Chicken Curry variations

A friend was over the other day and when I offered them some chicken curry (options: mild, spicy, and with added liver) to take home with her, she said that I should explain how I did that. As a busy parent, she said it’d be helpful to others with picky eaters at home, and of course, that makes sense, but some of this I do so automatically these days that I don’t even think about it.

But here’s the process. It looks long, because I explain in some detail, but it’s actually super-simple and quick to do:

NOTE: When I say ‘chili powder’ here, I mean Indian chili powder, which is powdered dried red chili pepper; it’s usually notably hotter than the cayenne you find in American grocery stores. But you can use cayenne. I don’t mean a ‘chili’ spice mix!

NOTE 2: I use boneless thighs for this, because the kids and Kevin eat with forks and so it’s not easy eating chicken on the bone. But if you’re going to all be eating with your hands (like me), cooking it on the bone is tastier. If you have time when making the first curry and want boneless pieces, you can buy chicken on the bone, cut the meat off, and then cook the bones in the curry with the meat pieces. Alternately, if you’re in a big hurry, you can use whole chicken thighs and not cut it up at all — you can even dump frozen chicken pieces in; you just have to simmer a bit longer. I only do that when I’m truly exhausted, but sometimes needs must.

1) MILD CURRY (make as usual):

The kids don’t like chicken curry as spicy as Kevin and I like it. They’re finally at a point (ages 12 and almost-10) where they can handle black pepper, and Kavi likes a little chili, but Anand doesn’t want any. So the first step is to make a mild curry. You could do this with no pepper or chili at all, but for Kavi, I put in about a 1/2 t. of chili powder to the pot.

Then, when I serve the kids, I actually rinse off Anand’s chicken pieces. It makes me a little sad, losing that yummy sauce, but this way he eats it. And that’s actually what Amma recommended, for getting kids used to eating spicy food, what they did in Sri Lanka with toddlers — make it per usual, rinse off most of the sauce, give it to them, so they get a little bit of it. I wish I’d listened to my mom and done that with the kids when they were toddlers — maybe we’d be further along in this process now! Oh well.

I set half the curry aside in a Pyrex for dinner that night, and for their leftover meals the next days.

2) SPICY CURRY (add chili oil):

It’s time to get spicy! In a separate frying pan, I heat up a little oil or ghee, then add 1-2 t. chili powder and sauté for just a minute, until it darkens slightly. I stir that chili oil into the half-pot of chicken curry on the stove, and simmer for oh, about ten minutes, until well-blended. If you have enough liquid, it won’t hurt to simmer longer; if you’re getting low on liquid, add water. (You could add milk or coconut milk, but that would make it milder, which isn’t what you’re looking for…)

Now it’s at Kevin and my heat levels. Usually I’d just stop there, but sometimes, I want one more variation. If so, I portion out some of the spicy chicken into a separate Pyrex for Kev’s dinner and leftovers.

3) CHICKEN CURRY WITH LIVER (add sauteéd liver):

I usually make this when I’m feeling a little under the weather, and I want some extra iron and vitamins. Or when I’m feeling indulgent, because I *love* liver curry. In the same frying pan that I cooked the chili powder, I add some chicken liver and fry it for a few minutes (there’s usually enough oil left in the pan, but you could add more, if not). Brown it a little to bring out the flavor, and then just add it to the remaining chicken curry in the pot, and simmer another 10 minutes or so. If you cook it on high, or cook a long time, the liver will break down, making a very thick, rich, liver-y sauce. Usually I only want it to break down a bit, though, as I like eating the liver pieces, and I like the curry sauce closer to the original. Serve hot with rice or bread.

All this usually makes us dinners for three nights (we all eat leftovers, thankfully), so it’s not too bad to do on a weeknight. If you wanted to save more time on a busy workday when you’re getting home around dinnertime, you could do the chicken curry in a slow cooker or Instant Pot (10 minutes of sautéing onions to start, then cook long and slow) in the morning, and then just do the ‘add chili powder’ and/or ‘add liver’ steps later in the day. Having batches of cooked seasoned onions on hand (can be kept in freezer) also speeds up the process dramatically.

That’s it! 

