices; put in medium glass bowl; add enough water to cover beets halfway. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and microwave on high until just tender, 4-5 minutes. Uncover and drain. Return beets to same bowl, and add 1 tablespoon oil, 1 tablespoon gremolata, sliced shallots, and green chilies.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss well.

3. Toss chopped beet greens in another medium bowl with 1 tablespoon oil, lime juice, sugar, salt, and pepper.

4. Spread beet slices in single layer on half of prepared baking sheet. Mound beet greens on other half of baking sheet.

5. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper; place fish fillets on top of beet greens and pour remaining lime juice over fish. Brush fish with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle fish with 2 tablespoons gremolata.

6. Roast fish and vegetables until fish is just opaque in center, about 10-12 minutes.

7. Divide fish and vegetables among plates. Sprinkle with remaining gremolata and serve.

Ginger-Garlic Chicken

(30-90 minutes, serves 6-8)

The timing on this is so variable because you can either do it the long way described below, the way my mother recommends, which is definitely a bit tastier — or you can do a much faster version, where you mix the spices with the chicken, skip the marinating, and then just sauté the chicken in the pan on medium-high until cooked through and serve. I use both methods, mostly depending on how much of a hurry I’m in. Regardless of which method you use, this dish is best served fresh; if it sits, the chicken will tend to dry up and not be as tasty.

NOTE: This is my daughter’s favorite chicken dish, and one she always greets with delight; she started eating it when she was about five, with no added chili powder. Over time, I’ve added a little more chili powder when feeding it to both kids, serving with milk to help them along; you can also use black pepper if you’d prefer.

1 heaping tsp ginger powder
1 heaping tsp garlic powder
1 heaping tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
12 chicken thighs, about 2 lbs., deboned and cut bite-size
vegetable oil for frying
1/2 to 2 heaping tsp red chili powder (to taste, optional)

1. Mix first four spices in a large bowl; add chicken pieces and rub with your hands until well coated. Marinate 1/2 hour

2. Heat oil on high; add chili powder (if using) and cook 15 seconds, stirring.

3. Add chicken and sear on high, turning to brown all sides.

4. Reduce heat to low and cover; cook approximately 15-20 minutes, until meat is cooked through.

5. Uncover and cook until all the liquid is gone.

6. Tilt pan and push chicken pieces to one side; allow excess oil to drain to one side for 5 minutes. Remove chicken to dish and serve hot.

 

NOTE: If reheating a day or two later, I recommend reheating in a pan with a little coconut milk; just simmer 5-10 minutes, enough for the milk to thicken with the spices into a nice sauce. Or serve dry chicken with a nice coconut-milky vegetable curry, like carrot or beetroot curry.