They were fast getting it up — this morning’s TV segment!
I pulled some greens from the garden to show examples of what else you could sambol — curly kale, dinosaur kale, rainbow chard — and of course, I now have kale sambol coming out of my ears, having made multiple versions of it for this morning’s TV thingie, so I decided that for now, these leaves can be decorative instead.
(We’ll probably still eat them tomorrow. )
Sunday brunch segment at WGN, our local station. Shout-out to Kavi who got up at 7 a.m. (very early for a teenager) to be my videographer, and who did TikTok dances behind the iPad to make me laugh and calm me down while I was waiting for them to start.
I am not sure I’ve ever been that nervous in my life — my hand was literally shaking when I started cutting the onion, and good thing I was prepping beforehand, so I could pause and steady myself. I’ve been on live TV a few times before — once for a town hall about sex and the internet, twenty+ years ago, and twice to talk about books on the summer reading segment on local TV.
So why so nervous this time? I think I’m not as confident about cooking as I am about books! I’m just a home cook, no culinary training, etc. But I think it basically went fine — I got in most of what I wanted to say, and I actually managed to cook a little too. But boy, 4 minutes goes REALLY fast.
Kavi’s even cleaning the kitchen for me now while I collapse on the couch. Best daughter.
(Addendum — I wore a kurta top I picked up at Selyn in Sri Lanka and my Sri Lankan 24K gold hoop earrings that my parents bought me when I was little, for good luck. Purple hair is Midnight Tanzanite by Splat! )
(And thanks to Pam Whitehead for building me a beautiful kitchen to cook in!)
Link to episode: https://wgntv.com/…/wgn-weekend-…/sunday-brunch-kale-sambol/
A little chaotic today, trying to prep for the TV show tomorrow (I’ll be on live TV, WGN’s Sunday Brunch segment, around 7:35 or so, teaching how to make kale sambol), while also attending ReconveneSFF convention (on a Wild Cards panel in a few hours), and also get the new 100 days challenge kicked off on my fitness group AND start a new writing accountability group, with a 100 days challenge too. It’ll all be fine, but it feels like a LOT of moving parts.
Morning cooking was carrot and green bean curry, which I’m planning to have out on the counter tomorrow, as something you might include in a Sri Lankan meal, along with kale sambol.
Carrot curry was a staple of my early cooking and got me through a lot of grad school, sometimes alternated with green bean curry — at some point, I decided to try putting them together, since the cooking method is almost identical, and yup, I like it.
Just cook the carrots for a while first, so they’re almost cooked through, then add the green beans and cook for a few minutes more. Yumyum.
Okay, going to go color my hair now, and then I need to prep the beef smoore, and test-run the actual video, and and and….well, we’ll see. One step at a time. Calm, Mary Anne. Calm.
No real recipe — mixed greens, red and yellow beets, goat cheese, orange segments, redbud blossoms, citrus dressing. Tasty, pretty.
(30 minutes, serves 6)
Young jackfruit has a texture similar to meat, though softer; it’s more delicate, as is the flavor. It’s easy to find online in cans, packed in brine; it’s also often available at grocery stores, especially ones that cater to vegetarians. This savory curry sauce is identical to what I’d use for beef, but gives a notably different (and delicious) result when cooked with jackfruit instead. I’d serve this with rice, a green vegetable, and chutneys, pickles, and/or sambols.
2 medium onions, chopped fine
1 TBL ginger, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
3 TBL vegetable oil
1/4 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp cumin seed
1 TBL red chili powder
1 tsp Sri Lankan curry powder
1 lb young jackfruit, cut into bite-size pieces
1/3 cup ketchup
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 tsp salt
2 TBL lime juice
1 cup coconut milk + 1 cup water
1. In a large pot, sauté onions, ginger, and garlic in oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seeds until onions are golden/translucent (not brown), stirring as needed. Add chili powder and cook 1 minute, stirring. Immediately stir in curry powder, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and lime juice.
2. Add jackfruit and stir on high for a few minutes. Add coconut milk and water, stirring gently to combine. Turn down to medium, and let cook 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally; add water if needed. Serve hot with rice or bread.
I had this sudden brainstorm that I wanted to make Kevin a spinach curry and lamb curry pizza for Valentine’s Day (see next post), and I really did want paneer on it, but I also didn’t have any paneer on hand — not fresh, not in the freezer. Very sad. On the other hand, I had a quart of whole milk, a lemon, cheesecloth, and 30 minutes to spare.
