Reducing Anxiety Around Cooking (Salmon and Potato Sothi)

I’ve been watching GBBO: Masterclass, and one thing I’ve noticed is that Mary says that things are ‘easy’ really often. So much of teaching everyday cooking is about reducing people’s anxiety about it. I’m still startled by how many people don’t cook at all; they assume that it’s going to be hard, time-consuming, etc.

There can be tricky aspects, of course, but most of basic cooking is dead easy, honestly. The key is not get flustered when you make a mistake. If you’ve learned how to drive a car successfully, which requires a lot of simultaneous actions and paying tons of attention, then I’m pretty sure you can make a curry too. (And if things do go wrong, instead of dealing with the consequences of a crash, all you need to do is throw out a pot of burned food and start over.)

Also, don’t get thrown by the long list of ingredients for many of my curries — having twelve different spices to toss in just means opening twelve jars; it isn’t materially more difficult than a recipe with just salt!

Here’s an example of the kind of thing I might make if I’m in a hurry. In Feast, I generally gave you the full recipe — how I’d do it if I were cooking for my mom or for guests, if I wanted to be sure I did it right, to get full flavor of what it’s supposed to be. But for everyday, there are all kinds of shortcuts you can take. I give you permission!

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Salmon and Potato Sothi

This is a salmon and potato sothi that I served over from-frozen store-bought pittu, though if you don’t have that available in your area, rice will work just as well. This is me coming home Friday from an exercise walk with Roshani, realizing I wanted this for lunch, and making it in 25 minutes, in between packing up to go to the airport. It made four servings, so three of them are in the fridge, waiting to feed me when I get home from this trip.

Ready?

1. Open a pack of frozen onions; if it has other frozen aromatics in there, like bell pepper or carrots, that’s fine (assuming you like those elements). They won’t hurt the dish. Add to pot with a few T of oil (I don’t measure usually, just guesstimate), start to sauté on high, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. (2 minutes in)

2. Get a cutting board and knife, pull out a few green chilies, chop, and toss them in. You could skip this if you don’t want it spicy, or remove the seeds for less heat, or use black pepper instead. (5 minutes in)

(If using rice, set rice going in a separate pot at this point: 2 c. rice, 4 c. water, pinch of salt.)

3. Add 1 T fenugreek / methi seeds (normally you’d soak them for a couple hours beforehand, but it’s still tasty even if you don’t), a stick or two of cinnamon, a dozen curry leaves if you have them on hand (skip if not), 1/2 t. turmeric, 1 t. salt. Cube some potatoes and add those too — I’d cut them fairly small if I were in a hurry, so they’d cook faster. Don’t bother to peel — the skins are good for you. (I do usually rough-peel russets.) Add 2 c. water.

(We’re now 10 minutes in, and you’re almost done with active cooking.)

(If using rice, turn that pot down to a simmer and cover somewhere around this point — whenever it starts to boil. It’ll cook 15 more minutes, so should finish about when the curry does.)

4. Add two salmon fillets. Here, I added them straight from the freezer, not bothering to thaw or cut them up at all. Stir it all together gently, cover the pot, and cook on medium for 10 minutes. Wander off and do something else for a bit, but set a timer if you’re likely to forget about it.

(If using frozen pittu, take it out of the package and microwave for 4.5 minutes before the next step).

5. Take off the lid, stir, and add in 2 cups coconut milk, 1 c. water, and 1-2 T lime juice. Taste it, and if you think it needs it, maybe another 1/2 t. of salt. Simmer a few more minutes, just to blend all the flavors, and it’s ready. Serve hot with rice or pittu.

Pittu can be a little dry, esp. from frozen, so make sure to ladle plenty of that sothi (sauce/gravy) over the pittu to soak through and soften it up. I added some store-bought coconut sambol from a can. 

Mmm…a little taste of a Sri Lankan breakfast; sit in the sun to enjoy it if you can.

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And if you’re NOT in a rush, this is the regular recipe:

Coconut Milk Gravy / Sothi
(45 minutes + soaking time, serves 8)

This is a delicious traditional accompaniment for stringhoppers, served with a little coconut sambol. When I last visited Sri Lanka, that was one of my favorite meals to have for breakfast, in the very early morning at the hotel, while I was still jet-lagged. It’s quite soothing. This makes a fairly large quantity, suitable for feeding several people; just cut ingredients in half for a smaller portion.

1-4 TBL fenugreek seeds, soaked for two hours beforehand
1 TBL toasted rice powder (optional)
1 large onion, diced
12 curry leaves
1 small stick cinnamon
2 fresh green chilies, seeded and chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 cups water
1 russet potato, peeled and cubed (optional)
3 cups coconut milk
4 hard-boiled eggs, cut in half lengthwise (optional)
1-2 TBL lime juice, to taste

Note: Traditionally, this dish was made with quite a lot of fenugreek; modern recipes tend to reduce to about 1 TBL, instead of 4. But fenugreek is a potent galactagogue, so if you’re making this dish for a nursing mother, you may want to go old-school.

Note 2: Toasted rice powder is used through Asia (especially in Thai cooking) to thicken and add flavor and fragrance to dishes. It’s best made fresh, in the quantities needed. To make, take one TBL rice and sauté over medium heat in a dry pan for 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly. It’ll release a beautifully nutty, toasted scent. Then grind to a powder — I use a coffee grinder that I keep dedicated for spices, but you could also use a food processor, or the traditional mortar and pestle.

1. Put all the ingredients except the last three (coconut milk, eggs, and lime juice) in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer, covered, until onions are reduced to a pulp and the potatoes are cooked, about 30 minutes.

2. Stir well, add thick coconut milk and heat without bringing dish to a boil. Stir in lime juice, and/or additional salt to taste, and then carefully add the eggs. Simmer a minute or two longer, stirring, and then serve hot, with stringhoppers or rice.

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