*****

Chicken Curry / Kozhi Kari
(1 hour, serves 6)

This is the classic Sri Lankan chicken dish; if you were just going to make one, this should be the one. A key to a good chicken curry is having a tasty kulambu (or kuzhambu, depending on how you do the transliteration), which is basically the curry sauce or gravy. Some people make it more liquid, some more thick (if you use potatoes in this dish, they will thicken the sauce). In this recipe you build a fairly spicy sauce, and then add whole milk partway through the cooking process, which melds the flavors and mellows the spice level, lending your curry a creamy richness.

You can use other kinds of milk if you’d prefer, and in fact, coconut milk is often used in Sri Lanka, but coconut milk is a little rich for everyday cooking—my family tends to save it for special occasion meals. I’ve used goat milk (works fine) and soy milk (a little thin, but acceptable). Almond milk is quite thin, and has a distinct nutty flavor—it’s not bad, but it does take the curry in a different direction; if you can find cashew milk, that might be a better option.

Note: If you’re using coconut milk, which is fairly sweet, you may want to switch out the ketchup for chopped fresh tomatoes + a little vinegar. My mother started using ketchup (which has sugar in it already) to compensate for the lack of sweetness in cow’s milk, when she first came to America as an immigrant in 1973, and coconuts and coconut milk were not so easy to come by.

3-5 medium onions, diced
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
3 whole cloves
3 whole cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 3 pieces
1-2 TBL cayenne
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
12 pieces chicken, about 2 1/2 lbs, skinned and trimmed of fat
Note: Use legs and thighs—debone if you must, but they’ll be tastier cooked on the bone. Don’t use breast meat—it’s not nearly as tasty. (Alternately, use 6 pieces of chicken and 3 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed) If you crack the bones (using the back of a heavy knife), it will allow the marrow to add rich flavor to the dish.
1/3 cup ketchup
1 heaping tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 TBL lime juice

1. In a large pot, sauté onions in oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seed, cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon pieces, until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add cayenne and cook one minute. Immediately add curry powder, chicken, ketchup, and salt.

2. Lower heat to medium. Cover and cook, stirring periodically, until chicken is cooked through and sauce is thick, about 20 minutes. Add water if necessary to avoid scorching. Add potatoes if using, and add milk, to thicken and mellow spice level; stir until well blended.

3. Cook 20 more minutes, until potatoes are cooked through. Stir in lime juice; serve hot.

Yogurt Parfait at Delia’s Kitchen

Lori Rader-Day and I had a writing date this week, and we grabbed lunch at Delia’s Kitchen; I wasn’t very hungry, so I thought I’d just get a yogurt parfait. Well, it was HUGE — enough for two meals for me, and so beautifully served, I had to share.

(Note, if you’re planning to work there, they’re busy at breakfast and lunch, so I’d aim for mid-morning so as not to hog a needed table, and there’s only one table with an outlet.)

Conversation with a young friend

I’m still mopey about the makerspace sometimes, though I clearly (CLEARLY) don’t have time to do it properly right now. Talking to someone in a few weeks about whether they might be able to take over direction of it. It’s not dead, just sleeping.

I was recently talking with a former student, who’s interested in writing both fiction and nonfiction; I suggested some nonfiction pieces I thought she was well placed to pitch and write, that are totally in her wheelhouse. And she said (hope she doesn’t mind if I paraphrase her here) that talking to me, I made it seem easy, or possible — something like that.

And I totally think she could develop a side hustle writing articles for various magazines, blogs, even newspapers (she’s a young mom with littles, so it works well with that), but more, it reminded me of why I wanted to do the maker space in the first place — because so many people get intimidated by the first steps of writing, or cooking, or gardening, or tech, etc.

Or if not intimidated, they just don’t have the first steps clear to them, and if they had someone they could apprentice with, it’d be so much easier. Academia is great, for what it does, but it seems like we still need better structures for other kinds of learning.

I’m envisioning someone sort of like a high school guidance counsellor, I suppose, but for adults. Not a career coach, exactly. Someone, or some place, where you could try out lots of things, or try something you’re particularly interested in, and they’d gently guide you through the first steps, giving you the scaffolding to hold you up, until you were ready to do it on your own.

Sigh. Someday.

Feast of Serendib Events in Toronto and Montreal

Canada folks — I know shipping to Canada was outrageous, and so many people opted for ebook rather than print. But I’ll be in Toronto in the spring (date TBD), and I’ll be in Montreal in a few weeks — if you’d like to get a paperback or hardcover for pick-up, we can avoid the whole shipping issue.

