Mackerel (or Ground Beef, or Vegetable) Cutlets

Mackerel (or Ground Beef, or Vegetable) Cutlets

(90 minutes, makes about 50)

There’s a part of my mind (formed in childhood over monthly Sri Lankan birthday parties at various aunties’ homes) that says a party isn’t properly a party unless there are rolls and cutlets. So when people agree to come over to my house and let me feed them rolls and cutlets, it makes that childhood bit of me very happy.

Some Americans find these too fishy, but I love them. Over the years, my family has come up with adaptations to suit the tastes of those (like Kevin) who dislike fish, and they’ve even come up with a variation for vegetarians. But honestly, the mackerel ones are the tastiest.

I wouldn’t recommend attempting this recipe unless you’re willing to get your hands dirty (and fishy-smelling)—you really need to work the filling with your hand to blend and shape it properly.

2 cans of mackerel, 15 oz each

2 large russet potato

4 medium onions, chopped fine, for sautéing

1 tsp black mustard seed

1 tsp cumin seed

2 TBL oil or ghee

1 rounded tsp salt

2/3 cup lime juice

2 small onions, minced, for mixing in

4 rounded tsp finely chopped fresh Thai green chilies

1 rounded tsp ground black pepper

2 egg, beaten

dry breadcrumbs, for coating

oil for deep frying

  1. Drain fish thoroughly, removing as much liquid as possible. While fish are draining, boil the potatoes, peel, and mash them. Clean the fish, removing scales and bones, and break it into small pieces.
  2. Sauté the four fine-chopped medium onions in oil with cumin and black mustard seed until golden-translucent. Add fish, salt and lime juice, then cook until very dry (this process reduces the fishy smell, and the drier you get the mixture, the less excess oil they’ll pick up when frying). Let cool.
  3. Using your clean hand, mix thoroughly the fish, mashed potatoes, the two small minced raw onions, black pepper, and chilies until a fairly smooth paste. Shape the mixture into small balls, about the size of a cupped palm. I squeeze the mixture in my balled hand as I go, compressing so the resulting ball is nice and firm—that helps it keep its form when frying. (You can pause, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at this point if making a day or two ahead.)
  4. Roll each ball in beaten egg, and then roll each ball in the dry breadcrumbs. (You can freeze at this point if making ahead—spread them out on a flat cookie sheet so they’re not touching and freeze them—once frozen, you can pack them more tightly in gallon ziploc bags, and they should hold their shape. They’ll be fine in the freezer for weeks, which helps when you’re prepping for a big party; you can either fry them frozen or spread them out on plates and let them thaw first.)
  5. Fry a few at a time in deep hot oil over medium-high heat—not too hot, or they’ll start to break apart! This should take a minute or so each. When well-browned, lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on a metal rack placed over a tray lined with a few layers of paper towels. 

For ground beef cutlets: For 2 lb lean ground beef, when you sauté the 4 chopped onions, add 1-2 heaping tsp red Indian chili powder and 1/2 cup ketchup, as well as the 1/2 rounded tsp salt from above. Add the ground beef (skipping the lime juice), and fry until very dry, draining any excess oil. Skip the raw onion, chilies and black pepper—proceed otherwise as for the fish cutlets.

For vegetable cutlets: Just use 1 lb frozen mixed vegetables, thawed (you might have to cut up the green beans into smaller pieces). Sauté the onions, mustard seed, and cumin seed as for the fish; add the vegetables and salt and cook until very dry. Skip the raw onion if you like, but definitely stir in an extra 1/2 tsp of salt when you mix the veggies in with the potatoes, black pepper and chilies. Proceed otherwise as for the fish cutlets.

Marshmallows

Marshmallows
(45 minutes + cooling time, serves dozens)
 
Homemade marshmallows are so much better than store-bought — there’s just no comparison. Store-bought is tasty enough for dunking in hot chocolate or toasting over a fire, but these, I happily devour, straight up. This is based on Alton Brown’s recipe, which is pretty identical to traditional Sri Lankan marshmallow recipes, and probably marshmallow recipes the world over, but his offers slightly more precision. We traditionally make these at Christmas, and often color the marshmallows for extra festivity.
 
It is much easier to make this recipe with a candy thermometer, or with some practice making candies and knowing how to test for soft ball stage.
 
