Coconut Rock

I may have spent four hours today making coconut rock, a Sri Lankan candy. It doesn’t normally take four hours, but apparently, I have to try making five different versions because I am just that extra. Sigh.

• desiccated coconut with milk, sugar, food coloring
• frozen coconut with milk, sugar, food coloring
• frozen coconut with milk, sugar, natural colorings (dragonfruit powder, pandan powder, saffron)
• desiccated coconut with condensed milk, icing sugar, food coloring

• vegan frozen coconut with coconut milk, sugar, food coloring

I now have a LOT of coconut rock on hand — anyone know if it freezes? If not, I may be reduced to asking people to stop by and pick some up off my porch…

Recipe(s) tomorrow, probably, including a vegan version.

Celebrating Feast’s First Birthday

REMINDER: To celebrate the one-year book birthday for A Feast of Serendib: a Sri Lankan cookbook, we’ll be offering a free roti-making class with food writer Pooja Makhijani and cookbook author Mary Anne Mohanraj. We will email a Zoom link in advance.

Please note that we’ll be recording the class and putting it up online afterward, so registering also constitutes consent to be recorded.

More information on the class and sign-up form, in the “About” section on the Facebook Event page. Registration is limited to 25 attendees.

Vegan Lime & Coconut Scones, with Lime Glaze

(40 minutes, makes 16 mini scones)

I used to be strictly a cream scones girl, but the problem is that I rarely have cream on hand when I have the urge to bake scones. These vegan scones use coconut oil instead, which is easy to store in the pantry — scone win! No one should have to wait for scones.

The kids loved these as much as Kevin and I did; all 16 mini scones were devoured within 48 hours. Boom!

For scones:
4 c. flour
2 T baking powder
2 T sugar
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. citric acid (optional, to boost tang)
1 c. room temperature coconut oil (solid)
1 1/3 c. coconut milk
1/2 c. desiccated coconut (unsweetened)

juice of one lime (about 2 T) + zest of one lime

For glaze:
2 c. powdered sugar

juice of one lime (about 2 T) + zest of one lime + lime juice or water to make drizzle of your preferred consistency

1. Preheat oven to 425 F.

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and citric acid, if using.

3. Chop coconut oil small and rub into the flour with your fingers until the flour looks pebbly.

4. Add coconut milk and gently combine with a silicone spatula or fork; do not overwork. Stir in lime juice and zest.

5. Refrigerate dough for 15-20 minutes for better rise.

6. If using a mold, spray with oil; alternately, spray oil or add a sheet of parchment paper to a baking sheet. Fill mold with dough, pressing gently to fill. Alternately, press dough into a circle and cut into wedges, or cut out circles. Places wedges or circles about 1″ apart on sheet. Sprinkle scones with jaggery or brown sugar.

7. Bake for 14-18 minutes, until scones begin to brown. Remove from oven and turn onto wire rack to cool.

8. If glazing (recommended), mix powdered sugar, glaze, and lime zest; drizzle over cooled scones and let set before serving.

Traditionally scones should be split and spread with butter, jam, clotted cream, curd, or whatever you like.

NOTE: Scones may be cooled and stored airtight at room temperature for several days; they can be frozen for longer storage.

Toasted Sesame & Coconut Rice, with Black Lentils

(10 minutes, serves 4)

Adding seeds, coconut, and lentils to your rice boosts its nutrition as well as its flavor. If you’d like, you can use black sesame seeds instead (or a mix); black seeds retain their hulls, and have a slightly more bitter flavor and more nutrients. This savory rice is a tasty accompaniment to a fruity curry, such as pineapple, mango, or ripe jackfruit.

2 c. cooked rice
1/3 c. white sesame seeds
2 t. shredded unsweetened coconut
2 dried red chilies (plus 4 dried red chilies, broken into pieces)
2 T. vegetable oil
1/4 t. mustard seed
2 t. urad dal (black lentils)
1 t. cumin seed
1 stalk (about a dozen) curry leaves

1/2 t. salt

1. Dry roast sesame seeds in a medium sauté pan, stirring constantly on medium-high, until they start to pop; remove to a bowl.

2. In the same pan, dry roast two red chilies and the coconut, stirring constantly, until coconut is dry and lightly golden; don’t let them burn; remove to the same bowl.

3. Add oil to the pan and mustard seed. Heat, stirring occasionally, until they start to pop. Turn heat down to low; add urad dal and fry for about 25-30 seconds, stirring.

4. Add cumin seed, curry leaves, and the rest of the dried red chilies (broken up), and sauté for about 30 more seconds, stirring.

5. Add sesame seed & coconut mixture, salt, and rice to the pan, and stir until well-blended. Serve hot.

NOTE: Sesame seeds can go rancid over time — they’re generally fine in a dark, cool pantry, but if you don’t use them frequently, they should be stored in the fridge or frozen, in a tightly-sealed package. Check seeds for taste before use; if they taste sour or otherwise off, throw them out.

