Ribbon Tea Sandwiches

Ribbon Tea Sandwiches (Carrot, Beet, and Spinach)
(1 1/2 hours, serves dozens)

These are a favorite across Sri Lanka, and are made with a variety of vegetables—some use asparagus instead of spinach, for example. They are quite ridiculously pretty, with their contrasting stripes of color, and are a staple at Christmas parties and other festive events. They are just a little spicy, but spice levels may be adjusted up or down, as desired. I like mine tangy, but if you don’t like tang, leave out the vinegar, and they will still be quite tasty.

NOTE: These are quite time-consuming to assemble; I usually try to make sure I have at least a pair of hands to help at that stage.

Ingredients:
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 pound beets, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 10 oz packet frozen chopped spinach, thawed, with the excess water squeezed out
3 Thai green chilies
1 8 oz package cream cheese
1 stick butter
1 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp white pepper (black is also fine)
3 TBL vinegar
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 loaves thin white bread (recommended: Pepperidge Farms Sandwich Bread or Very Thin, if you can find it) Note: Each sandwich uses 4 slices of bread. Each large sandwich will be cut into four bite-size sandwiches

Recipe:

1. Chop carrots finely in food processor with one green chili. Add 1/3 package cream cheese, 1/3 stick butter, and 1/3 cup mayo. Add 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp white pepper, 1 TBL vinegar, and 1/2 tsp salt. Combine until smooth, taste seasonings and adjust if desired, and transfer spread to a separate bowl. Rinse out food processor.

2. Repeat process with beets + chili, and then again with spinach + chili.

3. Spread carrot mixture on a slice of bread. Place second slice of bread on top and spread with beet mixture. Place third slice of bread on top and spread with spinach mixture. Place final slice of bread on top. Using a serrated bread knife, gently cut off the edges. Cut each large sandwich into four triangles. (I recommend cleaning the blade between cuts with a wet paper towel if you want to avoid beet mixture staining the bread.) Arrange beautifully on a plate and serve.

Note: If not serving immediately place in a large storage container and lay a moist paper towel on top of the sandwiches to keep them fresh. Alternatively, you can prepare the sandwiches the night before, not cutting them, wrap each large sandwich individually in plastic wrap, and then cut them when you’re ready to serve. That does take quite a bit of plastic wrap, though!

Note 2: When I cut off the crusts, I save them and throw the bag of crusts in the freezer. And then, when I’m feeling like cozy comfort food, I take some leftover curry, stir in the crusts (still frozen is fine), and sauté it for oh, five minutes or so, until the bread has sopped up all the liquid. Essentially a Sri Lankan version of a hot panzanella. Yummy and comforting.

Spicy Coconut Milk-Chocolate Truffles

10 ounces dark chocolate chips
½ c. canned coconut milk
½ t. salt
1/4 – ½ t. cayenne
1 t. maple syrup (or treacle)
red cocoa powder for dusting

1. Add chocolate, coconut milk, salt, cayenne and maple syurp to microwave safe bowl and heat for 30 seconds, take out stir, and repeat until chocolate is melted. Refrigerate for about 3 hours until set.

2. Scoop and roll ganache into small balls, then roll in cocoa powder to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

Chai Spice Truffles

This is based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis, but uses individual spices, rather than chai tea packets; I’ve also adjusted the amount of cream so it will set better.
 
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
7 bags black tea
1/8 t. cardamom
1/8 t. cloves
¼ t. nutmeg
¼ t. cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 ounces dark chocolate chips
½ c. coconut flakes
 
 
1. Combine the heavy cream, tea bags, and spices in a small saucepan. On medium-low heat, warm gently, stirring occasionally, until bubbles just start to form around the edges of the cream, about 5 minutes. Simmer 3 minutes more and then turn off the heat.
 
2. Place the chopped chocolate and salt in a medium bowl. Strain the hot cream mixture through a fine-mesh strainer over the chocolate and let sit for 3 minutes.
 
3. Slowly whisk the now-melted chocolate into the cream, starting with small circles in the center of the bowl until smooth and completely blended. Refrigerate for about 3 hours until set.
 
4. Scoop and roll ganache into small balls, then roll in coconut flakes to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
 
 

Honey-Chili Spiced Cashews

(5 minutes, serves lots)
 
2 cups cashews, chopped
2 T butter or ghee
4 T honey
1 t. cayenne
2 t. salt
 
1. Sauté cashews in butter on medium, stirring, for a few minutes, until golden, being careful not to burn.
 
2. Turn off heat. Add honey, cayenne, and salt, and stir a few minutes more.
 
3. Turn onto a parchment paper sheet and spread out; let cool.
 
4. Crumble into bowl and serve for nibbling.
 
 

Mango-Ginger Shortbread (Redux)

Made it again, and this version is the winner, I think — it holds together beautifully, and tastes delicious. There’s just a hint of lemon flavor; the mango and ginger notes dominate. Kavya said when we were baking last night, “It looks like Sri Lankan food!” She has come to believe that Sri Lankan food is mostly yellow and orange, which is not entirely true, but not entirely wrong in this case, since this is a pretty Sri Lankan-flavor-inflected shortbread.

2 sticks unsalted butter (1 c.), chopped coarsely
3/4 c. sugar
1 t. salt
zest of one lemon
1/2 t. lemon extract
2 c. flour
1/3 c. crystallized ginger, chopped fine
1/3 c. dried mango, chopped fine

1. Preheat oven to 300.

2. Cream butter, sugar, salt, lemon zest, and lemon extract until well blended. (I use an electric hand mixer for this.)

3. Add flour and beat until it consolidates into a very crumbly dough.

4. Gently stir in ginger and mango.

5. Press into a molded shortbread tin and bake 20 minutes. Unmold, slice apart into separate cookies, and let cool.

Delicious with a nice cup of tea!

Mango-Ginger Shortbread

This one is barely a recipe — more of an experiment. This is Kevin shortbread, because he loves shortbread, mango, and ginger. We used the King Arthur Flour shortbread recipe, and mixed in half a cup of mango pieces and half a cup of crystallized ginger pieces.

Kev and I both found it delicious, but it didn’t hold together quite as well as I would have liked, I think because I typically only fill my shortbread pan halfway deep, so I get 18 reasonable sized cookies out of a batch instead of only 9 really big ones. But for this recipe, it might have worked better to just go for it with the big cookies.

 

Alternately, I think you could reduce the amount of mango and ginger to a 1/4 c. of each, and the cookies would hold together better. Still, yum. The trick will be not eating them all before our holiday party on Sunday. The way shortbread cookies melt in your mouth, leaving that last little salt-butter lingering…

Kale Sambol & Spice-Rubbed Steak

Kale Sambol

(20 minutes, serves 8)

I had never been a big kale fan, but my friend, Roshani, completely converted me with her Aunty Indranee’s use of kale in this traditional sambol. In Sri Lanka, this would have been made with a native green, gotu kola, but kale is an excellent substitute (you can also try any other leafy greens, like beet greens, mustard greens, or rainbow chard).

For this preparation, kale is chopped small and tenderized with lime juice. When mixed with the coconut, tomatoes, sugar, and salt, the result is a tasty and addictive sambol that has become an essential component to many of our meals — if I make a meat curry now, I almost always make kale sambol to accompany it, and will often eat more sambol than curry. I’d have it with a little rice, but Kevin likes to just have beef curry and kale sambol together in a bowl, or with steak on a plate, which is also delicious.

1 bunch kale, leaves stripped off (stems discarded)

1 medium onion, minced

1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1-2 cups cherry tomatoes, chopped

Juice of 2 small limes (about 2-3 TBL)

1-2 TBL sugar

1 tsp fine salt

  1. Pulse kale in food processor until completely shredded into small bits.
  2. Add onion, coconut, tomato, lime juice, sugar, salt. Mix thoroughly.

 

Can be served immediately, but best if allowed to sit and blend for an hour or so. Will keep in fridge for a good week—refresh with a little extra lime juice as needed.

Grilled Spice-Rubbed Steak

2 lbs. flank steak, cut into a few pieces against the grain

3 garlic cloves

1.5 t. kosher salt

2 T vegetable oil

3 t. Sri Lankan dark roasted curry powder

1 t. black pepper

1.  Mince garlic and mash to a paste with salt. Add oil and spices and stir to a paste. Pat steak dry, then rub all over with paste (easiest with your clean hand). Marinate steak at least two hours, or longer, up to a day.

 

2.  Heat grill to medium-high, and grill steak on lightly-oiled grill rack, uncovered, turning over once, 6-8 minutes total for medium-rare.

3.  Let rest 5 minutes, then cut steak diagonally across grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices.

Deviled Potatoes

When I’m sick, apparently I revert to cooking the simplest foods. Deviled potatoes is one of the first dishes I learned how to cook, twenty-five years ago. I’ve learned how to make much fancier food since then, but I still am perfectly happy eating a big bowl of these — sometimes with rice and other curries, sometimes just straight up.

Deviled Potatoes
(30 minutes, serves 4)
This was the first vegetable dish I learned to make, and I still find it addictive. It’s great with rice and a meat curry, but also works quite well mashed up as a party spread with triangles of toasted naan. For a little more protein, you could add canned and drained chickpeas when you add the potatoes.3 medium onions, chopped
3 TBL vegetable oil
1/4 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp cumin seed
1-2 TBL (or more to taste) red chili powder
3 medium russet potatoes, cubed
3 TBL ketchup
1 rounded tsp salt
1/2 cup milk, optional

1. Sauté onions in oil on high with mustard seed and cumin seeds until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add chili powder and cook 1 minute. Immediately add potatoes, ketchup, and salt.

 

2. Lower heat to medium and add enough water so the potatoes don’t burn (enough to cover usually works well). Cover and cook, stirring periodically, until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

3. Remove lid and simmer off any excess water; the resulting curry sauce should be fairly thick, so that the potatoes are coated with sauce, rather than swimming in liquid. Add milk, if desired, to thicken sauce and mellow spice level; stir until well blended. Serve hot.