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) sautéed 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.

Redbud & Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

Fairy food! I had a redbud for a few years, but I didn’t realize the flowers were edible. Once someone told me they were, I had to try experimenting. (We’ve kept our garden pesticide-free for ten years now, which makes it much easier to eat out of it!)

To be honest, I find that the flowers, like most, have almost no flavor — if I eat them on their own, I can taste a very faint sweetness, slightly nutty. But put them in a cucumber sandwich, and you have a teatime treat to brighten any fairy’s heart!

My daughter was a little suspicious — ‘flowers aren’t for eating!’ But I convinced her to try, and she admitted that the cucumber sandwiches were quite yummy. Of course, I think she mostly likes the butter…

Beet Curry

Heather and I spent much of the weekend assigning photos to recipes for Feast — only to find that I somehow didn’t actually have a photo of the beet curry. So I made it again today and photographed it. Guess I know what’s for dinner tonight…

*****

Sri Lankan Beet Curry
(30 minutes, serves 4)

This dish has a lovely sweet flavor with just a hint of spice—beets have a higher sugar content than any other vegetable, and sugar is sometimes made from beets.

3 medium onions, chopped fine
3 TBL vegetable oil
1/4 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp cumin seed
4 large beets (about one lb), peeled, cut in thick matchsticks
1-2 rounded tsp salt
1 rounded tsp turmeric
2-3 tsp lime juice
1-3 chopped green chilies
two dozen curry leaves (optional)
2 cups coconut milk

1. Sauté onions in oil on high with mustard seed and cumin seeds until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add beets, salt, turmeric, lime juice, chilies, and curry leaves.

2. Lower heat to medium and add coconut milk. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, until beets are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

3. Remove cover and simmer, stirring, until well blended. Serve hot.

Instant Pot Sri Lankan Red Lentils (Masoor Dal)

  Okay, so this was my first instant pot experiment, and I definitely went wrong in a few ways. For one, red lentils are delicate and don’t actually take that long to cook, so it doesn’t really make sense to make them in a pressure cooker — the stovetop works fine. All the lentil recipes I looked at warned against red lentils for the pressure cooker!

But I love them, and they’re what I normally cook if I’m making a Sri Lankan lentil dish — I’m pretty sure that’s common throughout the country. Also, I’m nothing if not stubborn. So I figured what the heck, let’s try.

And so I cobbled together a recipe from suggestions here and there, using my own regular Sri Lankan red lentil recipe as the base, and set it going. Only to hear a beep and see the ‘burning’ alarm! OH NO.

(I admit to a brief moment of panic there, that I had perhaps just broken my new expensive device!)

But it turned out to be basically fine — when my instant pot thinks it doesn’t have enough water, and things have started sticking to the bottom, it turns itself off (and tells you it’s burning). So I opened it up, took the lentils out, and there was a little stuck to the bottom, yes, but I’d say more caramelized than burnt; I didn’t feel like it hurt the flavors at all. (A bit of a nuisance to clean, but not bad. Soaking took care of it.)

The lentils overall were quite porridge-like in consistency, but that’s actually how I usually cook them on the stovetop anyway; I like them better that way than the more soup-y preparation that is common. But I’m pretty sure that if you just added 1-2 c. of water, you’d get that version, and without the ‘burning’ warning!

I’ll try that next time, just to know for certain, but here’s the ‘burning’ porridge version, for your amusement. I served it to guests, and they said it was delicous!

2-3 T oil or ghee

2 medium onions
1 stick of cinnamon
3 strips of lemon rind (about a quarter lemon)
dozen curry leaves
2 c. red lentils
1 can coconut milk + 2 can water
1 dried red chili, broken into pieces
1 pinch saffron
1 t. salt

1. Dice two medium onions and put in Instapot with oil, cinnamon stick, lemon rind, and curry leaves. Sauté 2 minutes, stirring. Hit cancel to stop the sauté function.

2. Add lentils, coconut milk, chili, and saffron to pot (should not be more than 1/2 up the pot interior).

3. Seal the lid, then set to cook on HIGH pressure for 10 minutes. (It will take about 8 minutes for the pressure to build, then the timer will begin.) [note –I’m not actually sure where in here it turned itself off, but close to 10 minutes, I think]

4. Once the timer has stopped, let the pressure release naturally for 15 minutes, then vent to release the pressure completely.

5. Open the lid, taste, and adjust seasoning as desired. Serve hot with rice, garnished with cilantro.

Pongee

Happy Pongal! Pongal is a four-day-long harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka (this year it’s Tues Jan 15 – Fri Jan 18) — when crops like rice are harvested. Yes, it’s a little goofy celebrating it in Chicago in midwinter, but any excuse to celebrate, right?

I haven’t made pongal (rice & lentil porridge) before, but I think it came out pretty well. A quick, simple, one-pot dish, packed with protein, that would be even better accompanied by a nice curry –– eggplant, perhaps? Coconut chutney and sambar are traditional accompaniments.

Pongal
20 minutes, serves 4

1 c. rice
1 c. moong dal
4 c. water
1/2 t. salt

2 T butter or ghee
1/2 c. cashews
1/2 c. sultanas
1 t. cumin seeds
8-12 fresh curry leaves
1-2 green chilies, chopped, optional

1. Add rice, dal, water, and salt to a pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and let simmer 15-20 minutes, until cooked.

