Yaalpana Kaththarikaii Poriyal / Jaffna Whole Eggplant Fry

(serves 2-4, 15-30 minutes)

Sometimes the simplest dishes are the most fabulous — the base version of this whole eggplant fry uses just a few ingredients (cayenne, turmeric, salt, and hot oil) for delicious and dramatic results. It also dresses up beautifully for a fancier night out, offering grace notes of shallot, green chili, and cherry tomato.

roughly 1 lb. small eggplants (you can use Indian, Chinese, or other varieties; the key is that they be relatively small)
1 T cayenne
1 t. ground turmeric
1 t. salt

oil for deep-frying

1 large shallot, diced small
1 green chili, diced small
1 stalk curry leaves, about a dozen
about a dozen cherry tomatoes, halved

salt & lime juice to taste

1. Make eight slits down the sides of the eggplants.

2. Mix the cayenne, turmeric, and salt, and rub the spices into the slits (it’s fine if they’re detached completely at the bottom, which will make it easier to rub in spices).

3. Heat oil for deep frying (around 375F if using a thermometer) and fry the whole eggplants until they brown evenly, about 3-5 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

NOTE: You can stop the recipe here and just eat the fried eggplants as is, with rice. Delicious! Or you can add a few more steps for a more complex version.

4. To a sauté pan, add a few T of the oil from deep frying, and add diced shallot, diced chili, curry leaves, and tomatoes. Cook on medium-high, stirring, about 5 minutes, until onions are golden-translucent and tomatoes have softened.

5. Add whole fried eggplant to pan and cook an additional 5-10 minutes, stirring; taste and adjust seasonings — you may want to add 1/2 t. salt, or up to a T of lime juice at this point. Serve hot with rice, and enjoy!

Marinated Ginger-Garlic Tofu

(20 minutes + marinating time, serves 2-4)

This is definitely a fusion dish — I combined our Sri Lankan ginger-garlic chicken recipe with a traditional marinated tofu recipe, for a result that I found delectably more-ish — I didn’t even wait to make rice, but just kept nibbling pieces right off of the serving plate. Yum!

8 oz. extra-firm tofu, cubed small
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. ginger powder
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. salt
1/2-1 t. cayenne
1 T lime juice + more to garnish
2 T oil
oil to fry
2 shallots, sliced

sesame seeds, chopped chives, chopped cilantro to garnish

1. Combine tofu, spices, 1 T lime juice and 2 T oil in a bowl and stir gently to combine. Marinate for 20-30 minutes (or longer, if you like), for additional flavor.

2. Heat oil in a sauté pan and pan-fry on high, stirring, for about 5 minutes. (You may deep-free or bake, if preferred. If you deep-fry, you’ll likely get more textural contrast between the crispy outer tofu and the soft interior.) Remove to a plate lined with paper towel to drain excess oil.

NOTE: You can stop and eat it at this stage, but it will be even tastier if you continue…

3. In the same pan, sauté sliced shallots on medium-high (adding oil if needed), stirring, until golden-brown and slightly crispy.

4. In serving bowl / plate, top tofu with shallots, then garnish with another 1-2 T of lime juice (to your taste), a little white sesame seed, chives, and cilantro. Chopped cashews would also be nice as a garnish. Serve hot with rice.

Marinated Ginger-Garlic Seitan

(10 minutes + marinating time, serves 2-4)

My son would like to be vegetarian, so we’ve been working on developing recipes he’d enjoy — he gobbled up quite a bit of this last night, so I think we can declare seitan a success.

Seitan is wheat gluten, made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch granules have been removed, leaving only the gluten. The resulting mass can then be cut into small pieces, which expand on cooking. For those looking for a chicken substitute, this has come the closest out of my attempts, in texture and flavor.

An easy and satisfying weeknight dish; I recommend trying it with rice and an eggplant or mango curry.

8 oz. seitan
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. ginger powder
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. salt
1/2-1 t. black pepper (or cayenne, if you’d like it spicier)
1 T lime juice
2 T oil
1/4 c. besan / chickpea flour (or wheat flour)

oil to fry

1. Combine seitan, spices, lime juice and 2 T oil in a bowl and stir gently to combine. Seitan will break up into small pieces as you stir. Marinate for 20-30 minutes (or longer, if you like), for additional flavor.

