Last Night’s Dinner

Chicken thighs rubbed with oil, salt, and roasted Sri Lankan curry powder, grilled on the stovetop grill pan, then added to a warm baguette slathered with butter, along with my pickled cucumber and carrot, for a Vietnamese banh mi-style sandwich. Delicious, though I think it’d be even better with some avocado slices. Next time.

Pickled cucumber-carrot recipe can be found here.

Montreal Coverage for Feast

Woot — Montreal coverage for Feast! This is our first international coverage aside from the actual Sri Lankan coverage, so lovely to see. Canada peeps, look!…/six-oclock-solution-beet…

Although I have to note, someone wrote a subhead that says: “If you can’t find curry leaves, you can substitute them with lime zest and basil leaves in this recipe for beet curry,” and I disagree. If you can’t find curry leaves (they can be ordered online at Amazon and elsewhere), leave them out. I haven’t found anything that replicates that particular flavor.

And in fact, in the article itself, the writer includes this:

“Shopping for the essential seasonings is easiest in Indian stores, but supermarkets increasingly stock these products, says Mohanraj, who includes one of the best ingredient chapters I have ever seen in a book. Avoid yellow curry powder; Sri Lankans use dark-roasted, and she includes a recipe so you can make your own. Curry leaves come fresh, frozen or dried; if you can’t find them, skip them, Mohanraj directs.”

They also changed my recipe a bit, adding this parenthetical:

“green chilies (jalapeño, Anaheim, banana or poblano)”

Um, no. Serrano is your best bet for something readily available in North America, and what you’re ideally looking for is green fingerhot chilies. I wouldn’t use Anaheim, banana, or poblano, which have very different and distinct flavors.

I hope I’m not being churlish here — I do appreciate the coverage, very much. But it’s a little distressing seeing them leading people astray, flavor-wise. I know they want to be helpful, but I wish they’d dropped me a note to check these changes.

Six O’Clock Solution: Beet curry straight from Sri Lanka

Think of curry with a salty-sour-sweet taste and a bit more heat than in Indian cuisine, and you have the most popular dish from Sri Lanka, the island off the coast of India that was once a crossroads of European exploration and trade.

The Vegan Serendib Timeline

I woke up thinking about how goofy it was to be pushing so hard to get out Vegan Serendib for Christmas. I mean, yes, we COULD do it, and Christmas sales are significant. But it would be very hard, and not done well in terms of promotion.

I ended up sending this message to the Serendib Press team on Slack, copying it here in case anyone is interested in how a teeny tiny press figures out a little bit more about how we ought to be doing things.

We’ll make it to professional eventually. Someday, I’d love to publish other peoples’ books too, but I figure we should make all the mistakes on my books first. 🙂


Hey, team. So I’ve been thinking about the timeline for Vegan Serendib and I think it’s putting too much time pressure on all of us to get that done, especially me and Stephanie, and there’s really no reason we have to have it for Christmas. We might get a few extra Christmas sales, but it’s not worth doing it badly or killing ourselves.

So I had another thought — since this is the second edition, one thing we could do is set a launch date for say, May 1, 2021, which gives us a proper six-month timeline for promotion. You can start working now on the press releases for that, and start sending them in the next few weeks, giving us a chance at some magazine coverage. We won’t have physical copies to send out right away, but should have them by end of the year, I think.

And then another thing we can do is start taking pre-orders AND say that anyone who pre-orders we’ll immediately send them a digital copy of the first sampler edition of Vegan Serendib (bonus), so they can start cooking right away. Then they’ll get the full volume next May. I think overall, that makes a lot more sense. What do you think?

