Ginger-Garlic Chicken Stuffing

I didn’t have time to write up this recipe in the heat of Thanksgiving prep, but it turns out that my kids’ favorite Sri Lankan dish, ginger-garlic chicken, makes a very nice stuffing. I’m eating the last of it for lunch, right out of the Pyrex with a fork.  I think it’d also make a pretty tasty lettuce leaf wrap.

I love the way the tart sweetness of the cranberry contrasts with the savory flavors. We didn’t make it spicy this year, so the kids could eat it, but I think this’d be even tastier with a hint of cayenne.

 

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Ginger-Garlic Chicken Stuffing, with Cashew and Cranberry
(serves 24 as a side dish, 12 as main, 30 minutes)

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 small bite-size
vegetable oil for frying
1/2 to 2 heaping tsp red chili powder (to taste, optional)
1 c. chicken broth or water
1 c. dried cranberries
1 c. chopped cashews
2 c. dried bread cubes

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 in a large sauté pan or 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 add chicken broth or water (if using water, I’d add another 1/4 – 1/2 t. salt), cranberries, and cashews; turn up heat and bring to a boil.

6. Stir in bread cubes and turn off heat. When stuffing is well blended, serve hot, or for later serving, turn into a casserole dish and cover. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes and serve hot.

Cashew-Mushroom Cornbread Stuffing, Sri Lankan-Inflected

People often get intimidated by recipes with lots of ingredients and steps, which is understandable, but many of them aren’t actually complicated or hard — it’s just a sequence of very simple things, like what you’d do to make this cashew-mushroom cornbread stuffing.

One of my favorite TV cooking episodes is the one where Alton Brown teaches Waldorf salad, because he starts with a basic Waldorf (apples, mayo, and lettuce), and then starts adding other ingredients (toasted walnuts, celery, mint, red onion), making it better and better with each step. That’s basically the same approach I use with this stuffing, and with a lot of my recipes — layering in simple ingredients, one after another, building to a complex, nuanced final dish.

When composing this particular recipe, I was thinking of Karina, my vegetarian ex-girlfriend from Australia. She really did not love American Thanksgiving, with the whole turkey thing. As I’m writing this, tender-hearted Anand is having a conversation in the kitchen with Kavi and Kevin about reducing his meat consumption — he’s not ready to go vegetarian yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did in the future.

It was tough eating out with Karina in Philly in the 1990s when we were dating — so many places just offered rather boring vegetarian dishes. Basic pasta. Basic salad. So for this stuffing, I wanted to be sure to compose something with exciting flavors, but also exciting colors. Not just green, not just brown. A delight on the plate!

I start with onions (a mix of red and white) sautĂ©ed with Sri Lankan spicing, plenty of colorful bell pepper, ginger & garlic (I used a spoon of jarred today, because I’m a bit tired, but chopping fresh would be even better), green chili for heat, color, and flavor, nutty-sweet cashews, mushrooms and our Sri Lankan toasted curry powder, tomatoes and lime juice for balancing tang — and now you have a beautiful, hearty curry. You could just serve it as is, perhaps with rice or naan, or with a dollop of yogurt or coconut milk stirred in. Taste seasonings, add salt / pepper as desired.

But we’re going for stuffing! So add liquid — water or vegetable broth or even chicken broth if you’re not actually cooking for vegetarians, and bring that to a boil. This is a good point to taste again, see if you like it. The cornbread’s going to add a lot of sweetness, and while this is a sweet stuffing overall, you might want a bit more salt / pepper / tang to balance. When you’re happy with it, add the cornbread, turn off the heat and mix it in — you’re done.

It’s really very simple, even though there are lots of ingredients and lots of steps! For our Thanksgiving, this is going to complement a salty ham beautifully — for a vegetarian Thanksgiving (or any dinner party), I might recommend slicing, salting, and grilling some nice thick slices of eggplant, and topping that with this stuffing.

You could even get super fancy, and make a beautiful stack: rounds of grilled salty eggplant and zucchini, alternating with this stuffing, drizzled with a yogurt-lime dressing. Maybe even served on a bed of kale mallung? Mmm….

