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.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Jaggery, Balsamic, and Cayenne

(35 minutes, serves 2-4)

I love roasting brussels sprouts on a weeknight — five minutes of prep and the rest happens in the oven (or toaster oven, in my case), giving you plenty of time to cook a few more dishes.

These brussels sprouts are sweet, tangy, and a little spicy. A nice addition to the Thanksgiving table, or for dinner any night of the week.

1 lb. brussels sprouts
3 T jaggery or dark brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 T balsamic vinegar
3 T olive oil
1/4 t. salt (plus more to sprinkle)

1/2 t. cayenne

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Trim and halve brussels sprouts, cutting large sprouts smaller, aiming to have them roughly the same size so they’ll cook evenly.

3. In a bowl, mix together jaggery, garlic, balsamic, oil, salt, and cayenne. Add sprouts and stir to coat them well.

4. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper; spread brussels sprouts in a single layer.

5. Roast for 25-30 minutes — taste and sprinkle on additional salt as desired to finish (I like another 1/4 t. or so).

Eggplant Pickle / Brinjal Moju

(20 minutes prep + 30 min. cooking time, feeds 8 as an accompaniment)

Eggplant was the one thing I wouldn’t eat as a kid — I had a visceral reaction to the texture. But I adore it now, due to preparations like this, which really transform the texture — the eggplant here is a little chewy, a little soft, and supremely flavorful. If you leave the onions whole, they’ll retain a little crunch when you bite into them; it’s also fine to cut them and let them soften and crisp up more.

We call it a pickle, but brinjal moju is a quick-pickle — you can eat it right away, though it’s even tastier after the flavors (sweet, spicy, tangy) have had a chance to meld for a few hours. It’s terrific on a sandwich too! Try brinjal moju with coconut roti and big slices of grilled portobello mushroom (oil and salt and grill for a few minutes) for a hearty and delicious vegan lunch; it’d also pair beautifully with grilled chicken or roast beef.

(Thanks to Samanthi Hewakapuge for tips on how her family prepares this!)

NOTE: Pearl onions can be a little tricky to find in America; I often buy mine frozen at the Indian grocery store. They thaw well for use in preparations like this. But shallots also work; you want that type of delicate flavor.

1 lb. eggplant (any kind), cut into thick matchstick shapes (about 2 in. long)
1/2 t. turmeric
1 t. salt
oil for deep frying
1.5 c. shallots or pearl onions (cut large ones down to about 1 in.)
3-4 green finger hot chilies (or 10-15 Thai chilies)
1 T ginger, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1-3 t. cayenne (depending on how hot you want it)
1 T. ground mustard
1 1/2 – 2 T sugar

1/3 c. vinegar

1. Place eggplant in a bowl, add turmeric, salt, and enough water to cover. Leave for at least 10 minutes; if you need to leave it to sit for longer, that’s fine.

2. Take the eggplant out by handfuls and squeeze the water out, transferring to another bowl or plate.

3. Heat oil in a deep pan and fry eggplant in batches (to golden-brown), removing to a plate lined with paper towels.

4. Use the same oil to fry the shallots or pearl onions, then fry the green chilies, removing to the paper towel-lined plate.

5. Pound ginger and garlic together in a mortar and pestle (or combine in food processor).

6. In a large bowl, combine ginger-garlic paste with remaining ingredients, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Taste and adjust flavors.

7. Stir in shallots and green chilies, then gently stir-in the eggplant. Set aside for a few hours to let the flavors blend, then serve with rice and curry, or with bread.

NOTE: Brinjal moju will keep in the fridge for a few weeks, or follow proper canning procedures to store for longer. Makes a little over a pint for canning — eggplant cooks down quite a lot.

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.