High Stakes Cooking

I tried to reproduce two of Amma’s classic dishes to tempt her appetite — we’re trying to get her to eat a little more. High stakes cooking!

The carrot curry actually came out better than it has in years, even though I didn’t have green chilies on hand. The beef and potato curry was reasonably good, but not as good as hers, and I don’t know why! Her cooking is just magic.

A Last Minute Jaffna Crab Curry

I may have last-minute decided to do a Jaffna crab curry — which is mostly an indulgence for me, because I love it, but no one else in my house eats crab, so I don’t have much of an excuse to make it. But party. 🙂

Of course, it does mean that anyone unwilling to eat rice and curry with their clean hands instead of knife and fork is going to have a challenge…

Thanks to my sister Sharms Murraj, who taught me how to make this one. It’s her birthday today! Happy happy birthday, kiddo!

Party Menu Planning

Cooking for Wednesday’s pre-ChiCon party is coming along nicely, I think. Focusing on Sri Lankan stuff for now, since the American food will be mostly just throw it on the grill and/or order.

Kevin helped me tonight with mixing up fluff, chopping cashews, peeling beets and matchsticking them, so it was reasonably low effort knocking out four more dishes, even after coming home from teaching at 7 (it helped that I had seasoned onions ready in the fridge for the curries). Made the mango fluff, the cashew & cranberry milk toffee, the curried beets, and the cashew curry.

Big triumph of the night was figuring out why my last several batches of milk toffee had tried to burn — I kept thinking it was because I’d switched pots, but no — it’s that my Wolf range runs hotter than a normal range, and I’d forgotten that I need to adjust my recipe for that (from medium-high to medium, and from medium to medium-low). SO nice not having to worry about it burning this time!


Menu planning, for the curious. It’s like prepping for Thanksgiving, but more so. 🙂 Currently have 95 Yes RSVP’d, with another 23 Maybe. I expect some will drop out due to travel complications, tiredness, etc., but still should be a good-sized shindig. Of course, Amma regularly threw birthday parties for something like 150-200 Sri Lankan diaspora folks, so I have a ways to go still…

Thank goodness the weather is looking pretty perfect for Wed — we should be able to be mostly outdoors. Otherwise, my house would be bursting a bit at the seams!



– pick up some appetizers from Indian store (Darius Vinesar, I may send you on this errand on Wed; I’ll order in advance)
– beef curry — DONE
– pork curry — DONE
– shrimp curry — DONE
– lamb curry (mild) — DONE
– deviled potatoes — DONE
– carrot curry — DONE
– coconut sambol — DONE
– cashew curry — DONE
– curried beets — DONE
– naan — BOUGHT
– mango fluff — DONE
– milk toffee — DONE (except for cutting)


– lentil curry
– kaliya curry (eggplant, potato, and plantain)
– jackfruit & chickpea curry
– cabbage varai


– green mango salad
– vatallappam
– passionfruit marshmallows
– coconut rock


– kale sambol
– saffron, sultana, and cashew rice (use vegan butter)
– tropical fruit salad
– mango-passionfruit punch


– Sri Lankan eggplant & mushroom skewers (use vegan mayo and yogurt)
– Sri Lankan bell pepper and ripe jackfruit skewers
– Sri Lankan grilled chicken kabobs
– hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages
– corn with elotes fixings
– pineapple & mango skewers with chili, salt, and lime
– potato salad
– watermelon if it’s hot
– pies

Tuesday night: move frozen curries to fridge; get ice bags for chest freezer

WEDNESDAY: Order Chicago-style pizza

Shifting Into High Gear

Shifting into high gear for the party cooking. To try to keep myself sane, I made the meat curries in advance and froze them, so these are done:

– beef curry
– black pork curry
– tamarind shrimp
– lamb curry (mild)

I also made a big batch of coconut sambol. Next step, the veggie dishes (which are all incidentally vegan, which is easy to do with Sri Lankan cooking — just be sure to use oil instead of ghee, and don’t add in the tiny dried shrimp or Maldive fish that are sometimes added to veg dishes).

Yesterday I started off with eight bags of frozen chopped onions and sauteed then in my biggest sauté pan (which is very big) with oil, black mustard seed, cumin seed, cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon stick. That makes a great base for many of our dishes, and will make cooking for a party much faster.

So far, I’ve taken portions of those seasoned onions, and made the two curries that I can do in my sleep, devilled potatoes and sweet carrot curry (with a bit of heat from green chilies). The list of dishes I’m hoping to do is probably longer than I actually have time for, given I have to, you know, teach today, for example. But if I end up with extra seasoned onions, they freeze well, so can be stowed away for a hectic future day.