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup water, divided
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1/8 tsp rose extract)
baker’s sugar (or confectioner’s sugar)
Nonstick spray (but not the butter kind, as it will be noticeably yellow)
Pink or green food coloring (optional)
 
1. Butter a large 9 x 12 pan and dust with superfine sugar. (You can use confectioner’s / powdered sugar, but the superfine adds a pleasant subtle texture to the marshmallows. My mother would pulse granulated sugar in the food processor, so it was even less fine, and in some ways, I like that even better, with a little more crisp mouthfeel on the initial bite.) Also prepare an oiled spatula for later.
 
2. Empty gelatin packets into bowl of stand mixer (whisk attachment), with 1/2 cup water.
 
3. In a small saucepan (a bigger one will be heavy and hard to hold steadily at a later stage) combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Cover and cook over medium high heat for 4 minutes. Uncover and cook until the mixture reaches soft ball stage (240 degrees if you have a candy thermometer), approximately 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from heat; if it continues, it will swiftly turn into hard candy.
 
4. Turn mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. (Be very careful with the sugar syrup, as it is scaldingly hot and will burn you badly if it gets on your skin.) Once you’ve added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high.
 
5. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 minutes. Add food coloring, if using for the whole batch, during this stage. Add vanilla (or rose) during the last minute of whipping. (If adding rose extract, be careful — it’s very strongly flavored, and too much will ruin the sweets. Err on the side of caution.)
 
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly (and swiftly) with an oiled spatula. (For bicolored marshmallows, pour the white half first, spread quickly, then add color and re-whip the other half, then pour over the white, spreading as needed. It won’t be perfectly even, but that’s fine.)
 
7. Dust the top with enough of the remaining superfine sugar to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
 
8. Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into diamond shapes (traditional). As you’re cutting, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining superfine sugar, using additional if necessary. May be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks, or frozen.

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.

Chicken Patties

I ran out of canola oil while setting up to deep-fry these; luckily Kat (who lives across the way) had some coconut oil she could send over with a child. So I fried in a combo of the two, which I think was perhaps perfect — the canola gave the characteristic crispiness, and the coconut gave some extra richness. I hadn’t fried in coconut oil before, though, and was really surprised when I put the first patty in — it foamed up dramatically (which may have had something to do with combining the two oils — I’m not sure)! I called Kevin over to make sure I wasn’t doing something wrong. But all was very well, and they were soon devoured. (Pictured below is a double-batch, filling three plates.)
 
Patties (usually Chicken)
(2 hours, makes about 30)
 
These are classic party appetizers (or short-eats, as we call them); patties can also be made with a mix of meats — chicken, beef and pork work well together. The filling may be made in advance and frozen if desired, or you can go all the way to filling the patties and then freeze them in layers, with sheets of parchment paper to separate, before the final frying step. That makes it easier to manage prep for a big party. Allow patties to thaw completely before frying.
 
Patty pastry:
2 cups plain flour
1/2 rounded tsp salt
3 TBL butter
1/4 cup thick coconut milk
2 egg yolks, beaten
peanut oil for frying
 
Filling:
2 1/2 lbs boneless chicken thighs
2 TBL ghee or oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
8 curry leaves, on the stalk if possible
2 rounded tsp Sri Lankan curry powder
1 rounded tsp ground turmeric
1/4 rounded tsp ground cloves
1/4 rounded tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 rounded tsp ground black pepper
2 rounded tsp salt
2 strips lemon rind (or roughly that amount of lemongrass)
1/2 cup thick coconut milk
1-2 lightly-beaten egg whites for sealing pastry
 
1. Make filling. Put chicken into a saucepan with just enough water to cover, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Cool chicken, remove from pot (reserving stock), and mince. (In a food processor is fine.)
 
2. Heat ghee in a saucepan and fry the onion and curry leaves until onion is soft and starts to brown. (Leaving curry leaves on the stalk will make it easier to remove them at the end.) Add the curry powder, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, and salt and stir well. Add about 1 1/2 cups of the leftover stock. Add lemongrass and the minced chicken. Mix well and simmer gently until chicken is tender and liquid almost evaporated.
 
3. Add coconut milk, stir, and cook uncovered until coconut milk is absorbed.
 
4. Remove from heat. When cool, pick out the lemon rind or lemongrass and the curry leaves.
 
5. Make pastry: Sift flour and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips. Add the coconut milk and egg yolks mixed together and knead lightly to a smooth dough. If necessary, add a little extra milk or flour.
 
6. Wrap dough in parchment paper and chill for 30 minutes.
 
7. Take one quarter of the dough at a time and roll out very thinly on lightly floured board. Cut into circles using a large cookie cutter about 3 inches in diameter.
 
