So, I feel I should note that the timing for these chili leeks is misleading — it says 50 minutes, which is true for total cooking time, but for 30 minutes of that, it’s just simmering away on low, so there’s very little active cooking. I love this dish for a few reasons:
a) it’s super easy to include in dinner party cooking, since it mostly is going on its own (just remember to set a timer so you don’t forget to turn off the heat!)
b) it’s a very spicy accompaniment, which is great to have around to serve with mild curries, so that those who want spicy can make it spicy, and those who don’t can skip it
c) it’s a vegetable dish I don’t have to chop onions for, because it’s basically onions already on its own. 🙂
Also, it’s delicious and very easy, one of the first dishes I learned to cook. If you have someone like Kevin around willing to slice the leeks and wash them for you, even better — then it’s almost no effort at all!
Leeks Fried with Chili
(50 minutes, serves 8)
This accompaniment offers a little extra heat and onion-y zing to a plate of rice and curry.
4 medium leeks
1/4 cup oil
1/2 rounded tsp turmeric
1 1/2 rounded tsp chili powder
1 rounded tsp salt
1. Rinse dirt off outside of leeks. Discard any tough or withered leaves, but do use the green portions as well as the white.
2. With a sharp knife, slice the leeks thinly across the stalk, making
thin rings / chiffonade; when you’re slicing the green leaves, make a tight bundle in your hands for easier slicing.
3. Wash the sliced leeks very thoroughly. The soil trapped between the leaves won’t actually taste particularly bad, but the grittiness is unpleasant. I recommend not simply running the sliced leeks under a colander—rather, put them in a large bowl of water and wash them vigorously, changing the water at least three times. This is labor-intensive, but well worth it.
4. Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the leeks. Sauté, stirring for 5 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients and stir until well blended.
5. Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The leeks will reduce in volume. Uncover and cook, stirring, until liquid evaporates and leeks appear slightly oily. Serve hot.
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.
4 T salted butter
3 c. white chocolate chips
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 T rosewater
pink food coloring
¼ cup shelled pistachios, dry roasted and chopped fine
1 t. rose petals, chopped fine
1. In a small saucepan, melt butter, white chocolate and heavy cream on low heat, stirring, until smooth.
2. Remove from heat and stir in rosewater and food coloring.
3. Chill in fridge for at least 1 hr (overnight is fine).
4. Scoop out teaspoons of ganaches onto a clean plate or cutting board. Roll them between your clean hands into smooth round balls. No need to make them perfectly round! A little irregularity is charming.
5. Roll them in chopped pistachios and rose petals. Chill until ready to serve.
(30 minutes, plus cooling time, makes 16 mini scones)
In Sri Lanka, strawberries are an introduced horticultural crop, very popular in the hill country. I have fond memories of eating fabulous strawberries from roadside stands near Nuwara Eliya. Sri Lankans enjoy strawberries fresh, in milkshakes, cooked down into jam, whipped into a refreshing fool, or made into ice cream.
A hint of ginger adds subtle complexity to these lovely fresh strawberry scones. Made with plenty of butter and cream, they’re a delectable indulgence.
In many baked goods, you can substitute frozen fruit for fresh successfully, but I wouldn’t recommend that here — frozen strawberries will give off too much liquid. Look for fresh, ripe strawberries — the best for eating will also be the best in your scones. My children don’t like crystallized ginger, so when baking for them, I leave it out.
2 c. flour
¼ c. granulated sugar
1 T baking powder
½ t. salt
1/2 t. ground ginger
6 T cold unsalted butter
1 c. heavy cream, plus 1 T for brushing the scones
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. chopped fresh strawberries
1/2 c. crystallized ginger, chopped fine, optional
2 T sugar
for glaze (optional):
1 ½ c. confectioners’ sugar
2 T milk
½ t. vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 400F. Spray mini scone pan with Baker’s Joy (or butter and flour pan, which will be kind of a pain).
(If you don’t have a mini scone pan, you can cut and shape these by hand, and bake on a regular baking sheet, placing them quite close together. If you pop them in the freezer for 30 minute before baking, they’ll hold shape better.)
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and ground ginger.
3. Chop butter in small pieces and cut into flour with a pastry cutter (or with your fingers) until mixture resembles coarse meal. (It’s fine to have small lumps.)
4. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 c. heavy cream and the vanilla extract. Pour liquid ingredients over flour mixture; stir with a spatula until dough begins to form. Don’t overmix. Gently stir in chopped crystallized ginger, if using, and chopped fresh strawberries.
5. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead a few times. Cut into 16 equal pieces and press into the cavities of the pan. Use a pastry brush to brush the tops of the scones with the additional T of heavy cream. Sprinkle with 2 T sugar.
6. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool 20 minutes in pan, then remove from pan to wire rack and cool completely.
7. I don’t think these scones need a sweet glaze, but some people love a little extra sweetness. And it does look pretty. If you’d like to glaze, make it while the scones are cooling. In a small bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla together until smooth. Drizzle glaze generously over completely cooled scones.
Serve warm or room temperature, with additional fresh strawberries if possible. Can be split and served with butter or clotted cream, and jam, if you like, though when freshly baked, I don’t think these scones need anything else!