Tamarind Rice with Black Lentils

(10 minutes, serves 4)

Ever since I had children, I’ve become a little more focused on trying to get some protein into every meal, if possible. Lentils are protein powerhouses, and these lentils don’t even require any soaking or boiling in advance — they just fry for a few minutes, and end up as crunchy little bites mixed in with the tangy tamarind rice. This rice is delicious with fried plantains, but to be honest, I often just eat it straight up, right out of the pot.

You can make fresh rice for this, but it’s also a terrific way to revive day-old rice!

2 c. cooked rice
2 T vegetable oil
1 T urad dal (black lentil)
1/2 t. black mustard seed
1/2 t. fennel seed
4 dried red chilies
1 stalk (about a dozen) fresh curry leaves
1 T cayenne
1 t. ground jaggery or brown sugar
1 t. salt
1/2 t. ground turmeric

6 T tamarind juice (1 T tamarind paste dissolved in 5 T hot water)

NOTE: This recipe moves quickly, and it’s worth having all the ingredients prepped in advance. You can measure out the whole spices into one container, and the ground spices into another, and dissolve the tamarind paste in advance.

1. Heat oil on medium-high and sauté lentil, mustard seed, cumin seed, dried chilies, curry leaves for two minutes, stirring constantly — be careful not to burn.

2. Stir in ground spices, then add tamarind juice. Bring to a boil and let simmer a few minutes, until thickened.

3. Remove from heat and stir in rice, mixing until well-blended. Serve hot!

A Cuisine Question

Here’s a South Asian / Sri Lankan cuisine question, for those in the know. Here in cold Chicago, we love roasting vegetables — it brings out the flavor and the sweetness.

When I’m looking through my gazillion Sri Lankan cookbooks for recipe development, generally, roasted vegetables just aren’t a thing, which makes sense, because if you’re in a tropical country, who wants to turn an oven to 400 for an hour?

But I still kind of want to include a few roasted vegetable options, because they’re so delicious, and I can just do that, since my cookbook really tilts a bit Sri Lankan American, rather than ‘pure’ Sri Lankan, but I’m curious whether there’s any cultural precedent for roasting. I have to think that in the villages, there must be some slow-cooking of root vegetables over banked coals in fire pits, perhaps?

Thoughts? Would especially love to hear from people in Sri Lanka or who have spent time with cooks there.

(Roast squash recipe here)

Sri Lankan Pineapple Curry, with Coconut Milk and Saffron

(30 minutes, serves 6)

This is one of the prettiest curries I make, in springtime pink, gold, and green — it’s also delicious, sunshine in a bowl. A little sweet, beautifully fruity, creamy with coconut milk, and aromatic with saffron threads. Pairs well with roasted cashews or chickpeas, a green jackfruit curry, or kale mallung.

3 T vegetable oil
1 red onion, chopped fine
1 T ginger, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1/4 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp cumin seed
3 green chilies, sliced in half (reduce or skip if desired)
1 stalk curry leaves (about a dozen)
1 small pineapple, cut into chunks (about 4 cups)
1 t. salt
1 cup coconut milk

pinch of saffron threads (or 1/4 t. turmeric)

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.

2. Add green chilies, curry leaves, pineapple, and salt — cook five minutes, stirring occasionally. (Add a little water if needed.)

3. Add coconut milk and saffron threads, stirring gently to combine. Turn down to medium, cover, and let cook 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally; add water if needed. Serve hot with rice or bread.

Spicy Pineapple Pickle (Achar)

(10 minutes, makes about 4 cups)

In the dead of a Chicago winter, when the snow is piled high outside the door, and it feels like you’ll never be warm again, a sweet-spicy-tangy pineapple pickle will liven up your plate of rice and curry, and remind you that sunny lands do exist.

2 c. pineapple, cut into bite-size pieces
1 shallot, peeled, cut in half, and sliced thin
1 c. apple cider vinegar
1 T sugar
1 t. fine salt
2 t. black peppercorns

2 t. cayenne

1. Combine ingredients in a small pot, bring to a boil, simmer 5 minutes.

2. Let cool. Can be eaten right away, but better after it’s had a day or two to meld flavors.

NOTE: Store in the fridge and use within a few weeks; for longer pantry storage, follow safe canning procedures.

NOTE 2: If you want it a little less pungent/spicy, you can dilute by adding 1/2 – 1 c. water to the vinegar, and/or reduce the peppercorns / cayenne.

Not My Neatest

Okay, this is not my neatest cake decorating ever, but I was trying to get into the spirit of Mardi Gras. It might have ended up sort of a cross between Mardi Gras and Holi, because I used colored edible dust for the purple and green instead of sprinkles? But a little exuberance for the coming of spring is a good thing.

Purple here represents justice, green represents faith, and gold represents power. Happy Mardi Gras!

Reason Enough

In the before times, I probably would’ve felt like I needed a REASON to start baking a cake at midnight.

Eleven months of pandemic + several weeks of cold & snow = REASON ENOUGH.