Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #3: Pastry Cups

I knew I wanted more richness for my appetizer, and that suggested a nice, buttery pastry. So I asked Kevin to make up a batch of Sri Lankan patty pastry dough (he’s my bread guy), rolled it out fairly thinly, cut it small, and put the rounds into my mini muffin pan.

 

I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to just fill and bake, or blind bake a cup and then fill it, so I tried both. I forgot to dock the pie cups, so about half my blind-baked pastry cups puffed up to an unusable level. But some of them came out perfectly, so I was able to try both options.

 

I’m a little torn there, honestly, because I think it tastes just slightly better when you cook the seeni sambol in with the pastry — but the oil does discolor the pastry, so it doesn’t look quite as neat and party-ready. I think I would blind-bake and fill just before the party, if I were going to do these.

They’re quite good, even without the egg, and topped with hard-boiled egg, they’re delicious. This one was almost perfectly what I wanted it to be — but could it be just a little bit better? Yes, yes it could. Let’s give this an A- for now, and look to the next post for the winner…

Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #2: Buns

As we discussed possible containers for the seeni sambol, Kevin advocated for buns — which, fair enough, is actually traditional.  Seeni sambol buns can be found sold in roadside stands across Sri Lanka, so obviously, people like them.

But there was a problem — those buns were too big for cocktail / tea party.  Could I make mini buns instead?

The answer was yes — I made the buns half-size (which, if you use my mas paan recipe, means that you’ll end up with 60 little buns), which was just big enough that you could dollop a teaspoon of seeni sambol and an eighth of a hard-boiled egg into the center, before closing them up.

  

The end result was just fine, I’d say, and I would be happy to serve them to people.  This would be a great option for taking them on the road as a snack, as they’re nicely closed up and will keep well.  You should even be able to freeze them, I think, though I haven’t tried that, and I’m not positive what the cooked egg would do.  I also tried slashing the top in a criss-cross pattern, which makes for a more interesting presentation for a cocktail / tea, and lets you see a little bit of the bun.

Overall, I’d grade these as a B+.

But I was pretty sure I could do better…

Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #1: Wontons

I’m a little obsessed with seeni sambol, the Sri Lankan traditional accompaniment of caramelized onions, cooked long and dark with tamarind and chili — made vegetarian if you like, but even tastier, I have to say, with some dried Maldive fish simmered in.  The perfect accompaniment to an egg hopper — but egg hoppers are actually kind of a pain to make, especially for a party, as you have to cook each one individually and steam them slowly.  And they’re not bite-size  treats — I wondered how I could introduce my American friends to the glory of seeni sambol at a cocktail party or tea.  And thus, we set out on our quest — to create the perfect seeni sambol appetizer.

The first attempt was, I’m sad to say, a failure.  I was in a hurry, cooking a lot of things for our holiday party, and so I went for the simplest option available — pre-made wonton shells from the grocery store, filled with seeni sambol.  They were…all right, I suppose?  The wonton shells felt wrong, though; they were too crispy, and they didn’t meld with the sambol.  Adding some cooked egg helped — that was definitely the right flavor the seeni sambol needed to mellow the pungency and make a rich, yummy bite.  But I didn’t think the wontons were the right container.  I’d have to try something else.

 

Also, when I tried pre-filling the wontons and refrigerating them, the seeni sambol gave off oil that discolored the wontons and made them a little greasy to pick up.  Not ideal.  If you really want to go with the wonton option, fill them right before serving.

Mas Paan (Meat Bun)

Mas Paan is literally ‘meat bread,’ and is a favorite snack sold at roadside stands, hotel cafes, and transit stations across Sri Lanka.  The yeast bread may be filled with whatever curry you like — fish and vegetarian options are also common.  This batch, I made with some leftover pork and potato curry, but most often, I would make this with beef and potato curry.  Regardless, having thirty mas paan in my fridge and freezer means that I’ll snack happy for a few days, take them with me while traveling — they’re great to have on the road — and be able to pull some out of the freezer to toast up when I get home again.  It’s best piping hot, but may also be happily eaten at room temperature.

Note:  If you don’t want to make the dough by hand, and your grocery store carries frozen loaves of bread dough, I’ve thawed and used a pair of those for this recipe to good effect.  This recipe adapted from Charmaine Solomon’s _The Complete Asian Cookbook_, with very little change.

