Heartfelt Deviled Potatoes: A gift from Sri Lanka

All day, I’ve gone back and forth between wanting to keep posting photos from the Sri Lankan cookbook and feeling that it was inappropriate, that I shouldn’t be thinking about this right now, in the wake of such tragedy. But there is both a practical and a heartfelt reason to keep posting them.

Practically — the Kickstarter runs for 10 more days, and it is probably the best chance to get the word out about this project; I’m on a clock here. Otherwise, I might go dark for a few weeks, at least, out of respect. I probably still would — the book’s funded, after all — if it weren’t for the second reason:

Heartfelt — it’s a project that was never about making money; I can make more money in a few weeks of fiction writing than I likely will from several years of working on this cookbook. I started writing this book because I wanted to reclaim heritage cooking, for myself and my children, but also to share this food, this country, that I love with you all.

Which I suppose circles back around to practical — Sri Lanka is going to take a huge tourism hit from this attack; if I can convince a few more people that they want to see and visit and taste the food of this country, that is probably the most concretely useful thing I can do to help.

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When vegetarian Karina was our girlfriend, twenty-something years ago, I barely knew how to cook. But I made these potatoes for her, and she loved them, and when she came back to visit, even years later, long after we’d broken up, Karina asked me to make them again. I made deviled potatoes for everyone I knew, back then. And though I cook many other dishes now, this one is a touchstone, a simple, sure-fire reliable comfort.

So let me give it to you. A gift from Sri Lanka (with my mother’s American adaptations), that you may know my little island country better, and maybe cherish it a little.

Use plenty of cayenne if you want to try it authentic style. If it makes you cry a little, maybe that’s okay.

*****

Deviled Potatoes / Urulai Kizhangu
(30 minutes, serves 4)

This was the first vegetable dish I learned to make, and I still find it addictive. It’s great with rice and a meat curry, but also works quite well mashed up as a party spread with triangles of toasted naan. For a little more protein, you could add canned and drained chickpeas when you add the potatoes.

3 medium onions, chopped
3 TBL vegetable oil
1/4 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp cumin seed
1-2 TBL (or more to taste) cayenne
3 medium russet potatoes, cubed
3 TBL ketchup
1 rounded tsp salt
1/2 cup milk or coconut milk, optional

1. Sauté onions in oil on high with mustard seed and cumin seeds until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add cayenne and cook 1 minute. Immediately add potatoes, ketchup, and salt.

2. Lower heat to medium and add enough water so the potatoes don’t burn (enough to cover usually works well). Cover and cook, stirring periodically, until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

3. Remove lid and simmer off any excess water; the resulting curry sauce should be fairly thick, so that the potatoes are coated with sauce, rather than swimming in liquid. Add milk, if desired, to thicken sauce and mellow spice level; stir until well blended. Serve hot.

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