I’ll be there for Scintillation (SF convention) Oct 11 – 13, staying at the Holiday Inn in Chinatown — if you or a designated friend can come pick up from me then, would love to give you a signed hardcover.  At this point, I think it’s simplest if we just figure out payment / delivery via comments, so let me know here if you’re interested, please! (Happy to also sell you copies of The Stars Change or Perennial.)

(Also, look what an adorable graphic Irene Victoria made for me for my book tour! So cute.)

Autumn Garden in Bloom

Blooming yesterday in the front garden — Kevin and I have both been sick, so the garden has been horribly neglected. It felt so good yesterday; we hired Neighbors United (“The Guys” is the new name for their landscaping service) to come out and do some mowing (our push mower wasn’t up to the task, given how long the grass had gotten), dig out some hackberry seedlings, pokeweed as tall as me, and even some burdock that had escaped my eagle eye of earlier in the summer (we hates it, my precious). They also cut away some very thorny dead rose branches. (Two guys, two hours of hard labor, $125).
And then I went around and started actually staking up some of the dahlias, moving some phlox around (I had them scattered, and I think they look better massed, so have rearranged for next year), pruning and deadheading and pulling a few of the smaller weeds. It’s looking much better now. 🙂
This is the first year I’ve really had a fall garden — I’d concentrated on spring first, then summer, so the established fall perennial garden is finally solidifying this year. The mums, sedums, and asters from last year have come back, and I’ve planted a few more to join them. Some of the dahlias made it back too, even though I planted them a bit early, and didn’t have time to do the pre-growing in pots that I did last year.
My moderately strict ‘cool tones’ of pink / white / purple / blue for the front yard gets relaxed in autumn, with more yellows and oranges creeping in. Happy with how it’s coming along.

Chocolate-Tamarind Scones with Candied Ginger and Fig

Chocolate-Tamarind Scones with Candied Ginger and Fig

I was aiming for autumnal + South Asian, and this fit the brief nicely. I fed Stephanie and Karen when they came to work with me this morning, and Anand and Kevin ate the ones I left at home, and I took the rest to a department poetry reading this evening, and now they’re almost all gone. That was fast! 

The scone flavors are subtle, letting the ginger and fig shine; if I were going to do these again, I might try doubling the tamarind and chocolate, for a punchier version, and also adding in a teaspoon of cayenne — I do like tamarind + cayenne! But that might tip it over the edge; this version is a very good all around scone.

(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.)

Recipe below the images.

2 3/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup cold butter
1/2 c. chopped candied ginger
1/2 c. chopped dried figs

2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 T tamarind paste
1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk

1/2 c. chocolate chips for drizzling

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Spray mini scone pan with Baker’s Joy (or butter and flour pan, which will be kind of a pain).

2. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. 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.) Stir in ginger and figs.

3. In a medium bowl, combine remaining 5 scone ingredients, beating eggs lightly. Pour into dry mixture and stir with a fork until a soft dough forms.

4. 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.

5. Bake 20-25 or until medium brown. Let cool 20 minutes in pan, then remove from pan to wire rack and cool completely. Serve warm, with coffee or tea.

6. Optional: Chocolate drizzle. Melt chocolate in double boiler on stovetop or on low power in microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until melted. Drizzle chocolate (spooning it into a pastry bag or plastic bag with the tip cut off makes it easier) over the top, and let dry until set.

Autumn Scones with Candied Ginger and Dried Cherries

Autumn Scones with Candied Ginger and Dried Cherries

After visiting Dublin, I’m a little scone-obsessed. All the cafes offered scones, and they were generally so much tastier than the ones we get in America, sigh. These were for Kevin’s birthday, as ginger and cherries are two of his favorites.

I included a glaze option for these, but I didn’t glaze mine, as I don’t like scones very sweet — these are perfect served warm with a thick slathering of butter. If you do want sweet, a little cranberry-raspberry jam goes quite nicely. And tea or coffee, of course!

(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 3/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup cold butter
1/2 c. chopped candied ginger
1/2 c. chopped dried cherries
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Glaze:
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar
7 T water

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Spray mini scone pan with Baker’s Joy (or butter and flour pan, which will be kind of a pain).

2. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. 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.) Stir in ginger and cherries.

3. In a medium bowl, combine remaining 5 scone ingredients, beating eggs lightly. Pour into dry mixture and stir with a fork until a soft dough forms.

4. 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.

5. Bake 20-25 or until medium brown. Let cool 20 minutes in pan, then remove from pan to wire rack and cool completely. Serve warm, with coffee or tea.

6. Optional: Glaze. In a medium bowl, combine powdered sugar and water. Line a baking sheet (with sides) with parchment. Pour glaze in, then dip scones in glaze. Remove to wire rack to dry. Alternately, drizzle glaze over the top.

Booking World Fantasy for November

Booked registration, hotel, travel for World Fantasy — will be in L.A. from Nov 1-4. Don’t have a schedule yet, but will post when I do; will likely be hanging out in the LAX Marriott hotel bar quite a bit, if people want to stop by and say hi. 🙂 I can hand-deliver signed sneak peek cookbooks to people who have pre-ordered! (Official launch is March 6, 2020.)
 
Pre-orders are available for a bit longer; we’re still figuring out exactly how long. Making this publishing thing up as we go along… 
My new Sri Lankan cookbook, A Feast of Serendib, launches on March 6, 2020, but we’re doing a long, slow pre-launch of the special Kickstarter edition in the interim. Right now, we still have discounted Kickstarter pricing available for pre-orders, along with Kickstarter goodies — you can pre-order here: http://serendibkitchen.com/a-feast-of-serendib/

If you’d like to support the development of more mostly Sri Lankan recipes, I’d love to have you join the cookbook club — for $2 / month, you’ll get recipes delivered to your inbox (fairly) regularly: https://www.patreon.com/mohanraj

And here’s all the foodie social media:

Serendib Kitchen blog: http://serendibkitchen.com
Serendib Kitchen Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/serendib_kitchen/
Serendib FB Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/132029834135500/
Serendib FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/mohanrajserendib/

Thanks for your support!

#serendibkitchen

With Myrthi at the party

A few last party pics. Thanks to everyone who came out last night, and all those who pre-ordered the book! You made it possible.

Special shout-out to Mythri Jega, who brought delicious parippu to share at dinner last night (it was perfect!), and whose father, Kanagaratnam Jegathesan, is one of my father’s best friends. Jega Uncle has been a tremendous supporter of mine for decades, buying my books and giving away copies to friends. Their family include some of the best, sweetest people I know, and it was an utter delight having Mythri, whom I haven’t seen since my sister’s wedding (!), at my party last night.

Mythri has been doing incredible research as an anthropologist in Sri Lanka, working with the hill country Tamil plantation workers, doing ethnographic study of their labor and the structural challenges to their hopes of better lives for themselves and their children.

I want to share with you a little of the preface from her own brand-new book, _Tea and Solidarity_. This preface isn’t easy reading — it’s grim material, but as much as I want to celebrate Sri Lanka and its food, the truth of the matter is that at least for now, the shadows of the decades of conflict still hang heavy over the island and its diaspora. I can’t write about Sri Lanka without those ghosts in the background, and every day, the people of Sri Lanka must live with the ongoing consequences of the war.

*****

“May 19, 2009. Delmon’s Hospital. Wellawatte, Colombo. I was waiting to see my great uncle who had suffered from a stroke the month before. As I sat with my aunt in the lobby, the Sinhala telegram playing on the government-run television channel, Swarnavahini, cut abruptly for breaking news. Doctors, nurses, patients, and visitors momentarily forgot their social hierarchies and crowded together below the mounted television, their eyes fixed on the moving image. The initial recording, released by Sri Lankan security forces, lasted approximately fifteen seconds but had been looped to give the appearance of continual footage…

The screen filled with the image of a man’s corpse. Its eyes were wide open, its body bloated, stiff, and stained with blood, looking as surprised as all of us watching. A blue handkerchief covered what appeared to be a severe trauma to the front of its head and separated the brown-skinned body from the color swatch of green lagoon-like grass, which was later confirmed to be Nanthikadal Lagoon in Sr Lanka’s northeast Mullaitivu district. In the island’s North and East, Sri Lankan security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had been fighting intensely since the 2002 ceasefire agreement (CFA) between both parties. The 2002 CFA had temporarily halted fighting between both parties that formally began in in 1983, but in December 2005 it officially broke down and fighting had resumed. On the television screen, soldiers milling around the body were smiling, talking quickly, and making out their cell phones to capture images of the corpse’s pruned flesh and bloodstained fatigues. In the commotion, one soldier check ro a pulse by grabbing the right inner wrist of the lifeless body, which had already been laid down on its back with the hands touching each other on a white sheeted carrier for the dead. Another soldier brushed away a fly, which had landed on the corpse’s chin.”

