Instant Pot Black Pork Curry / Uru Mas or Padre Kari


 (1 hour, serves 6-8)

Cooking this in the Instant Pot only saves about 30 minutes off the traditional recipe, but it does make it easy to set it going, and then wander off, knowing it’ll be kept nice and warm for you until you get back. When I made this test batch, I was able to take Anand to his swim lesson after I set the pressure-cooking going, knowing that it’d be all done and ready for me to eat when we got back!

This traditional tangy, peppery dish gets its dark color from the combination of dark roasted curry powder, tamarind paste, and lots of black pepper. (The colloquial name ‘padre kari’ refers to the black robes of a padre / priest.) Tamarind paste is fairly easy to find in Mexican and Indian markets, or you can order it online. It keeps well in the pantry for a long time, even after opening. Typically, you’d leave a good portion of the fat on the pork pieces; it soaks up a ton of flavor, and is truly delectable, balancing the meat, which can otherwise be a bit dry after long cooking. But you can trim all the fat off if you’d prefer.

3 medium onions, chopped
2 TBL ginger, chopped fine
6-8 garlic cloves, smashed
6-12 curry leaves (optional)
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
1 heaping tsp salt
4 tsp black peppercorns
3 lbs pork shoulder, cubed, about 1 inch pieces, with some fat left on
3 tsp tamarind paste
1/2cup white vinegar

1. In the Instant Pot, sauté onions, ginger, garlic, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and curry leaves in oil until onions are golden/translucent (not brown), stirring as needed.

2. Add curry powder, salt, and peppercorns, stirring to combine, then add pork and sear, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes, to bring out the flavor of the meat.

3. Add tamarind paste and white vinegar; stir well.

4. Set to pressure cook for 30 minutes; allow pressure to release before opening. Serve hot, with rice or bread.

Instant Pot Beef Smoore

   Instant Pot Sri Lankan Beef Smoore
This dish translated really easily to the Instant Pot — I hardly had to modify it at all. And it’s simple enough that even a novice cook shouldn’t find it too intimidating. It normally takes 4-6 hours by the traditional method, but this was just an hour, start to finish. Maybe add another 10-15 minutes if you’re slow at chopping onions, but still — v. speedy, and I didn’t notice any lessening of flavor from the traditional version.
Beef Smoore / Mas Ismoru
(1 hour, serves 8)
This is a dish of Dutch / Sri Lankan origin. Yummy with rice — also great in weekday lunch sandwiches on hearty Italian bread, or shredded into a pita or folded naan, with some pickled onions and a little yogurt. Long-handled metal tongs will help with moving the large piece of hot meat. This is made to authentic Sri Lankan spice levels; reduce chili powder for a milder version. Delicious with a deep red wine; garnish with cilantro if desired. A fabulous dinner party dish.
3-4 lb chuck roast
3 TBL ghee or vegetable oil
1 TBL salt
1 TBL pepper
1/2 cup vinegar
1 TBL tamarind, dissolved in one cup water
2 medium onions, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 TBL finely chopped fresh ginger
1 stick cinnamon
2 stalks curry leaves
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
2 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp salt
1 cup coconut milk
1. Set Instant Pot on sauté and heat oil. Rub beef with salt and pepper, then sear the beef until lightly brown on all sides, which adds great depth of flavor to the sauce.
2. Add the vinegar, tamarind water, onions, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, curry leaves, lemongrass, curry powder, chili powder, turmeric, fenugreek, remaining salt, and coconut milk. Stir to combine, scraping up any browned meat on the bottom of the pan.
4. Cover the Instant Pot and set to pressure cook for 45 minutes. When finished, release steam and then remove lid.
5. Remove meat to a serving dish; if the gravy is too thin, reduce it by boiling rapidly uncovered. Transfer gravy to a serving bowl. Slice the meat into the desired thickness, and pour gravy over the slices; serve hot with rice or bread.

Instant Pot Sri Lankan Red Lentils (Masoor Dal)

  Okay, so this was my first instant pot experiment, and I definitely went wrong in a few ways. For one, red lentils are delicate and don’t actually take that long to cook, so it doesn’t really make sense to make them in a pressure cooker — the stovetop works fine. All the lentil recipes I looked at warned against red lentils for the pressure cooker!

But I love them, and they’re what I normally cook if I’m making a Sri Lankan lentil dish — I’m pretty sure that’s common throughout the country. Also, I’m nothing if not stubborn. So I figured what the heck, let’s try.

And so I cobbled together a recipe from suggestions here and there, using my own regular Sri Lankan red lentil recipe as the base, and set it going. Only to hear a beep and see the ‘burning’ alarm! OH NO.

(I admit to a brief moment of panic there, that I had perhaps just broken my new expensive device!)

But it turned out to be basically fine — when my instant pot thinks it doesn’t have enough water, and things have started sticking to the bottom, it turns itself off (and tells you it’s burning). So I opened it up, took the lentils out, and there was a little stuck to the bottom, yes, but I’d say more caramelized than burnt; I didn’t feel like it hurt the flavors at all. (A bit of a nuisance to clean, but not bad. Soaking took care of it.)

