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.

Decolonizing division of labor

I was about to launch into all the cooking for today, but I’m still very tired after all the Feast, etc. work, so I sat down on the couch. And then Kavi came by, and I realized that I didn’t HAVE to track it all myself. So I messaged Kevin a list of what needed to be done, and I made a to-do list with Kavi, which she has stuck on the fridge.

Now Kevin is doing a 3-hr quick-brine on the turkey (because I was too tired to set it brining last night), and Kavi is trimming green beans, and I’m going to post a vegetarian stuffing recipe (mushroom-cashew cornbread) from this lovely couch. Much better division of labor, both physical and mental.

Sometimes what you have to decolonize first is your own brain.

While Kevin brines the turkey, I’m sitting on the couch calling instructions to Kavi. “Okay, put the bag of potatoes in the pot…”

And then she does this.

Cooking lessons may take a while…

(This is actually more of an issue when trying to teach Anand anything, because he would rather be funny than learn things. It can make math homework take a long time, but when you try to rush it and keep him from making jokes, he gets cranky. I had no idea how much patience parenting would take. But also I had no idea how funny my kids would be. They make me laugh all the time.)

Cornbread-Sausage-Pepper Stuffing, Sri Lankan-Inflected

Someone asked me last week if I did Sri Lankan-flavored Thanksgiving, and we don’t usually. Sri Lankan Thanksgiving in my mind is the time when I brought Kevin home to Connecticut for the first time. All the relatives came over to my parents’ house for a big American Thanksgiving, eating turkey and stuffing and all the trimmings around 3 p.m. Classic American flavors, and I warned Kevin to eat lightly, but I think he didn’t believe me when I told him this wasn’t the main event.

As foretold, around 8-9 p.m., we sat down to the REAL dinner — rice and curries, a groaning table filled with them, with short eats (delicious fried appetizers) before, and dessert after. American Thanksgiving was a fun cooking challenge for my mother and aunts back in 1995, but it wasn’t like it was proper food for a party…

I had warned Kevin that he’d better eat heartily of the rice and curries if he ever hoped to be accepted in my family, esp. since various of the aunts had made various dishes — you wouldn’t want to slight anyone! So he manfully tried. And I usually avoid words like ‘manfully,’ but in this case, it feels appropriate. He called upon all his man-stomach’s powers to avoid disappointing his girlfriend’s family.

They fretted that our food would be too spicy for my blond, blue-eyed boy, but Kevin was fine with heat; he’d grown up in California eating Mexican-influenced food. I’d seen him chomp down on a raw habañero (on a dare), so I knew he’d have no trouble with the heat levels of our curries. But the sheer volume almost unmanned him! Somehow, Kev made it through second dinner, though his stomach was aching, and won the right to be grudgingly accepted into the family. My hero.

And now here we are, more than 25+ years later, and I don’t make rice and curry in my own house for Thanksgiving. I enjoy the cooking challenge of turkey and stuffing and all the trimmings, and teaching the kids how to make these dishes. It was sheer delight yesterday evening, sitting on the couch watching an episode of Queer Eye with Kavi snuggled up with me, letting Kevin teach Anand how to make Jiffy cornbread.

But this year, I did try to add a little subtle Sri Lankan flavor to the cornbread-sausage stuffing. I didn’t want it to be overpowering; I wanted the meal to still say “Thanksgiving” instead of “Sri Lanka.” But a hint of cumin and black mustard seed worked rather nicely here, accented with lime for balance. Pleasant!

While I used black pepper this time around (due to the Anand’s continued lack of heat tolerance, sigh), what I think would really excellent would be green chili, which is so lovely with corn generally. That would cut through the richness of the sausage slightly better. But this is lovely, and I’ve already snagged a bite straight out of the fridge for breakfast, and want to go back for more. That’s the sign of a good stuffing in my book!

***

Cornbread-Sausage-Pepper Stuffing, Sri Lankan-Inflected

1/4 c. vegetable oil or ghee
3 onions, chopped
1 T ginger, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. cumin seed
1 t. black mustard seed
2 orange bell peppers, chopped
2 lbs. ground sausage
1 t. salt
1/2 – 1 t. pepper (or 3 chopped green chilies)
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 c. chicken broth
1 T lime juice
3 c. cornbread

1. In a large sauté pan, sauté onions with ginger, garlic, cumin seed, and mustard seed over medium heat in oil or ghee. Stir as needed, until onions are golden-translucent.

2. Add bell pepper and sauté a few minutes more, until softened, then add ground sausage, salt, and pepper (or chilies), and sauté until sausage has browned.

3. Stir in tomatoes and lime juice; sauté a few minutes more. Then add chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

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.

