Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Sri Lankan-Style

The white seeds you get from a carving pumpkin are actually pumpkin seed husks — if you really wanted to, you could do a lot of work trying to get to the green seeds (known as pepitas) inside. Pepitas are delicious, but are actually usually harvested from pumpkins that don’t produce these white husks. But don’t throw these away — big white pumpkin ‘seeds’ are great roasted too, adding in some extra fiber and a nice crunch.

You could just toss them with a little oil and salt, but why not kick it up a notch? Try them Sri Lankan-style — these are a terrific topping for a curried pumpkin soup. Salty + sweet + savory + spicy. Perfect.

1 c. white pumpkin seeds, rinsed and dried
2 T vegetable oil
1 t. salt
1 t. brown sugar

1 t. Sri Lankan roasted curry powder (with or without 1/2 t. cayenne, your choice)

1. Preheat oven to 300 F.

2. Toss seeds with oil and spices.

3. Spread in a flat layer on a sheet of foil and roast for about 40 minutes, until dry and crispy. (Keep an eye on them for the last 5-10 minutes of roasting, to make sure they don’t burn.)

Enjoy as a snack on their own, or topping your favorite autumn dishes.

Tempered Green Plantain Peel

(20 minutes, serves 8 as accompaniment)

I was raised a frugal New Englander, and I truly hate wasting food. So you can imagine how excited I was when I learned that plantain (and banana) peel is actually edible! I like making this with green plantain peel, for the color contrast with the red onion, but you can also use ripe plantain, or green or ripe banana peel.

2-3 T oil
3 green plantain peels, sliced finely (banana may also be used)
1 red onion, sliced thin
1 green chili, chopped
1 stalk curry leaves (about a dozen)
1/2 – 1 t. cayenne
1/4 t. turmeric
3/4 t. salt

1 T lime juice

1. Heat oil in a frying pan; add sliced peel, red onion, green chili, curry leaves, cayenne, turmeric, and salt. Sauté on medium, stirring occasionally, until peel is cooked through and a little crispy, about 10-15 minutes. If it starts sticking, add a little water and scrape it up.

2. Stir in lime juice, and serve hot with rice or bread.

Plantain Sambol

(20 minutes, serves 4 as accompaniment)

Plantains are staple foods throughout Sri Lanka and the region, the main fare of millions of people for centuries. They’re rich sources of complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, and are easily digestible. This traditional Jaffna-style plantain sambol offers a luscious, spicy-tangy bite, and is a great way to perk up a plate of rice and curry.

2 large ripe plantains (about 3 c.)
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. turmeric powder
oil for frying
6-8 dry red chilies
2 T vinegar
1 t. black or brown mustard seeds
1 1/2 t. sugar
1-2 minced shallots (about 1/2 c.)
1 chopped green fingerhot chili

1/2 t. salt, optional

1. Peel plantains and dice, then toss with 1/2 t. salt and turmeric.

2. Heat oil and fry diced plantain until golden; remove to a plate lined with kitchen towels and set aside.

3. Combine dry chilies, vinegar, mustard seeds and sugar to a smooth paste (in a blender or using a mortar-and-pestle).

4. Combine chili paste with shallots, chilies, and fried plantains. Taste and add 1/2 t. salt if desired. Serve as an accompaniment to rice and curries.

Green Plantain Curry

(45 minutes, serves 4)

Green plantains are starchy and not sweet, more like a vegetable than a fruit — if you’ve had tostones, those are made from green plantains. Expect these fried green plantain bites to be much like potatoes in texture, but with a flavor all their own; I like them simmered in a mild coconut milk curry, with just a hint of green chili.

NOTE: You can save plantain peels to cook them too.

3 green plantains (about 4 c. sliced up)
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. turmeric
oil for deep frying
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
2 green finger hot chilies, chopped
1 stalk curry leaves, about a dozen
1/4 t. fenugreek seeds
1/2 t. salt
1 c. coconut milk
1 c. water

1-2 T lime juice

1. Cut plantains in half lengthwise and remove peel with a paring knife. Slice plantains on the diagonal in roughly 1/4″ slices, then toss with 1/2 t. salt and turmeric.

