Spice Blending With Mary Anne

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.”

Register here: https://napervillepl.librarycalendar.com/…/south-asian…

Tribune article: https://www.chicagotribune.com/…/ct-nvs-one-for-the…

Time for Optional Cooking

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? 🙂

Recipe here: https://serendibkitchen.com/…/sweet-onion-sambol-seeni…/

Rose Cardamom Meringue Kisses

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.

Lime & Rosewater Shortbread, with White Chocolate & Centaurea Petals

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.