Cauliflower Poriyal

(Lunch today: cauliflower poriyal with a little beef curry on top. Yum. Smells so good when frying the onions in ghee…)

Cauliflower Poriyal
(25 minutes, serves 4)

The key to this dish is sautéing the cauliflower until it’s browned—the browned bits will be the tastiest. I generally like to serve this dish with beef or pork curry; the slighty salty flavor complements those meats well. This is, oddly, one of my picky children’s favorite dishes, and has often proved popular with my friends’ children as well. I think it’s all the frying.

3 medium onions, chopped coarsely
3 TBL vegetable oil or ghee
1/4 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp cumin seed
1 medium cauliflower, chopped bite-size
1 rounded tsp salt
1 rounded tsp turmeric

1. Sauté onions in oil on high in a large nonstick frying pan with mustard seed and cumin seed, until onions are slightly softened (not brown). Add cauliflower, turmeric, and salt. (I’ve made this in a regular frying pan, and found that it’s difficult not to burn it; if you don’t use non-stick, you’ll need to stir constantly.)

2. Cook on medium-high, stirring frequently, until cauliflower is browned (mostly yellow, but with a fair bit of brown on the flatter parts). This takes a while—don’t stop too early, or it won’t be nearly as tasty. Serve hot.

Curry Leaves by Mail

I was excited to hear that you can buy fresh curry leaves by mail on Amazon now — I had to try it because even though I have a little curry tree at home that I pick from, I’m constantly hearing from people who want to make my recipes and can’t find curry leaves locally.

I’m glad to report that these are just fine. They’re not the strongest curry leaves ever — you might want to double the amount for full flavor.  But they certainly work.  I threw one stalk into a beef curry, and since I’m not making curry again for a few days, put the rest of the bag in the freezer, and will pull more stalks out as needed.  This is one ounce’s worth, sold by Monsoon Spice Company.

Mixed Grains

Okay, this is slightly tricky, since you need to cook it in two batches, but a) tasty, b) nutritious, and c) pretty! I cooked a mix of red rice and quinoa in the rice cooker (on the brown rice setting, which is very slow, so allow extra time). And then cooked some short-grain white rice also in the rice cooker (faster). And then mixed them all together. Yum!

Nutrition comparison below (based on quick googling).

One cup cooked of:
– short-grain white rice (267 calories, 58.9 g carbs, 4.8 g protein, 0 fiber)
– long-grain white rice (205 calories, 44.5 g carbs, 4.3 g protein, 1 fiber
– red rice (216 calories, 45 g carbs, 5 g protein, 4 g fiber)
– quinoa (222 calories, 29 g carbs, 8 g protein, 5 g fiber)

Composing a Vegan Sri Lankan Dinner

This was a fun one for me — an entirely vegan dinner, that I did for last week’s board game night. Pretty easy with Sri Lankan food. Going around clockwise: lentils in coconut milk (tons of protein), carrot in coconut milk, kale sambol, coconut sambol (spicy), seeni sambol (spicy and sweet), eggplant curried in coconut milk, with red rice / quinoa in the center.

If I were doing it again, I’d make more of a bed of red rice / quinoa — I had to go back for seconds on that to happily eat the rest, get the balance right in each bite. And I’d dice the onions for the lentils instead of slicing them — they were a little too noticeable when paired with the sliced onions in the seeni sambol.

This was plenty of food for the number of people we had, but for a larger dinner party, you could expand the plate’s options.

I’d add papadum for crunch, probably some lime-masala mushrooms for the tang. Devilled potatoes would add a luscious spicy-tomato element, though you could also just add tomatoes and potatoes to the eggplant curry for similar effect. Cashew curry or chili cashews would add another hit of protein in rich, nutty form. And while I’ve never had a raita without yogurt, I wonder if you could do something similar with coconut milk, for another cold element.

Proper balance of varied flavors for a Sri Lankan dinner party is an art form! But making it vegan was no more difficult than vegetarian or with meat, it turns out.

