Sri Lankan Chicken Curry

This is a dish you can get in restaurants and homes all over Sri Lanka, just a classic. It’s my parents’ 50th anniversary today, and this is one of the dishes I learned from Amma. She made chicken curry probably once a week for my entire childhood, and my recipe is still pretty much identical to hers, almost thirty years later. Standing the test of time!

3-5 medium onions, diced
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
3 whole cloves
3 whole cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 3 pieces
1-2 TBL red chili powder
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
12 pieces chicken, about 2 1/2 lbs, skinned and trimmed of fat. (Use legs and thighs — debone them if you must, but they’ll be tastier if cooked on the bone. Don’t use breast meat — it’s not nearly as tasty.) (Alternately, use 6 pieces of chicken, and three russet potatoes, peeled and cubed)
1/3 cup ketchup
1 heaping tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 TBL lime juice

1. In a large pot, sauté onions in oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seed, cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon pieces, until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add chili powder and cook one minute. Immediately add curry powder, chicken, ketchup, and salt.

2. Lower heat to medium. Cover and cook, stirring periodically, until chicken is cooked through and sauce is thick, about 20 minutes. Add water if necessary to avoid scorching. Add potatoes if using, and add milk, to thicken and mellow spice level; stir until well blended. (Be careful not to cook on high at this point, as the milk will curdle.)

3. Cook an additional 20 minutes, until potatoes are cooked through. Add lime juice; simmer a few additional minutes, stirring. Serve hot.

Lamb curry, saag, and paneer pizza

The finished Valentine’s Day pizza (I’m a little behind on posting! Too much cooking!) — one for Kev, one for me, very romantic. When we were living together in Philly, lo, these many ages ago, we used to go get saag at this one food cart, and it was delicious; I was thinking of that when putting this recipe together.

It was pretty filling, so we ended up splitting one, and having the other one for lunch the next day. (Which is actually what we usually did with the food cart saag too.)

Just made it on naan, which was great, though the TJ’s pizza dough would also work fine. Sri Lankan spinach curry for the base, curried lamb with tomatoes, homemade paneer. Mmm…

Lamb curry

Hm. I thought I’d posted all the components of the pizza before posting the finished pizza, but I now see I didn’t. Well, here’s the lamb curry. I basically took a deboned leg of lamb, ground it in the food processor (pulsing lightly, so as not to turn it to paste), and then curried it using the same recipe I’d use for any basic meat curry (see my cookbook  ). Well, I wanted pieces of tomato for the top of the pizza, so I used chopped tomatoes instead of ketchup, but then it wasn’t tangy or sweet enough, so I added a bit of extra lime juice and some jaggery.

Apparently I am feeling lazy about writing recipes out today, because that’s what you get. Plus pictures!

Simple Sunday dinner: steak and broccoli

Sunday dinner this week we kept simple — we had some leftover pasta from the day before, so we just added steak and broccoli. About 20-25 minutes of cooking time, and the kids (mostly Kavi) did almost all of it, with instruction / supervision.

First we got the water boiling for the broccoli, which we were going to boil this time. (Sometimes we steam it, sometimes we roast it. Broccoli happens a lot around here, as it’s the only green vegetable both kids will reliably eat.) The pot was heavy enough that Kavi had a little trouble moving it over — got to get that girl doing more household and yard work, build up some arm muscles! She plays soccer, but that is not helping her arms any. 

Kavi really loves steak, so she was pretty excited to learn how easy it was to make for herself. Rinse, pat dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper (the kids love using the grinders), add a bit of oil. Get the grill pan really hot (toss some water on to make sure it’s sizzling, which is always fun). Put steak on pan and set timer for 3-4 minutes (depending on how thick your steak is; we were doing NY strip, so went with 4).

Check on the water for the broccoli — boiling yet? Almost. We’d already cut it up a few days before (leftover for serving with dip at a party), so that bit was taken care of. We put some dishes away, clearing the dishwasher for later use.

Okay, water at a full rolling boil, plenty of bubbles, in goes the broccoli, careful not to splash yourself with boiling water.

There goes the timer for the steaks — flip them! Don’t mess with them otherwise! Set another timer for 3 minutes. I showed Kavi how you can press a finger into the pad at the base of your thumb to remind yourself of the right level of squishiness for steak doneness — medium rare is what we all like. We pressed a finger in the steak to test — still too soft. Empty some more dishes from the dishwasher.

We were a little tight on time here, because broccoli and steak were finishing at about the same time — the broccoli got *slightly* overcooked as a result. Not enough to be mushy though, which was good, because the kids won’t eat it then! It’s hard to manage the timings perfectly when you’re also trying to teach two kids.