The corpse was that of Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the LTTE. Rising to power in the 1970s, the LTTE fought the Sri Lankan government for nearly three decades, aiming to establish a separate state for Sri Lankan Tamils living in the island’s North and East. Prabhakaran’s death had made official the end of Sri Lanka’s twenty-six-year civil war. Hours after the government of Sri Lanka’s military victory, then-president Mahinda Rajapaksa gave a speech to members of Parliament: ‘We have removed the word minorities from our vocabulary. No longer are the Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays and any other minorities. There are only two people in this country. One is the people that love this country. The other comprises the small groups that have no love for the land of their birth. Those who do not love the country are now a lesser group.’

Celebrations of military victory fueled nationalist euphoria in the weeks to follow, but as I carried out my anthropological research in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country in the immediate aftermath of the war I observed that minorities were anxious about their futures in the country. When would the state of emergency, constant surveillance, and militarization of civil society cease? Would demands for patriotism deny expressions of cultural difference, struggles for equal rights, and spaces for political dissent Is the love of one’s country o the art of politics, for that matter, so simple? What is the fate of minorities whose obligation to and love of their home are complicated and entangled in histories of oppression, trauma and loss?”

*****

From that initial framing, Mythri moves on to the story of a woman who has recently died, a woman who was incarcerated by the government for nineteen years until she died in prison, charged with providing passage and shelter to LTTE cadres. It’s a powerful story, and serves to introduce a host of concerns and questions that, while specific to Sri Lanka, also carry implications for all of us, I think, in this complicated, troubled world.

I’ve just finished the preface and introduction, and am moving into the body of the book — I’m learning so much in the process. It’s a little academic, I admit, but I think very readable nonetheless, and I recommend it to you!

#serendibkitchen

Beetroot Curry

I asked Jed which vegetable dishes he’d like for the party, and one of the ones he requested was beet curry. (We tend to call it beetroot, actually, not just beets.) He ended up on beetroot-prep duty, and has the hands to prove it!

I keep wanting to make edits to the cookbook, and it’s too late now. So I’ll just note for you folks that AFTER I handed the book in, I made beetroot curry, and I was a little busy and distracted, and I had the heat on higher than normal when I was sautéing the beets with the onions, and I almost burned them — but not quite, and they came out SO GOOD; closer to roasted than I’d typically get on the stovetop, with even more depth of flavor. So if you make this, you might want to try to do that. But don’t let them burn — it’s a fine line. 

*****

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. The lime tang beautifully balances the sweetness and the spice, for a flavor characteristic of Sri Lankan cuisine.

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
2 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. Continue cooking on high about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, just enough so onions and beets don’t burn—you want that beautifully caramelized flavor coming through.

2. Lower heat to medium and add coconut milk. Cook, stirring frequently, until beets are cooked through and coconut milk has reduced to simply coating the beets, about 10 minutes. Serve hot.

***

My new Sri Lankan cookbook, A Feast of Serendib, launches on March 6, 2020, but we’re doing a long, slow pre-launch of the special Kickstarter edition in the interim. Right now, we still have discounted Kickstarter pricing available for pre-orders, along with Kickstarter goodies — you can pre-order here: http://serendibkitchen.com/a-feast-of-serendib/

If you’d like to support the development of more mostly Sri Lankan recipes, I’d love to have you join the cookbook club — for $2 / month, you’ll get recipes delivered to your inbox (fairly) regularly: https://www.patreon.com/mohanraj

And here’s all the foodie social media:

Serendib Kitchen blog: http://serendibkitchen.com
Serendib Kitchen Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/serendib_kitchen/
Serendib FB Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/132029834135500/
Serendib FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/mohanrajserendib/

Thanks for your support!

#serendibkitchen