*****

Cashew-Mushroom Cornbread Stuffing, Sri Lankan-Inflected
(30 minutes, serves 8-12)

1/4 c. vegetable oil or ghee
1 red onion and 2 yellow onions, chopped
1.5 bell peppers, chopped
1 T ginger and 3 cloves garlic, chopped, or 2 T ginger-garlic paste
3 green chilies, chopped
1 c. roasted cashews, chopped (salted is fine)
8 oz. mushrooms, quartered
1 t. salt
1 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1 t. black pepper
1 tomato, chopped
1 T lime juice
2 c. water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth
3 c. cornbread stuffing

1. In a large sauté pan, sauté onions in oil on medium-high until golden-translucent, stirring as needed.

2. Add bell pepper, ginger, garlic and stir to combine. Add green chilies and stir. Add cashews and stir. Add mushrooms and stir. If sticking, feel free to add a little more oil, or a T or two of butter.

3. Add salt, curry powder, pepper and stir until well blended. Cook 5-10 minutes or so, stirring as needed, until mushrooms are reduced and browned nicely; adjust seasonings to taste. (You can stop and serve at this point, as a curry.)

4. Add tomato, lime juice, and water or broth. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Taste seasonings and adjust as desired; it should be on the slightly salty / tangy / peppery side at this point.

4. Crumble in corn bread and gently combine. Turn off heat, and when it’s well-blended, either serve immediately, or transfer into a baking dish for storage in the fridge.

NOTE: May be baked to bring back up to serving temperature — 30 minutes @ 350, covered, then remove cover and bake 15 minutes more.

Cornbread-Sausage-Pepper Stuffing, Sri Lankan-Inflected

Someone asked me last week if I did Sri Lankan-flavored Thanksgiving, and we don’t usually. Sri Lankan Thanksgiving in my mind is the time when I brought Kevin home to Connecticut for the first time. All the relatives came over to my parents’ house for a big American Thanksgiving, eating turkey and stuffing and all the trimmings around 3 p.m. Classic American flavors, and I warned Kevin to eat lightly, but I think he didn’t believe me when I told him this wasn’t the main event.

As foretold, around 8-9 p.m., we sat down to the REAL dinner — rice and curries, a groaning table filled with them, with short eats (delicious fried appetizers) before, and dessert after. American Thanksgiving was a fun cooking challenge for my mother and aunts back in 1995, but it wasn’t like it was proper food for a party…

I had warned Kevin that he’d better eat heartily of the rice and curries if he ever hoped to be accepted in my family, esp. since various of the aunts had made various dishes — you wouldn’t want to slight anyone! So he manfully tried. And I usually avoid words like ‘manfully,’ but in this case, it feels appropriate. He called upon all his man-stomach’s powers to avoid disappointing his girlfriend’s family.

They fretted that our food would be too spicy for my blond, blue-eyed boy, but Kevin was fine with heat; he’d grown up in California eating Mexican-influenced food. I’d seen him chomp down on a raw habañero (on a dare), so I knew he’d have no trouble with the heat levels of our curries. But the sheer volume almost unmanned him! Somehow, Kev made it through second dinner, though his stomach was aching, and won the right to be grudgingly accepted into the family. My hero.

And now here we are, more than 25+ years later, and I don’t make rice and curry in my own house for Thanksgiving. I enjoy the cooking challenge of turkey and stuffing and all the trimmings, and teaching the kids how to make these dishes. It was sheer delight yesterday evening, sitting on the couch watching an episode of Queer Eye with Kavi snuggled up with me, letting Kevin teach Anand how to make Jiffy cornbread.

But this year, I did try to add a little subtle Sri Lankan flavor to the cornbread-sausage stuffing. I didn’t want it to be overpowering; I wanted the meal to still say “Thanksgiving” instead of “Sri Lanka.” But a hint of cumin and black mustard seed worked rather nicely here, accented with lime for balance. Pleasant!