Timer goes off, steak on the cutting board, add a bit more salt and pepper, leave it to rest. (Important — if you cut it now, the juices will just flow out; messy, and less tasty steak resulting).

Drain the broccoli. This bit, I did for them, because the pot was borderline too heavy for Kavi to lift. I told her she could just take them out with a spatula instead; if I’d had one nearby, I would’ve had her do that, but I didn’t — poor planning on my part! Next time. I also warned them to be careful with the steam when pouring out the broccoli into the colander — you can burn your face or hands pretty easily. No good.

Broccoli back in the pot, and now Anand and Kevin have finished the dishwasher, heated up the leftover pasta, and are off setting the table and lighting the candles while we finish up. Kavi adds several pats of butter to the broccoli and gently stirs; we could’ve added some salt too, but with salted butter, didn’t feel we needed it. The sweetness of the broccoli was coming through nicely.

Then slicing the steak, making it pretty with a few of Daddy’s favorite kumato tomatoes, and off to eat. 

It was very satisfying teaching her how to do this at age 12. I basically didn’t learn to cook ’til college; I feel like they’re getting a big advantange in life here! Happy parenting.

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.

Instant Pot Sri Lankan Lamb Curry in Coconut Milk

(1 hr, serves 8)

Cooking lamb curry in the instant pot is only a little faster than cooking this on the stovetop, but does mean that you can make it in advance, or go run an errand (or attend a board meeting, in my case), and let it keep warm until you’re ready to devour the dish.

3 TBL vegetable oil
3 medium onions, chopped
2 TBL ginger, chopped fine
6-8 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
1 stick cinnamon
6-12 curry leaves (optional)
1-2 TBL raw red chili powder
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 lbs leg of lamb, cubed, about 1 inch pieces, with some fat left on

1/2 c. ketchup
1 can coconut milk
1-2 TBL lime juice

1. In the Instant Pot, heat oil and sauté onions with ginger, garlic, mustard seed, cumin seed, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon and curry leaves until onions are golden/translucent (not brown), stirring as needed.

2. Add chili powder, curry powder, and salt, stirring to combine, then add lamb and sear, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes, to bring out the flavor of the meat.

3. Add ketchup and coconut milk, stir well, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom.

4. Set to pressure cook for 15 minutes; allow pressure to release before opening. Add lime juice and salt to taste, simmering if needed to reduce liquid.

5. Serve hot, with rice or bread.

Instant Pot Black Pork Curry / Uru Mas or Padre Kari

 

 (1 hour, serves 6-8)

Cooking this in the Instant Pot only saves about 30 minutes off the traditional recipe, but it does make it easy to set it going, and then wander off, knowing it’ll be kept nice and warm for you until you get back. When I made this test batch, I was able to take Anand to his swim lesson after I set the pressure-cooking going, knowing that it’d be all done and ready for me to eat when we got back!

This traditional tangy, peppery dish gets its dark color from the combination of dark roasted curry powder, tamarind paste, and lots of black pepper. (The colloquial name ‘padre kari’ refers to the black robes of a padre / priest.) Tamarind paste is fairly easy to find in Mexican and Indian markets, or you can order it online. It keeps well in the pantry for a long time, even after opening. Typically, you’d leave a good portion of the fat on the pork pieces; it soaks up a ton of flavor, and is truly delectable, balancing the meat, which can otherwise be a bit dry after long cooking. But you can trim all the fat off if you’d prefer.

3 medium onions, chopped
2 TBL ginger, chopped fine
6-8 garlic cloves, smashed
6-12 curry leaves (optional)
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
1 heaping tsp salt
4 tsp black peppercorns
3 lbs pork shoulder, cubed, about 1 inch pieces, with some fat left on
3 tsp tamarind paste
1/2cup white vinegar

1. In the Instant Pot, sauté onions, ginger, garlic, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and curry leaves in oil until onions are golden/translucent (not brown), stirring as needed.

2. Add curry powder, salt, and peppercorns, stirring to combine, then add pork and sear, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes, to bring out the flavor of the meat.

3. Add tamarind paste and white vinegar; stir well.

4. Set to pressure cook for 30 minutes; allow pressure to release before opening. Serve hot, with rice or bread.

Instant Pot Beef Smoore

   Instant Pot Sri Lankan Beef Smoore
 
This dish translated really easily to the Instant Pot — I hardly had to modify it at all. And it’s simple enough that even a novice cook shouldn’t find it too intimidating. It normally takes 4-6 hours by the traditional method, but this was just an hour, start to finish. Maybe add another 10-15 minutes if you’re slow at chopping onions, but still — v. speedy, and I didn’t notice any lessening of flavor from the traditional version.
 