*****

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Gold-dusted, chocolate-covered coffee beans

So, Anand is in 4th grade and Kavi is in 7th grade. Anand’s current teacher happens to be Kavi’s favorite teacher ever, and it’s that teacher’s birthday today. Kavi really wanted to make her a present. The teacher likes Star Wars, her college, and coffee — we couldn’t figure out what to do on short notice with the first two, but coffee seemed do-able. So last night, we took 30 minutes (most of that was waiting-for-the-chocolate-to-set time) and made some chocolate-covered coffee beans.

Instructions: Melt chocolate for 2 minutes on 1/2 power in the microwave; stir until melted, putting back into microwave for 30-second intervals at 1/2 power if needed. (I think it took us about 3 minutes total, but microwave powers differ). Spoon a little into each mold, add coffee beans, spoon the rest of the chocolate to fill the molds. (Two cups of chocolate chips filled a tray of 15 chocolates for us.) Move to fridge until set (maybe 10-15 minutes). Unmold and brush with gold dust.

It’s probably not the best way of infusing coffee into a chocolate, as the end result is a bit crunchy! But I didn’t have a lot of energy for experimenting with actual recipes for things like coffee cream last night, so this had to do.

 

I happened to have these sweet containers on hand for the upcoming Colorful Holiday fair (I’m thinking I want to try making passionfruit chocolates — either passionfruit cream or with dried passionfruit or possibly both!), so we were able to package it up nicely.

The edible gold luster dust makes it look quite fancy! And Kavi did it all, start to finish, herself (including writing her teacher the SWEETEST note). She particularly enjoyed popping the chocolates out of the mold, and painting on the sparkly edible dust. (If you look carefully, you may note that she put some sparkle dust on her lips too at some point when we were waiting for the chocolates to be ready to unmold…)

 

Seattle/Clarion question

Help! Seattle / Clarion / MLA questions at the end of this!

I was super-stressed trying to figure out how I could attend SALA because it happens after MLA and MLA is late this year, which means SALA would’ve been on the first day of classes, and even if I could find a colleague willing to sub for me, I’d really HATE to miss the first day of classes. I just didn’t think I could do it, which was a real shame, because SALA is great. (https://www.southasianliteraryassociation.org)

(Although I’m a little confused that I can’t seem to find the actual program for it — maybe it’s not up yet? Is Hamara Mushaira happening again? Which evening, if so? And maybe I could bring cookbooks to sell on consignment in the book room…)

But anyway, last night I FINALLY went to look at the actual calendar with Kevin to figure out travel plans, and it turns out that they cleverly put SALA *before* MLA this year. Undoubtedly to avoid this very issue. So now I will jump on actually booking my plane tickets and hotel before they get outrageously expensive.

All that said, my MLA panel (“Sri Lankan American Women’s Writing—Contemporary Investments and Future Directions”) is Thursday evening. If I come for SALA, then that’s three nights of hotel, assuming I leave on Friday. I have a *lot* of travel that I’m supposed to do in 2020, given book tour, including possibly two international trips, and really not enough money to do it all, even with department funding and Jed helping, so I’m trying to be efficient and save money wherever possible. So questions:

– MLA-attending friends, is there anything Friday evening, Saturday, or Sunday that you think is worth my staying an extra night for? Joint readings, fabulous speakers, grad school classmate events, etc.? (Mostly, my grad school classmates do AWP rather than MLA, but just checking.)

– Seattle peeps, any suggestions for a Feast-related event I should do while I’m out there? The cookbook won’t be officially out yet, but I can bring copies to sell on consignment at bookstores, or other venues, and I have some Sri Lankan academic / writer friends who are willing to be on a panel with me, so we could in theory put together a really cool discussion of Sri Lankan history / food / etc. And I can even bring Sri Lankan treats to share, or teach a cooking class…

– Clarion peeps, ditto? (Also, I’m getting too old and back-creaky to couch-surf, but if someone I know in Seattle has an actual guest bed on offer, that might be very helpful, depending on location…)

Filipino Kamayan pop-up dinner

Was v. cool going to the Filipino Kamayan pop-up dinner event on Thursday. I think my favorite was the fried flounder (excellent!), though I also really enjoyed the pancit noodles, the garlic shrimp, and the halo-halo bar, which I hadn’t tried before. Ube flan! Coolness.

Funniest POC moment was at the end of the meal, when the Asian woman sitting across from me gestured at the other table, where there were still big mounds of rice, and compared it to our section, which was a gorgeous devastation (see final photo). She and I agreed that there were likely white people sitting over there, who didn’t understand how much better our food is when you combine it properly with rice.

They just have to come eat it more often; they’ll learn. Or maybe they won’t — Kevin still prefers way less rice with his curries than I do, 25+ years into this relationship, even though he’s probably eating rice and curry every week. (It’s a phrase, you know. ‘rice and curry’. The two go together, like ‘peanut butter and jelly’ or ‘green eggs and ham’).