While I used black pepper this time around (due to the Anand’s continued lack of heat tolerance, sigh), what I think would really excellent would be green chili, which is so lovely with corn generally. That would cut through the richness of the sausage slightly better. But this is lovely, and I’ve already snagged a bite straight out of the fridge for breakfast, and want to go back for more. That’s the sign of a good stuffing in my book!

***

Cornbread-Sausage-Pepper Stuffing, Sri Lankan-Inflected

1/4 c. vegetable oil or ghee
3 onions, chopped
1 T ginger, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. cumin seed
1 t. black mustard seed
2 orange bell peppers, chopped
2 lbs. ground sausage
1 t. salt
1/2 – 1 t. pepper (or 3 chopped green chilies)
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 c. chicken broth
1 T lime juice
3 c. cornbread

1. In a large sauté pan, sauté onions with ginger, garlic, cumin seed, and mustard seed over medium heat in oil or ghee. Stir as needed, until onions are golden-translucent.

2. Add bell pepper and sauté a few minutes more, until softened, then add ground sausage, salt, and pepper (or chilies), and sauté until sausage has browned.

3. Stir in tomatoes and lime juice; sauté a few minutes more. Then add chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

4. Crumble in corn bread and gently combine. Turn off heat, and when it’s well-blended, either serve immediately, or transfer into a baking dish for storage in the fridge.

NOTE: May be baked to bring back up to serving temperature — 30 minutes @ 350, covered, then remove cover and bake 15 minutes more.

*****

#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

Sweet & Spicy Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate Seeds

People ask a lot how I do all this stuff, so I must periodically make clear that my life wouldn’t function if Kevin couldn’t feed himself and the kids as needed. Sometimes he’s cooking from scratch, and making well-balanced meals or fresh-baked bread; sometimes he’s throwing some frozen peas on the plate and calling it a day. That’s parenting for both of us around here. But I can go out of the country for a week, or spend all weekend at holiday fairs, and I know that as long as Kev’s not cross-scheduled (we do have to be a little careful about that), he’ll get the family fed. It’s not nothing.
 
I don’t know what the rest of the family ate for dinner tonight; I was still out. Kev would’ve made me dinner too if I’d said I’d be home in time. This picture is actually what I made myself for dinner tonight. With all the running around, I’d been eating poorly for a few days, grabbing mostly starch things because that’s what was easily accessible. Also too many sweets — it’s hard not to nibble truffles and marshmallows and rich cake when you’re making them!
 
So I came home from the sale today, flopped in a chair for an hour….and then got up, trimmed some brussels sprouts, tossed them with olive oil, salt, pepper, chili powder, honey, and apple cider vinegar, then roasted them at 375 for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with some fresh pomegranate seeds and a few more grinds of salt if needed, and you are good to go! It was nice to cook something not on a deadline and just because I felt like eating it. 🙂
 
Kevin loves brussels sprouts, so it’ll be nice for him too. Which is the only reason I didn’t eat all of them with a fork out of the roasting pan, standing right at the kitchen counter. Mmmm….

Green Bean Varai

A fresh, green element on the dinner plate.

1 medium onion, minced
1 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 rounded tsp turmeric
1-3 dry red chilies, broken into pieces (optional)
1 lb green beans, chopped finely (in a food processor is fine)
1/4 rounded tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 rounded tsp salt
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

  1. Cook onions with turmeric, black mustard seed, and chilies in a dry pan over high heat, stirring constantly, for a few minutes, until semi-cooked.
  2. Add green beans, pepper, and salt, and cook a few minutes more, enough to take the raw edge off. Green beans should still be crispy.
  3. Turn off heat, stir in coconut, and serve with rice.


 

Sourdough Soup Bowl & Watermelon Salad

One consequence of writing a cookbook is that now when I eat out, I find myself taking mental notes and/or critiquing the food. These are two dishes from the Marriott I was staying at in Walnut Creek. The clam chowder was delicious, but the best part was how they served it in a little individual bread bowl, that they had buttered and crisped up before filling it with soup. Great contrasts of crispy bread exterior with soft, soup-soaked interior. Would make a fabulous autumn / winter appetizer or light meal.