Eggplant Curry / Kattharikai Kari

(30 minutes draining time + 30 minutes, serves 6)

My mother’s eggplant curry was always a huge hit at Sri Lankan dinner parties, and is particularly popular with vegetarians.

1 lb eggplant, roughly 1-inch cubes
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 onions, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup oil or ghee
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 dozen curry leaves
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp Sri Lankan curry powder
1/2 cup coconut milk

1. Prep eggplant — rub with turmeric and salt and then set in a colander to drain at least 30 minutes, which will draw out the bitter water. Blot dry with paper towels.

2. Sauté onions in oil on medium-high, stirring, with cumin seed, black mustard seed, and curry leaves, until golden.

3. Add eggplant, sugar, and curry powder, and sauté for another ten minutes or so, until eggplant is nicely fried. (Add more oil or ghee if needed.)

4. Add coconut milk and simmer for a few minutes until well blended. Serve hot with rice or naan—particularly nice for a vegetarian dinner with lentils as the main protein.

Variation: Eggplant and bell pepper work well together in this dish; just add chopped bell pepper about five minutes into frying the eggplant for a nice sweet element to the dish. Sometimes I make a nightshade curry, adding potatoes and tomatoes as well — small cubed potatoes would go into the onions first, then eggplant and spices, then bell pepper, then tomato, with a few minutes between each addition.

NOTE: I was wanting something a little spicier, so this time I added some chopped green jalapeños when I added the eggplant. Yum.

Tempered Lentils (Paripoo / Dal)

(60 minutes, serves six)
 
Lentils are a staple dish in Sri Lanka—across the country, people eat what we call paripoo daily, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s terribly good for you, very affordable, and also delicious. I used to dislike lentils, or I thought I did, but it turned out I only disliked my mother’s version (which everyone else loved, so I blame my being a slightly picky kid). I was converted to lentils through my adult discovery of Ethiopian food, a cuisine which cooks the lentils to a soft porridge-like consistency; now I am quite fond of them. This recipe is adapted from Charmaine Solomon’s The Complete Asian Cookbook.
 
2 cups red lentils
1 can coconut milk, plus 1 can hot water
1 dried red chili, broken into pieces
a pinch of ground saffron
1 tsp pounded Maldive fish (optional)
2 TBL ghee or oil
2 medium onions, finely sliced
6 curry leaves
1 stick of cinnamon
three strips of lemon rind (about a quarter lemon)
salt to taste (about ¾ – 1 t.)
 
1. Put lentils in a saucepan with the coconut milk, chili, and saffron (and Maldive fish, if using). (If you don’t have red lentils, you can use a different variety, but it will notably change the flavor.) Fill the can with hot water and add that as well; this will ensure you don’t waste any coconut yumminess. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until lentils are soft, about forty-five minutes. Stir periodically and add more water if needed; it’s fine if the bottom starts to stick a little—just scrape it up.
 
2. In another saucepan, heat the oil and fry the onions, curry leaves, cinnamon, and lemon rind until onions are golden-brown.
 
3. Reserve half the onions for garnishing the dish and add the lentil mixture to the saucepan. Stir well, add salt to taste, and cook down until thick, like porridge. Serve with rice and curries.
 
Notes: Some people like their paripoo more watery, but I think they’re just wrong. Still, cook to your preference. I tend to leave the Maldive fish out, since I often make this dish when I’m cooking for vegetarians, but it certainly is more traditional (and I think tastier) with the fish added.

Cauliflower ‘Rice’

The experiments continue — tried cauliflower ‘rice’! I wouldn’t say I like it as well as rice, but it’s pretty okay, esp. if sautéed with a bit of ghee first, and served with a nice chicken curry and kale sambol. Feels more culturally appropriate for Sri Lankan food than shirataki, certainly.

