You can’t read this article unless you’re a Tribune subscriber, but among other things, it’s telling you that I’m teaching a spice-mixing class next week for the Naperville public library.
(If there are any librarians reading this, please consider me for your programming needs. I love doing both in-person and Zoom events, and am delighted to have you archive Zoom events on your site. I will happily work with your budget. Book me for events here: https://maryannemohanraj.com/book-mary-anne/)
The Naperville library site is not behind a paywall:
“Learn how to roast, grind, and mix your own spice blends! Mary Anne Mohanraj, author of the Sri Lankan cookbook, “A Feast of Serendib,” will walk you through the process of creating a dark-roasted Sri Lankan spice blend, using your stovetop, a pan, and a dedicated spice (or coffee) grinder. (You can also use a mortar & pestle, but it’ll be a lot of work!) She’ll talk about the cultural history of Sri Lankan cuisine, what kinds of dishes you’d typically use such a spice mix for (both vegetarian and non-veg. options), and how you can adapt this process to your own tastes (altering the heat level, for example, or skipping a spice you don’t like). By the end, you’ll be able to create your own South Asian spice blends! *Registration required.”
You can tell I’m not as frantic as I was, because I have time to do optional cooking again. There were a few months there when I was working harder and longer than I ever have in my life, and eating became very functional — too many frozen meals, packet ramen, whatever was easy and fast. I was relatively careful about nutrition, so it worked okay as body fuel, but it wasn’t food that made me happy.
There are certain condiments that I’d always like to have in my fridge. Fresh tomatillo sauce; Kevin makes a great one. Pol (coconut) sambol. MD green chili sauce. But if I had to pick just one condiment, it’d be seeni sambol — sweet and spicy and salty, all balanced for a hit of amazing flavor.
Last week, I finally took the time to replenish my supply of seeni sambol, which is a long, slow process, caramelizing the onions. I can’t do it when I’m running frantic. I generally make the vegan version, so Kevin can eat it too, because he doesn’t like fish. It’s better with the little punch of Maldive fish, but it’s still really, really good without. If I want a teatime snack, a slice of toasted bread with butter and seeni sambol is perfect with a cup of hot, sweet, milky tea.
For breakfast today, I took a little naan and some leftover grilled steak from last night’s dinner, and topped that with seeni sambol. A few minutes in the toaster oven, and I had a delicious breakfast. A lot healthier than reheating a frozen meal too!
It’s so nice, to be able to take proper care of myself again. Having a fresh jar of seeni sambol in the fridge is just comforting. I’m going to try not to let that run out again — it’s like the canary in the coal mine. When I’m out of seeni sambol, it’s a sign that I’m working too hard, and it’s time to try to slow down.
Do you have a must-have condiment that makes everything in your life better? Or is that just me?
I made these to serve triple duty — I wanted to put some out at yesterday’s event, I’ll include them in the next batch of Patreon boxes, and I also just like have meringue kisses around for nibbling on — they’re perfect when you want a tiny hit of delicate sweetness.
So I made a triple batch, which took two rounds in the mixer and the oven, but I figured most people would go for a more modest single batch, so that’s the recipe I’ve written up here. Remember to save those extra egg yolks to make some curd — passionfruit curd is very hard to beat.
If I were making these for folks from South Asia or the Middle East, I’d go heavier on the rose, but for Americans, light rose generally goes over better. It takes a little getting used to, though interestingly, before vanilla became easily accessible here, rose was a dominant flavoring in early America!
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you attempt to make meringues on high humidity days, they may deflate significantly. (They’ll still be tasty, though, just a little more dense & chewy.) Proceed at your own risk.
2 egg whites
3/4 t. cream of tartar
2 c. white sugar
2/3 c. water
1-2 T rosewater
1/4 t. ground cardamom
1/4 t. salt
red or pink food coloring (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 250 F; line baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Using an electric mixer and a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar on high speed, until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Set aside.
3. Make rose-cardamom syrup: in a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, rose extract, cardamom, salt, and food coloring (if using). Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Simmer for another minute or two, stirring constantly, and then remove from stove.
4. Turn mixer with beaten egg whites on high, and slowly pour the syrup in a thin stream into the whites. Beat until syrup is incorporated and the meringue is stiff and shiny.
5. If you’re feeling fancy, transfer meringue into a plastic bag or pastry bag, using a star tip to make meringues. But I always just drop by spoonfuls (it helps to use the back of a second spoon to slide the meringue off the first spoon) onto the prepared baking sheet. They look charmingly rustic that way.
6. Bake until the meringues are firm to the touch, 60-90 minutes. Don’t remove them, or the insides will be chewy. Just turn off the oven and allow them to cool as the oven cools, to finish baking the interiors. You can leave them overnight if you like; they’ll be just fine.
Now that the semester’s over (I’m hoping to finish my grading today), I’ve started baking for the spring Patreon treat boxes (which I think we’re going to be shipping around the 2nd week of June). If you join now (by the end of May), you’ll get a June box, which is something like a 75% discount on that box. They start at $10 / month: https://www.patreon.com/mohanraj
We have a fairies & starlight theme for this set of treat boxes, and I feel like these are bang on theme — can’t you just see fairies sprinkling delicate centaurea petals about? And aren’t they adorable on the flowered china? But sadly, I’ve forgotten the name of which grandmother we inherited this china from — Susan, do you remember?
Since we’re hosting an event at the house on Saturday, I figure I can put some of the baked goods out for nibbling while people shop, and I’ll wrap the others individually tightly in plastic wrap and freeze them, so they stay fresh for the treat boxes.
I waffled a little on how to top these cookies, but I think I’m going to save the colorful sprinkles to top something else. These are my classic very limey shortbread, graced with white chocolate and centaurea (aka cornflower).