So before long — paneer! Way better than store-bought too, delicate and lovely, reminiscent of burrata in texture and flavor (not quite as rich, though, since there’s no cream), and so easy. I should make paneer more often.
Recipe courtesy The Kitchn: https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-paneer-cheese-in-30-minutes-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-57008
Sri Lankan Spinach Curry
A friend asked me for a good spinach curry recipe, and I had to admit that I’ve never managed one I was happy with, so I tried working on it this weekend. I love saag / palak in restaurants, but my earlier attempts came out sort of watery and lacking in flavor; they just made me sad.
So I spent a while looking up recipes, and it seemed like most of the ones I found which might approximate restaurant saag used chopped spinach and went heavy on the cream. Which, okay, cream makes things delicious. But I was hoping to do a vegan version, and also one that was a little bit lighter and healthier, with some good fresh spinach brightness.
The key to that, I think, is the onions. And I know you’ve heard me go on about onions before, and their importance to Sri Lankan cuisine, but seriously, the amount of flavor you get out of a properly cooked onion is hard to beat.
For this, I chopped a mix of red onion and shallot — you could do either separately; I just happened to have both on hand. Yellow or white onions would also be fine, but the red onion and shallots gave a sweetness and delicacy that I thought worked particularly well with the fresh spinach. (And of course, they were awfully pretty contrasting with the curry leaves and green chili as I cooked!)
After that, it was a fairly standard base approach — sauté in oil or ghee with cumin seed and mustard seed (I call for traditional black mustard seed in my recipes, but brown is really fine; I’d avoid yellow, though, as it changes the flavor noticeably) until golden. Keeping heat on medium or even medium-low will reduce the risk of burning if you’ve stepped away to chop something; it’ll take a little longer, but the onions also caramelize beautifully this way, so if you can afford the time, I’d do that.
Add garlic after a bit (if you put it in with the onions initially, it’s susceptible to burning), curry leaves if you have them (there are no good substitutes, so just skip if not), and chopped green chili. (I didn’t have fresh ginger on hand, but if I did, I would have added some with the onions. Since I didn’t, I added a t. of ground ginger later in the dish, with the turmeric and salt.)
This basic approach is what I’d recommend for most of our vegetable curries, and indeed, for curries in general.
I’ve found over the past few years of talking to folks about their cooking habits that a lot of people skip the onions in a dish, or reduce the amount dramatically, not realizing that they’re the base of the flavor. That applies to Italian spaghetti sauce as much as to Sri Lankan curry.
I know chopping onions is a bit of a pain, but it can’t be beat for depth of flavor. There’s a reason why cooking school makes aspiring chefs start with chopping mounds and mounds and mounds of onions.
So once you have the seasoned onions cooked down nicely (see previous post), the next step is to add some more spices — turmeric and salt are really all you need at this point. And then you could use chopped frozen spinach, but if you have fresh baby spinach, it’s lovely — I dumped two bags in here.
You basically can’t stir them at this point without lots of spinach falling out of your pan (I tried), but if you’re just patient and let it be, within a few minutes the spinach will have reduced enough to stir into the onions for a few more minutes.
You could stop the recipe at this point if you’re aiming for super-healthy low-calorie greens, and it would be tasty! But I definitely wanted a sauce, and anyway, coconut makes things better. So I added 1 cup (half a can) of coconut milk and stirred that in too.
You’re almost done at this point — the last step, always, is to check the seasonings. I’ve been surprised to learn, over the last few years of working on the cookbook, how many people are intimidated by phrases like ‘salt to taste.’
As a very rough estimate, most ‘feed 4-6 people’ dishes I use call for a teaspoon of salt for the pot, so if you’re really not sure, I’d go with something like that.
(Better to undersalt than over, so if you’re not sure, start with 1/2 a teaspoon — you can always add more, but you can’t take salt out of the curry!
If you DO oversalt, that’s tricky to fix — if it’s a dish where you can add potatoes, I’d do that (you can cut them up and cook them in the microwave separately, or boil them, so that you’re adding cooked potatoes to the dish, rather than raw potatoes which will make the whole dish cook for an extra 20-30 minutes, dulling the overall flavors.
Alternately, make a second batch of the dish, without salt. Combine them, so the salt flavors the whole thing more evenly. And if you have too much for your needs, then freeze some. That’s a lot of work, though, and requires you to have enough ingredients on hand to do this. Or you can freeze the over-salted batch to fix on another day, labelling appropriately. Yes, I’ve done this. Have I mentioned that I *hate* wasting food?)