Note 2: Minal Hajratwala has a fascinating chapter that explores the political significance of similar buns in South Africa, in her book on the diaspora, _Leaving India_. Highly recommended.

Mas Paan
(about three hours + currying time, makes 30)

1 batch meat and potato curry (about 2-3 lbs. meat, 3 russet potatoes)
Dough:
1/2 c. milk
3 t. sugar
2 1/2 t. salt
3 oz. butter
1 1/2 c. warm water
1 packet (about 2 1/4 t.) active dry yeast
5 1/2 – 6 c. all-purpose or bread flour

1. Make curry, if needed; it’s tempting to make it while the dough is proving, but the timing can be tricky, since the curry needs to cool down, and your dough may overprove, turning yeasty. (I admit to risking it on occasion, though, for efficiency’s sake.) The curry should be cooked until it is very dry, and then cooled down to room temperature.

2. Make dough: Scald milk, stir in sugar, salt and butter and cool to lukewarm. Measure warm water into a large bowl; stir yeast into water until dissolved. Add milk mixture and 3 c. of flour; beat until smooth. Add enough flour to make a soft dough. Turn onto a lightly floured board, and knead until smooth and elastic, about ten minutes. Grease a bowl with butter, then put the dough ball in, turning it to make sure it’s all greased. Cover with plastic wrap or a cloth and allow to prove in a warm place until doubled in bulk (inside a turned off oven works well), about 1 – 1.5 hours. (This recipe is also used for making breudher in Sri Lanka.)

3. Divide the dough into 30 equal portions, flatten each portion to a circle and put a spoonful of meat and potato curry in the center. Bring the edges together, pressing to seal. If you keep the dough thinner at the edges when you’re flattening it, that’ll help keep it from being too bready at the bottom.

  

4. Grease baking trays and put buns with the join downwards on the trays, leaving room for them to rise and spread. Cover with a dry cloth and again, leave in a warm place for 30-40 minutes until nearly doubled in bulk.

5. Brush with egg glaze (egg whites or even heavy cream may be used instead) and bake in a hot oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Lovely with hot, sweet, milky tea.

Master Recipe: Curry Sauce for (Leftover) Meat

I’m not sure this problem ever came up in Sri Lanka, but we eat Western food about half the time, and I like lots of it, really I do, but then sometimes I go to the fridge to eat some leftovers and there is no curry to be found and I am sad.  Over the years I’ve learned that it’s actually easy to take a standard plain-cooked meat, chicken, or fish, and turn it into an acceptable curried version.  When a girl is desperate for curry, she does what she needs to do — she makes a curry sauce, adds some cut-up leftover cooked meat, simmers it for a little bit, and eats happy.

3 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 T ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1 dozen curry leaves
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1 2-inch piece cinnamon
1-2 T chili powder
1 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1 t. salt
1/4 c. ketchup
1-2 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 – 1 c. (or more, if you like) coconut milk
2-3 lbs. leftover cooked meat, cubed (may also be left on the bone)

3 russet potatoes, cubed (optional)

1.  Sauté onions in oil or ghee on medium-high, stirring as needed, with ginger, garlic, mustard seed, cumin seed, curry leaves, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, until golden-translucent, about ten minutes.

2.  Add chili powder, Sri Lankan curry powder, and salt, stirring for a few minutes more.

 

3.   Add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and coconut milk, stirring each ingredient in.  You now have a basic curry sauce, suitable for meat, chicken, or fish.  (It also works with seitan or young jackfruit, for vegetarian options.)

 

4.  Add leftover cooked meat, stirring until well combined.  Turn down to a simmer, cover, and let cook ten minutes or so; the meat will impart some flavor to the sauce, and vice versa.  Add water if necessary to prevent burning.

5.  Add potatoes (and probably more water) if using, bring to boiling, then turn back down and simmer until potatoes are cooked through.  (You can speed this part up by par-cooking them in water in the microwave earlier, perhaps while your onions are sautéing.)  Cook sauce down until it has a thick consistency, like gravy.

 

Serve hot, with rice or bread.

 

Autumn Ribbons

This isn’t so much of a recipe, as a test of whether I’ve managed to automate posting to Facebook from this site.  But here’s a picture of the classic ribbon sandwiches, made with just beets and carrots (leaving out the traditional spinach), on wheat bread, for a more autumnal look.  Nice for a Thanksgiving party appetizer!

