Sri Lankan Roasted Beets

(1 hr 15 min., serves 4)

1 lb. beets, peeled and cubed into bite-size pieces
2-3 T vegetable oil
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1 t. coriander seed
1/2 t. cumin seed
1/2 t. black mustard seed
2 T coconut milk
3-5 minced green chilies
1-2 T lime juice

1. Preheat oven to 350. Toss beets in oil, salt, and pepper, and spread flat on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake 45 minutes.

2. Add coriander seed, cumin seed, and black mustard seed, and bake an additional 15 minutes, until beets are soft and slightly crispy.

3. Combine coconut milk, green chilies, and lime juice in a large bowl, stirring to blend. Add beets and toss until combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper; serve hot with rice or bread. (Pictured here with beef and potato curry and chili leeks.)

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 white or red   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.

If you don’t use all the batter right away, you can store it in the fridge, but it will keep rising, so make sure there’s some room in your storage container for that, and then you’ll want to thin it back down to pouring consistency with another 1/4 – 1/2 c. of water before use.

NOTE:  If you use instant hopper mix, I found that a packet (about 3 cups of mix) used 2 cans of coconut milk plus 2 – 2 1/2 cups of water.

Tangy Peppered Beef Stew

(2 hours, serves 8)

This is very similar to a traditional British beef stew, but the Sri Lankan version adds vinegar and peppercorns for a distinctly different flavor. I love to chew on the peppercorns for a bit of sharp bite, and will sometimes add even more peppercorns to the pot.

3 lbs beef chuck, cubed, large pieces of fat removed
2 cups beef stock
2 TBL ghee or vegetable oil
2-inch piece cinnamon stick
8 cloves
40 peppercorns
1-2 tsp salt
2 cups vinegar
3 medium onions, peeled and cut in eighths
2-3 large potatoes, peeled and cut in large pieces
4 carrots, cut in large pieces

1. In a large stew pan, heat the oil on high, add the meat and brown on all sides (avoid crowding the pan, as that will cause it to steam instead of browning—do the meat in two batches if necessary).

2. When nicely browned, pour in beef stock and a sufficient quantity of the water to cover the meat. Add the cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, salt, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then cover, turn down heat to low, and let simmer for 30 minutes.

3. Add the vegetables, turn the heat to high long enough for the stew to come to boil, then turn it back down to low and continue to cook, uncovered, until the meat is tender and the vegetables are cooked through, about an hour. You’re aiming for the sauce being reduced to a thick gravy, so add water or cook the liquid off as needed. Serve hot, with hearty white bread 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…

Curried Seafood Stew

(30 minutes, serves 4)

Creamy, tangy, richly-spiced, with just a little heat; I was aiming for something my daughter would love.  Of course, feel free to amp up the chili powder or toss in some chopped Thai green chilies for a spicier version!  Use whatever seafood you have on hand — I pulled some frozen tilapia and shrimp out to toss into this.

1 onion, chopped
1/4 c. oil or ghee
1 T ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1/2 t. fennel seed
1/2 t. methi seed
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 t. chili powder
1/2 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1 stalk curry leaves
2 pounds seafood, cleaned
1 can coconut milk
1 T lime juice
coriander for garnish

1. Saute onions in oil or ghee with ginger, garlic, spices, and curry leaves until onions are golden-translucent, about ten minutes.

2. Add seafood and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, stirring, then turn down heat to medium and cook another ten minutes or so, until seafood is cooked through.

 

3. Continue cooking until stew is desired thickness. Add lime juice and stir in, then cook a minute or two more. Serve hot with fresh rice and chopped coriander.

  

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.

 

Grilled Steak with Roasted Potatoes and Broccoli

(30 minutes, serves four)

It is honestly still a little bewildering to me, growing up in a Sri Lankan tradition, that one can make quite tasty food without chopping several onions and utilizing a host of spices.  But I have to admit, on a weeknight when you want to cook fast and get back to catching up on Doctor Who, it’s nice to have the option.  This dinner uses only steak, broccoli, potatoes, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  That’s it!  Yup, still bewildering.