The lentils overall were quite porridge-like in consistency, but that’s actually how I usually cook them on the stovetop anyway; I like them better that way than the more soup-y preparation that is common. But I’m pretty sure that if you just added 1-2 c. of water, you’d get that version, and without the ‘burning’ warning!

I’ll try that next time, just to know for certain, but here’s the ‘burning’ porridge version, for your amusement. I served it to guests, and they said it was delicous!

2 medium onions
1 stick of cinnamon
3 strips of lemon rind (about a quarter lemon)
dozen curry leaves
2 c. red lentils
1 can coconut milk + 2 can water
1 dried red chili, broken into pieces
1 pinch saffron
1 t. salt

1. Dice two medium onions and put in Instapot with cinnamon stick, lemon rind, and curry leaves. Sauté 2 minutes, stirring. Hit cancel to stop the sauté function.

2. Add lentils, coconut milk, chili, and saffron to pot (should not be more than 1/2 up the pot interior).

3. Seal the lid, then set to cook on HIGH pressure for 10 minutes. (It will take about 8 minutes for the pressure to build, then the timer will begin.) [note –I’m not actually sure where in here it turned itself off, but close to 10 minutes, I think]

4. Once the timer has stopped, let the pressure release naturally for 15 minutes, then vent to release the pressure completely.

5. Open the lid, taste, and adjust seasoning as desired. Serve hot with rice, garnished with cilantro.

Instant Pot Chicken and Potato Curry

It’s going to take me a while to figure out what the Instant Pot is actually good for. For example, this chicken and potato curry isn’t really any faster doing it this way than on the stovetop — you need the same time sautéing, then the time for preheating and pressure cooking, then you need to remove the chicken and potatoes and cook down the sauce, ideally.

I think the only time I’d maybe do this is if I wanted to do the first step in the morning before work, set a timer, and then have it pressure cook the rest when I got home (or just before I got home)? Although I don’t love the idea of uncooked chicken sitting all day at room temperature. Do steps 1 and 2 in the morning, let it keep warm ’til you get home, and then do step 3? That’s a lot of morning cooking time. Just do step 1 in the morning, so you’re ready to quickly cook it when you get home? But you’re still looking at 30-45 minutes then, so….?

I am new to the ways of the Instant Pot, so feel free to opine. This works, anyway, if you really want to use one for chicken curry


(serves 4-6)

This is the classic Sri Lankan chicken dish; if you were just going to make one, this should be the one.

2-3 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 red chili powder
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
6-8 pieces boneless chicken thighs, about 2lbs, skinned and trimmed of fat
2 russet potatoes
1/3 cup ketchup
1 heaping tsp salt
water to cover
1 TBL lime juice

1. In the Instant 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 chili powder and cook one minute.


2. Add curry powder, chicken, potatoes, ketchup, salt, and water. Pressure cook on high 8 minutes (allowing time for preheat cycle beforehand, about 15-20 minutes).

3. Release steam, open and remove chicken and potatoes to a serving dish. You can serve now, but the sauce will be very liquid. I recommend going back to sauté mode, stirring in lime juice, and simmering it down 10-20 minutes until it’s thickened.


Self-care note: Signed up for Headspace meditation app again. I stopped last spring when my free trial ran out, but I think the lack of meditation became clear in my stressed-out fall, and apparently I need the structure of an app at least for now, so have shelled out $100 for the year to use it. I am trying to prioritize budgeting for things that qualify as health-related, and putting them ahead of material purchases like books and clothes and such.
Health comes first (I can hear my doctor dad saying, “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything”), which at least this year, is going to include meditation as well as doctors and meds and exercise and all that. Yoga too, because gods, I need to stretch. Every damn day. Dana Steinhoff had us doing meditation and stretching during our game design retreat, and it was SO HELPFUL and SO NEEDED and yet I wouldn’t have done it on my own. I ought to start every day with meditation and stretches, instead of lying in bed doing e-mail (or Facebook-ing).
The physical therapist who looked at the knee I injured said that the main problem was that my leg muscles were so tight that I was putting extra strain on them. This is not surprising. I went for a massage about two weeks ago, the first in three months or so, and the poor masseuse said that she was going to have to convert it to a deep tissue massage, because the knots in my back were so tight that a regular Swedish massage wouldn’t cut it.
If I can figure out a way to budget for regular massages, that will be in there too. I suspect ‘make more money’ is the only way that will happen, though. At least my YMCA gym membership is free these days, thanks to the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s program for cancer survivors. It helps.


I got some great news this morning that I can’t talk about yet, burble burble. Soon.

In unrelated but also good news, I have hired a very part-time, very underpaid social media person for all my orgs. We will try to get her better paid as quickly as possible. Yay, Irene Victoria.

I am also in the midst of hiring a very part-time person, ditto wildly underpaid, to help me keep track of my schedule, essentially, and make sure that important things get done on time. Yay, Heather Rainwater Campbell.

I continue to find Christopher Pence essential for 16 hrs / week of household management and other locally-based assistant work. AND we have a cleaner who comes twice a month. Isa comes and for a few brief hours, peace and gorgeous cleanliness descends on the household. Thankfully, we can pay them both appropriately.

