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
- 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.
- 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.
- Turn off heat, stir in coconut, and serve with rice.
(Lunch today: cauliflower poriyal with a little beef curry on top. Yum. Smells so good when frying the onions in ghee…)
(25 minutes, serves 4)
The key to this dish is sautéing 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.
This was a fun one for me — an entirely vegan dinner, that I did for last week’s board game night. Pretty easy with Sri Lankan food. Going around clockwise: lentils in coconut milk (tons of protein), carrot in coconut milk, kale sambol, coconut sambol (spicy), seeni sambol (spicy and sweet), eggplant curried in coconut milk, with red rice / quinoa in the center.
If I were doing it again, I’d make more of a bed of red rice / quinoa — I had to go back for seconds on that to happily eat the rest, get the balance right in each bite. And I’d dice the onions for the lentils instead of slicing them — they were a little too noticeable when paired with the sliced onions in the seeni sambol.
This was plenty of food for the number of people we had, but for a larger dinner party, you could expand the plate’s options.
I’d add papadum for crunch, probably some lime-masala mushrooms for the tang. Devilled potatoes would add a luscious spicy-tomato element, though you could also just add tomatoes and potatoes to the eggplant curry for similar effect. Cashew curry or chili cashews would add another hit of protein in rich, nutty form. And while I’ve never had a raita without yogurt, I wonder if you could do something similar with coconut milk, for another cold element.
Proper balance of varied flavors for a Sri Lankan dinner party is an art form! But making it vegan was no more difficult than vegetarian or with meat, it turns out.
(20 minutes, serves 4)
3 medium onions, chopped
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 T ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 Thai green chilies, chopped fine
1/2 tsp black mustard seed
1/2 tsp cumin seed
six large carrots, sliced into thin coins
1 rounded tsp salt
1 cup coconut milk (can use milk instead, but be extra careful not to curdle)
1. Sauté onions in oil on high with mustard seed, cumin seed, and ginger until onions are golden. Add garlic, carrots and salt. Cook on medium-high, stirring frequently, until carrots are cooked through.
2. Stir in coconut milk and turn heat down to low; simmer until well-blended, stirring constantly. Serve hot.
NOTE: You’d typically also add in half a teaspoon of turmeric with the salt, but I honestly forgot this time, and it was still good.
This may be the most iconic flavor combo of my childhood — beef curry with carrot curry on rice. I think my mom made it close to weekly, and the two flavors go perfectly together — the savory spice of the beef with the sweetness of the carrots cooked in coconut milk.
When I eat it, part of me is twelve years old again, sitting at the kitchen table at dinnertime with my little sisters, reading a book. (I was a terrible conversationalist at family dinner. Mostly still am.)
(Not pictured with actual rice — was trying out shirataki. Shirataki, marketed here as ‘Miracle Rice’ would be an okay substitute for noodles, I think. It basically has no tooth, though, so if I were desperate for no-carb, almost no-calorie, rice-like thing, I might have some, but I definitely like rice + quinoa better for a lower-carb than plain white rice option. Or if I really felt like I wanted a big bed of white ‘something’ to put under curry? I am more than a little weirded out by the almost-no-calorie food concept, though.)
(50 minutes, serves 8)
This accompaniment offers a little extra heat and onion-y zing to a plate of rice and curry.
4 medium leeks
1/4 cup oil
1/2 rounded tsp turmeric
1 1/2 rounded tsp chili powder
1 rounded tsp salt
1. Rinse dirt off outside of leeks. Discard any tough or withered leaves, but do use the green portions as well as the white.
2. With a sharp knife, slice the leeks thinly across the stalk, making thin rings / chiffonade; when you’re slicing the green leaves, make a tight bundle in your hands for easier slicing.
3. Wash the sliced leeks very thoroughly. The soil trapped between the leaves won’t actually taste particularly bad, but the grittiness is unpleasant. I recommend not simply running the sliced leeks under a colander—rather, put them in a large bowl of water and wash them vigorously, changing the water at least three times. This is labor-intensive, but well worth it.
4/ Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the leeks. Sauté, stirring for 5 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients and stir until well blended.
5. Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The leeks will reduce in volume. Uncover and cook, stirring, until liquid evaporates and leeks appear slightly oily. Serve hot.
(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.)