Maybe some things are just bred in the bone, or inculcated in childhood, at least. Hm. (Make note to self: food essay about rice + curry? Can also address low-carb thing and gluten-free thing…)

When I wasn’t greedily devouring deliciousness (pig & fire cater, if anyone local needs holiday party help), I was thinking about how I would do a similar kind of pop-up dinner event for Feast after it launches officially in March. (I am envious of the ease of clean-up with the rolled up banana leaves!)

It may be time for me to investigate the food certification course that the state of IL does, so I can get a more serious food license, and talk to Carnivore up the street about renting out their commercial kitchen on occasion (they said they were open to it, and there are a lot of hours they’re not using it). Time to take this food thing up a notch, maybe? Hmm…

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Chicken Mulligatawny (Soup or Stew)

Chicken Mulligatawny (Soup or Stew)

This is a great recipe for a slow weekend. Yesterday, I made enough to feed soup to the people who were over for afternoon board games, then added some rice, lentils, and coconut milk, turning it into more of a stew, and took it to the potluck last night.

This morning, I scooped out four Ziploc bags’ worth and stored them flat in the freezer (careful not to scoop up the potatoes and carrots, which don’t freeze well), saving them for a rainy day when I’m too tired to cook and want some hearty, easy comfort food. And there’s just enough left for lunch today. 

Many mulligatawny recipes add apples, which would be a fun fusion approach — mulligatawny is thought to be a colonial-era adaptation of earlier South Asian soups like rasam, and is often vegetarian. But I chose to go with chicken, carrots, and potatoes this time. Yum.

(This recipe is gluten-free, and I’m planning to include it in the new gluten-free ebook.)

*****

INGREDIENTS

BASE SOUP:
– 1/4 c. vegetable oil or ghee
– 2-3 onions, chopped coarsely
– 3 cloves garlic, chopped
– 1 T ginger, chopped
– 1 stick cinnamon
– 3 cloves
– 3 cardamom pods
– 1 t. black mustard seed
– 1 t. cumin seed
– 1 T ground black pepper
– 4 c. chicken (or vegetable) stock
– 2 c. (or more) water
– 1 tomato, chopped
– 1 T tamarind paste

ADDITIONS:
– one roasting chicken, cut up, skin removed
– 3 carrots, cut in chunks
– 4 – 6 new potatoes, cut in chunks
– 1/2 – 2 c. lentils (optional)
– 1/2 – 1 c. rice (optional)

FINAL SEASONINGS:
– 1-2 t. salt (to taste)
– 1-2 T lime juice (to taste)
– 1 c. coconut milk (optional)

1. Sauté onions, garlic, ginger, mustard seed, cumin seed, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and black pepper on medium-high until onions are golden.

2. Add potatoes, carrots, and chicken pieces (on the bone), turn up the heat to high, and sauté for a few minutes, stirring occasionally as you brown the chicken (careful not to burn).

3. Add stock and water and bring to a boil. Stir in tomato and tamarind paste, and lentils if using. Cover and cook at a simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.

NOTE: Lentils may need a bit longer, depending on how soft you want them — just add more water, bring it up to a boil, and then turn down to a covered simmer, until lentils are as soft as you like.

4. Remove chicken pieces to a bowl and let cool. Remove meat from the bones, shred with your fingers, and add meat back to the pot. Taste and add salt / lime juice as desired.

NOTE: If using lentils and/or rice, you’ll probably want to add more tamarind or lime juice, and/or bump up the pepper — adding lentils / rice will mute the overall flavor of the dish.

5. If using rice to make it more of a stew, add the rice now, bring the pot back to a boil (adding water and/or coconut milk if needed), cover, reduce heat to simmer, and cook an additional 15-20 minutes, until rice is cooked.

6. Serve hot! Toasted naan would be nice as an accompaniment to the soup, and if you’re feeling fancy, you could top each bowl with a dollop of yogurt and a scattering of chopped cilantro.)

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“Amma’s Kitchen” Soap

Various people were over for board games yesterday (we played Steampunk Munchkin, fun variation, also a few rounds of Code Names, reliably excellent), and some of them bought cookbooks and I threw in some soap (the benefit of coming by my house to buy your copy of Feast is that you get to pick a bath item to go with it from whatever I have on hand).

Katy looked at all the floral, sandalwood, etc. soap and said she really just wanted a soap that smelled like curry powder, so she could smell like curry powder.

And this isn’t exactly curry powder scent (do people really want that? I mean, I could do it, but Katy may be the only person I know who actually wants to smell like curry powder?), but I *had* made “Amma’s Kitchen” soap, and she was happy to take that!

It was fun coming up with the scent composition: it’s cinnamon, clove, ginger, pepper, and lime. I quite like it — the lime is predominant (I think scent people call that the ‘top note’? maybe?), so it’s a citrus soap, but with an underlying complexity of spice. Mmm….

I made sure to put in lots of sparkly mica (a combo of Moroccan Sands and Gold Dust), because, as you know, Amma’s Kitchen is pure magic. 

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