Very Easy, Very Pretty, Very Springtime

Last Easter pics. Roasted variegated carrots (toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, roast at 425 for 20 minutes) very easy, very pretty, very springtime.

And I got to break out our new grill for a party for the first time, and it worked really well! I had done some cooking in advance, but with the grill up on our back deck, I could just step out, turn it on to let it preheat, step back in, prep the salmon and asparagus (olive oil, salt, pepper), take them out, grill while chatting with people, serve.

I also did some chicken thighs (both plain and tikka), just to fill out the corners; I thought it would be good for making sure the kids got enough to eat.

LOVE the plumbed-in gas grill (belated gift for Kevin’s 50th birthday from me and his parents, though I admit, it’s at least as much a gift for me). No more hauling propane tanks, hooray!

Maybe eventually I’ll experiment with charcoal in a tray, or wood, but I’m really glad we went with this kind of grill, because I just have no time to futz with building a charcoal, etc. fire while I’m in party mode.

Thanks again to everyone who weighed in on my grill-buying decision last fall, even if I didn’t end up taking your suggestions. Sorry, Matt! 🙂

Lamb with Homemade Mint Sauce

Lamb with homemade mint sauce (the vinegar kind, that cuts so nicely through the richness of the lamb). This is a dish I really love, and I only have maybe twice a year? So it’s very satisfying when I do.

Kind of funny how me and my Irish friend were super-enthusiastic about this dish, and all the Americans were fine with it, but didn’t understand why we liked it so much. 🙂

Mint sauce:…

Roast leg of lamb:…

Enjoying the Sharma Women

Watching Bridgerton this morning — caught up on episode one of the second season, about to watch episode two. Am quite enjoying the Sharma women — they’re both delightful so far. I want to be friends with Kate!

Few pics from the last coule of days — progress on a fingerless mitt, although I’ve now reached the point where I have to stop and watch a YouTube video to remind me how to do the thumb gusset, as the instructions are confusing me. I’ve done this once before, but it was many years ago, and I have absolutely no recollection of how it goes.

Made two different chicken curry dishes recently. The first was sort of an improvised combination of my ginger-garlic chicken & a sothi — I used the seasonings for ginger-garlic chicken, which my kids love, added potatoes, and simmered it all in a can of coconut milk, adding some frozen peas at the end. Anand can’t handle spicy heat, so this one was designed to be no spice yet still yummy — it worked well, though Kavi and I were both happy to have some spicy pol (coconut) sambol to eat with it.

Sri Lankan food adapts pretty easily to being vegan or gluten-free, but I have to say, if you’re allergic to coconut, you’re going to have to modify a lot of our recipes. It can be done, certainly — you can use cow milk or soy milk, etc. I had a roommate (hi, Cliff) who was allergic to coconut, and I made curries for him. But coconuts really are central to our cuisine…

Last night, I made a classic chicken curry — this is one of the first Sri Lankan dishes I learned to make and is eaten across the island — you can find it in most restaurants, I think. One change I habitually make to accommodate my family is that I use chicken thighs on the bone, but take a few minutes to cut most of the meat off the bone before cooking.

That means Kevin and Kavi, who eat their rice and curry with a fork, can easily manage, but the curry sauce still has all the richness and flavor you get from simmering the bones. And since I eat rice and curry with my hand, I don’t work hard to get all the meat off — I leave a good bit on, and I’m happy to eat those bones with a bit of meat for my meal. Yum yum. My mom likes to crack the bones with her teeth and suck out any remaining marrow; I don’t usually do that myself, but every once in a while…

The last pic is just some sketches Kavi did. Her hands are amazing to me. 🙂

A Double Batch

Came home, ate leftovers, finished off the pol sambol, so I had to make a new batch, of course. A double batch, in fact, so I could freeze half of it.

Cayenne and salt and lime and onion and coconut. Yum.

A Mad Rush

It was a little bit of a mad rush getting ready to leave town for ICFA — I was trying to grade a bunch of student papers (done!), get all the winter Patreon boxes out the door (done!), and make and photograph stringhopper (idiyappam) biryani (done, in the end, but with additional drama!)

The stringhopper biryani was the last photo I needed for Vegan Serendib — the recipe is almost identical to the non-vegan version, but without egg, and my previous photo had egg, so I had to re-make and re-photograph it.

All of which would be fine, except I’m not actually very practiced at making stringhoppers. Don’t get me wrong, I *love* eating them. I’ve eaten lots and lots and lots of stringhoppers, but mostly when other people made them. They’re one of my favorite Sri Lankan meals, usually eaten with sothi (aka kiri hodhi) and pol sambol, often for breakfast, but delicious at any time of day, really.