2. Toss gently in flour.

3. Heat oil in a sauté pan and pan-fry on high, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate lined with paper towel to drain excess oil. Serve hot with rice or naan and a vegetable curry or sambol.

NOTE: Seitan can be made easily from scratch, if you’d prefer to buying it ready-made.

Marinated Ginger-Garlic Tempeh

(10 minutes + marinating time, serves 2-4)

This was my first attempt at a variation on Sri Lankan ginger-garlic chicken, and I think it works fine — IF you like the texture and flavor of tempeh, which is pretty distinctive. Tempeh is a traditional Javanese soy product that is made from fermented soybeans. Personally, I can enjoy a little bit of this — I’d like it tossed in a salad, for example, but don’t necessarily want a lot of it straight up as an entree.

8 oz. tempeh, cubed small
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. ginger powder
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. salt
1 t. jaggery or brown sugar
1 T lime juice

2 T oil + oil to fry

1. Combine tempeh, spices, lime juice and 2 T oil in a bowl and stir gently to combine. Marinate for 20-30 minutes (or longer, if you like), for additional flavor.

2. Heat oil in a sauté pan and pan-fry on high, stirring, for about 5 minutes. (If you prefer, you can either deep-fry or bake the tempeh.) Remove to a plate lined with paper towel to drain excess oil. Serve hot.

Salmon and Asparagus with Pickled Redbud & Lemon Sauce

(30 minutes, serves 4)

Have you pickled some redbuds? Want to dazzle your guests at a spring luncheon? I’m not sure you can do better than this delicious tangy salmon & asparagus — it’s beautiful and very more-ish. Serve with a hot crusty dinner roll slathered with butter (redbud butter, if you want to be extra fancy), and you’re good to go.

You can use pickled redbuds in any recipe where you’d use capers.

4 T lemon juice
4 T minced red onion
2 T olive oil
2 T drained pickled redbud blossoms (or capers), chopped
1 t. grated lemon peel
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 lb. skinless salmon fillet(s)
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed
about 2 T additional olive oil

additional fresh redbud blossoms to garnish

1. Preheat oven to 450 F.

2. Whisk first five ingredients in a small bowl to blend. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Cut three 1/2-inch deep slits crosswise in top of salmon, to allow sauce to flavor. (Don’t cut all the way through.)

4. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil; arrange asparagus in even layer on baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and turn to coat, sprinkle with salt and pepper.

5. Place salmon atop asparagus, brush half of sauce over the salmon, reserving the rest.

6. Roast until salmon is just opaque in the center, about 20 minutes.

7. Transfer asparagus and salmon to serving dish, garnish with additional fresh redbud blossoms, and serve with remaining sauce alongside.

Pickled Redbud Recipe: https://serendibkitchen.com/2021/04/14/pickled-redbuds/

Irasavalli Kizhangu Kanji / Purple Yam Pudding or Porridge

(30 minutes, serves 4)

This is one of the prettiest Sri Lankan dishes — the color is sure to delight dinner guests and children. It’s healthy too! Yams are good for you, and so is coconut milk; you can feel happy serving this dessert to one and all. Irasavalli is also often eaten for breakfast, in the same way as a rice congee (or oatmeal).

Purple yam (Dioscorea alata), also known as ube (Philippines) or isu ewura (Nigeria), is native to Southeast Asia. It can be found fresh and frozen in your local Asian grocery stores.

2 c. purple yams, peeled and diced
2 c. coconut milk
1 c. water
1/4 c. sugar or honey
1 T lime juice
pinch of salt

1 drop rose essence, or pinch of cardamom (optional)

1. In a saucepan, combine yams, coconut milk, and water. Bring to a boil and cook ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until yams are cooked through.

2. Remove from heat and either mash with the back of a wooden spoon, or use a blender (an immersion blender makes it easy) to puree the yam and combine it with the coconut milk.

3. When well blended, return to heat, add remaining ingredients, and simmer 10-15 minutes more, stirring, until pudding is thick and starting to pull away from the sides of the pan.

4. Serve hot, with your choice of garnishes — ripe banana, ripe mango, coconut flakes are all good options.

NOTE: If you’re using frozen yams, they may have lost some color in the freezing process. If the purple is not sufficiently purple for your delight, do feel free to add a drop or two of food coloring.

