A Meal Fit for a Reporter

You get a pic of me along with the meal I served the reporter yesterday, because I knew she’d be taking photographs so I actually changed out of grubby summer garden clothes for a change. I really go a little wild / feral in the summer. 🙂 But look, clean hair! Earrings that match my dress! So fancy.

One of the things we talked about was how there aren’t any recipes using meat substitutes in Vegan Serendib — no Beyond meat, etc. I thought about using those, but a) they’re often expensive, b) they’re not commonly used in Sri Lankan cuisine, and c) there’s SO MUCH that’s inherently vegan in Sri Lankan cuisine, that you just don’t need meat substitutes to make large, satisfying, varied and interesting meals.

Neither she nor I are actually vegan, so another thing we talked about was how we definitely want to feel full and satisfied after a vegan meal. For this meal, the jackfruit & mushroom curry takes that role — it’s the main ‘entree,’ as it were, and you could just eat that with rice and feel satisfied. (Adding chickpeas or cashews to the curry would make it even more substantial.)

Of course, I wanted to let her taste lots of different dishes, and usually you’d have at least a few accompaniments to the meal in Sri Lanka. Sambols, pickles, etc. I was just cooking out of what I had in my fridge, so this is what I ended up with:

• red & white rice combo (Sri Lankan red rice has a lower glycemic index than white rice, and I’ve taken to doing half & half with white basmati when I make rice these days)

• jackfruit & mushroom curry

• mixed vegetable poriyal (potato, carrot, and pea pod)

• potato sothi (a coconut creamy, fenugreek-heavy mild dish)

• eggplant sambol

• ripe jackfruit curry

• coconut (pol) sambol)

Not bad for a few hours of cooking. 🙂 If I hadn’t run out of onions AND coconut milk, though, I would’ve been tempted to make just one more curry….probably lentils / paruppu / dal, which would have made the meal even more filling.

I Recommend Jackfruit

It was interesting talking to the reporter yesterday about jackfruit — she’s a very accomplished chef (much more than me), but hasn’t really worked with jackfruit. I told her that yes, you could often find jackfruit nearby at Pete’s or Tony’s grocery stores, if you wanted to buy fresh and break it down, but to be honest, that’s a lot of work, and mostly, I like to just keep jackfruit on hand in forms that are easy to work with.

So for green jackfruit, that’s cans, usually packed in brine (it shouldn’t be very salty, but taste before adding more salt in your recipe, just in case). It’ll be cut up already — sometimes I cut it up a bit more, but you can just toss it in too. For this recipe, which is the most substantial element in my vegan meal, I combined the jackfruit with mushrooms, but you could also add chickpeas and/or cashews, if you wanted even more substance and protein. Eggplant also works well with this. Trader Joe’s reliably has green jackfruit cans, and honestly, I find it in most of our local grocery stores these days.

Using exactly the same curry sauce, you get a very different result if you use ripe jackfruit, which is fruity, like ripe mango. It works really well as an accompaniment; I wouldn’t usually use ripe jackfruit curry as the main entree, but it’s a bright, sweet note on the plate. You could also do ripe jackfruit pickle, of course, if you wanted more tang. This is much easier to make if you just buy frozen ripe jackfruit and cook with that; that’s getting easier to find — I’m pretty sure I just got this at my local Whole Foods, but if not, then Indian grocery stores are a good bet. You can also get ripe jackfruit in cans, but they’s usually packed in syrup, so I’d drain the syrup (save it for a dessert or cocktail component) before using the jackfruit itself in a curry.

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, I strongly recommend trying both green and ripe jackfruit, if you haven’t yet! And even if you aren’t vegan or vegetarian, they’re both delicious, so you should try them too. 🙂

All of these options are available on Amazon too.

The Only Problem with Eggplant Sambol

The only problem with making eggplant sambol, is that after I rub the eggplant slices in turmeric and salt, let sit for an hour, blot away the excess bitter water that’s been drawn out, and then fry them, there is a good chance Kavi will come by and excitedly eat a bunch of the eggplant ‘chips’.

