Fast, cheap Sri Lankan comfort food

Kevin kindly chopped an onion for me when I first came down with this cold, so I could make myself some comfort food. With hard-boiled eggs, pol sambol and mango spears already in the fridge, this took maybe 10 minutes to cook.

Set onions sautéing with spices; in a separate pan, start boiling water with butter for uppuma; add can of mackerel and rest of ingredients to spiced onions and simmer; add rava to boiling water and stir. Uppuma and spicy mackerel curry. (Normally, I’d simmer it for longer, let the spices really meld with the fish, but when I’m this tired, fast is just fine.

This makes about four meals for me, for maybe $4 of ingredients, so about $1 / meal? Fast, cheap Sri Lankan comfort food. It got me through being a broke grad student, and works pretty well for sick mama too. Good omega-3 fish oils, calcium in the soft bones, healthy protein.

What’s your favorite easy comfort food? Bonus points if it’s good for you and/or cheap. 


Mackerel and Egg Curry
(40 minutes, serves 4-6)

People get scared of this dish because they think mackerel is overly fishy—and food snobs may put their noses in the air when they realize I’m using canned fish. All I can say in response is that this is one of my all-time favorite dishes. When served with uppuma, it’s complete comfort food, but it’s also good with rice or bread, and it reheats well for several meals of yummy goodness. It’s also cheap, while still packed full of healthy protein and fish oil—I practically lived on this in grad school.

3 medium onions, chopped
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
2 TBL (less or more to taste) cayenne
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
1/3 cup ketchup
1 heaping tsp salt
1-2 cups water
1 flat tsp tamarind paste (or more to taste)
1 15 oz. can mackerel, drained and rinsed
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced in half

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

2. Add water and bring to a boil. Add tamarind paste and dissolve. Lower heat to medium and add mackerel. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally (and carefully, so as to not break up the fish too much). Cook until sauce thickens, 20-30 minutes. Add eggs gently to dish and spoon sauce over. Serve hot.


Stir-Fried Semolina / Uppuma
(20 minutes, serves 4-6)

When I was harried in grad school, I made a very fast, very simple version of this often — five minutes to boil water, add semolina with some butter and salt, stir, and serve. Served with spicy egg and mackerel curry, it’s a wonderful breakfast or dinner; the soft uppuma blends beautifully with the fish — my ultimate comfort food.

This version, which is a little more time-consuming, offers more vegetables, more interesting seasonings, and a fluffier texture — it’s tasty on its own, or with a vegetable or meat curry. Both versions are great!

2 TBL butter
1 onion, chopped fine
3 dried red chili pods
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
1 stalk curry leaves
1 rounded tsp salt
2 carrots chopped small
1/2 cup peas (or chopped green beans)
3 cups water
2 cups coarse semolina

1. Roast semolina in a dry pan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly for about five minutes, until it’s darkened slightly. This will give the end result a fluffier texture, with less clumping. Remove to a plate and set aside.

2. Sauté onions with seasonings in butter on medium-high for a few minutes.

3. Add carrots and continue to cook until carrots are softened and onions are golden-translucent. Add peas and cook a few minutes longer.

4. Add water; bring to a boil.

5. Turn down to a simmer and quickly pour in the semolina, stirring constantly, making sure all the wheat is moistened. Remove from heat and allow dish to sit for a few minutes before serving. Serve warm.

Note: You can use farina (sold as Cream o’Wheat) instead of semolina for an almost identical result. Semolina comes from durum wheat (high in protein, produces more gluten). Farina comes from any hard wheat but durum.


My new Sri Lankan cookbook, A Feast of Serendib, launches on March 6, 2020, but we’re doing a long, slow pre-launch of the special Kickstarter edition in the interim. Right now, we still have discounted Kickstarter pricing available for pre-orders, along with Kickstarter goodies — you can pre-order here:

If you’d like to support the development of more mostly Sri Lankan recipes, I’d love to have you join the cookbook club — for $2 / month, you’ll get recipes delivered to your inbox (fairly) regularly:

And here’s all the foodie social media:

Serendib Kitchen blog:
Serendib Kitchen Instagram:
Serendib FB Group:
Serendib FB Page:

Thanks for your support!


Turning the word Feast into a 3D napkin ring

Look what we did! Mary Rodes Dell came by this afternoon and I plied her with curry and she worked strange magics and turned my scribbling into a 3D thingie!

It took Mary maybe 30 minutes to do this? Even with her talking me through it, it would have taken me days, and at the end of those days, it still wouldn’t have looked this good. That’s expertise, people.

I was proud of myself that when the 3D printer stopped actually printing, I did not panic, or make Kevin come help me, but calmly googled and tried things until I figured out what was wrong (dried filament in the feed tube had cracked after months of disuse, so it wasn’t feeding properly), AND fixed it. Go, me.

It’s going to take some more iterating before we get a workable prototype — for one, the letters in feast are too far apart, especially the a and s, and I think I’d like the f to not go quite as high. And the whole structure is fragile enough that it was super-hard breaking off the support pieces and base, enough so that I gave up after 10 minutes of poking it at it with a knife (can the support pieces tilt out more? Be thinner? Can we skip the base?).