I also liked this watermelon salad appetizer — so pretty! But the raspberry dressing was too sweet; it needed to be more citrus, to contrast with the candied nuts. And while the long cucumber slices are pretty, they required pulling out a knife, which none of the rest of the salad did, which was sort of annoying. I’d do it on a bed of round cucumber slices instead.

Thai Carrot Salad

Thai Carrot Salad
 
1 T ginger & 3 cloves peeled garlic, grated very fine
2 T fresh lime juice & zest of 1 lime
1-2 T soy sauce
1 T fish sauce (optional; vegetarians can skip it)
2-3 T brown sugar
1-2 green chilies, minced (optional)
1 carrot, shredded
 
Combine all ingredients and let sit five minutes. Serve cold with rice and Thai curry.

Cauliflower Poriyal

(Lunch today: cauliflower poriyal with a little beef curry on top. Yum. Smells so good when frying the onions in ghee…)

Cauliflower Poriyal
(25 minutes, serves 4)

The key to this dish is sautĂ©ing the cauliflower until it’s browned—the browned bits will be the tastiest. I generally like to serve this dish with beef or pork curry; the slighty salty flavor complements those meats well. This is, oddly, one of my picky children’s favorite dishes, and has often proved popular with my friends’ children as well. I think it’s all the frying.

3 medium onions, chopped coarsely
3 TBL vegetable oil or ghee
1/4 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp cumin seed
1 medium cauliflower, chopped bite-size
1 rounded tsp salt
1 rounded tsp turmeric

1. Sauté onions in oil on high in a large nonstick frying pan with mustard seed and cumin seed, until onions are slightly softened (not brown). Add cauliflower, turmeric, and salt. (I’ve made this in a regular frying pan, and found that it’s difficult not to burn it; if you don’t use non-stick, you’ll need to stir constantly.)

2. Cook on medium-high, stirring frequently, until cauliflower is browned (mostly yellow, but with a fair bit of brown on the flatter parts). This takes a while—don’t stop too early, or it won’t be nearly as tasty. Serve hot.

Tempered Lentils (Paripoo / Dal)

(60 minutes, serves six)
 
Lentils are a staple dish in Sri Lanka—across the country, people eat what we call paripoo daily, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s terribly good for you, very affordable, and also delicious. I used to dislike lentils, or I thought I did, but it turned out I only disliked my mother’s version (which everyone else loved, so I blame my being a slightly picky kid). I was converted to lentils through my adult discovery of Ethiopian food, a cuisine which cooks the lentils to a soft porridge-like consistency; now I am quite fond of them. This recipe is adapted from Charmaine Solomon’s The Complete Asian Cookbook.
 
2 cups red lentils
1 can coconut milk, plus 1 can hot water
1 dried red chili, broken into pieces
a pinch of ground saffron
1 tsp pounded Maldive fish (optional)
2 TBL ghee or oil
2 medium onions, finely sliced
6 curry leaves
1 stick of cinnamon
three strips of lemon rind (about a quarter lemon)
salt to taste (about Âľ – 1 t.)
 
1. Put lentils in a saucepan with the coconut milk, chili, and saffron (and Maldive fish, if using). (If you don’t have red lentils, you can use a different variety, but it will notably change the flavor.) Fill the can with hot water and add that as well; this will ensure you don’t waste any coconut yumminess. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until lentils are soft, about forty-five minutes. Stir periodically and add more water if needed; it’s fine if the bottom starts to stick a little—just scrape it up.
 
2. In another saucepan, heat the oil and fry the onions, curry leaves, cinnamon, and lemon rind until onions are golden-brown.
 
3. Reserve half the onions for garnishing the dish and add the lentil mixture to the saucepan. Stir well, add salt to taste, and cook down until thick, like porridge. Serve with rice and curries.
 
Notes: Some people like their paripoo more watery, but I think they’re just wrong. Still, cook to your preference. I tend to leave the Maldive fish out, since I often make this dish when I’m cooking for vegetarians, but it certainly is more traditional (and I think tastier) with the fish added.