2. Heat oil and fry plantain slices until golden; remove to a plate lined with kitchen towels and set aside.

3. In a separate large sauté pan, heat 1-2 T of the oil and add onion, chilies, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds, and salt. Sauté about 10 minutes on medium-high, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and translucent.

4. Add coconut milk and water, then add fried plantains. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer 15 minutes, until curry sauce has thickened. Serve hot with rice or bread.

Spicy Plantain Curry

(30 minutes, serves 4)

Sri Lanka grows a host of plantains and bananas; this type of curry is typically made with a variety known as ash plantain. That’s not easy to find in America, but luckily, plantains generally have become much more available, and they work beautifully in this dish. You can even use very green bananas if you like.

After the first frying stage, the plantains should be just a little bit sweet, and can be eaten straight up if you like as a snack, or added to a plate of rice and curries. But add them to this curry sauce, and the spicy, tangy sauce meets the sweetness of the fried plantain, for what I can only call a taste explosion. In a good way!

NOTE: You can save plantain or banana peels to cook them too.

3 plantains, peeled (about 4 c.) (or very green bananas)
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. turmeric
oil for deep frying
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
2 green finger hot chilies, chopped
1 stalk curry leaves, about a dozen
1/4 t. fenugreek seeds
1 t. cayenne (or less, adjust to taste)
1/2 t. Sri Lankan roasted curry powder
1/2 t. salt
1 c. coconut milk

1-2 T lime juice

1. Slice plantains on the diagonal in roughly 1/4″ slices, then toss with 1/2 t. salt and turmeric.

2. Heat oil and fry plantain slices until golden; remove to a plate lined with kitchen towels and set aside.

3. In a separate large sauté pan, heat 1-2 T of the oil and add onion, chilies, curry leaves, and fenugreek seeds. Sauté about 10 minutes on medium-high, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and translucent.

4. Add cayenne, curry powder, and 1/2 t. salt, and stir a few minutes more, then stir in coconut milk.

5. Add fried plantain and lime juice; stir gently to combine. Turn off heat and let sit for 5-10 minutes; the plantains will absorb much of the sauce. Serve hot with rice or bread.

Sri Lankan Milk Rice / Kiri Bath

(with Bottle Gourd variation)

Kiri bath (pronounced ‘buth’), rice cooked with coconut milk, is an essential part of Sinhalese culinary tradition in Sri Lanka. It’s a required element on New Year’s Day (celebrated in April on a lunar cycle), and often eaten on the first day of each month. Kiri bath is generally served with lunu miris or other spicy sambols, although some prefer it sweet, with jaggery.

Sri Lanka has been a multi-ethnic society for over 2000 years, and when my parents’ Sinhalese neighbors made kiri bath, they would always bring some over to share with their Tamil friends. I didn’t grow up cooking it myself, but it was always a particular treat when my Sinhalese friends made it for me. I love kiri bath with pol sambol plus a nice curry, and a little paruppu (dal / lentils) never goes amiss. Maybe a bit of brinjal moju (pickle) too!

I ran across an interesting variation through a cooking video (by Chandeena and her mother at Village Life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EYvQ3S9ayU), where you add bottle gourd to the dish — it lends a lovely delicacy to the finished kiri bath, and may also serve to lighten it up a bit, for those who love the richness of flavor, but are perhaps being careful about their portion sizes of luscious rice and coconut milk.

Ingredients:
2 c. short grain white (or red) rice
3 c. water
2 c. thick coconut milk
1 1/2 t. salt

2 c. shredded bottle gourd (or cucumber), optional

1. Put rice, bottle gourd (if using), and water in a pan and bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook 15 minutes. The rice should be mostly cooked at this point, but it’s fine if it’s a little firm still.

2. Add coconut milk and salt, stir well. Cover the pan again, turn heat to low, and cook for a further 10-15 minutes, until the milk is entirely absorbed.

3. Traditionally, you’d let it cool a little, turn it onto a flat plate, and smooth it (using a spatula or banana leaves) into a firm, flat round. Mark it off in squares or diamond shapes, and serve with your favorite sambols.

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.

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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.

Ingredients:
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 (https://www.islandsmile.org).

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.