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.
Trifle topped with pomegranate seed and edible silver stars.
Twinkly lights, little houses, polar bear. Kevin’s note left for me about what he did and didn’t get done after I went to sleep Saturday night.
Four big brownies from the bakery section, cut into fourths, topped with little candies from Michael’s. (Best petit four cheat ever — took five minutes, and the kids loved them.) Array.
Charcuterie — Harry & David’s sesame honey mustard with pretzels (a holiday gift from Pam, our contractor) is addictively good, and pairs beautiful with some olives and cured meats from Costco (I really love how the Costco antipasto meat comes in separate little square packages, making it really easy to refill your platter only as much as needed during the party, saving the rest for another day. It’s the little things that make hosting easier).
Our very classy holiday chains (Kavi wanted to make some, and I wanted some that would go with the white and silver decor in the dining room, so I found some pretty metallic paper in silver, gold, and pink…), fresh flowers (I like how the bells of Ireland look like little trees).
Ellie patiently waiting for the party (and the food-dropping) to start. Ellie LOVES parties.
I forgot to take photos of people until close to the end, but I think we had about 70 folks over the course of four hours. It never got too crowded, though, because people mostly only stayed for an hour or two; there’s so much going on around here this time of year, and people had multiple commitments. Lots of ebb and flow, which means, I think, that the house could probably handle double that number of people without too much trouble for this kind of party. Good to know!
Kavi and I were sparkly reindeer antler twins (and that adorable mistletoe dress, because I know someone is about to ask me, is from Modcloth and I love it). MagnaTiles happily occupy children of all ages (and adults too), but are particularly nice to have around for the toddlers, so their parents can get a break and breathe a little.
Pem’s daughter was perfectly iconic in her little Christmas dress, and cheerfully posed in front of our tree.
With Deno Andrews and Anand Whyte.
Kavi and Kevin’s marshmallows.
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.
I have to admit, I got a little sentimental making cutlets with Kavya this year. I think it’s the first time she and I have done this together, and it reminded me so much of all the years sitting with my mom and sisters and aunts before a party, making these. I told her that, and she said, “So it’s a tradition?” And I said yes. She’s a proper Sri Lankan girl now, even if our cutlets aren’t as perfectly rolled (or the onions as finely diced) as my mother’s would have been.
Fish (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.
When you want curry for breakfast but you don’t have curry so you start to get sad but then you remember you have a jar of seeni sambol and you put on toast and fry two eggs and eat them with seeni sambol and you are happy again.
Sweet Onion Sambol / Seeni Sambol
(1 hour, serves 8)
The Sri Lankan version of caramelized onions is sweet, spicy, and tangy. It’s important to cook the onions slowly—all the liquid in the onion must evaporate if you want the sambol to keep well. Made properly, this dish can keep for several weeks in the fridge, so you can enjoy a little with each curry meal for quite a long time. An essential accompaniment for hoppers, and delicious with many other meals.
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 TBL Maldive fish, powdered (optional)
4 medium onions, finely sliced
2 rounded tsp chili powder
1 inch cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods
1 stalk curry leaves
1 tsp salt, or to taste
2 TBL tamarind pulp
2 TBL sugar
- Heat oil in a large frying pan and start sautéing onions on low (with Maldive fish, if using). Add cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, curry leaves, and chill powder; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until soft and transparent, about 30 minutes.
- After about 30 minutes, cover pan, and simmer 10 minutes.
- Uncover pan and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates and oil starts to separate from other ingredients. Season to taste with salt.
- Remove from heat, stir in sugar and tamarind pulp and allow to cool before putting in a clean dry jar. Use in small quantities.
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!