We may or may not get a functional napkin ring out of this. But regardless, super-satisfying designing something unique (it says feast in both English and Tamil — Mary’s brilliant idea to do a bilingual version) and watching it come to life so quickly. And I learned a ton! Thanks, Mary!

Now, any recommendations for something I can download from thingiverse and print for Kevin? It’s his birthday…

Lovely lunch with Roshani

Lovely lunch with Roshani at the new restaurant at Crate and Barrel in Oakbrook. Smart addition, though a bit pricier than I’d like. Lovely combination of creamy white corn grits with mushrooms in a buttery broth, with steamed Brussels sprouts for a fall note — light and tasty. And the Asian-spiced sweet potatoes with withered green beans, drizzled with maple…mmmm.


Recipe cards with Pamudu Tennakoon’s illustrations

Sophie Malik Hurst also kindly designed six illustrated recipe cards for me, featuring Pamudu Tennakoon’s illustrations. I’m honestly not sure what I’m going to do with these; they’re not part of the Kickstarter packages. Maybe offer them as Christmas sets, or just sell them individually at holiday fairs and other events?

I think they’d be super-cool as frame-able wall art (they’re also designed to print 6″x9″), or sent through the mail. Note, though — because they’re this big, they take a regular stamp instead of a postcard stamp.

I love them. This one in particular is based on a photo I took at Galle Face Beach in Colombo, and when I look at it, I remember the taste of just-fried prawn vadai crunching in my mouth, and the scent of the sea, and Kavya running with her kite on the beach…


Copies of Feast for my mother and her siblings

Heh. I was just thinking that I need to set aside 9 copies of Feast to send to my mother and her siblings (Amma is the oldest of 9), and then I realized that as soon as my aunties get their copies, they’ll start looking through the recipes and likely scribbling in the book to mark their own changes and amendments and variations…and that is exactly how a family immigrant cookbook should be treated. 

“What, she used *how* much vinegar in this? Aiyo!”
“Well, I like things tangy, Aunty. You know that…”

Sneak peek Feast event at Jake’s Place

This is the sweetest — Bill Fletcher at Jake’s Place dropped off a framed poster for my upcoming sneak peek Feast event, along with some invite cards. What a wonderful surprise to appear on my doorstep!  Aww….

September 29, 3-5 p.m. — mark your calendars, locals!

Featuring a Cook-Off! Come and judge how well Bill’s friends do… 🙂

New fabulousness on offer, one of them TIME SENSITIVE!

Small press publishing is complicated, full of ups and downs — here are some major unanticipated problems with Feast, but also some new fabulousness on offer, one of them TIME-SENSITIVE:

It turns out that I deeply misunderstood the printer, and in order to get the significantly better pricing on the BIG order of 2000 hardcover cookbooks, the books won’t be available until end of December. GAH! I have to admit, I sort of freaked out when I realized that, because I had visions of missing all the Christmas / holiday gifting, and not being able to sell the books, and having 2000 books moldering in a warehouse somewhere in Canada. But Kevin managed to talk me down eventually from my financial panic, and I think it’s going to be okay.

Here’s the new plan:

– we have the Mascot Press books (offset printing, so much lower cost per book) in warehouse at the end of December, barring shipping delays; to be safe, we set our launch date for March 6, 2020 — when I’m an Honored Guest at FogCon in Walnut Creek ( Bay Area folks, I’ll be doing a launch party there, and encourage you to attend! There’ll be other Bay Area events that same weekend, including at least one in the Mountain View area.

We have a launch date! It is FIRM, dammit.

• I’ll continue launch month with a follow-up launch party at ICFA, in Orlando, March 20th weekend, which I also encourage folks to attend. You don’t need to be a registered member of the convention to come to my party, but it’s a great con, so I encourage folks to take a look ( I go every year. I’ll also be at WisCon in Madison on Memorial Day weekend, of course (my home con), and Benjamin Rosenbaum and I are planning to do road trip book tour in July — details pending. We may even record some podcast episodes as we go.

• we hold off on any major publicity until launch time next year. In the meantime, we do have print books in hand — the Kickstarter edition, each one signed, from my own Serendib Press, should be here by Monday. Eep! Those will be mailed out to Kickstarter supporters. If you haven’t filled out the BackerKit info, Kickstarter folks, please do — there are 6% of you that we’re waiting on.

(Absolutely no pressure, Kickstarter peeps, but we’ll also be messaging hardcover supporters to ask if you don’t mind waiting until the March launch date — it’ll save us a bit of money if so; we’ll be sending out ebooks within the month, we’re pretty sure, so you’ll have the recipes regardless. But totally fine if you want your hardcover books SOON! We’ll assume that’s the default, unless we hear otherwise from you.)

• we’re going to do a special series of Sneak Peek events, giving those in the know (that’s you folks!) the chance to pre-order, attend parties, and generally be in on the fun. You get to be part of the exclusive club.  Pem and I are still finalizing the list of events, but it’s generally places I was already going for other reasons, or near where I live. So here’s a few of them:

– I’ll be in the Bay Area next weekend, and I wasn’t sure, but it looks like I’ll have books with me (woot!). I’m planning to stop by Charlie Jane Anders‘s Writers with Drinks, possibly elsewhere, and will carry a big bag of books with me. If you know you want to pick up a book from me then, please let me know, so I’m sure to bring enough! Paperbacks $25 and hardcovers $40 (unless you pre-ordered, in which case, you get the discounted Kickstarter pricing of $18 and $35).