Thai Yellow Curry with Shirataki Noodles

Experimenting with tofu shirataki noodles (shirataki is made of yam, and is extremely low-carb, low-calorie, and gluten-free); here I added them to a simple Thai yellow curry.
 
Take one can Maesri yellow curry paste, add one can Chaokoh coconut milk, heat in a large saucepan on medium high heat. Stir in a t. of brown sugar and a T of fish sauce. Add two frozen tilapia filets (no need to thaw), one can drained bamboo shoots, and half a pound of trimmed green beans, simmer until fish is cooked through, 10-15 minutes. That’s your basic curry; use the protein and veggies of your choice.
 
Usually I’d serve this with white rice, but I’m trying to eat a little less white rice these days (sob!), so experimented with shirataki noodles. Follow the instructions on the package — rinse noodles well and drain, toss in boiling water for 3 minutes, drain again. Then stir the noodles into the curry and serve hot.
 
I’d call this a qualified success. It doesn’t taste as good as eating the curry with rice or the kind of noodles you’d use for pad thai; the shirataki noodles retain more bounce / tooth to them, so just don’t blend into the dish as well. But that said, they’re very neutral; I ate a big plate of this and was reasonably happy with it, and will be happy to eat more tomorrow as leftovers.
 
At something like 20 calories for the entire package of noodles (of which I ate perhaps a third), it’s at the very least a good option to know about if you’re being careful about calories or carbs, or need to eat gluten-free.
 

Sri Lankan Beef and Potato Curry

Beef and Potato Curry / Mas Kulunga Kari

(1 hour, serves 6)

This was my favorite dish growing up, the one my mother always makes for me when I come home, and the first Sri Lankan dish I learned to cook, when I called home desperate from the dorms, begging her to teach me how to make it over the phone. It’s also the first Sri Lankan dish my husband, Kevin, learned to cook — I came home once from a long plane flight, walked into the house, smelled the scent of this curry, that I hadn’t even known he had learned how to make, and promptly burst into tears. Enjoy.

3-5 medium onions, chopped fine

2 TBL ginger, chopped fine

4-5 garlic cloves, sliced

3 TBL vegetable oil

1 tsp black mustard seed

1 tsp cumin seed

1-2 TBL red chili powder

3 lbs chuck steak, cubed, about 1 inch pieces

1/3 cup ketchup

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder

1 heaping tsp salt

3 pieces cinnamon stick

3 cloves

3 cardamom pods

1 dozen curry leaves

1/2 cup milk

3 medium russet potatoes, cut into large chunks

2-3 TBL lime juice

1.  In a large pot, sauté onions, ginger, and garlic in oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seeds until onions are golden/translucent (not brown), stirring as needed. Add chili powder and cook 1 minute, stirring. Immediately stir in ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, curry powder, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and curry leaves.

2.  Add beef and stir on high for a minute or two, browning the meat. Add milk, stirring. Cover, turn down to medium, and let cook half an hour, stirring occasionally.

3.  Add potatoes, stir well, and cover again. Cook until potatoes are cooked through, adding water if needed to maintain a nice thick sauce (and to keep food from burning), stirring occasionally. Add lime juice; stir until well blended. Serve hot with rice or bread.

 

Sri Lankan Carrot Curry

(20 minutes, serves 4)

3 medium onions, chopped
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 T ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 Thai green chilies, chopped fine
1/2 tsp black mustard seed
1/2 tsp cumin seed
six large carrots, sliced into thin coins
1 rounded tsp salt
1 cup coconut milk (can use milk instead, but be extra careful not to curdle)

1. Sauté onions in oil on high with mustard seed, cumin seed, and ginger until onions are golden. Add garlic, carrots and salt. Cook on medium-high, stirring frequently, until carrots are cooked through.
2. Stir in coconut milk and turn heat down to low; simmer until well-blended, stirring constantly. Serve hot.

NOTE: You’d typically also add in half a teaspoon of turmeric with the salt, but I honestly forgot this time, and it was still good.