I made them a few times for Feast, because I certainly couldn’t put out a Sri Lankan cookbook without stringhoppers in it, but I think I’ve now made stringhoppers maybe 3-4 times total in my life? And they’re super-simple — make a rice flour dough, press through a stringhopper press onto mats, steam. Easy, right?

Except that it’s actually just a little tricky getting the dough right, and I KNEW I was going to have trouble with it, and so I put it off and put it off and put it off…

…and this is why I was up until past midnight on Wednesday night, even though I had to leave for the airport at 5 a.m. the next morning, because I was so anxious about getting started with these. I even made Kevin make the dough for me, at least the first pass of it, and still.

I did finally get through it, mostly through sheer willpower, guilt for keeping Stephanie waiting as she tries to finalize the book layout, and panic at the end. Sometimes panic can be your friend?

These photos look nice enough, but anyone familiar with stringhoppers who looks at them too closely will realize that my strings are just not very good. They aren’t smooth and holding together nicely — they are lumpy and thick and have a tendency to break apart. They’re embarrassing, and I’m glad my Amma isn’t on Facebook right now and won’t see these!

Tips welcome, because now I’m kind of determined to master these and get them right. I suspect mostly I just need a lot more practice.

I’m especially determined to get them right, though, because I served these to the kids for dinner on Wednesday night, and while Anand was not yet a fan, Kavi really liked the stringhoppers AND the fish sothi AND the spicy pol sambol. Which makes a Sri Lankan American Amma’s heart just melt into a puddle. (She did ask for a big glass of milk after eating the pol sambol, but that is just fine, especially since she also asked for seconds!)

So I pretty much have to start making stringhoppers more regularly, and I AM going to learn how to make them properly, dammit. (And I will make sothi without fish for Kevin, so he can enjoy them with us too…) And we will have them often, especially for breakfast on a lazy weekend, and we will be so happy….

(Looking back through my older posts, I see that I had major difficulties last time I tried to make stringhoppers too — no wonder I was avoidant about it. Residual trauma!

(I do still like the photo Paul Goyette took of me trying to make stringhoppers for Feast way back when…)

Codenames Game Night

Heh. I tried to play Codenames (for the SLF’s game night) and cook chicken curry at the same time, and I burned the onions a little and also contacted one of the enemy’s spies by mistake. Maybe I’m not as good at multitasking as I thought! Sorry, Spymaster Emmanuel!

Halibut Sothi

Poor Stephanie has been waiting very patiently for me to get her ONE last decent photo of a dish so we can start the publicity process for Vegan Serendib, ordering galley proofs, etc., but the problem is that it’s not just a matter of cooking one dish.

You see, the dish in question is stringhopper biryani. This is essentially a way of using up leftovers, so before you make it, you need to have previously made stringhoppers. So you’re already talking two dishes’ worth of cooking.

And then, of course, if you’re going to make stringhoppers, you’ll be very sad if you don’t have both sothi and pol sambol to accompany them. VERY SAD. So first I HAD to make both of those — luckily, I had some pol sambol saved in the freezer, which saved me a step, but I made the sothi fresh last night.

I made a fish sothi this time, with halibut, and since it’s a very mild dish to begin with, I decided to try to make it kid-palatable, in the hopes the children would try it.

Kavi objects to whole spices like cumin seeds and mustard seeds (she doesn’t like the texture, and I think she may have an aversion from the years of wearing braces previously), so I used ground spices instead, just for her. (I used already-ground, definitely milder than the whole spices, probably in part because they’d been sitting around for a while, should have upped the amounts a bit, oh well.)

And Anand can’t deal with anything spicier than a bit of black pepper, so I left out the green chilies (sad), and just used a little black pepper instead.

And after all that, I realized AFTER I’d cooked it and had some, that there were still a few bones in the fish, and if we told the kids that, they probably wouldn’t even try it. (But if we didn’t tell the kids about the bones, they might swallow bones, so that seemed like a bad plan.) Kevin doesn’t like fish, we don’t eat it very often as a result, so the kids are mostly familiar with fish sticks, which they do like, and I would really like to expand their seafood palate. They’ll need to learn with bones in fish at some point, but it’ll take a little teaching, I think.

I had to run off to my school board meeting, and I haven’t had a chance to ask Kev about it, so I don’t know if he even managed to get them to try the sothi last night. Sigh. Well, I’ll find out later today, and maybe I can take some pieces of fish and make sure there are no bones in there, and give them to the kids to try, if they haven’t yet.