If you don’t grow organic centaurea in your own garden, fear not — it’s easy to find the petals online.
Lime & Rosewater Shortbread,
with White Chocolate & Centaurea Petals
3/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 scraped vanilla beans or 2 t. pure vanilla extract
3/4 t. salt
1 lime, zest and juice
1 t. citric acid (optional)
1 T rosewater
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 c. crystallized ginger, chopped fine
1 1/2 c. white chocolate chips (optional)
dried organic centaurea (cornflower) petals (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar; add the vanilla and salt, citric acid, lime juice, lime zest, and rosewater. Then add flour and mix on low until dough forms. Stir in ginger.
3. Turn out dough onto floured board. (If it’s not coming together into a dough, the heat of your hands will help.) Firmly pat flat (to desired cookie height, usually about 1/2 inch). If using cookie cutters, cut out shapes, place on parchment-covered baking sheet, and chill for 15 minutes (to help hold shape).
NOTE: Can be kept chilled at this point for several days, covered in plastic wrap, and then rolled, cut, and baked fresh.
Alternately, press into baking pan or shortbread mold, prick with fork. You can also cut shapes out after baking — shortbread is very forgiving that way — but then the individual cookie edges won’t be browned. Or you can do what I did for this batch — roll them into two long tubes, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, chill, and then just slice for slightly wonky round-ish cookies.
4. Remove from fridge and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the edges begin to brown, then remove to wire rack to cool.
5. Optional decorating — once shortbread has cooled, melt white chocolate in microwave at half power for a few minutes, or in a double boiler. Dip shortbread pieces in chocolate, then set on rack to dry. Sprinkle with dried petals while chocolate is still liquid.
One of my priorities with Vegan Serendib is to make sure that it was as substantial a book as Feast — I didn’t want the vegan edition to be a lesser version. So it’s roughly the same number of total recipes, the same page count, etc.
But as we’re making final decisions this week, one question that arose was whether to change the paper type. For Feast, we used Ingram’s standard 70/105, the mid-range paper. Not quite as heavy or as bright-printing as their premium paper, but still quite nice.
Unfortunately, printing and production costs have gone up, due the pandemic inflation and supply chain issues, so we were faced with a tough choice — if we kept the 70/105 paper, we’d need to bump the hardcover price up by $5 in order to actually make even a minimal profit. The hardcover was already $40, and we’d have to take it to $45.
I didn’t want to do that — it felt like I was charging vegans more for their version of the book, which seemed unfair (even though it was really a matter of timing).
But we got Ingram to send us some samples, and thankfully, I think their standard paper is going to be just fine for this. I can see and feel a slight difference when I have them side by side, but the standard still looks good and feels substantial. You don’t want cookbook pages that are going to rip easily, especially if people may be turning them with wet fingers!
But I think this is going to be fine, so we’re going to go with the standard paper, and that means we can keep the price at $40 for the hardcover, whew.
Indexing and copyediting is done now, I think — we’re going to have our cover designer adjust for the new paper (which affects the thickness of the book and therefore the layout of the cover), and then I think we’ll be ready to order a galley print copy of the hardcover? And then Stephanie will work on the design for the print paperback? Getting close, folks. Exciting!
We’re getting so close to finished with Vegan Serendib, I can taste it! (Taste it, see? It’s a food joke. Good thing I amuse myself…)
We have a cover, courtesy of our fabulous designer, Jeremy John Parker! Hoping to finalize indexing and copyediting this week, then final interior layout tweaks. Ordering print galleys next week, fingers crossed!
Last Easter pics. Roasted variegated carrots (toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, roast at 425 for 20 minutes) very easy, very pretty, very springtime.
And I got to break out our new grill for a party for the first time, and it worked really well! I had done some cooking in advance, but with the grill up on our back deck, I could just step out, turn it on to let it preheat, step back in, prep the salmon and asparagus (olive oil, salt, pepper), take them out, grill while chatting with people, serve.
I also did some chicken thighs (both plain and tikka), just to fill out the corners; I thought it would be good for making sure the kids got enough to eat.
LOVE the plumbed-in gas grill (belated gift for Kevin’s 50th birthday from me and his parents, though I admit, it’s at least as much a gift for me). No more hauling propane tanks, hooray!
Maybe eventually I’ll experiment with charcoal in a tray, or wood, but I’m really glad we went with this kind of grill, because I just have no time to futz with building a charcoal, etc. fire while I’m in party mode.
Thanks again to everyone who weighed in on my grill-buying decision last fall, even if I didn’t end up taking your suggestions. Sorry, Matt!
My poor trifle really was a disaster — it was sort of a tasty fruity soup, but not anything you really wanted to eat a lot of. We ended up throwing most of it out, alas. Well, live and learn. Kevin also noted that he doesn’t really like jello in trifle, and usually he loves trifle, so I think my days of experimenting with jello in trifle are probably done. We’ll stick to jello in parfaits…
But thankfully, my guests brought plenty of desserts — including the 14-15 year olds, one of whom had baked a ton of yummy cookies, and another who baked this incredibly delicious cheesecake, as good as any I’ve ever had. So impressive!
Kavi has discovered that she loves devilled eggs. She got a couple during the party, but they went fast, and after the party was over, she and I were lying on the couch watching Gilmore Girls together, and she said, pathetically, that she really wanted devilled eggs, and we didn’t have any. Tragedy!
I said, well, it would only take about 5 minutes to make some, since we had some hard-boiled eggs left in the Easter bread, and Kavi looked at me with big pleading eyes, so I laughed and got off the couch and made her some devilled eggs.
(The ham was super-easy — it’s pre-cooked and sliced, so it’s just heat in the oven, then cut off slices and serve. I like this little trio of glass jars; I decanted three ham accompaniments into them, so easy.)