Note: You’ll have enough time to make 2 lbs. of flank steak, which gives you enough for sandwiches or salad at lunch the next day. But you can just make 1 lb. if you prefer.

2 lbs. flank steak
4 Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 lb. broccoli
olive oil as needed (about 1/2 c. total)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350. Cube potatoes, toss in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, transfer to a foil-covered baking sheet, and start in oven. Set timer for 15 minutes.

2. Cut up broccoli into bite-size pieces (stems and heads both), toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and set aside.

3. Cut flank steak in half (so it will fit in grill pan or frying pan). Start pan heating on high (it’ll give off a fair bit of smoke while cooking, so a strong vent fan is helpful here). Spread some olive oil, salt, and pepper on both sides of the two pieces of steak. When pan is hot, add one piece to pan.

4. For medium rare, cook four minutes on one side, then flip over, and cook three minutes on the other side. Somewhere in here, your timer will go off. Pull out the potatoes, and add the broccoli to the roasting pan; I like to put them evenly around the edge, piling up the potatoes a bit if needed. Put back in the oven for another 15 minutes.

5. Take the first piece of steak to a plate to rest; it’ll give off some juices (which we usually pour off and add to our grateful dog’s dinner) over the next few minutes. Start the second piece of steak going — again, four minutes on one side, three minutes on the other.

6. Pull the second piece off to rest; by now, the potatoes and broccoli should be finishing up, lovely and golden and crispy, beautifully sweet on the insides. Slice the first steak thinly against the grain, and serve hot with vegetables and perhaps a nice dry shiraz for the grown-ups.

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!

Adjusting for Taste

My in-laws have been visiting for a few days, so we’ve been cooking for a larger array of palates than usual.  Holiday cooking for a large group is a little like being on a game show — can you feed all of these people in a way that makes everyone happy?  Can you do it for three meals in a row?  How about for three days in a row?  (They did go out for brunch yesterday, which helped!)

It’s already somewhat challenging cooking for just me, Kevin, and the kids — Kev and I both love spicy food, but he doesn’t eat mushrooms (sad) or fish (tragic).  The kids mostly don’t eat spicy food, though we’re working on that, and their appreciation for vegetables is still fairly limited (but improving).  With the addition of the relatives came more restrictions — my mother-in-law doesn’t like beets or cilantro (but my father-in-law does), my sister-in-law doesn’t do spicy, and her daughters aren’t big fans of spicy either.  Etc. and so on.

All of which means that we could just stick to mac-and-cheese to feed everyone, but after three days of that, I just can’t take it anymore.  I like pasta as much as the next person, but before too long, I start to crave South Asian food.  So last night, we did our best to cook South Asian food that everyone would eat.

Having several dishes meant that we could expect people to skip one or two and still have plenty to eat.  I left out the chili powder on the ginger-garlic chicken, and that went well; I left out the mustard and cumin seeds on the vegetables, because I wasn’t sure the kids wouldn’t find them suspicious, and I used onion powder instead of onions, because various people don’t like pieces of onion.  We just put one jalapeño in the cabbage, instead of three Thai green chilies,  and we reduced the chilies in the beets similarly.  And I made a cucumber raita, just in case it was still too spicy!

I wouldn’t say it was a complete success — despite my children’s urgings that the chicken was really good, their cousins refused to try it!  But I think the adults were mostly fine, at least, and everyone was fed sufficiently, and I got a little of the food I love and need — the flavors were milder than normal, but still in the right continent, at least.  Good enough!

Hawaii: Loco & Apple

I tried the classic loco moco (white rice, burger patty, eggs, brown gravy), and while I can see that it could easily be comfort food for many, it is not for me. I think I’m just not so much of a brown gravy person. The apple bananas, on the other hand, are addictive, and I would gladly eat many more of them. They are small and cute and apple-y.
 
 
I didn’t try the sandwiches on taro bread, but I had to take a picture because they were so delightfully purple. I did like the warm banana-taro bread pudding with a warm haupia (coconut milk-based) sauce.  Yum.