8. Put a teaspoonful of the filling on the pastry rounds. Wet the edges of the pastry with egg white, fold over to make half circle and press edges firmly together to seal. Ornament the edge by pressing with a key or the tines of a fork.
 
9. When all the patties are made, fry a few at a time in deep hot oil. Drain on layers of paper towels and serve warm. Can be made ahead and refrigerated (or frozen)—reheat in a 350 degree oven.

Ribbon Tea Sandwiches

Ribbon Tea Sandwiches (Carrot, Beet, and Spinach)
(1 1/2 hours, serves dozens)

These are a favorite across Sri Lanka, and are made with a variety of vegetables—some use asparagus instead of spinach, for example. They are quite ridiculously pretty, with their contrasting stripes of color, and are a staple at Christmas parties and other festive events. They are just a little spicy, but spice levels may be adjusted up or down, as desired. I like mine tangy, but if you don’t like tang, leave out the vinegar, and they will still be quite tasty.

NOTE: These are quite time-consuming to assemble; I usually try to make sure I have at least a pair of hands to help at that stage.

Ingredients:
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 pound beets, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 10 oz packet frozen chopped spinach, thawed, with the excess water squeezed out
3 Thai green chilies
1 8 oz package cream cheese
1 stick butter
1 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp white pepper (black is also fine)
3 TBL vinegar
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 loaves thin white bread (recommended: Pepperidge Farms Sandwich Bread or Very Thin, if you can find it) Note: Each sandwich uses 4 slices of bread. Each large sandwich will be cut into four bite-size sandwiches

Recipe:

1. Chop carrots finely in food processor with one green chili. Add 1/3 package cream cheese, 1/3 stick butter, and 1/3 cup mayo. Add 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp white pepper, 1 TBL vinegar, and 1/2 tsp salt. Combine until smooth, taste seasonings and adjust if desired, and transfer spread to a separate bowl. Rinse out food processor.

2. Repeat process with beets + chili, and then again with spinach + chili.

3. Spread carrot mixture on a slice of bread. Place second slice of bread on top and spread with beet mixture. Place third slice of bread on top and spread with spinach mixture. Place final slice of bread on top. Using a serrated bread knife, gently cut off the edges. Cut each large sandwich into four triangles. (I recommend cleaning the blade between cuts with a wet paper towel if you want to avoid beet mixture staining the bread.) Arrange beautifully on a plate and serve.

Note: If not serving immediately place in a large storage container and lay a moist paper towel on top of the sandwiches to keep them fresh. Alternatively, you can prepare the sandwiches the night before, not cutting them, wrap each large sandwich individually in plastic wrap, and then cut them when you’re ready to serve. That does take quite a bit of plastic wrap, though!

Note 2: When I cut off the crusts, I save them and throw the bag of crusts in the freezer. And then, when I’m feeling like cozy comfort food, I take some leftover curry, stir in the crusts (still frozen is fine), and sauté it for oh, five minutes or so, until the bread has sopped up all the liquid. Essentially a Sri Lankan version of a hot panzanella. Yummy and comforting.

Holiday Party 2017

Trifle topped with pomegranate seed and edible silver stars.

Twinkly lights, little houses, polar bear. Kevin’s note left for me about what he did and didn’t get done after I went to sleep Saturday night.

  

Four big brownies from the bakery section, cut into fourths, topped with little candies from Michael’s. (Best petit four cheat ever — took five minutes, and the kids loved them.) Array.

 

Cheese board (I’ve decided that I much prefer the cluttered cheese board style with everything higgledy-piggledy than the more separated out style; more inviting, I think. People are more likely to dive right in. My absolutely favorite current combo is TJ’s raisin-rosemary crackers, blue cheese, and honey. Oh my god, that’s delicious. Cheddar and Major Grey’s chutney is also a nice (and effortless) nod to desi flavors).
 
Love cake and milk toffee with powdered sugar — so pretty.
 
Nuts and nutcracker, which honestly, I mostly put out for the idea of it, though I did notice one child trying to crack nuts. I think I need a larger nutcracker for the walnuts, though, as I find that one close to impossible to use with them.
 
Cranberry-orange scones and clotted cream and jam and lemon curd, all courtesy of Whole Foods, because I ran out of time to bake my own, oh well.
 
Trifle and strawberry teacakes, the latter of which I hadn’t planned on at all, but when I saw them in the bakery section at Jewel, I couldn’t resist, because they were just so pretty. But I have no idea if they taste good — there were all eaten before I got to try one. Clearly I must buy more.