I always take a little bit of sauce at the end, dab it on the back of my left hand, and lick it up to taste. Sometimes it’s perfect; sometimes it wants a little more salt. For this one, I added another 1/2 t. of salt, and then a T of fresh-squeezed lime juice. (Bottled is fine if you don’t have fresh on hand.)
Be a little careful adding lemon or lime if you’re using cream instead of coconut milk — when acid hits hot dairy, it tends to curdle. You’ll make cheese, which is another post altogether. So stir in the cream or coconut milk, let it cook and blend with the other ingredients for a few minutes, make sure your heat is at medium and not boiling over, and THEN add the lime juice.
The result will be glorious. Enjoy with rice and curry, or as we did this weekend, spread on naan and toasted as delicious flatbread / pizza.
Will post actual recipe in next post, with measurements.
Sri Lankan Spinach Curry
(30 minutes, serves 4; gluten-free, vegan)
(This is the actual recipe — see previous two posts for Cook’s Illustrated-style explication of recipe development + paean to onions.)
2 medium onions (preferably red), chopped fine
2 T oil or ghee
1 t. black mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1 T ginger, chopped
1 dozen curry leaves
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 t. salt
1/2 t. turmeric
22 ounces baby spinach (2 bags)
1 c. coconut milk
1 T lime juice
1. Sauté onions in oil or ghee over medium heat. Add mustard seed, cumin seed, ginger, and curry leaves.
2. After a few minutes, add chopped garlic, salt, and turmeric, and continue cooking until golden-translucent, stirring as needed, about 15 minutes total.
3. Add spinach to pan (in two batches if necessary, depending on size of pan), let cook down for a few minutes. When reduced, stir into onions and cook for a few more minutes.
4. Add coconut milk and stir; add lime juice and stir. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Serve hot with rice or roti.
I could photograph this spinach curry ALL DAY.
(And hey, ten years in, my zinc island countertop really has weathered and patinated the way I’d hoped. Makes me so happy. (It’s not heat-proof, though, so use with care.))
(Sri Lankan spinach curry recipe in previous post.)
Quick question (primarily for vegetarians / vegans).
Some of you may remember that I did two little mini cookbooks before Feast, The Marshmallows of Serendib and Vegan Serendib. I thought to keep the price point low on those e-books, so they’re more samplers — marshmallows is just 13 recipes, and vegan is 41 recipes. The vegan one is priced at $5.99 currently. (Marshmallows is $2.99).
I was thinking about it more, and I keep feeling like heck, at least half of Feast is already vegan (as is much Sri Lankan cuisine by nature, esp. since we use coconut milk instead of cow milk). Maybe I should just do another edition of that book, and put ALL the vegan recipes from Feast in there?
I’d already been thinking about doing this for a while, and then last night I just read an article about the vegan race wars in Nosrat’s Best American Food Writing 2019: “The Vegan Race Wars: How the Mainstream Ignores Vegans of Color” (Khusbhu Shah). (Recommended, fairly short: https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/vegan-race-wars-white-veganism) Which emphasized to me that it’d be good to have more visible representation in America of vegan cuisine from other parts of the world.
But if I do put ALL the vegan recipes from Feast in this vegan e-book, it does undercut the main book sales. (As a reminder, I have 2000 hardcover print copies sitting in a warehouse right now. Eep.) To avoid that, I should probably raise the price to something closer to the ebook price for Feast? (Mascot Books — I don’t see a pre-order page for Feast ebook on Amazon — am I missing it? Jed, do you know?)
WHAT’S THE ACTUAL QUESTION, MARY ANNE?
I guess this is a question mostly for vegans (I’m not sure whom I know who is vegan, aside from Swati?) and maybe vegetarians:
Would you be interested in buying a 100+ recipe vegan version of Feast of Serendib, at something like $9.99 for the ebook? With a possible print edition to follow eventually, if there’s interest and I have time? (Really, more if Stephanie Bailey and Heather Rainwater Campbell have time, as I suspect much of the production work would fall to them.)
Or should I just stop thinking about this and just leave the little vegan sampler up there as is? (We’re going to have our Feast cover designer Jeremy John Parker change the cover regardless, to make it look more like the Feast cover and less like something I hacked together on Canva, so I have to upload a new edition anyway, which is another part of why I’m thinking about all this.)