Easter Menu:

• lamb shanks braised in red wine with onions and carrots
• sliced ham
• roasted new potatoes
• roasted asparagus
• roasted sweet potatoes and onions
• sautéed sugar snap peas
• Hawaiian rolls with salted Irish butter
• clementines and strawberries
• candy-coated chocolates

• forsythia/pandan cake

Good mix of kid-friendly and adult-fancy dishes, and all relatively easy cooking too. All the roast veggies were just tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper.

Keerai (Spinach) Pittu

(30 minutes, serves 2-4)

This variation on pittu adds lovely green streaks of healthy spinach and sweet shallots for a savory base that could be eaten on its own — but will taste better with a nice sothi or curry (or both), and a little sambol. Cook in a pittu steamer if you have one handy (the shape mimics the bamboo it was originally cooked in), but any regular steamer should work fine.

2 c. plain flour
1/2 t. salt
boiling water, as needed (I used about 1/2 c.)
3/4 c. fresh spinach, chopped finely (thawed frozen chopped is also fine)
1/4 cup grated coconut (if using desiccated, rehydrate with a T of heated coconut milk)
1 green chili, chopped finely

1 shallot, chopped finely

1. Combine flours and salt in a bowl and microwave for one minute. Check if clumping, if not, microwave another minute or two, until it starts to clump. This process makes it easier to mix the flour with water in the next step without forming lumps. (Alternately, steam for a few minutes between two layers of cheesecloth, or roast the flour in a pan, or use pre-steamed or pre-roasted flour.)

2. Add boiling water to bowl, a little at a time, and stir with a wooden spoon — you’re aiming for a texture similar to crumble or rough cornmeal, sometimes called pittu pebbles.

3. Stir in spinach, coconut, chili and onion, mixing well.

4. Fill steamer with mixture.

5. Steam in a large pot over simmering water for 10-15 minutes, until dough is thoroughly cooked. Push out onto a plate with a long wooden spoon and serve hot with curry and/or sambol.

Green Chili Curry / Kari-Milaggai Kari

(30 minutes, serves 4)

Green chili curry might sound like it’s going to be really spicy, but since we remove the seeds and then add potatoes and coconut milk, the end result of this curry is a pleasant but not overwhelming heat. Pleasant for me, at any rate!

6-8 large green chilies (hot or mild, to your taste)
1 medium potato, cubed small
2 small yellow onions, minced
1 T vegetable oil
1/2 t. fennel seeds
1/2 t. fenugreek seeds
1 stalk (about a dozen) curry leaves
1 c. coconut milk + 1 c. water
1/2 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1/2 – 1 t. salt (to taste)

1 t. lime juice

1. Remove top end from chilies, slice lengthwise, and removed seeds. (Removing seeds is optional, but if you leave them, the resulting curry will be spicier and possibly a little bitter.)

2. Heat oil in a sauté pan or medium pot on medium-high, add fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, and curry leaves. Stir for about a minute, until lightly browned.

3. Stir in onions and sauté about five minutes, until onions are golden-brown, stirring occasionally.

4. Stir in potatoes and green chilies, then add curry powder, coconut milk, water, and walt. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer.

5. Simmer until potatoes are cooked through; add more water if needed to keep veggies from sticking to the pan.

6. Cook sauce to desired thickness (some like this more liquid, some thicker), and serve hot with rice or bread. (It’s also lovely with pittu.)

Nine Pungent Onions

Haven’t started a day like this in a while, with tears streaming down my face from chopping nine pungent onions. It takes a little discipline to come back to this after time away!

Why so many onions at once? Well, I’m making three curries today, to drop off to the Shef people to see if they want to take me on as one of their certified home chefs. I’m definitely not planning to do a lot of this kind of cooking, but I’d like to have the option of doing a Sri Lankan home delivery pop-up once a month, perhaps, and this is the first step in that process.

And while I could certainly chop 3 onions, sauté them, make the first curry, then go on to chop the next 3 onions, since all of these recipes will be using my standard master seasoned onions base, it’s more efficient and time-saving to do all 9 onions at once. The volume takes a little longer to chop and sauté than 3 would, but it definitely saves time over doing 3 separate batches, and there’s no loss in taste quality. Onion + mustard seed + cumin seed + ginger + garlic + vegetable oil.

NOTE: If you’re going to do this, an extra-wide large sauté pan will help you cook the onions evenly and reasonably quickly.

Next step — dividing them into three batches, and seasoning them differently going forward.