Crab cake on Costco Thai Chili Mango chopped salad

It’s been a long, hard week, and you want something delicious and fancy, but also reasonably healthy, and also you don’t want to spend a lot of money, and also you want it to be fast. If you happen to have a bag of Costco Thai Chili Mango chopped salad kit on hand, this is what you do:

1) Go to Carnivore Oak Park and ask them for one of their luscious crab cakes ($9).

2) Come home and heat a little oil in a pan. While that’s heating, pull out the Costco salad and empty the greens, dried mango, nutty bits, and about half of the chili-mango dressing into a big bowl. Taste — if you want more dressing, you can add it, but about half was right for me.

3) Take crab cake and sear on one side for a few minutes, then sear on the other side for a few minutes. If you really want, you can try to brown the edge a tiny bit too, but that’s hard to do without it falling apart, and it’s really not necessary.

4) Place crab cake on salad. If you have some fresh tomato, slice it and add it to the place. If you have fresh ripe mango, even better, but that can be hard to come by in Chicago in the winter.

Enjoy your little feast. (If you are feeding two, just make two crab cakes — the salad will likely be enough for two. Although it comes in a two-pack, so if you really want, you can make two bags of salad…)

Chicken curry and chili leeks

Didn’t sleep well last night, which is very frustrating, because while I made it through teaching okay, I’ve just been dragging since 3 p.m., too tired to do anything. But lying on the couch not doing things (and playing Polytopia while watching re-runs of New Girl with Kavi) eventually just makes me feel depressed. Gah.

I finally managed to eat some dinner, which helped, and Kevin made me tea, which helped, and then I came up and lay in bed instead of on the couch, and looked for a dumb but pretty movie to watch, and settled on Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love, which is kind of perfect because what sounds really nice right now is jetting off to a foreign country, ideally a warm one.

She’s just made it to India, and I’m rested enough to pause and post a few photos off my phone from the last few weeks, clearing it out a little, which is sort of like being productive.

This is a mix of basmati and Sri Lankan red rice, served with chicken curry and chili leeks.

Hard day, made comfort food.

Hard day, made comfort food. Amma cooked this for us at least once every other week, I think, when I was growing up — rice, a meat dish, and a vegetable curry for dinner every night.


Sri Lankan Carrot Curry

(20 minutes, serves 4)

3 medium onions, chopped
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 T ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 Thai green chilies, chopped fine
1/2 tsp black mustard seed
1/2 tsp cumin seed
six large carrots, sliced into thin coins
1 rounded tsp salt
1/2 t. turmeric
1 cup coconut milk (can use milk instead, but be extra careful not to curdle)

1. Sauté onions in oil on high with mustard seed, cumin seed, and ginger until onions are golden. Add garlic, carrots and salt. Cook on medium-high, stirring frequently, until carrots are cooked through.

2. Stir in coconut milk and turn heat down to low; simmer until well-blended, stirring constantly. Serve hot.

Holiday Party

Holiday party — I was so busy talking to people that I didn’t take any pictures of my guests during the party, which is a shame! Especially because we had a really nice crowd — about 50-60 people, I think, with a great mix of old friends from college, long-time friends, new friends and colleagues, adorable little children, grad students and undergrad students of mine, a bunch of Kavi’s high school friends, and even a smattering of local elected officials.

It felt more like one of our old parties than it’s felt in quite a long time — well, since December 2019, I guess. Stupid pandemic. I’d still say we were at maybe 75% of pre-pandemic party; a good dozen or so folks had to cancel at the last minute because of colds and fevers. I think people are being more conscientious about that than they were before COVID, which is a good thing — we all went to work and school and party too often when we were sick back then. But they were missed.

I also think I should really hire some help for these parties going forward — it feels a little weird to do so for a family party, but if I have a student worker who can be tasked with refilling trays as they empty, clearing the sink, and taking out the trash when it’s full, then I’d get to spend more time talking to my guests. My only regret for this party is that especially for the people who came early, when I was still finishing up tasks, I didn’t get to talk to them as much as I’d have liked.

Kevin does his share, of course, and the kids help out a bit, but for this big a party, it’d be nice to just have someone tasked with those jobs.

I did hire some help beforehand — Eliana and Gabriella came the day before and helped with all the outside decorating and hanging the garlands indoors, which was super-useful. And various of my students did help out before and during the party. I love having my creative writing students attend, and getting to introduce them to other writers and academics. 🙂 In retrospect, I wish I’d invited my lit. students too — next time! And I got to introduce two grad students I’m working with to each other, so that was nice.


A few food notes:

– the dish I got the most compliments on was the brinjal moju (eggplant pickle, but it’s not a pickle like an American pickle) — recipe in Vegan Serendib, but I will be very nice to you and post it here as well. People kept seeking me out to ask what it was and tell me how good it was. It’s SO tasty on toasted naan, I think I pretty much have to make it for every party going forward. And I should make a double batch, because it was entirely demolished by halfway through the party. Sorry, latecomers!

– another hit were the lemon snowball truffles — I don’t have a recipe for you yet, because these were a little tricky — I wanted more lemon in my ganache, and so I added citric acid, but that ‘broke’ the cream, and I had to fix it by warming another couple T of cream and whisking that in. Which all worked fine, but it’s fussy to write up for a recipe. Maybe I’ll make them again for our New Year open house potluck, if we have it, and see if I can write up the recipe in a coherent and reliable way. Little bites of lemon heaven.