Beef Smoore / Mas Ismoru
(1 hour, serves 8)
This is a dish of Dutch / Sri Lankan origin. Yummy with rice — also great in weekday lunch sandwiches on hearty Italian bread, or shredded into a pita or folded naan, with some pickled onions and a little yogurt. Long-handled metal tongs will help with moving the large piece of hot meat. This is made to authentic Sri Lankan spice levels; reduce chili powder for a milder version. Delicious with a deep red wine; garnish with cilantro if desired. A fabulous dinner party dish.
 
3-4 lb chuck roast
3 TBL ghee or vegetable oil
1 TBL salt
1 TBL pepper
1/2 cup vinegar
1 TBL tamarind, dissolved in one cup water
2 medium onions, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 TBL finely chopped fresh ginger
1 stick cinnamon
2 stalks curry leaves
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
2 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp salt
1 cup coconut milk
1. Set Instant Pot on sauté and heat oil. Rub beef with salt and pepper, then sear the beef until lightly brown on all sides, which adds great depth of flavor to the sauce.
 
2. Add the vinegar, tamarind water, onions, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, curry leaves, lemongrass, curry powder, chili powder, turmeric, fenugreek, remaining salt, and coconut milk. Stir to combine, scraping up any browned meat on the bottom of the pan.
 
4. Cover the Instant Pot and set to pressure cook for 45 minutes. When finished, release steam and then remove lid.
 
5. Remove meat to a serving dish; if the gravy is too thin, reduce it by boiling rapidly uncovered. Transfer gravy to a serving bowl. Slice the meat into the desired thickness, and pour gravy over the slices; serve hot with rice or bread.

Pork Vindaloo and Banana Bread

We eat a lot of bananas in this house, but sometimes we don’t get to them before they start going bad, so we toss them in the freezer and every month or so, I pull them out and make banana bread. I am here to tell you that pork vindaloo is EXCELLENT on banana bread — it is so good that if I ever open a cafe, I would totally serve this, and people would go wild. I suppose it’s not so surprising that pork + bananas is yummy, but this specific combo surprised me. Experimenting yields great rewards sometimes!
 
I am imagining a fancy cocktail party or high-end restaurant appetizer version of this too — little circles of banana bread spread with vindaloo sauce, topped with a perfectly seared piece of pork (be sure to leave a little fat on), graced with a dab of yogurt and a tiny curry leaf.
 
But I am too lazy to go to that much effort. 🙂

Curried Tamarind Pork with Sweet Potatoes and Apples

I wasn’t sure if this would work, and I have to say, it’s a little nerve-wracking taking a great big pot of delicious pork curry and adding something to it that might ruin it….but I do love pork and apples and pork and sweet potatoes, so I thought maybe, just maybe, adding sweet potatoes and apples to my traditional Sri Lankan curried pork would work nicely. And it does!

Minor modifications — used apple cider vinegar instead of regular vinegar, added an extra cup of water when I added the sweet potatoes (just as the pork was becoming tender), because the sauce was getting a bit thick and I wanted to be sure there’d be enough liquid to cook the sweet potatoes, added the apples about 15 minutes after the sweet potatoes and cooked 15 minutes more — which was a little too much; they started to dissolve, but I just used the somewhat soft apples I had on hand. But with firm cooking apples, I think 15 minutes would be about right.

(1 1/2 hours, serves 6-8)

3 medium onions, chopped fine
1 TBL ginger, chopped fine
4 garlic cloves, sliced
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
1 TBL red chili powder
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
1/3 cup ketchup
1 T tamarind paste
1 heaping tsp salt
3 pieces cinnamon stick
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1 dozen curry leaves
3 lbs pork shoulder, cubed, about 1 inch pieces
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
1 c. red wine
2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into large chunks
2 apples, cut into large chunks

1. In a large pot, sauté onions, ginger, and garlic in oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seeds until onions are golden/translucent (not brown), stirring as needed. Add chili powder and cook 1 minute, stirring. Immediately stir in curry powder, ketchup, tamarind, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and curry leaves.

2. Add pork and stir on high for a minute or two, browning the meat. Add vinegar & wine and stir well, scraping to deglaze pan. Cover, turn down to medium, and let cook one hour, stirring occasionally.

 

3. Add sweet potatoes, stir well, and cover again (adding water if needed). After fifteen minutes, stir in apples, cover again. Cook until sweet potatoes are cooked through, adding water if needed to maintain a nice thick sauce (and to keep food from burning), stirring occasionally. Serve hot with rice or bread.