This is not actually a problem. 🙂 Salty fried is something she reliably loves, and I’m just glad that she gets a little nutrition from the eggplant.

Whatever eggplant chips she leaves me get tossed with sliced onion, lime juice, a few chopped green chilies, and a few tablespoons of coconut milk, just to bind it together. A really nice contrast on a rice & curry plate!

(Recipe in both Feast and Vegan Serendib.)

Accumulating Sri Lankan Dishes

It just makes me happy when the island is accumulating a wide variety of Sri Lankan dishes. Not that wide — I’m restraining myself. But so far, digging through the fridge for whatever groceries I had on hand, I’ve cooked:

– potato, carrot, and pea pod poriyal
– mushroom and green jackfruit curry
– ripe jackfruit curry (I wanted the reporter to have a chance to taste the difference, and I happened to have some on hand)
– coconut sambol

Umm…it’s all spicy; I wasn’t really thinking about it, and ended up going pretty authentic on the heat levels. I hope she likes that. Well, the next two won’t be spicy:

– eggplant sambol (only a little green chili! you’ll barely notice it!)
– rice!
– (oh, and I have some potato sothi in the fridge, I can pull that out too…)

And I have some mango sorbet going in the freezer, that I *think* will be ready in time, and if she likes, I’ll make her a cocktail or mocktail. Many options there, so we’ll see what she feels like.

Little bits of Sri Lanka everywhere in this house, not just on the island. Isn’t the new little elephant on my door adorable? The door is actually held on by a magnet, and comes off entirely, so you could ‘open’ it, in theory. This Etsy shop makes the cutest doors:


Soul Refresher: Watermelon & Rose Iced Tea

I promised you mocktail recipes! Here’s one.

Soul Refresher: Watermelon & Rose Iced Tea

(serves 6)

Rooh Afza is a traditional syrup formulated in 1906 in Ghaziabad, British India by Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed, combining several ingredients commonly believed to be cooling agents, such as rose — its name is sometimes translated as “refresher of the soul”. Ingredients vary; my current cordial bottle primarily mixes fragrant screw pine (kewra) with rose, lending complex flavor and beautiful fragrance. It can easily be found online or in South Asian grocery stories.

– 3 c. watermelon, plus more garnish
– 1 T Rooh Afza
– 3 c. cold tea (use tea of your choice; I used elderflower, but caffeinated black tea would also work well — try Lady Grey for a delicate variation, or PG Tips if you’re looking for something more sturdy)

1. Brew tea (2-3 tea bags and 3 c. boiled water) and let cool, chill for two hours in fridge.

2. Blend watermelon and Rooh Afza together.

3. For each glass, combine 1/2 c. watermelon blend with 1/2 c. cold tea. Serve iced, with a garnish of watermelon slice.

NOTE: For a more luxurious version, top each glass with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Little Bits of Cooking

Little bits of cooking from the last few weeks. Seasoned onions, breakfast of mackerel & egg curry on toast, salad with apricots and blue cheese, breakfast of scrambled eggs, naan, and seeni sambol, Vietnamese-style spicy-sweet shrimp on rice.

Summer means I have more time to actually cook. It’s nice.

Another Box of Books

It’s always satisfying when I have to order another box of books because I’ve sold out. 🙂 The paperbacks are smaller than the hardcover, because we left the photos out to help keep the price down — $30, instead of $40 (currently on sale for $25). I include a card linking to an online archive of all the photos; I don’t know if anyone actually uses that, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.

We do these print-on-demand, and we really weren’t sure how interested people would be, but despite the pandemic crashing straight into our March 2020 launch, we did have a burst of initial interest in the paperbacks, and had to re-order a few times early on:

September 2019: 50 copies
October 2019: 125 copies
December 2019: 112 copies

Now’s the first time I’ve had to order since then, though — we’ve sold through what, 287 copies so far? Make that 275, since there were some freebies that went to staff and reviewers. We are not setting the world on fire with this cookbook, but I’m still happy that people are buying it.