Desi Crepes

We had crepes for dinner last night, and I started with my favorite, lemon + sugar. Delicious as always, but then I thought, what if I desi-fy’d (desified?) it? So I tried lime + jaggery, and reader, it was good.

We also had some ripe persimmon, which I love, so I tried that — interestingly, the version I did with nutmeg / cinnamon / allspice, which I thought would work well, didn’t excite me. But the version with persimmon / salt / pepper was surprisingly delicious. I think it’s because the persimmons were so sweet?

Love Cake

(Second recipe with this photo!)
 
Love Cake
(two hours, including baking time; serves dozens)
 
Some say this Portuguese-derived cake was baked to win the hearts of suitors, while others say it’s because of the labor of love involved in all the cutting, chopping and grinding of the fruits, nuts, and spices (much easier these days with access to a food processor). But regardless, it tastes like love: sweet, tangy, and fragrant. My mother says it doesn’t taste right without the crystallized pumpkin, which you can find at Indian grocery stores, though honestly, I like it just as well with the candied ginger. A perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.
 
8 ounces butter, softened, plus more for greasing
16 ounces raw unsalted cashews
10 ounces fine granulated sugar
10 egg yolks
Zest of two limes
Zest of one orange
Juice of two limes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup honey
3 drops rosewater extract (or two teaspoons rosewater)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 ounces semolina, toasted
3 ounces candied ginger and/or crystallized pumpkin, minced as finely as possible
5 egg whites
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)
 
1. Preheat the oven to 250. Grease a 9×13 baking dish with butter and line it with two layers of parchment paper. Grease the paper with butter.
 
2. In food processor, grind cashews to coarse meal.
3. In a standing mixer (paddle attachment), beat 8 oz butter and granulated sugar until creamy. Add egg yolks and mix well. Add zest, juice, spices, honey, rosewater and vanilla; mix well.
 
4. Add semolina and mix well; add cashews and candied ginger / pumpkin and mix well.
 
5. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff; fold gently into cake mixture.
 
6. Spoon batter into prepared pan; bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, until firm to the touch. (Alternatively, spoon into buttered & floured (Baker’s Joy makes this easy) mini tea cake molds (Nordicware made the excellent one I used for this) and bake for about 40 minutes.)
 
7. Let cool completely in the pan, dust with confectioner’s sugar (optional), cut into squares and serve.

Milk Toffee

(I have two food items in one photo. I could put both recipes together, but I think it makes more sense to just post the photo twice.)
 
Milk Toffee / Pal Tofi
(30 minutes + cooling time, serves dozens)
 
This is a classic Sri Lankan dessert, but this particular recipe was originally my aunt’s. It’s one of my favorites, very sweet, with a great crystalline texture than melts in your mouth (a little reminiscent of maple candy in that regard). I’ve re-made it several times now, with a candy thermometer, trying to pin down exact measurements. The dessert is remarkably similar to New Orleans pralines (cashews instead of roasted pecans, and cut into pieces, rather than dropped on wax paper), and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Portuguese brought the dessert to both regions.
 
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 lb sugar
1/2 can water
1/2 lb to 3/4 lb chopped cashews (it’s fine if they’re roasted / salted)
2 TBL vanilla
1 stick butter
 
1. Put sugar, water and condensed milk together on medium-high in big nonstick pot, stirring briefly to combine. (It doesn’t have to be nonstick, but it will be easier to clean afterwards.) Watch carefully, without stirring. While mixture is cooking, grease a 9 x 12 glass baking dish or cake pan with butter; also prepare an oiled spatula for later.
 
2. When the mixture starts boiling over (around 225 on a candy thermometer), lower heat to medium. Cook for about 10 minutes (no need to stir at this point). When it starts to thicken (watery thickness), add cashews and stir. When it thickens a bit more, add vanilla and stir (it will fizz up a bit at this). Stir slowly and constantly from this point forward.
 
3. When it starts sticking to the pan / pulling away from the sides (soft-ball stage, 235 degrees), add 1 stick of butter and mix it in. As soon as the butter melts, take pot off stove and pour immediately into buttered pan, using an oiled spatula to get it all out. It should smooth out on its own. (Be careful pouring, as candy syrup will burn you badly!)
 
4. It will still be too soft to cut. Let cool for at least 30 minutes, then try cutting it with an oiled knife. If it doesn’t stick to your knife, you can cut it into pieces; small squares are traditional. Enjoy!