– I also made an ice ring for the punchbowl for the first time, which I realize isn’t a revelation for anyone, but hey, it worked great, and I am absolutely going to do it again whenever we pull out the punchbowl. At least one of my bundt cake pans got some use! I had pomegranate seeds, sliced circles of lime, and cranberries in this one, which separated themselves into layers. The punch had to be refilled twice, so I guess people liked that too — very simple mix of cranberry juice, pineapple juice, and ginger ale, in roughly equal proportions.

That’s it for party pics! Here’s the brinjal moju recipe:


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.



I’m actually really excited to skip Thanksgiving this year.

I think I must be tired. Kevin got a nice roast that he’s planning to cook, the kids say they only want pumpkin pie (one each, Kavi’s with plenty of whipped cream).

I think I’m going to go to Trader Joe’s and see if they have those caramelized onion cheese pastry bites I love, in which case, I will eat an entire tray by myself over the course of the day. 4 piece serving at 480 calories, 12 pieces in the box, sounds just about right for holiday indulgence.

Don’t worry, I’m still planning on holiday cooking (I haven’t been replaced by a completely different Mary Anne) – our annual Christmas party is just a week-and-a-half later, so I’ve already started working on that. Cookie dough chilling in the fridge, one batch of beef curry cooked and frozen already, much more to come.

A New Recipe for Corn Muffins

Cooking for the refugees again this weekend. Kept it fairly simple — I had some onion & bell pepper marinade (left over from the Venezuelan roast chicken last week), that I’d cooked down and then frozen. I dumped that in a pot with some chicken, and just let it simmer for a few hours, then let it cool and pulled it off the bone — it was delicious, and so easy.

Kevin made beans, I made rice, and I tried a new recipe for corn muffins — it didn’t really brown up, but they’re pretty tasty anyway. I always stir corn (frozen or canned works fine) into my corn muffins. If I’m just making it for me, I add a good amount of green chili too. 🙂

The real experiment was the sardine recipe — next post!

Venezuelan-Style Sardine & Potato Stew

Okay, so this isn’t EXACTLY a Venezuelan recipe? I was thinking that mostly volunteers have been dropping off dishes with chicken or beef or pork for the refugees (meat was requested on the sign-up sheet), and maybe they’d like some seafood for a change.

Not everyone likes seafood, of course, so I also made a chicken dish to be safe. But googling led me to believe that sardines are popular there, so I thought I’d try them.

I ended up combining two different recipes, so I’m not sure this is quite what you would get in Venezuela, but I did use their flavors, and the end result is DELICIOUS. I had a little bit to try with corn muffins, and it was SO GOOD — the flavors pair beautifully.

It’s similar to some Italian sardine dishes, I think. I don’t normally eat sardines that often, but I do love a Sri Lankan mackerel curry, and sardines are in the same ballpark, so I think I may try eating them more often. Also, did I mention, they’re really cheap? In this era of soaring grocery prices, worth noting.

The recipes I started with were:

– a Sardine Mojito (not the drink kind!) —…/recipe-mojito-sardine-step-by…

– Sopa de Pescado (fish soup)…/


Venezuelan-Style Sardine & Potato Stew
(serves 12 as a main dish, 24 as a side)

1/4 c. vegetable oil
3 onions, sliced
6 cloves garlic, chopped
3-4 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 t. cumin powder
1/2 t. pepper
6 cans sardines packed in oil
2 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes
salt to taste

1. Heat oil in a large pan. Add onions and garlic, and stir until onions are translucent.

2. Add potatoes, cumin powder, and pepper; continue to stir until about half-way cooked (if you prefer, you can parboil the potatoes first in the microwave or on the stove, so they cook faster).

3. Add diced tomatoes, bring to a boil, cover, and lower head to medium. Cook another 10 minutes or so, until potatoes are cooked through and tomatoes are somewhat reduced.

4. Add 5 cans of sardines (reserving 1), and stir in GENTLY. Let simmer 10 minutes or so for the flavors to blend. (Add water if needed to keep from sticking.)

5. Turn into serving dish and top with last tin of sardines. Enjoy with arepas or corn muffins.

Little Bites From the Last Few Days

The first is beef & potato curry with cabbage sambol. The cabbage sambol, I’m pleased to report, came out just fine from the freezer — not QUITE as crisp as when it went in, but still with a good toothsome bite. I’m planning to just make a whole cabbage’s worth next time I cook Sri Lankan, and portion it out and freeze it, so I have an easy vegetable to add on busy weeknights.

Last week’s quick-pickling resulted in onions that are yummy on a bagel with cream cheese and lox; I also picked up some house-made roast beef at Carnivore Oak Park this week, and I’m planning on a nice sandwich sometime soon with the pickled onions and horseradish. Mmm…

And I’ve been feeling very cheese-bite focused recently, for some reason, so last’s night’s first dinner (followed, of course, by second dinner), was just 6-month aged Manchego cheese and these intense cherries in syrup. Lovely pairing. Bite of cheese, pop in a cherry, repeat. I’ll have a fair bit of cherry syrup left over, which should go nicely in cocktails or mocktails. Or maybe a glaze for roast pork…