We got two boxes, another 56 books, in this order. Maybe we’ll break 300 before the end of the summer…

Two of the orders I’m shipping out today are birthday presents, which is particularly nice; there’s something very pleasing about my book being given as a birthday present. I hope it brings the recipient a lot of happy cooking moments…

(Also shipping out some of my homemade curry powder. I just roasted a new batch; my kitchen smells amazing.)

Spice Blending With Mary Anne

You can’t read this article unless you’re a Tribune subscriber, but among other things, it’s telling you that I’m teaching a spice-mixing class next week for the Naperville public library.

(If there are any librarians reading this, please consider me for your programming needs. 🙂 I love doing both in-person and Zoom events, and am delighted to have you archive Zoom events on your site. I will happily work with your budget. Book me for events here: https://maryannemohanraj.com/book-mary-anne/)

The Naperville library site is not behind a paywall:

“Learn how to roast, grind, and mix your own spice blends! Mary Anne Mohanraj, author of the Sri Lankan cookbook, “A Feast of Serendib,” will walk you through the process of creating a dark-roasted Sri Lankan spice blend, using your stovetop, a pan, and a dedicated spice (or coffee) grinder. (You can also use a mortar & pestle, but it’ll be a lot of work!) She’ll talk about the cultural history of Sri Lankan cuisine, what kinds of dishes you’d typically use such a spice mix for (both vegetarian and non-veg. options), and how you can adapt this process to your own tastes (altering the heat level, for example, or skipping a spice you don’t like). By the end, you’ll be able to create your own South Asian spice blends! *Registration required.”

Register here: https://napervillepl.librarycalendar.com/…/south-asian…

Tribune article: https://www.chicagotribune.com/…/ct-nvs-one-for-the…

Books To Finish

One of the things I’m hoping to do in this coming year is get real help with my e-mail. It’s tricky, because e-mail is so varied, and it’s not easy for people to know what to answer for mine. Emmanuel Henderson and I have a plan — we’re going to spend an hour a few days / week for the next month just doing it together, and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to figure out how he can at least handle some of it, so I’m not so behind all the time.

I was reading an article recently about productivity and e-mail, and one thing they pointed out that e-mail is TERRIBLE in terms of switching cost — you’re bouncing from one project to another with each new e-mail, and you can’t go deep, so it ends up taking much more time and mental energy than it would if it were bunched.

I want to get back to using Boomerang for Gmail more efficiently. I’m not quite sure the right approach, but maybe something like this:

– I already have Serendib House work concentrated on Tuesdays, SLF work on Thursdays this semester. Teaching MWF.

– Given that, I could have Emmanuel go through the last hundred messages and simply boomerang everything academic to come back on Monday, everything Serendib to come back on Tuesday, and everything SLF to come back on Thursday.

I feel a little nervous about doing that, because what if there’s something urgent that needs a quicker response? But he’s smart, I should just trust him to flag things that are urgent, right? He should just boomerang away things that can wait a week.

Given that once you get past the last 50 or so messages in my inbox, you’re looking at things that have generally been waiting a lot more than a week, I probably should just accept that almost anything would be an improvement. (I have close to 900 needs-response messages in my e-mail currently. Sigh.)

Thinking out loud, mostly. But hey, while I’m here, I’ll note that the cayenne & dark chocolate roses for the treat boxes look very pretty with edible red paint (which also signals danger! beautiful danger! useful for cayenne!), and thanks to Emmanuel for the suggestion!

Stephanie Bailey, can you add these “Spicy Red Rose Dark Chocolates” to the Serendib confection listings? Same pricing as the dragonfruit nebulae chocolates.

Gosh, see, my mind just goes in every direction at once. Dealing with e-mail exacerbates the issue. Squirrel!

Must keep focus on goal — hand off / restructure as much as possible, so there is more focused time for Mary Anne to write. Books to finish! So many books!