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…/

Cranberry-Rhubarb Chutney

(20-25 minutes, makes 1 quart)

Kevin loves both cranberries and rhubarb, so I decided to combine them, just for him. You can enjoy this chutney right away, or put it up and save it to pull out at the holidays. Festive! As with any chutney, adjust to your taste — you can make it a little sweeter, a little tangier, a little spicier.

NOTE: Rhubarb leaves are toxic and humans should never ingest them. Please resist the urge to save them for a salad.

1 red onion, chopped fine
2 T chopped ginger
1 c. apple cider vinegar
about 2 c. cranberries
1 c. chopped dates or golden raisins
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes
2 T jaggery or dark brown sugar (or more to taste)

about 1 c. chopped rhubarb stalks

1. Combine all ingredients except rhubarb in a medium pot, bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer 10-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have popped and you have a sauce-like consistency.

2. Add rhubarb (if you add it at the beginning, it’ll lose all definition) and cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring. Rhubarb should be soft and cooked through.

Serve room temperature; chutney is a fabulous sandwich spread. Will keep for two weeks in the fridge, or may be canned for long-term storage.

Injii (Ginger) Sambol

1/4 c. minced fresh ginger
1 c. fresh grated coconut
1-3 green chilies, seeded and chopped
1 c. chopped red onion
1 sprig mint leaves
1 T lime juice
1/2 t. salt

pinch of jaggery or dark brown sugar

1. Combine ingredients in food processor, blender, or mortar-and-pestle and process until well-blended. Serve, garnished with fresh mint.

NOTE: May be frozen for later use.

It is sort of goofy how much a little green leafiness improves what would otherwise be a sort of bland food photo. 🙂

Rose Sambol

When you have an overabundance of roses, you might make rose sambol. Is it the prettiest sambol? I think it might be.

20 roses, stalks removed, petals rinsed
1 c. red onion, sliced
1 c. fresh grated coconut
5 dried chilies, broken into pieces
2 T lime juice

1 t. salt

1. In a mortar & pestle, or food processor, combine ingredients until well blended. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with rice and curry, roti, or anywhere else you’d use sambol.

Super pretty. 🙂

Karapincha / Curry Leaf Sambol

Note that curry leaves (flat, dark-green leaves) are botanically known as Murraya koenigii; they are aromatic and an essential element of Sri Lankan cuisine; they’re becoming more available in the States these days, and can also be ordered online to arrive as fresh leaves. They can be frozen if needed for use in curries, but for this sambol, it’s best to start with fresh green leaves. Do not confuse them with the ‘curry plant,’ which has fuzzy grey-green spiky leaves which smell like curry; it is not edible.

This recipe is a variation on one found in N. Maheswari Devi’s Jaffna Heritage Cooking; she notes: “These recipes, which were found handwritten on manuscripts date back to the pre-Portuguese period. Cooking with honey is an ancient practice, which has endured from generation to generation, and many age-old recipes which use honey as an ingredient can still be found today.”

I mention this in part because I was honestly surprised to see honey as an ingredient; I hadn’t thought of honey as a typical component of Sri Lankan cuisine. But honey is actually perfect in this recipe, beautifully balancing the savory and spicy elements.

10 stalks curry leaves (about 100 leaves / 2 c.)
8-10 dried chilies
1 c. red onion, chopped
1 c. grated fresh coconut (or desiccated coconut reconstituted with a little warmed coconut milk)
2 T honey
1-2 T lime juice (to taste)

1 t. salt

1. In a sauté pan, toast curry leaves on medium-high, stirring, until lightly toasted.

2. Either with a mortar and pestle, or in a food processor, combine all ingredients until well-blended. Taste and adjust seasonings, then serve with rice and curry, roti, etc.

This was a hard choice — I think this would have been a beautiful green if I hadn’t toasted the curry leaves, but it wouldn’t have tasted as good — tastiness trumps aesthetics, every time.

Thakkaali Yaam / Spiced Tomato Jam

(1 hr, makes 2 c. jam)

This traditional Sri Lankan condiment, featuring rich tomato flavor gently spiced and sweetened with jaggery, is typically served with thosai, pittu, idli, or rice. It’s also delicious as a component in appetizers, spread on breakfast toast, as a topping for grilled vegetables — the possibilities are endless.

1 lb. tomatoes, diced (about 1 1/2 c.)
3 cloves
2 cardamom pods
1 star anise
1 t. peppercorns
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon (about 3 T)
1 cup jaggery or dark brown sugar

1 t. salt

1. In a hot dry pan, toast spices until aromatic. Let cool and grind to powder.

2. Add diced tomatoes to a medium saucepan with remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. Stir until sugar has dissolved, then turn heat to low and cover.

3. Simmer about 40 minutes. Remove lid, and if mixture is still liquid, simmer uncovered a little longer, until it thickens to jam texture. Use wherever you’d use jam or chutney.

Variation: Replace half of the tomatoes with chopped pineapple.

Note: Jars can be stored in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Redbud Butter

I learned how to make butter this week ! It turns out to be really easy, esp. if you have a mixer. You can also shake it in a mason jar, if you have a strong arm. 🙂 And then you can do something that looks fancy, like adding in fresh edible blossoms, like redbuds, to make redbud butter.

1 c. heavy cream
1/4 t. salt (optional)

1/2 c. fresh redbud blossoms, stems trimmed and discarded

1. Mix (or shake) cream & salt if using, starting on low speed and then increasing the speed as it thickens. After several minutes, you’ll have whipped cream — keep going! The whipped cream will start to yellow, then after several more minutes, the fat solids will separate. You’ll see clumps of butter fat forming, with sloshing liquid buttermilk in the bottom of the bowl.

2. Strain the butter fat from the buttermilk using a fine mesh strainer (or cheesecloth). Save the buttermilk in the fridge for later use in other recipes.

3. Pour cold water over the butter, drain, and repeat twice more. (This will help preserve it longer.)

4. Stir in redbud blossoms, then shape into a ball or log or use a mold for interesting designs. Enjoy!

Redbud Syrup

This recipe uses roughly a 1:1 ratio to make a simple syrup out of redbud tea and sugar. The thin syrup is suitable for creating lovely spring drinks; the thicker syrup can be drizzled over pancakes or used to soak a pound cake. Redbud has a delicate floral flavor, so be careful not to overwhelm it with other ingredients.

2 oz (roughly) redbud blossoms
4 c. water
sugar to measure

a little lemon juice

1. Rinse blossoms. (Since you’ll be draining the blossoms, no need to go to a lot of effort to pick off stems.) In a medium pot on high heat, bring blossoms and water to a boil.

2. Remove from heat, cover, steep in fridge 6-8 hours or overnight. You’ve now made redbud tea.

3. Sieve flowers out and weigh redbud-steeped tea. Combine tea with equivalent weight of sugar in a pot on the stove.

4. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer 20-30 minutes for a light pink syrup (suitable for drinks), stirring occasionally. For a thicker syrup, such as you might use to soak a cake, simmer another 15-30 minutes, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. (If you let it go too long, you’ll end up with rock candy.)

NOTE: If your liquid isn’t looking very pink, add a little lemon juice to change the PH and bring out the pinkness.

5. Let cool, and transfer to lidded jars for storage; store in the refrigerator for up to several weeks.