Tomorrow, I’m hoping to make stringhoppers; last night, I just had the fish sothi with rice. It was still pretty tasty, despite all the kid-friendly adjustments. But I’m going to give you the proper recipe here, which is DELICIOUS. (And quite mild still, as Sri Lankan curries go.)


Halibut Sothi

(45 minutes + soaking time, serves 6-8)

This is a delicious traditional accompaniment for stringhoppers, served with a little coconut sambol. When I last visited Sri Lanka, that was one of my favorite meals to have for breakfast, in the very early morning at the hotel, while I was still jet-lagged. It’s quite soothing. This makes a fairly large quantity, suitable for feeding several people; just cut ingredients in half for a smaller portion.

1-4 TBL fenugreek seeds, soaked for two hours beforehand
1 TBL toasted rice powder (optional)
1 large onion, diced
12 curry leaves
1 small stick cinnamon
2 fresh Thai green chilies, seeded and chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 cups water
1 russet potato, peeled and cubed (optional)
1.5 lbs halibut or other firm white fish, cleaned and cut into roughly 2-inch pieces
1 ripe large tomato, cut in 8 large pieces
3 cups coconut milk
4 hard-boiled eggs, cut in half lengthwise (optional)
1-2 TBL lime juice, to taste

NOTE: Traditionally, this dish was made with quite a lot of fenugreek; modern recipes tend to reduce to about 1 TBL, instead of 4. But fenugreek is a potent galactagogue, so if you’re making this dish for a nursing mother, you may want to go old-school.

NOTE 2: Toasted rice powder is used through Asia (especially in Thai cooking) to thicken and add flavor and fragrance to dishes. It’s best made fresh, in the quantities needed. To make, take one TBL rice and sauté over medium heat in a dry pan for 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly. It’ll release a beautifully nutty, toasted scent. Then grind to a powder — I use a coffee grinder that I keep dedicated for spices, but you could also use a food processor, or the traditional mortar and pestle.

1. Put all the ingredients except the last three (coconut milk, eggs, and lime juice) in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer, covered, until onions are reduced to a pulp and the potatoes and fish are cooked through, about 30 minutes.

2. Stir well, add thick coconut milk and heat without bringing dish to a boil. Stir in lime juice, and/or additional salt to taste, and then carefully add the eggs. Simmer a minute or two longer, stirring, and then serve hot, with stringhoppers or rice.

Bizarrely Warm

It was bizarrely warm yesterday — tank top and shorts weather! So I walked over to Carnivore Oak Park, reveling in the warmth, and picked up some food for the grill.

A lovely skirt steak for Kevin and Kavi, cheddarwurst sausage for the kids to try (they liked them!). I already had the shrimp on hand, but if I hadn’t, I would have picked some up there too. (The shrimp is for me, since Kev doesn’t like seafood — I got the kids to try one each, but they had texture issues. Ah well.)

Added in some bell pepper and carrot and hummus, some apple and pear and cheddar, and we were all set. (Maybe a little white wine for mama too…)

Such an easy, tasty dinner — I know it’s going to snow this week, but I am really really ready to be grilling again on the regular!

Sri Lankan Broccoli Varai

Needed a photo of broccoli varai for the vegan cookbook, so made it and devoured it for dinner last night. So good! As a bonus, Anand happily ate it too! Kavi likes the broccoli, but says she doesn’t like the little seeds, which I think might be a legacy of having worn braces for years; I might try cooking it with ground cumin & mustard for her next time. But I like it like this. 🙂

Sri Lankan Broccoli Varai

(30 minutes, serves 4)

A good way to get green vegetables into children.

Note: I keep this fairly mild, so my kids will eat it, but for a spicier (and more traditional) version, chop 2-3 green chilies, and stir them in during step 1.

1 pound broccoli (crowns and/or stalks), chopped fine (by hand or in food processor)
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1-2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
6-12 curry leaves
1 1-inch cinnamon stick
¼ tsp. black mustard seed
¼ tsp. cumin seed
1 tsp. black pepper (or cayenne)
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground turmeric
½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2 Tbsp. oil (optional)
1 tsp. sugar (optional)

1-2 tsp. lime juice (optional)

1. Sauté onions in oil on high with curry leaves, cinnamon, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds until onions are golden / translucent (not brown).

2. Add broccoli, salt, pepper, and turmeric; fry, stirring, for a few minutes. (If the broccoli starts sticking to the bottom of the pan, you can add a little water.)

3. Add in coconut and stir for five minutes.

4. Taste, and stir in sugar and/or lime juice if desired. Serve hot, with rice and curries.