Shrimp and Potato Curry

(30 minutes, serves 6)

I had a busy work day yesterday, so it was six o’clock before I had a chance to look at the calendar and remind myself what the evening plans were — only to be reminded that I’d planned to go to a refugee-supporting potluck, which started at six  o’clock!

We were supposed to bring something to share from countries that might be affected by a refugee ban, so I obviously wanted to bring Sri Lankan food.  But I needed something I could make fast!

I also ideally wanted to bring a savory dish, and something with protein, because potlucks tend to lean heavy towards the sweets and the starches.  I poked around in the freezer and pantry, confirmed I had frozen shrimp and russet potatoes; that meant I had a plan in place.  By 6:30, I was transferring the curry into a disposable container and heading out the door; just a few minutes later, people were tucking into the food enthusiastically.  Yum.

2 T vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 T ginger-garlic paste
1 t. mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1 stalk curry leaves
1 T chili powder
1 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1/4 c. ketchup
1 t. salt
1 lb. frozen peeled raw shrimp
1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cubed small
1 T lime juice

1.  Put potato cubes in a microwave-safe bowl with water to cover and microwave 5 minutes to par-boil.  Let sit until needed.

2.  While potatoes are microwaving, sauté onions in oil or ghee with ginger-garlic paste, mustard seed, cumin seed, and curry leaves, stirring on high, until onions are golden-translucent, about 5 minutes.

3.  Stir in chili powder, curry powder, ketchup, and salt.  Stir a minute or two to blend.

4.  Add potatoes with their cooking water.  Add shrimp (still frozen is fine).  Continue cooking on high, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are cooked and pink, and potatoes are soft.

 

5.  Add lime juice, give a final stir or two, and serve hot with rice or bread.

 

Kith and Kin

hair, clothes, and kitchen
redolent with roasted spices
cooking deep into the night
with children and husband asleep
this much unchanged, untranslated

I stand over the pan, stirring
low and slow, singing to amuse
myself — haste would destroy
the spell of memory, consanguinity

coriander cumin fennel fenugreek
in order of decreasing amount
cinnamon cloves cardamom
curry leaves and chili powder

if I have to look up the ingredients
every time, am I insufficiently
authentic? eventually, I will grind
knowledge into my bones

Ammama, could you have guessed
your granddaughter would live
half a world away, would structure
love so differently, would pass your
recipes to a thousand strangers?

in the old days, recipes were hoarded
like gold bangles; a dowry locked
in your mind could not be stolen
now I give them away, scatter them
like kisses on the networked seas

I suspect it would frighten you,
what a daughter might give away
might lose forever. yet perhaps
the world is changing. a woman
may give herself away, undiminished

trust me. what the seas carried
away, they will return; your children’s
children are with you
though at times unrecognizable

bend down your head and breathe
deep, roasting scents tangled in my hair
see — you know me still. some things
come back to you, a thousandfold

Chicken Curry / Kozhi Kari

(1 hour, serves 6)

Continuing in the project of accustoming my children to Sri Lankan food, I made chicken curry last night, which is one of the classic dishes that you will find at many local restaurants.  I reduced the chili powder from my standard two tablespoons to just one, and that was the only change my daughter needed to be perfectly happy with the dish.  Hooray!  My son, sadly, thought it ‘tasted weird.’  We ended up supplementing his dinner with chicken nuggets out of the freezer.  (Standard recipe below.)

I suspect I will just have to keep making the curry, and keep having him taste it, until Anand is actually accustomed to it.  I should have undoubtedly started this process years and years ago, but better late than never, I suppose.  One of our goals for this year is to actually get the whole family eating the same dinner more often, which should, in the long run, make our lives a lot easier.