Apparently I would lose my head if it weren’t attached. I suppose doing five different jobs does take some extra coordination. Is it 5? I don’t even know. Let’s count:

– mom
– professor
– writer
– director, SLF (reading series coordinator, Deep Dish)
– director, DesiLit (publisher, Jaggery)
– director, Maram Makerspace
– library trustee

I think I can legitimately count that as 7, actually. Some of these are more part-time than others, but STILL.

Sigiriya Retreat Day One

Arrived last night in Vermont for the Sigiriya game-building retreat with Rad Magpie. We’re in a gorgeous old farmhouse, and lucky enough to have Kel‘s wife, Becca, cooking for us all weekend. I enjoyed a little local cider (Tits Up!) last night, and started the morning with Dana, our project lead, also leading us in a little stretching and a guided meditation. After the hurried rush of the last few months, this is bliss.
Sometimes this life of mine, it is very good.

It feels a little ironic to be creating a Sri Lankan jungle game in the midst of New England hills and trees and snow, but also oddly good. A little attention to environment, please; it determines so much.

Breakfast of “Mike’s Mess” with artist Kat Weaver.

Road to Sigiriya

(Six seconds.)

Road to Sigiriya (6 seconds).

Posted by Mary Anne Mohanraj on Thursday, January 17, 2019

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka


I wish I'd been able to record more of our Sigiriya guide (Rajasinha “Raju“ Bandaranaike) — he gave us permission to record him and publish it (and we paid extra for that), but he kept speaking without warning, and then it felt rude to make him repeat what he'd just said. I should've just done it, but I am not a practiced interviewer, and it felt rude, esp. as he had certain things he was used to saying at various points, and when I asked questions or interrupted him, it was clearly throwing off the spiel. I'd like to go back sometime with a local archaeologist and just go through the site really slowly. Another time, perhaps.I tried to transcribe what he's saying, but I'm clearly missing a lot of words. "…original moat one thousand six hundred years ago, about 5th century AD. This moat, around the rock eight kilometer. 5 meter, there's crocodile; there's still crocodile underneath in the water….an area…this would've been drawbridge. There's two moat — see the brick wall over there, seven meters high, would've been…outer moat…..moat, inner rampart."

Posted by Mary Anne Mohanraj on Thursday, January 17, 2019


I wish I’d been able to record more of our Sigiriya guide (Rajasinha “Raju“ Bandaranaike) — he gave us permission to record him and publish it (and we paid extra for that), but he kept speaking without warning, and then it felt rude to make him repeat what he’d just said.

I should’ve just done it, but I am not a practiced interviewer, and it felt rude, esp. as he had certain things he was used to saying at various points, and when I asked questions or interrupted him, it was clearly throwing off the spiel.

I’d like to go back sometime with a local archaeologist and just go through the site really slowly. Another time, perhaps.

I tried to transcribe what he’s saying, but I’m clearly missing a lot of words.

“…original moat one thousand six hundred years ago, about 5th century AD. This moat, around the rock eight kilometer. 5 meter, there’s crocodile; there’s still crocodile underneath in the water….an area…this would’ve been drawbridge. There’s two moat — see the brick wall over there, seven meters high, would’ve been…outer moat…..moat, inner rampart.”


Sigiriya Excavation


Okay, so brace yourself for some breathless colonial archeology.

“This 1898 article tells the remarkable story of the archaeological excavations at Sigiriya in Ceylon. Sigiriya was a large rocky outcrop that could be seen for miles around. It had long been thought to be out of bounds and haunted by demons by the local population.

The chief archaeologist in Ceylon, H.C.P. Bell, directed an archaeological survey in the 1890s that helped unearth fantastically preserved frescoes and a significant settlement on the summit of the hill. It really was like uncovering a lost city that had been hidden in plain sight of the local population at least for many years.

The team learned that it had initially been built as a fortress of last resort before being converted into a Buddhist monastery. The sheer quality of the artefacts and artwork discovered stunned those who witnessed it and added greatly to the appreciation of Sinhalese art and culture.

Parker’s article first appeared in Volume 1 of the Harmsworth magazine published in 1899.


‘Some Adventures in Scaling Its Walls
By Percy L. Parker

Perhaps the most remarkable rock in the world is to be found in the centre of the Island of Ceylon, and its story is full of romance. It was fortified 1,400 years ago to shelter a cowardly parricide, and when he died it became a Buddhist monastery. But for centuries no human foot rested on its summit; it was the abode of silence; its walls were buried beneath the dust of ages, birds built their nests on it and the beasts of the field haunted the jungle which grew about its base….'”


etc. and so on for several more paragraphs. Worth a read, if you can stand the columbusing.

I’m still trying to figure out exactly when elements like this modern bridge were added, but there was clearly a long process of making Sigiriya more easily accessible — I’m guessing started by the British and continued by the Sri Lankan government after Independence in 1948?

I’m certainly grateful that the British added metal steps for the climb! “He first reached the top of the rock by means of jungle wood ladders and six inch grooves cut in the rock. But once up, iron ladders and an iron rail were fixed so that constant ascent and descent could be made.”

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka.