Passionfruit Rose Cake

Rich passionfruit flavor and a hint of rose scent. This delicate cake is lovely with a very light tea. Passionfruit puree can be ordered online, or is often found in Mexican grocers, sometimes frozen. If you have are lucky enough to have actual passionfruit on hand, you can, of course, pulp and puree them yourself; strain out the hard seeds if you do.

2 c. flour
3/4 t. salt
1/4 t. baking powder
1/2 c. passionfruit puree
1 c. yogurt
1 t. vanilla extract
2 T rosewater
12 T butter (room temperature)
2 c. sugar
5 large eggs (room temperature)
2 egg yolks (room temperature)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a cake pan (spraying with Baker’s Joy makes this easy). You can use a bundt pan, cakelet pans, or mini cake pans.

2. In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder.

3. In a second bowl, combine the passionfruit puree, yogurt, vanilla extract, and rosewater if using; set aside.

4. In the bowl of a standing mixer (paddle attachment), cream the butter and sugar; add the egg yolks and eggs one at a time, pausing to scrape bowl as needed with a rubber spatula.

5. Add the flour mixture and passionfruit mixture alternately in a few additions, starting with the dry. Scrape sides and bottom again to make sure all ingredients are fully incorporated.

6. Fill the pan and bake on the middle rack for (50-55 for bundt, 25-30 minutes for cakelets, 15-20 minutes for mini cakes), or until a toothpick comes out dry when inserted in the center of a cake. (If you want them darker, which shows off the contrast and the detail more, bake a few minutes longer.)

Chai

(two servings, 10 minutes)

Traditionally, you wouldn’t use ‘good’ tea for this. If you have a fancy high-grade tea, large leaves from a new flush, you don’t usually make chai with it. Typically, tea stalls would use fannings / dust to make chai, and would brew it nice and strong, to give you strength for your labors. Lipton will work just fine for this, if you don’t have access to other teas; I tend to use PG Tips, though Typhoo is also good.

 

4 T looseleaf black tea or 4 tea bags
1 c. whole milk
1 c. water
1 T ginger juice (or 1 t. ground ginger)
1 stick cinnamon (or 1 t. ground cinnamon)
1 T black peppercorns (or 1/2 t. ground pepper)
3 green cardamom pods (or 1/2 t. ground cardamom)
3 cloves (or 1/4 t. ground cloves)
1/4 t. fresh grated nutmeg
1-2 T jaggery (or dark brown sugar)

1. Combine ingredients in a small pot, and heat on medium until small bubbles form around the edges.

2. Start stirring and bring to a boil.

3. Turn off heat, stir well, turn heat back on to medium, and bring to a boil again. (This will be thoroughly stewed, with flavor infused intensely in the chai. Note that you need the fat in the milk for full distribution of flavor, so I recommend not using skim milk or just water.)

4. Strain chai into a measuring cup and discard whole spices and tea leaves. Enjoy.

NOTE: If your jaggery is too hard to carve safely, you can microwave it at half power in 10 second increments, checking in between each one. If you heat it too much, it’ll melt, which you don’t want.

Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #4: Patties!

And we have a winner — seeni sambol & egg patties.  They are so, so good.  I took our standard Sri Lankan patty dough, rolled it thin, cut circles, all the way you would for typical chicken patties.

I did some extra small, to see how they’d come out, and they were very cute when fried, and a nice little snack — I ate some on the flight today, and they were lovely with tea at room temperature.  (I also tried baking one, and it was, I’m afraid, pretty eh.  They want frying.)

But when they’re that small, there isn’t room for egg, and I wanted the unctuousness of the egg balancing the intensity of the seeni sambol.  So I went back up to typical patty size (which is just fine for a tea or cocktail party anyway), filled it with seeni sambol and a sixteenth of a boiled egg (you could do an eighth, but I wouldn’t recommend anything bigger), folded it and crimped it up.  (I tried making one that was round, which was a fun experiment, but I didn’t like it as well as the classic patty shape.)

Then, for a little added color and zing, I brushed it all with an egg wash, and then deep-fried it.  It. was. perfect.  I’ll write the recipe up properly the next time I make it; all the experimenting meant that I wasn’t up for measuring everything until I knew which was the winning approach.  Maybe for New Year’s!