One thing worth noting in these photos is the color change from the second to third photo.  A key to a good chicken curry is having a tasty kulambu (or kuzhambu, depending on how you do the transliteration), which is basically the curry sauce or gravy.  Some people make it more liquid, some more thick (if you use potatoes in this dish, they will thicken the sauce).  In this recipe you build a fairly spicy sauce, and then add whole milk partway through the cooking process, which melds the flavors and mellows the spice level, lending your curry a creamy richness.

You can use other kinds of milk if you’d prefer, and in fact, coconut milk is often used in Sri Lanka, but coconut milk is a little rich for everyday cooking — my family tends to save it for special occasion meals.  I’ve used goat milk (works fine) and soy milk (a little thin, but acceptable).  Almond milk is quite thin, and has a distinct nutty flavor — it’s not bad, but it does take the curry in a different direction; if you can find cashew milk, that might be a better option.

Note:  If you’re using coconut milk, which is fairly sweet, you may want to switch out the ketchup for chopped fresh tomatoes + a little vinegar.  My mother started using ketchup (which has sugar in it already) to compensate for the lack of sweetness in cow’s milk, when she first came to America as an immigrant in 1973, and coconuts and coconut milk were not so easy to come by.

3-5 medium onions, diced
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
3 whole cloves
3 whole cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 3 pieces
1-2 TBL red chili powder
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
12 pieces chicken, about 2 1/2 lbs, skinned and trimmed of fat. (Use legs and thighs — debone them if you must, but they’ll be tastier if cooked on the bone. Don’t use breast meat — it’s not nearly as tasty.) (Alternately, use 6 pieces of chicken, and three russet potatoes, peeled and cubed)
1/3 cup ketchup
1 heaping tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 TBL lime juice

1. In a large pot, sauté onions in oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seed, cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon pieces, until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add chili powder and cook one minute. Immediately add curry powder, chicken, ketchup, and salt.

2.  Lower heat to medium. Cover and cook, stirring periodically, until chicken is cooked through and sauce is thick, about 20 minutes. Add water if necessary to avoid scorching. Add potatoes if using, and add milk, to thicken and mellow spice level; stir until well blended.  (Be careful not to cook on high at this point, as the milk will curdle.)

3.  Cook an additional 20 minutes, until potatoes are cooked through. Add lime juice; simmer a few additional minutes, stirring. Serve hot.

Fusion Food: Tamales with Beef Curry

I was a little frustrated yesterday when I steamed a dozen frozen tamales (handmade by a local mom) for a potluck we were hosting, and discovered after steaming them that we were out of tomatillo sauce.  I’d sworn we had at least half a bottle left in the fridge, but no, there was no tomatillo sauce to be had for love or money.  I was craving that tangy flavor, and I knew that my tamales would be a little sad and dry without it.  But then I had a flash of what I swear is brilliance — I had a little beef curry left, and it was also beautifully tangy.  Could I possibly combine it with the tamales?

Dear reader, the answer is yes.  Chicken tamales pair fabulously with a tangy slow-cooked, meat falling off the bone beef curry, topped with a generous dollop of sour cream.  Guess I know what I’m having for my next few meals…

Slow-Cooked Curried Beef, Chickpea, and Spinach

(2-3 hours, serves 8)

I’ve been reading a lot about Mediterranean cooking recently, and wondering if I could adapt some of our Sri Lankan flavors to that style of cooking.  This dish started with Beef Smoore,  a dish of Dutch / Sri Lankan origin, one of those recipes where you just dump everything in a pot and simmer it for hours. It’s heavily spiced, because if you use a more typical amount of spicing, the flavors tend to get quite mild after hours of cooking, and you end up with a result closer to beef stew than curry. The classic Smoore recipe is rich and delectable; great party food for a holiday or special occasion.
 
But tonight I revisited the recipe, aiming for something my family might eat more often.  I reduced the amount of beef — instead of 3 lbs. of beef roast, I used just one pound of beef chuck and one piece of beef shank. I added chickpeas and spinach, bringing fiber and more nutrients to the dish, and skipped the coconut milk altogether.  This version is both more heart-healthy and budget-friendly, but without compromising flavor at all — the meatiness of the shank and its marrow pairs richly with the vinegar and tamarind.