If we do this, then I think the next step is to ask Stephanie to go back through what we did for Feast, and make a calendar for what we’re aiming to have done each month in the next six months. Some of the things:

finalize 40 new recipes (MA)
retake photos as needed (MA)
revise intro materials (MA)
talk to Ingram Spark and figure out what they need and when (Stephanie)
draft new press release for Vegan (Stephanie?)
draft back cover copy for Vegan (Stephanie?)
ask Jeremy John Parker to do final cover design (and pay him) (Stephanie)
figure out who we want to send copies to for review (Stephanie)
put up pre-order page for Vegan (Stephanie?)

plan some kind of holiday promotion for both books (Stephanie)

redo interior design (Stephanie)
re-index (can we do this in house? Anyone here interested in learning how to index?)

copyedit and proofread (Darius or Emmanuel or both? check with Jed re: errors from Feast we want to correct here too)

keep making cooking videos — maybe one every two weeks (MA and Darius)

start writing food essays and sending them out (MA, who needs deadlines for this clearly, so maybe one every two weeks)

JAN/FEB/MAR/APR/MAY (promotion):
set up virtual cooking classes?
book more virtual events?

depending on COVID, maybe an outdoor in-person event in May for launch day?

And heck, while we’re calendaring, we can look ahead to the NEXT book, which should be Gluten-Free Serendib. Let’s say we aim for December 1, 2021 launch of that.


develop recipes for GF (MA)

design / index / copyedit / proofread book (Stephanie and team)

draft press releases for GF, update press database, send out first wave


Green Tomato and Lentil Curry

(45 minutes, serves 4 as entree, 8 as a side)

Green tomatoes are a lovely end-of-summer curry on their own, beautifully tangy, but add some lentils and you have a complete and nutritious meal. It’s perfect with a little rice or bread, or just on its own. In Sri Lanka, earthy red lentils (masoor dal) are most common, and have the advantage of cooking in half the time of most lentils; you could certainly use them in this dish. But I like split mung lentils here; they have a mild, sweet flavor.

1 cup split mung lentils (moong dal or payatham paruppu)
½ tsp turmeric
cinnamon stick
1 dried red chili, broken into pieces
1 c. coconut milk (optional; you can cook in water if preferred)
1 c. water (plus more as needed)

1/2 t. salt

Green Tomato Curry:
1 medium onion, chopped
1 t. vegetable oil
1 t. black mustard seeds
1 t. cumin seed
1 t. fenugreek seeds
1 stalk curry leaves (about a dozen)
5 medium green tomatoes, chopped (about 4 cups)
1/2 t. salt

chopped cilantro to garnish

1. Add 1 c. split mung lentils to a saucepan (with a lid). Add turmeric, cinnamon stick, chili, coconut milk, water, and 1/2 t. salt. Bring to a boil, cover, then turn to medium-low and continue cooking until the lentils are very tender and soft, about 40 minutes. (This can be sped up in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot.) Check periodically and add more water if needed to keep lentils from sticking to the pan. (If they do start to stick, just scrape them up — as long as they don’t actually start to burn, they should be fine.)

2. In a separate pot, sauté onion in oil with mustard seed, cumin seed, feungreek seeds, and curry leaves, until onions are golden-translucent.

3. Stir in chopped green tomatoes, cover and turn heat to medium-low; cook 10 minutes.

4. Add the cooked dal to the tomatoes, along with any remaining cooking water. Let the tomatoes and dal come to a boil. Taste, and adjust seasonings to taste — you might add a little more salt, or some lime juice, or more coconut milk.

5. Simmer another 5 minutes, then turn off heat and add chopped cilantro to garnish.

Hibiscus (Shoeflower) Curry / Sembaruthipoo Kari

(45 minutes, serves 6)

In Sri Lanka, hibiscus is commonly known as shoeflower, and is a popular edible flower used in sambols, curries, and beverages. The variety grown there (rosa sinensis) is not quite as tangy as sabdariffa (the variety most commonly used for hibiscus tea), but has a similar delicate flavor.

Where I live, tropical flowers can only grow in pots. I have a host of them in my sunny windows: jasmine and bougainvillea and hibiscus, mandevilla and duranta. They move out for the summer, then move back inside for the winter. It’s perhaps not entirely practical, growing tropicals in Chicagoland, but they speak to something in my heart.


