Perfect Winter Food

Jed’s favorite curry of mine is the beet curry — it’s funny, I don’t normally crave beets, but in this preparation, I do. Sweet, tangy, a hint of spice. Perfect winter food.

Sri Lankan Beet Curry

(30 minutes, serves 4)

This dish has a lovely sweet flavor with just a hint of spice—beets have a higher sugar content than any other vegetable, and sugar is sometimes made from beets.

3 medium onions, chopped fine
3 TBL vegetable oil
1/4 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp cumin seed
4 large beets (about one lb), peeled, cut in thick matchsticks
1-2 rounded tsp salt
1 rounded tsp turmeric
2-3 tsp lime juice
1-3 chopped green chilies
two dozen curry leaves (optional)
2 cups coconut milk

1. Sauté onions in oil on high with mustard seed and cumin seeds until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add beets, salt, turmeric, lime juice, chilies, and curry leaves.

2. Lower heat to medium and add coconut milk. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, until beets are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

3. Remove cover and simmer, stirring, until well blended. Serve hot.

Simmering beet curry — almost done.

Leeks Fried with Chili

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.


18 seconds of slicing leeks; I took over from Kev briefly so he could take a little video.

It turns out that Kevin cuts them totally differently than I do — he just does one firm slice, and I have a sawing motion habit with leeks. He also started at the white end, and I typically start at the green end. However you slice, definitely hold the leek together firmly when you’re at the looser green end, and watch your fingers!



Leeks reduce quickly in volume — this is just a few minutes into stirring, and they’re half the size they were when they went in.


After stirring in the cayenne, salt, and turmeric.

Have You Had Broccoli Varai?

You’ve had broccoli steamed. You’ve had it boiled. You’ve had it boiled to death (very sad). You’ve had it tossed with olive oil and roasted. But have you had broccoli varai, with seasoned onions and coconut and salt and pepper and turmeric? Mmmm….


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.

What Type of Recipes Should I Cover?

Hey, quick question(s). I’ve been doing a vegan recipe / day for several days, and planning to continue for the rest of the month. But there are 140 recipes in the cookbook, and I’m wondering whether people have any preferences for what types of recipes I cover.


So far, I’ve just been alternating, with some veggie curries, some starch bases (rice, etc.), some accompaniments, and one beverage. I was going to do a dessert this weekend, probably.

What would you like to see more of?

– vegetable dishes
– starches
– accompaniments (pickles, chutneys, symbols)
– beverages
– desserts
– appetizers / snacks

And do you have a preference for food that’s likely to be easy to cook with what you have around already, or dishes that might require a little more hunting for ingredients?


So far (I might be missing one or two…)

• cauliflower poriyal
• kale sambol
• milk rice
• pol sambol
• cucumber salad
• deviled potatoes
• green mango curry
• tamarind rice with lentils
• chai

Meals of Veganuary

It’s been interesting trying to cook a vegan dish every day for a month. We’ve obviously ended up with a lot of vegan food in our fridge, more than we usually have, so it was a good thing that I had a staff meeting here on Tuesday, so I could feed people.

I ended up making a beef curry too, though — I found myself sort of hesitant to serve several people an entirely vegan meal without checking with them first, because I think people who are used to eating meat regularly often don’t feel quite satisfied with an all-vegan meal.


That question of ‘satisfaction’ is a really interesting one, because it’s mostly a mental thing, I think? Partly it’s craving / expecting a certain kind of firm texture — chickpeas and green jackfruit give some of that, but a lot of other vegan dishes, especially curries and pickles and chutneys, are…soft?

I’m not sure what else goes into it — something to keep thinking about. Maybe this will turn into an essay at some point. 🙂 Would love to hear whether you find vegan food satisfying, and why or why not?


This meal was beef curry, deviled potatoes, green mango curry, kale sambol, cucumber salad, all on a bed of rice.

By contrast, I’m including an entirely vegan meal from a few days previously: tamarind-lentil rice, cauliflower curry, kale sambol, coconut sambol, a little plain rice. Personally I found this quite satisfying, I think because the cauliflower has some textural sturdiness, and the lentils are crunchy and protein-rich. (I could have skipped the plain rice, honestly, but I was trying to use some up.)

Eggplant Curry / Kattharikai Kari

Whoops, I forgot to post yesterday’s recipe. Please count this for Tuesday — I don’t want to break my daily streak! 🙂

Last night, I cooked this eggplant curry to take to my Global Asian Studies start of semester potluck; I wanted something luscious and richly satisfying, for vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores. Lovely with rice or bread; I happen to have naan in the freezer, so I’m going to grab that and bring it along.

Don’t hesitate to use plenty of oil for the first stages, so the eggplant fries and browns well — that’s where you get a big burst of flavor. If it’s starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, just add a little water and scrape up the browned bits; that’ll make a lovely sauce.

If you have excess oil at the end, you can always drain it off. You can spoon the oil out, but I’ll usually just tilt the pan and let any extra oil collect in one area, then blot that up with a paper towel. Easy!


Eggplant Curry / Kattharikai Kari

(30 minutes draining time + 30 minutes, serves 6)

My mother’s eggplant curry was always a huge hit at Sri Lankan dinner parties, and is particularly popular with vegetarians.

1 lb eggplant, roughly 1-inch cubes
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 onions, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup oil or ghee
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 dozen curry leaves
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp Sri Lankan curry powder
1/2 cup coconut milk

1. Prep eggplant — rub with turmeric and salt and then set in a colander to drain at least 30 minutes, which will draw out the bitter water. Blot dry with paper towels.

2. Sauté onions in oil on medium-high, stirring, with cumin seed, black mustard seed, and curry leaves, until golden.

3. Add eggplant, sugar, and curry powder, and sauté for another ten minutes or so, until eggplant is nicely fried. (Add more oil or ghee if needed.)

4. Add coconut milk and simmer for a few minutes until well blended. Serve hot with rice or naan—particularly nice for a vegetarian dinner with lentils as the main protein.

Variation: Eggplant and bell pepper work well together in this dish; just add chopped bell pepper about five minutes into frying the eggplant for a nice sweet element to the dish. Sometimes I make a nightshade curry, adding potatoes and tomatoes as well — small cubed potatoes would go into the onions first, then eggplant and spices, then bell pepper, then tomato, with a few minutes between each addition.

Cucumber Salad

Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated.

Feel free to adjust the seasonings — this salad is very lightly flavored as a base recipe, since it’s meant as a complement to curries and other richly flavored dishes, but you can certainly add more salt / pepper / sugar / lime juice/vinegar to your taste.

I didn’t happen to have English or Persian cucumbers on hand, so I used a regular cucumber, and it’s a little seedy, but tastes just fine. 🙂


Cucumber Salad

(5 minutes, serves 8.)

A cool, refreshing bite, slightly crisp.

1 English cucumber (or 2 Persian cucumbers), sliced into bite-size pieces
½ cup thinly sliced onion
1 green chili, chopped fine
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. lime juice or rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. coconut milk

Combine and serve with rice or uppuma and curry, with perhaps a nice mango pickle on the side.