The end result is a tangy stew (or soup, if you prefer), delicious with a little rice or bread.  I’m continuing my efforts to accommodate my daughter to Sri Lankan flavors, so this uses half the chili powder I would normally put in for myself.  She loved it, and I like it just fine like this, but for a more Sri Lankan version, do double the chili powder!

1 T ghee or oil
1 lb. beef chuck, cubed
1 beef shank
1 c. canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 c. chopped frozen spinach
1/2 cup vinegar
1 T tamarind paste, dissolved in 3 c. water
1/4 c. ketchup
2 T Worcestershire sauce
2 medium onions, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 T finely chopped fresh ginger
1 stick cinnamon
2 stalks curry leaves
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
3 T Sri Lankan curry powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
2 tsp salt

1.  Heat the oil or ghee on high in a large, heavy pot, and sear the beef, stirring, until browned on all sides, which adds great depth of flavor to the sauce.

2.  Keeping heat on high, add remaining ingredients to the pan and stir to combine, scraping up any browned meat on the bottom of the pan.  Bring to a boil, cover the pot, and simmer gently until meat is tender, approximately 2-3 hours.

3.  Remove lid and stir; if the gravy is too thin for your desire, reduce it by boiling rapidly uncovered.  Serve hot, with rice or bread.

Curried Seafood Stew

(30 minutes, serves 4)

Creamy, tangy, richly-spiced, with just a little heat; I was aiming for something my daughter would love.  Of course, feel free to amp up the chili powder or toss in some chopped Thai green chilies for a spicier version!  Use whatever seafood you have on hand — I pulled some frozen tilapia and shrimp out to toss into this.

1 onion, chopped
1/4 c. oil or ghee
1 T ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1/2 t. fennel seed
1/2 t. methi seed
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 t. chili powder
1/2 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1 stalk curry leaves
2 pounds seafood, cleaned
1 can coconut milk
1 T lime juice
coriander for garnish

1. Saute onions in oil or ghee with ginger, garlic, spices, and curry leaves until onions are golden-translucent, about ten minutes.

2. Add seafood and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, stirring, then turn down heat to medium and cook another ten minutes or so, until seafood is cooked through.

 

3. Continue cooking until stew is desired thickness. Add lime juice and stir in, then cook a minute or two more. Serve hot with fresh rice and chopped coriander.

  

Whitefish Bagel

With the New Year, I’m trying to more consciously eat plenty of fish (and serve it to my kids).  I’ve been eating lox and bagels for years, but only recently have I discovered whitefish salad.  I think it was at my friends Ellen and Delia’s apartment in New York, where we had a weekend writing workshop and they laid out a beautiful bagel spread with lox and multiple fish spreads, along with everything else you might want.  SO GOOD.

Next up in the queue is figuring out how to make my own whitefish salad (please do feel free to point me to your favorite recipes!), but for right now, I’m very happy that my local Whole Foods carries ‘whitefish paté’ in their seafood case.  Toast a bagel, layer it up with lettuce, tomato, capers, red onion (not pictured, because I was out, but trust me, that makes it even better), and you have yourself a delicious breakfast.

(And for those counting calories, if you pile this all on a mini bagel, it’s still only about 200 calories, which is kind of amazing.  Have two!)

Ginger-Garlic Chicken and Cauliflower with Rice

(30 minutes, serves 4)

The goal for this dinner was to make the spicing very simple, make something the kids would happily eat, and have it all ready in thirty minutes, for an easy weeknight meal.  Success on all counts!

The flavors are honestly a little too similar for what I’d consider ideal — normally, I’d cook either the chicken or the cauliflower, and serve it with a contrasting curry.  But when you’re tired and want dinner on the table quick, this’ll do nicely.  If you have the energy to chop up some cucumbers and tomatoes, they’d add a nice crunch and contrast.  You could stir them into a bit of yogurt for creaminess too.