IMPORTANT HEALTH NOTE: Chicago does have hardy hibiscus that grow as perennials outdoors (var. moscheutos and others), but those varieties are less commonly used in cooking. The casual reading I’ve done on the subject indicates that they are probably also edible, but there are some indications that they may interact with other medications, and there’s even one case I ran across of hardy hibiscus acting as an abortifacient. And of course, individuals can have different reactions to different plants.

In general, if you’re considering experimenting with plants that aren’t established as safely edible, it’s recommended that you try very small portions first, checking for negative effects. While I’ve eaten hardy hibiscus in this preparation and survived, I’d recommend sticking to rosa sinensis for safety. And of course, you’ll want to be sure that any flowers you consume were grown for human consumption, without use of pesticides, herbicides, etc.


All that said, this is a dramatic and unusual curry, and could easily be the star of a dinner party. I was introduced to it through Charmaine Solomon’s _Complete Asian Cookbook_, and Solomon recommends battering and frying the hibiscus, then simmering it in a curry sauce. That is likely the traditional preparation, but I admit, I don’t love it that way — the batter becomes entirely soft. I prefer to drizzle curry sauce over the battered flowers, to retain a little crisp along with the savory softness.

Whichever option you choose, while you can make the curry sauce in advance if you’d like, I’d recommend battering and frying the flowers just before serving, to retain maximum crispness.

12 hibiscus flowers (hibiscus rosa sinensis), traditionally red
1 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 egg, beaten
1 c. water

oil for deep frying

Curry sauce:
1 small onion, finely chopped (about one c.)
2 green fingerhot chilies, seeded and chopped
1/4 t. ground turmeric
one stick cinnamon
2 c. coconut milk
1/2 c. water
1 t. salt

juice of 1/2 a lime (about a T)

1. Rinse the flowers and blot water with paper towels. Pick off the calyx and stamen. Combine flour, salt, beaten egg, and water to create a smooth batter.

2. Heat oil in a small deep pan. When hot (ideally between 350-375F), dip each flower in batter, shake off excess, and fry in oil until golden. Remove to paper towels to drain and absorb excess oil.

3. Make curry sauce: Heat 2 T vegetable oil in a sauce pan and sauté onions and chilies until golden-translucent. Add turmeric and cinnamon, stir for a minute, than add coconut milk, water, and salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer.

4a: Option 1 — add fried hibiscus to the pot and simmer 10 minutes; stir in lime juice, and serve hot with rice.

4b: Option 2 — simmer sauce down on its own for 10 minutes; stir in lime juice. Serve battered hibiscus with rice, with sauce alongside to drizzle over.

Vegan variation — substitute 1/2 c. aquafaba for the egg, beaten until frothy, and cold sparkling water (or beer) for batter water.

Dried Hibiscus Poriyal

(15-20 minutes, serves 4 as a side)

In Sri Lanka, hibiscus grows freely in many gardens, and it’s easy to pick some for a curry. It’s a little harder to come by fresh hibiscus blossoms here in Chicagoland, but dried hibiscus is readily available in local Latino markets and online, and coconut milk helps rehydrate the dried blooms.

This poriyal is a bright, tangy element on a rice and curry plate. Be sure to use edible food-grade hibiscus blossoms.

2 T vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped (about one c.)
1 t. mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1 stalk curry leaves (about a dozen)
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. salt
1 c. dried hibiscus flowers
1/2 c. coconut milk

1 c. grated coconut

1. Heat vegetable oil in a medium saucepan and add onion, mustard seed, cumin seed, curry leaves, turmeric, and salt. Sauté on medium high, stirring, until onions are golden-translucent.

2. Add dried hibiscus flowers and stir for a few more minutes until well blended, then add coconut milk and simmer, stirring, for 3-5 minutes more.