Charcuterie — Harry & David’s sesame honey mustard with pretzels (a holiday gift from Pam, our contractor) is addictively good, and pairs beautiful with some olives and cured meats from Costco (I really love how the Costco antipasto meat comes in separate little square packages, making it really easy to refill your platter only as much as needed during the party, saving the rest for another day. It’s the little things that make hosting easier).

Mango-ginger shortbread.  

Our very classy holiday chains (Kavi wanted to make some, and I wanted some that would go with the white and silver decor in the dining room, so I found some pretty metallic paper in silver, gold, and pink…), fresh flowers (I like how the bells of Ireland look like little trees).

Ellie patiently waiting for the party (and the food-dropping) to start. Ellie LOVES parties.

Party prep would have gone much less smoothly if Kat hadn’t put in a few hours Saturday and a few more Sunday morning — aided and abetted by Katy and Tiffany who had gotten the time wrong and arrived four hours early, but stayed to help anyway. 🙂 I am now convinced that I need to just plan on a few friends who commit to coming early, if I have a hope of pulling off this kind of party in a reasonable manner, surgery or no surgery. (Although particularly appreciated post-surgery.)
 
Kat made modern art with the mushroom sandwiches. They were yummy, but if there was a food failure at the party, they were these — I keep thinking that curried creamy mushroom will go well with wheat bread, and that will differentiate them visually from the cucumber sandwiches and ribbon sandwiches, and that’s all true — but I think it’s just not visually appealing enough. Maybe if they were labelled, so people knew what they were? But there were LOTS left, when everything else had been basically devoured, and I’m pretty sure that happened the last time I made mushroom sandwiches with wheat bread too, so going back to white bread next time, and we’ll see if they do better. Per usual, the Pepperidge Farm Very Thin white bread (that I can only find at Jewel) was perfect for tea sandwiches, and I will be sad if they ever stop carrying it. I clean them out every time I’m prepping for a tea party.
 
Cranberry juice cocktail with ginger ale, fresh cranberries and pomegrante seeds for the punch, couldn’t be easier. A few pieces of decor I just adore — the running deer on that candle stand (“And the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer…”), that little Santa with owl and crown of candles, and that ridiculous swan vase. It’s so goofy, but I love it anyway. One shouldn’t love material objects so much, but I have such a weakness for pretty things…

I forgot to take photos of people until close to the end, but I think we had about 70 folks over the course of four hours. It never got too crowded, though, because people mostly only stayed for an hour or two; there’s so much going on around here this time of year, and people had multiple commitments. Lots of ebb and flow, which means, I think, that the house could probably handle double that number of people without too much trouble for this kind of party. Good to know!  

Kavi and I were sparkly reindeer antler twins (and that adorable mistletoe dress, because I know someone is about to ask me, is from Modcloth and I love it). MagnaTiles happily occupy children of all ages (and adults too), but are particularly nice to have around for the toddlers, so their parents can get a break and breathe a little.

The seeni sambol appetizer was not entirely successful; more on that anon. I have some ideas for next time.
But the patties came out perfectly, the mackerel cutlets ditto. The rolls were rolled a little too large, for the most part (Kev and Kavi need practice!), but cut in half they made perfect portions. Those all got devoured very quickly!  We prepped them all a day or two beforehand, and then held them in the fridge until the last hour before the party, then fried right then, so they were lovely and fresh. (Okay, I got a little behind, so I was still frying during the first hour of the party, but in theory, it would have worked beautifully. And people didn’t seem to mind.)
   
 
Making the ribbon sandwiches (and mushroom tea sandwiches) in advance worked perfectly. We assembled the sandwiches the night before (untrimmed), stacked them in foil trays, lay a clean, damp tea towel on top, wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge. Trimming the ends off and cutting them small the next day was fast, and they came out great — not too soggy, not too dry. Thanks to Roshani and Ann‘s family for the tips — we’ll be doing this from now on, as it really decreases the harriedness on the day of the party!
 

Pem’s daughter was perfectly iconic in her little Christmas dress, and cheerfully posed in front of our tree.

With Deno Andrews and Anand Whyte.

Kavi and Kevin’s marshmallows.

When I realized that we had inadvertently worn completely matching outfits — it was not planned! — I made  Kevin pose with me, even though he hates photos, because I am a terrible wife.  Somehow he puts up with me anyway.  He even tolerated reindeer antlers poking his nose (I forgot I was wearing them).  Such a nice guy. Thanks to Kavi for the photos, and for making Daddy laugh.
 
That’s it, folks!  Holiday party 2017.