Small version already up: https://smile.amazon.com/Vegan-Serendib-Small-Lankan-Cookbook-ebook/dp/B07GRDVTX3
People often get intimidated by recipes with lots of ingredients and steps, which is understandable, but many of them aren’t actually complicated or hard — it’s just a sequence of very simple things, like what you’d do to make this cashew-mushroom cornbread stuffing.
One of my favorite TV cooking episodes is the one where Alton Brown teaches Waldorf salad, because he starts with a basic Waldorf (apples, mayo, and lettuce), and then starts adding other ingredients (toasted walnuts, celery, mint, red onion), making it better and better with each step. That’s basically the same approach I use with this stuffing, and with a lot of my recipes — layering in simple ingredients, one after another, building to a complex, nuanced final dish.
When composing this particular recipe, I was thinking of Karina, my vegetarian ex-girlfriend from Australia. She really did not love American Thanksgiving, with the whole turkey thing. As I’m writing this, tender-hearted Anand is having a conversation in the kitchen with Kavi and Kevin about reducing his meat consumption — he’s not ready to go vegetarian yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did in the future.
It was tough eating out with Karina in Philly in the 1990s when we were dating — so many places just offered rather boring vegetarian dishes. Basic pasta. Basic salad. So for this stuffing, I wanted to be sure to compose something with exciting flavors, but also exciting colors. Not just green, not just brown. A delight on the plate!
I start with onions (a mix of red and white) sautéed with Sri Lankan spicing, plenty of colorful bell pepper, ginger & garlic (I used a spoon of jarred today, because I’m a bit tired, but chopping fresh would be even better), green chili for heat, color, and flavor, nutty-sweet cashews, mushrooms and our Sri Lankan toasted curry powder, tomatoes and lime juice for balancing tang — and now you have a beautiful, hearty curry. You could just serve it as is, perhaps with rice or naan, or with a dollop of yogurt or coconut milk stirred in. Taste seasonings, add salt / pepper as desired.
But we’re going for stuffing! So add liquid — water or vegetable broth or even chicken broth if you’re not actually cooking for vegetarians, and bring that to a boil. This is a good point to taste again, see if you like it. The cornbread’s going to add a lot of sweetness, and while this is a sweet stuffing overall, you might want a bit more salt / pepper / tang to balance. When you’re happy with it, add the cornbread, turn off the heat and mix it in — you’re done.
It’s really very simple, even though there are lots of ingredients and lots of steps! For our Thanksgiving, this is going to complement a salty ham beautifully — for a vegetarian Thanksgiving (or any dinner party), I might recommend slicing, salting, and grilling some nice thick slices of eggplant, and topping that with this stuffing.
You could even get super fancy, and make a beautiful stack: rounds of grilled salty eggplant and zucchini, alternating with this stuffing, drizzled with a yogurt-lime dressing. Maybe even served on a bed of kale mallung? Mmm….
Cashew-Mushroom Cornbread Stuffing, Sri Lankan-Inflected
(30 minutes, serves 8-12)
1/4 c. vegetable oil or ghee
1 red onion and 2 yellow onions, chopped
1.5 bell peppers, chopped
1 T ginger and 3 cloves garlic, chopped, or 2 T ginger-garlic paste
3 green chilies, chopped
1 c. roasted cashews, chopped (salted is fine)
8 oz. mushrooms, quartered
1 t. salt
1 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1 t. black pepper
1 tomato, chopped
1 T lime juice
2 c. water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth
3 c. cornbread stuffing
1. In a large sauté pan, sauté onions in oil on medium-high until golden-translucent, stirring as needed.
2. Add bell pepper, ginger, garlic and stir to combine. Add green chilies and stir. Add cashews and stir. Add mushrooms and stir. If sticking, feel free to add a little more oil, or a T or two of butter.
3. Add salt, curry powder, pepper and stir until well blended. Cook 5-10 minutes or so, stirring as needed, until mushrooms are reduced and browned nicely; adjust seasonings to taste. (You can stop and serve at this point, as a curry.)
4. Add tomato, lime juice, and water or broth. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Taste seasonings and adjust as desired; it should be on the slightly salty / tangy / peppery side at this point.
4. Crumble in corn bread and gently combine. Turn off heat, and when it’s well-blended, either serve immediately, or transfer into a baking dish for storage in the fridge.
NOTE: May be baked to bring back up to serving temperature — 30 minutes @ 350, covered, then remove cover and bake 15 minutes more.