But in the meantime, if you know how to make patties already, it’s very easy to adapt for seeni sambol.  Leave out the Maldive fish if you like, and your vegetarian friends will thank you for this delectable little snack.

 

Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #2: Buns

As we discussed possible containers for the seeni sambol, Kevin advocated for buns — which, fair enough, is actually traditional.  Seeni sambol buns can be found sold in roadside stands across Sri Lanka, so obviously, people like them.

But there was a problem — those buns were too big for cocktail / tea party.  Could I make mini buns instead?

The answer was yes — I made the buns half-size (which, if you use my mas paan recipe, means that you’ll end up with 60 little buns), which was just big enough that you could dollop a teaspoon of seeni sambol and an eighth of a hard-boiled egg into the center, before closing them up.

  

The end result was just fine, I’d say, and I would be happy to serve them to people.  This would be a great option for taking them on the road as a snack, as they’re nicely closed up and will keep well.  You should even be able to freeze them, I think, though I haven’t tried that, and I’m not positive what the cooked egg would do.  I also tried slashing the top in a criss-cross pattern, which makes for a more interesting presentation for a cocktail / tea, and lets you see a little bit of the bun.

Overall, I’d grade these as a B+.

But I was pretty sure I could do better…

Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #1: Wontons

I’m a little obsessed with seeni sambol, the Sri Lankan traditional accompaniment of caramelized onions, cooked long and dark with tamarind and chili — made vegetarian if you like, but even tastier, I have to say, with some dried Maldive fish simmered in.  The perfect accompaniment to an egg hopper — but egg hoppers are actually kind of a pain to make, especially for a party, as you have to cook each one individually and steam them slowly.  And they’re not bite-size  treats — I wondered how I could introduce my American friends to the glory of seeni sambol at a cocktail party or tea.  And thus, we set out on our quest — to create the perfect seeni sambol appetizer.

The first attempt was, I’m sad to say, a failure.  I was in a hurry, cooking a lot of things for our holiday party, and so I went for the simplest option available — pre-made wonton shells from the grocery store, filled with seeni sambol.  They were…all right, I suppose?  The wonton shells felt wrong, though; they were too crispy, and they didn’t meld with the sambol.  Adding some cooked egg helped — that was definitely the right flavor the seeni sambol needed to mellow the pungency and make a rich, yummy bite.  But I didn’t think the wontons were the right container.  I’d have to try something else.

 

Also, when I tried pre-filling the wontons and refrigerating them, the seeni sambol gave off oil that discolored the wontons and made them a little greasy to pick up.  Not ideal.  If you really want to go with the wonton option, fill them right before serving.

Autumn Ribbons

This isn’t so much of a recipe, as a test of whether I’ve managed to automate posting to Facebook from this site.  But here’s a picture of the classic ribbon sandwiches, made with just beets and carrots (leaving out the traditional spinach), on wheat bread, for a more autumnal look.  Nice for a Thanksgiving party appetizer!

Desi Crepes

We had crepes for dinner last night, and I started with my favorite, lemon + sugar. Delicious as always, but then I thought, what if I desi-fy’d (desified?) it? So I tried lime + jaggery, and reader, it was good.

We also had some ripe persimmon, which I love, so I tried that — interestingly, the version I did with nutmeg / cinnamon / allspice, which I thought would work well, didn’t excite me. But the version with persimmon / salt / pepper was surprisingly delicious. I think it’s because the persimmons were so sweet?

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.

Apple Cheddar Biscuits

Apple-cheddar biscuits. Barely a recipe, since this is a weeknight quick thing — Pillsbury biscuits sliced in half, layered with sliced apples and pre-shredded cheese. I’m sure it would be tastier if you grated your own cheese and baked the biscuits from scratch, but sometimes tired mama just needs to do five minutes of prep and toss it in the oven.

My kids LOVE them, and sliced in half, they’re a nice addition to this evening’s wine-and-cheese political meet-and-greet with Brandon Johnson (running for Cook County Commissioner), esp. if anyone coming brings their kids.