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.

Toasted Sesame & Coconut Rice, with Black Lentils

(10 minutes, serves 4)

Adding seeds, coconut, and lentils to your rice boosts its nutrition as well as its flavor. If you’d like, you can use black sesame seeds instead (or a mix); black seeds retain their hulls, and have a slightly more bitter flavor and more nutrients. This savory rice is a tasty accompaniment to a fruity curry, such as pineapple, mango, or ripe jackfruit.

2 c. cooked rice
1/3 c. white sesame seeds
2 t. shredded unsweetened coconut
2 dried red chilies (plus 4 dried red chilies, broken into pieces)
2 T. vegetable oil
1/4 t. mustard seed
2 t. urad dal (black lentils)
1 t. cumin seed
1 stalk (about a dozen) curry leaves

1/2 t. salt

1. Dry roast sesame seeds in a medium sauté pan, stirring constantly on medium-high, until they start to pop; remove to a bowl.

2. In the same pan, dry roast two red chilies and the coconut, stirring constantly, until coconut is dry and lightly golden; don’t let them burn; remove to the same bowl.

3. Add oil to the pan and mustard seed. Heat, stirring occasionally, until they start to pop. Turn heat down to low; add urad dal and fry for about 25-30 seconds, stirring.

4. Add cumin seed, curry leaves, and the rest of the dried red chilies (broken up), and sauté for about 30 more seconds, stirring.

5. Add sesame seed & coconut mixture, salt, and rice to the pan, and stir until well-blended. Serve hot.

NOTE: Sesame seeds can go rancid over time — they’re generally fine in a dark, cool pantry, but if you don’t use them frequently, they should be stored in the fridge or frozen, in a tightly-sealed package. Check seeds for taste before use; if they taste sour or otherwise off, throw them out.

Tamarind Rice with Black Lentils

(10 minutes, serves 4)

Ever since I had children, I’ve become a little more focused on trying to get some protein into every meal, if possible. Lentils are protein powerhouses, and these lentils don’t even require any soaking or boiling in advance — they just fry for a few minutes, and end up as crunchy little bites mixed in with the tangy tamarind rice. This rice is delicious with fried plantains, but to be honest, I often just eat it straight up, right out of the pot.

You can make fresh rice for this, but it’s also a terrific way to revive day-old rice!

2 c. cooked rice
2 T vegetable oil
1 T urad dal (black lentil)
1/2 t. black mustard seed
1/2 t. fennel seed
4 dried red chilies
1 stalk (about a dozen) fresh curry leaves
1 T cayenne
1 t. ground jaggery or brown sugar
1 t. salt
1/2 t. ground turmeric

6 T tamarind juice (1 T tamarind paste dissolved in 5 T hot water)

NOTE: This recipe moves quickly, and it’s worth having all the ingredients prepped in advance. You can measure out the whole spices into one container, and the ground spices into another, and dissolve the tamarind paste in advance.

1. Heat oil on medium-high and sauté lentil, mustard seed, cumin seed, dried chilies, curry leaves for two minutes, stirring constantly — be careful not to burn.

2. Stir in ground spices, then add tamarind juice. Bring to a boil and let simmer a few minutes, until thickened.

3. Remove from heat and stir in rice, mixing until well-blended. Serve hot!

A Cuisine Question

Here’s a South Asian / Sri Lankan cuisine question, for those in the know. Here in cold Chicago, we love roasting vegetables — it brings out the flavor and the sweetness.

When I’m looking through my gazillion Sri Lankan cookbooks for recipe development, generally, roasted vegetables just aren’t a thing, which makes sense, because if you’re in a tropical country, who wants to turn an oven to 400 for an hour?

But I still kind of want to include a few roasted vegetable options, because they’re so delicious, and I can just do that, since my cookbook really tilts a bit Sri Lankan American, rather than ‘pure’ Sri Lankan, but I’m curious whether there’s any cultural precedent for roasting. I have to think that in the villages, there must be some slow-cooking of root vegetables over banked coals in fire pits, perhaps?

Thoughts? Would especially love to hear from people in Sri Lanka or who have spent time with cooks there.

(Roast squash recipe here)

Sri Lankan Pineapple Curry, with Coconut Milk and Saffron

(30 minutes, serves 6)

This is one of the prettiest curries I make, in springtime pink, gold, and green — it’s also delicious, sunshine in a bowl. A little sweet, beautifully fruity, creamy with coconut milk, and aromatic with saffron threads. Pairs well with roasted cashews or chickpeas, a green jackfruit curry, or kale mallung.

3 T vegetable oil
1 red onion, chopped fine
1 T ginger, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1/4 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp cumin seed
3 green chilies, sliced in half (reduce or skip if desired)
1 stalk curry leaves (about a dozen)
1 small pineapple, cut into chunks (about 4 cups)
1 t. salt
1 cup coconut milk

pinch of saffron threads (or 1/4 t. turmeric)

1. In a large pot, sauté onions, ginger, and garlic in oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seeds until onions are golden/translucent (not brown), stirring as needed.

2. Add green chilies, curry leaves, pineapple, and salt — cook five minutes, stirring occasionally. (Add a little water if needed.)

3. Add coconut milk and saffron threads, stirring gently to combine. Turn down to medium, cover, and let cook 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally; add water if needed. Serve hot with rice or bread.