2. While rice is cooking, heat butter or ghee, sauté cashews, stirring, until golden. Add cumin seeds, sultanas, curry leaves, and green chili if using, stirring for a few more minutes. Mix into cooked rice & lentils and serve hot.

Other standard ingredients: chopped ginger, pinch of asafoetida, turmeric, black peppercorns (whole or crushed).

 

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….

Bell Pepper and Goat Cheese Egg Bites

I can’t take credit for this recipe — I pretty much followed the instructions on the Anovo website for egg bites, using leeks instead of scallions, because I happened to have them on hand. But I’ll say that it was yum.

Very delicate, roasting the peppers — honestly, I think I’d be fine with using raw peppers in this, for more of a fresh bite. And I’d probably use a little more cheese, a bit more black pepper, for some more oomph. But the general concept, good.

Nice to take fifteen minutes on the weekend to prep, one hour in the sous vide, and then have six warm eggy breakfasts for the week to come, that you can just grab and eat with a spoon, or decant (maybe over some fresh spring greens, lightly dressed) for a slightly fancier presentation.

In general, I’m trying to do more weekend prep to make healthy meals easy during the week. Egg bites, white wine-poached chicken, grilled shrimp, etc. It’s a bit of a process, adapting, but I think it’ll make my life easier during the semester.

    

Passionfruit Lassi

(5 minutes, serves 2-4)

Some people like their lassi very sweet; some like it hardly sweetened at all. It seems like that decision is best left up to the individual cook. I don’t use any honey when I make mine

3-4 ice cubes
1 cup yogurt (or silken tofu yogurt)
1/2 c. passionfruit puree
1 T rosewater (optional)
1 cup water
1/4 cup honey (optional)

1. Combine ice, yogurt, passionfruit, rosewater, water, and blend.

3. Stop blender and taste, adding more water and/or honey if desired, until preferred consistency and flavor is reached. Enjoy!

Pistachio & Rosewater Mini Scones

Delicate and fragrant, with a little nutty goodness to add to your morning or teatime. (If you don’t have a mini scone pan, you can cut and shape these by hand, and bake on a regular baking sheet, placing them quite close together.  If you pop them in the freezer for 30 minute before baking, they’ll hold shape better.)
 
2 3/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup cold butter
1/2 c. chopped pistachios
1/2 c. dried edible rose petals
2 large eggs
1 T rosewater
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 t. lime zest
1/2 cup milk
 
Glaze:
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar
6 T water
1 T lime juice (or substitute water for a plain sugar glaze)
 
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Spray mini scone pan with Baker’s Joy (or butter and flour pan, which will be kind of a pain).
 
2. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Chop butter in small pieces and cut into flour with a pastry cutter (or with your fingers) until mixture resembles coarse meal. (It’s fine to have small lumps.) Stir in pistachios and rose petals.
 
 
3. In a medium bowl, combine remaining 5 scone ingredients, beating eggs lightly. Pour into dry mixture and stir with a fork until a soft dough forms.
 
4. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead a few times. Cut into 16 equal pieces and press into the cavities of the pan.
 
5. Bake 20-25 or until medium brown. Let cool 20 minutes in pan, then remove from pan to wire rack and cool completely. Serve warm, with coffee or tea.
 
6. Optional: Glaze. In a medium bowl, combine powdered sugar, water, and lime juice. Line a baking sheet (with sides) with parchment. Pour glaze in, then dip scones in glaze. Remove to wire rack to dry. Alternately, drizzle glaze over the top.

Desi-Spiced Carrot Bread

Our farmshare is producing quite a lot of carrots at the moment, so I’ve turned to quick bread. The nice thing about it is that you can make a double or even quadruple batch, and it takes just about as long to make, and then you have lots to freeze for a hungry day or give away. This quick bread is a pretty healthy option for breakfast or to tuck into a kids’ lunchbox, though I’ll note that my kids did complain about the cranberries. Know your audience, and skip or substitute as desired!

I really love it with a limey glaze; I think the tartness is the perfect complement to the sweetness of the bread. But you can certainly leave the lime juice out if you prefer.

1 c. shredded carrots (easiest in food processor)
2 large eggs
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. Greek yogurt or sour cream
1/2 c. grated coconut (not sweetened!)
1/2 c. chopped cashews (roasted/salted is fine)
1/2 c. dried cranberries (I like the tartness, but sultanas would be more traditional for desi flavors, and really, any dried fruit would do
1/4 c. chopped crystallized ginger
1 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 brown sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. fine salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. cloves
1/4 t. nutmeg

Glaze (optional):
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 1/2 T whole-milk yogurt
1-2 T lime juice

1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray baking pan with Baker’s Joy (or butter and flour the pan). You can use various pans: mini-muffin, muffin, mini-loaf, loaf; just adjust the timing appropriately.

2. In a large bowl, combine the carrots, eggs, oil, yogurt / sour cream, coconut, cashews, dried fruit, ginger, and vanilla.

3. In another bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

4. Add dry to wet and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. (Don’t beat too long or too vigorously.)

5. Pour the batter into the pan(s) and bake at 350 until done (test with toothpick):

Mini-muffins: 15 minutes
Muffins or mini loaves: 20-25 minutes
Loaf pan: 45-55 minutes

6. Turn onto a rack and let cool.

 

7. Glaze (optional): stir together the glaze ingredients and drizzle over the top of the bread. Enjoy!

(Once cooled, may be frozen for up to six months.)