Return of the Sunday Dinner

With the school year starting up again and our schedules getting busier, I thought we’d take another stab at trying to do a semi-regular Sunday dinner, where the kids help cook a nice meal, we set the table with cloth napkins and candles, and we eat together and chat…

…rather than what we do most of the time, which is scrambling and eating what’s easy and definitely not all together — we’ve never been an every-night-family-dinner kind of family. (Kevin and I both work at home most of the time, so we get a lot of time with the kids regardless, so it’s never felt like a priority for us to sit down together every night. If we both worked 9-5 jobs outside the home, I suspect we’d do things differently.)

It was lovely, though I admit, all the cooking did make me a bit tired, with everything else that I have in prep for today’s semester start. The cooked fillings can be prepped a day ahead, if needed, so maybe that would’ve been smart, if I’d thought of it. Oh well!

We did a crepe bar, which was one of my standard party tricks for brunches before we had kids, usually with exactly these fillings on offer:

– creamy chicken (sauteéd in onions)
– creamy mushrooms (goes wonderfully with the chicken, for thems that like mushrooms, which is currently me)
– Swiss cheese (goes with both of the above, and we discovered yesterday that both the kids really like Swiss cheese, yay, so we’ll be adding it to the regular fridge options — nice to see them expanding beyond cheddar, as lovely as cheddar is)
– spinach (sauteéd in onions) with feta (this was just me and Kev, so there’s a fair bit left over, but that’s great, it’ll make excellent omelettes for us for the next few days
– bananas & strawberries & Nutella
– lemon & sugar

So delicious — I think we each had at least four filled crepes. Good thing the crepes aren’t that big; I was stuffed by the end of the meal. We didn’t bother with dessert, given the fruit and sweet options, and I think that was the right choice — Kavi and Kevin both ended up with some strawberries and sugar to nibble at the end.

Now, most of us went for fairly standard combinations, but Anand really likes to experiment — so he tried various things, including chicken + banana + sugar!

Which at first, I admit, the rest of us were a little weirded out by, but when you think about it, it’s not SO different from something like a Jamaican chicken with fried plantains dish, right? I wasn’t brave enough to try a bite myself, though. 🙂

This was Kavi’s week to pick, so Anand is going next week — he’s requested shepherd’s pie. Kavi’s not a big shepherd’s pie fan, but she’s willing to eat it, and we’re going to pair it with a Caesar salad, which she loves, so that should work. I was thinking about what other Irish appetizers or desserts we might want to include; opinions welcome!

Classic Food Combos

Made Sri Lankan grilled halibut yesterday to eat with the grilled eggplant and mushrooms from the other day — tasty, but string hoppers are dry without sothi!

It was all right with some yogurt sauce, but today, I made sothi and pol sambol, and it was so much better. Some food combos are just classic, and shouldn’t be messed with too much. 🙂

Sri Lankan Grilled Beef Kabobs

(25 minutes + marinating time, makes 8 skewers)

This is a fusion-y sort of recipe, taking a shawarma-style approach, but with Sri Lankan flavors, adapted from a recipe found in Bon Appétit magazine.

I was aiming for something I could easily prep on a weeknight and throw on the grill, and this worked really well — it takes a little marinating time, so plan ahead, but actual cooking time is minimal. It also works well with pork or chicken thighs.

(You can certainly use a more expensive cut of meat if you prefer, such as sirloin tips or anything up to filet mignon. The lime juice in the marinade here tenderizes the chuck, which can be tough otherwise for quick cooking.)

NOTE: Sri Lankan curry powder recipe can be found here; it can also be purchased online: https://serendibkitchen.com/sri-lankan-curry-powder/

zest of 2 limes
4 large garlic cloves, finely grated
1 c. mayonnaise
1 c. plain whole-milk yogurt
3 T lime juice
1 t. salt
1/3 c. ketchup
1/4 c. Worcestershire sauce
2 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1-2 t. cayenne
3 T vegetable oil (plus more for grill)
2 lb. beef chuck, cut into 1/2″ cubes
naan bread, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers (for serving)

1. Make sauce: In a large bowl, whisk lime zest, garlic, mayonnaise, yogurt, and 2 t. of the lime juice in a large bowl to combine, add salt to taste. Transfer 1/2 c. of sauce to small bowl for serving; cover and chill until you’re reading to eat.

2. Make marinade: Whisk into the remaining sauce the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, curry powder, cayenne, and remaining lime juice. Add beef (or other meat), toss to coat. Cover and chill at least one hour (up to 12 hours).

3. Prepare grill for medium-high heat; oil grate. While grill is heating, remove beef from marinade, letting any extra drip back into the bowl; thread meat onto metal skewers, spacing slightly apart.

4. Grill kebabs, turning a few times, until browned and just cooked through, 6-10 minutes. Lightly toast pita on grill, and serve kebabs with peta, tomatoes, cucumbers, and reserved yogurt sauce.