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.
(3 hours, makes 50)
Chinese rolls (whether made with meat, chicken, or vegetarian) are an essential Sri Lankan party food. People look forward to them with anticipation, and greets their arrival with glee. They’re also a sign of love—in college and after, whenever I visited home, my mother or one of my aunts would make sure that when I left again, it was with a bag of freshly-fried rolls. It was sometimes a little challenging managing the still-steaming bag on the airplane, but it was the sort of gift that was impossible to turn down—made with love and labor, and eventually consumed with delight.
I believe they’re called Chinese rolls because they look a little like Chinese egg rolls; during colonial times, Chinese laborers were brought to Sri Lanka and settled there in a small but significant minority community; I assume this dish was invented then. They taste nothing like egg rolls, though.
Growing up, my sisters and I would often be pressed into service for the various stages of roll-making, all sitting around the dining table and working. My mother and aunts made them in a group as well. Especially if doing a larger batch, I highly encourage cooking this dish as a group activity (perhaps inviting a few select friends to come a few hours before your party), which will speed things up by as much as an hour. The final step is best done right before serving.
Portion and serving suggestion:
For a cocktail or other large-ish party, I’d aim for two rolls per guest. It’s a filling, rich treat. The recipes scales up or down easily—my mother would generally make 200 at a time, or more, for the Sri Lankan-American parties of my childhood, when immigrant families would gather, hungry for a taste of home. The dish is complex and labor-intensive enough that I woudn’t normally make rolls for a small dinner party, but you certainly could serve them as an appetizer, allowing two per person. Simply divide the recipe as needed.
Note: There are several points in the process where you can pause, refrigerate or freeze, and pick up again later. This is tremendously helpful when prepping for a party—you can do the bulk of the work days, weeks, or even months in advance, as long as you plan appropriately.
For the filling:
6 medium onions, chopped fine
1/4 cup vegetable oil + 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp cumin seed
1-2 TBL red chili powder
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
2 lbs ground beef (or goat, or chicken)
1/3 cup ketchup
3 TBL Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp salt + 1 tsp salt
3 medium russet potatoes, diced in roughly 1/2-inch cubes
(Note: for a vegetarian filling, see the cutlets recipe.)
For the crepes:
4 cups cold water
2 cups milk
2 tsp salt
4 cups of all-purpose flour
2 cups breadcrumbs
4 cups vegetable oil
1. In a large frying pan, sauté onions in 1/4 cup oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seeds until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add chili powder and cook 1 minute. Immediately add curry powder, ground beef, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and 1 tsp salt. Sauté until cooked through. Drain any excess oil, transfer to a large bowl, and let cool. (You can refrigerate for a few days or freeze for up to six months here.)
2. In a clean frying pan, heat 1/4 cup oil and fry potato cubes with 1 tsp salt on medium-high, stirring, until cooked through. Drain any excess oil and let cool. (You can refrigerate or freeze here—to best preserve potato texture for freezing, spread them out in a flat sheet and freeze, then transfer to large plastic sealable bags.)
3. Combine meat and potato mixture. (You can refrigerate or freeze here.)
4. Make crepes: Combine crepe filling ingredients and mix thoroughly until it forms a thin pancake batter. Heat an 8-inch non-stick frying pan and grease with a little oil between each pancake. Pour a ladle full of batter into the pan and swirl it around gently until it forms a thin pancake. Cook until set without browning; flip and briefly cook other side. Remove and stack on a plate. (If you have a friend with you, you can do steps 4 and 5 together, one making the crepes while the other fills.)
5. Place a cooked pancake on a plate and add about 2 TBL of filling. Proceed to roll the pancake like an egg-roll. Note: Try eating one or two at this stage (not required, but recommended, as there’s something deliciously unctuous about them, and I always used to steal some at this point when rolling for my mom).
7. In a small bowl, beat 2 eggs. Set up a plate piled with bread crumbs. Dip rolls in egg mixture, then roll in breadcrumbs, then remove to a separate plate. (Don’t pile them up, as they’ll squish — use multiple clean plates.) Continue until all rolls are encased in bread crumbs.
8. Heat vegetable oil in a large pan until quite hot, then, using a Chinese spider (recommended) or spatula, fry until golden, removing to separate plates lined with paper towels. (I usually turn the heat down a little after the first batch, which helps avoid burning them.) Serve hot as an appetizer, with a little spicy sauce (MD sauce can be found online, and is a classic choice) as accompaniment if desired.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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…
(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
- Pulse kale in food processor until completely shredded into small bits.
- 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.