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 head cauliflower
1 c. white rice
2 t. onion powder
2 t. ground ginger
2 t. garlic powder
2 t. salt + a pinch
2 t. turmeric
2 t. pepper
vegetable oil for frying & roasting (about 1/2 c.)

1. Pre-heat oven to 400.  Cut chicken into bite-size pieces, mix with 1 t. each of the spices, set aside in a bowl.

2.  Cut cauliflower into bite-size pieces, mix with 1 t. each of the spices, along with 1/4 c. of vegetable oil.  Spread on a foil-lined baking tray and put in oven to roast.  Set timer for 20 minutes (or 25 if you prefer them entirely soft).

3.  Start rice:  Add 1 c. rice to 2 c. water, with a pinch of salt, in a sauce pan.  Turn to high.

4.  In a frying pan, add remaining oil and heat on high for a few minutes.  When the rice starts bubbling, turn to simmer and cover.  (Set a timer for 15 minutes.)

5.  Add chicken to frying pan and brown nicely on high, stirring occasionally.  When it’s browned well, turn heat down to medium and continue stirring for another 3-5 minutes, until chicken pieces are cooked through.  Drain excess oil.  (I do this by setting the pan on a tilt on the edge of the stove, scooting the chicken up to the higher edge.  Leave it alone for a few minutes, so the oil collects, then use a paper towel to sop up the excess oil, and dispose of the paper towel.)

6.  When the timer goes off for the rice, give it a stir, and then leave it for a few more minutes to finish cooking.  (My friend Kat and I disagree about this — she thinks my rice is undercooked this way, but it seems perfect to me.  Your mileage may vary — you can leave it to sit covered another 5-10 minutes if you like.)

When the timer goes off for the cauliflower, serve with rice and chicken, hot.

 

Grilled Steak with Roasted Potatoes and Broccoli

(30 minutes, serves four)

It is honestly still a little bewildering to me, growing up in a Sri Lankan tradition, that one can make quite tasty food without chopping several onions and utilizing a host of spices.  But I have to admit, on a weeknight when you want to cook fast and get back to catching up on Doctor Who, it’s nice to have the option.  This dinner uses only steak, broccoli, potatoes, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  That’s it!  Yup, still bewildering.

Note: You’ll have enough time to make 2 lbs. of flank steak, which gives you enough for sandwiches or salad at lunch the next day. But you can just make 1 lb. if you prefer.

2 lbs. flank steak
4 Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 lb. broccoli
olive oil as needed (about 1/2 c. total)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350. Cube potatoes, toss in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, transfer to a foil-covered baking sheet, and start in oven. Set timer for 15 minutes.

2. Cut up broccoli into bite-size pieces (stems and heads both), toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and set aside.

3. Cut flank steak in half (so it will fit in grill pan or frying pan). Start pan heating on high (it’ll give off a fair bit of smoke while cooking, so a strong vent fan is helpful here). Spread some olive oil, salt, and pepper on both sides of the two pieces of steak. When pan is hot, add one piece to pan.

4. For medium rare, cook four minutes on one side, then flip over, and cook three minutes on the other side. Somewhere in here, your timer will go off. Pull out the potatoes, and add the broccoli to the roasting pan; I like to put them evenly around the edge, piling up the potatoes a bit if needed. Put back in the oven for another 15 minutes.

5. Take the first piece of steak to a plate to rest; it’ll give off some juices (which we usually pour off and add to our grateful dog’s dinner) over the next few minutes. Start the second piece of steak going — again, four minutes on one side, three minutes on the other.

6. Pull the second piece off to rest; by now, the potatoes and broccoli should be finishing up, lovely and golden and crispy, beautifully sweet on the insides. Slice the first steak thinly against the grain, and serve hot with vegetables and perhaps a nice dry shiraz for the grown-ups.