3. Stir in fresh grated coconut and serve with rice and curries.

Quick-Pickled Cucumber-Carrot Relish

This relish grew out of a need to use the last of my pickling cucumbers from the garden (we’d already pickled so many!), and a recipe from Jehan at Island Smile (

Their original recipe was a simple quick pickle, and you could certainly do just that, for a fresh note on your rice and curry plate or in your sandwich; it reminds me of the quick pickles you find in Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine, retaining a little toothsome bite.

If you’d like, though, you can add an extra step, tempering some mustard and fennel seeds to add a seasoned complex note to the dish. Tempering spices in hot oil is a classic South Asian technique, and I really love what it does for these pickled veggies.

We had this relish with grilled pork chops (rubbed with Sri Lankan curry powder, salt, and oil) for our dinner last night. I kept eating carrot and cucumber slices straight out of the bowl while waiting for the pork to finish cooking. Yum.

2 T vegetable oil, optional
1 t. black or brown mustard seeds, optional
1 t. fennel seeds, optional
3 T sugar
1/2 c white vinegar
1 T red chili flakes
2 t. salt
3 cucumbers, sliced in paper-thin rounds
3 carrots, sliced in paper-thin rounds
3 green chilies chopped fine

1 medium onion (red or yellow), sliced fine

1. OPTIONAL: Heat oil in a small frying pan, add mustard seeds, cook until seeds begin to pop, releasing mustard scent. Turn off heat and stir in fennel seeds, frying for another 30 seconds or so. Let cool.

2. In a large bowl, combine sugar, vinegar, chili, and salt.

3. Add chopped veggies and mix (easiest to do with your clean hands.

4. If using tempered spice oil, pour into bowl and mix well.

5. Let sit 10 minutes or so, then enjoy!

NOTE: Will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.

Sri Lankan Green Tomato Chutney with Apples

In America, this is the perfect end-of-season chutney, using up the tomatoes that didn’t have a chance to ripen. It balances sweet, tangy, spicy, and salty, but the fabulous part of making your own chutney is that you can easily adjust seasonings to taste. So if you want it a bit sweeter, add a little more jaggery; if you want less heat, reduce the cayenne, or omit it entirely.

I’ve combined mine with apples and other fall flavors. For a more traditional version, substitute in more green tomatoes for the apples, and use white wine vinegar.

This chutney would be delicious at the Thanksgiving table, alongside a honey ham, and it’s also yummy on crusty bread slathered with a little butter, with grilled pork or leftover roast turkey. It’s also terrific with rice and curry, of course!

2 T vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 c. green tomatoes, chopped
2 green apples, chopped
1 oz. ginger, minced
1 c. apple cider vinegar
2 T jaggery or brown sugar
1/4 – 1/2 t. cayenne
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon

Sauté onions in butter with black mustard seed in a saucepan on medium-high high until onions are golden-translucent, stirring regularly.

Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, cover, and cook 45 minutes.

Variation: Add 1/2 c. sultanas or chopped apricots for a fruitier version.

Note: Will keep refrigerated for a week or two in the fridge; follow proper canning instructions to store safely for months in the pantry; refrigerate after opening.

Pear, Prosciutto, and Gruyere

Really missing traveling this morning. We promised our daughter we’d take her to Paris for her 13th birthday, sort of to make up for having to spend a year not traveling at all, e-learning, etc. A year should give us time to save up for the trip.

I’ve been there once for work and was startled to find that Paris was in fact just as magical as all the stories say, and having a croissant from any little bakery on the street was consistently perfection.

So today, instead of our standard apple-cheddar crescent rolls I went for something a little more sophisticated — pear, prosciutto, and Gruyere.

I wasn’t sure the kids would appreciate it, but thankfully they loved it. 🙂

A Cookbook Classic

I’m going through all of my Sri Lankan cookbooks, trying to decide which new recipes to add to Vegan Serendib. The Ceylon Daily News cookbook is a classic — it’s also pretty funny!

It’s at least half western cuisine, I think mostly British, and a sampling of the luncheon menus provided will give you a good sense of the kinds of menus a certain class of Sri Lankans were attempting to provide a few decades ago.