– The first local sneak peek event is coming up soon, Sunday, September 29th, 3-5 pm. at Jake’s Place Books, 142 Harrison Street. Locals, if you haven’t had the chance to check out this new LGBT-owned bookstore, you have to swing by! More details on the event soon — there is some discussion of a cook-off? I will have Sri Lankan treats on hand.

– And one more event, that you only have a few HOURS left to get in on, and which I’m VERY EXCITED about — my very good friend and member of my writing group, Amanda Daly, is also an incredible cook, and she makes really fabulous bagels. In the last year, she’s been holding pop-up bagel events, which always sell out remarkably fast — people, including me, queue up for these bagels! She’s opening a brick-and-mortar store here in Oak Park, which is VERY EXCITING, but also, there have been a host of unanticipated expenses, which I have tremendous sympathy for, having gone through something similar, though on smaller scale, with the cookbook project.

So I’m REALLY EXCITED to offer a Kickstarter reward with Amanda — for $60, you’ll get to support a great local project (two of them!), come to my home, and enjoy a fusion brunch featuring a variety of bagels and cream cheeses paired with an array of Sri Lankan accompaniments (seeni sambol on a bagel turns out to be DELICIOUS), along with mango and passionfruit mimosas, tropical fruit salad, coffee and homemade chai. Plus, you’ll get copies of the two previous e-books: The Marshmallows of Serendib and Vegan Serendib, and the opportunity to buy Feast at the discounted Kickstarter price. (Accessibility note: my old Victorian is sadly not wheelchair accessible, and we have a dog and two cats.)

At the time of my posting this, there are just 38 hours left to go on Amanda’s Kickstarter — and lots of other great prizes at different levels, if something else appeals to you. Even if you just want to throw in $1 to help a terrific woman get her small business off the ground, it’d be appreciated! So check it out!

Whew! So that’s the update, and as for me and Feast, more soon!…/1097158538/daly-bagels-daily


Oblig info: “My new Sri Lankan cookbook, A Feast of Serendib, launches on March 6, 2020, but we’re doing a long, slow pre-launch of the special Kickstarter edition in the interim. Right now, we still have discounted Kickstarter pricing available for pre-orders, along with Kickstarter goodies — you can pre-order here:

If you’d like to support the development of more mostly Sri Lankan recipes, I’d love to have you join the cookbook club — for $2 / month, you’ll get recipes delivered to your inbox (fairly) regularly:

And here’s all the foodie social media:

Serendib Kitchen blog:
Serendib Kitchen Instagram:
Serendib FB Group:
Serendib FB Page:

Thanks for your support!”

The first shipment of Feast paperbacks

OMG. The first shipment of Feast paperbacks arrived and they look beautiful. Thank all the little gods.

I have to admit, I actually felt queasy as I started opening the box, afraid there would be something terribly wrong. But no, they’re gorgeous. Whew.

(Okay, I do want to tweak a margin, but aside from that…)

Hardcovers due on Monday. Starting to feel really real now. I made a book! (With lots and lots of help…)


EDITING TO NOTE: Kickstarter pricing still available, if you’d like to pre-order, along with Kickstarter goodies. I’m not quite sure how long that’ll be available — my publicist, Pem Hessing, and I are still figuring it out. But for a bit? At least.  Pre-order here:

EDITING AGAIN TO NOTE: If you’d like to support the development of more mostly Sri Lankan recipes, I’d love to have you join the cookbook club — for $2 / month, you’ll get recipes delivered to your inbox (fairly) regularly:

And here’s all the foodie social media:

Serendib Kitchen blog:
Serendib Kitchen Instagram:
Serendib FB Group:
Serendib FB Page:

Thanks for your support!

Afternoon in the garden, late summer.

I can’t remember if I planted this, or if it just showed upon its own, but it’s pretty splendid. Illinois native, early goldenrod.

Meadow rue (thalictrum rochebrunianum) — blooming a little late this year, but I’ll take it. Six weeks of blooms in shade make this plant a treasure; one of my woodland garden favorites.

Feeling grateful to the people who told me a begonia hanging basket could handle a fair bit of shade and a whole lot of neglect…

Image may contain: plant, tree, outdoor and nature

Afternoon in the garden, late summer.

Dahlias are starting to really get going…

Annual salvia, “Wendy’s Wish.”

Restless, despite being sick

Walked two blocks to Bed, Bath and Beyond, because I was restless, despite being sick; came home with apple cider pods for the Keurig (okay in a pinch, but real is definitely better), and a crackle candle with firewood scent — we’re all a little too tired for building a real fire tonight, but this will do me nicely for now, with the early autumn chill in the air. Maybe a fire tomorrow. Reading the Mormon homeschooler memoir, Educated, which is both beautifully written and heartbreaking. These children.