Passionate

My kitchen smells gorgeously of passionfruit. It’s Pooja Makhijani‘s fault — I was going to go to sleep, but I finished her online food writing class (first session), and just had to cook something. So, experimenting with passionfruit-vanilla marshmallows it is.

I kind of want to try to make three different kinds of passionfruit marshmallows actually:

– Vanilla Passion (with vanilla bean, and very little food coloring, so it’s nice and pale, possibly dipped in white chocolate)
– Chocolate Passion (straight-up passionfruit, but dipped in dark chocolate)
– Bloody Passion (passionfruit & blood orange)

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Sweet Milk Rice with Chili-Salt-Lime Mango & Jaggery

(30 minutes, serves 4)

Sweet milk rice:
1 c. short-grain white rice
2 c. water
1 T sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 c. sweetened coconut milk

Chili-Salt-Lime Mango
2 c. chopped mangoes
1/2 t. fine salt
1/2 t. chili powder (cayenne)
1 t. lime juice

4 t. jaggery, grated (or brown sugar)

1. Cook sweet milk rice: Put rice with water, sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to boil, then cover and turn down to a simmer; cook 15 minutes. Take off lid and stir in coconut milk; simmer uncovered until coconut milk is absorbed, about 5-10 more minutes.

2. Chop mango and mix with chili, salt, and lime.

3. Serve warm milk rice with mango and a little jaggery sprinkled on top.

(Note: Rice can be made ahead, cut into pieces, and reheated in the microwave before serving. Mango can be made ahead, and will blend a little better if you do.)

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Party

I wonder if Kevin realized, back when we first started dating more than twenty-five years ago that he would, several times a year, be drafted into being support staff for massive cooking efforts. I cooked for pretty close to three days straight for this party (with a 6 hour break on Friday for teaching) — apparently, this is my version of a marathon. It is utterly exhausting (I plan to sit on the couch all day today), but also super-fun in some hard to quantify sense.

Part of it is the cooking itself — running through mostly dishes that I have made so many times that I can make them without thinking, utterly on autopilot, while mixing in a few that are stretches for me, or new experiments. Tasting to make sure I remembered the salt, and the lime juice. Finding new shortcuts — the biggest help this year was a combo: 6 bags of frozen chopped onions from Pete’s (I cleaned them out), sautéed Thursday night in big pots with cumin seed, mustard seed, and from-a-jar chopped ginger and garlic. Just dump them in the pots with some oil, bring to high, then turn it to low and let them sweat down for 45 minutes or so — you barely need to stir. My mom told me she’d started doing that recently, making the onions in advance and then just portioning them out for each curry, and it’s a huge timesaver.

A lot of the fun is the logistical challenge of it, which I kind of love — it stretches a part of my brain in enjoyable ways. My little scribbled lists are all over the place — here is the next grocery list. Here is the complete list of dishes. Here is the list of tasks for day of party, in time order. 2:00 – set out tables, chairs, and tablecloths. 2:30 – assemble fruit and veggie trays take cheese out of the fridge. 3:00 – make punch, shower and dress. 3:30 – start frying appetizers. 4:00 – party! Here is the list of tasks to hand off to other people. Four different grocery stores to get the right ingredients in three days. Planning the schedule so that everything gets done in time, and that hot things come out hot.

One microwave + one stove make this last a pretty serious element of the challenge — some of my friends have a second stove in the basement, which would definitely simplify that, but I can’t justify it for using it 2-3 times / year. So we scramble and plan a bit instead, and are grateful that Amanda is willing to take on the task of putting things into the microwave and pulling them out again, stirring and testing as she goes. In a few years, Kavi will be old enough to handle that task, but she’s not quite there yet.

The Sri Lankan appetizers (which we call ‘short eats’) are particularly labor-intensive. I could have had some catered (the rolls and cutlets, from a Sri Lankan family up near Devon), but I like mine better. So that entails several hours of additional people’s labor — Kat and Michael and Kavi on Friday night, making cutlets and crepes for the rolls, Kat and Michael again on Saturday early afternoon, egging and breading the cutlets, assembling and slicing the ribbon sandwiches, and a host of early party attendees on Saturday late afternoon, egging and breading the rolls, while I stand at the stove and fry everything.

That last is actually something I’d like to hand off, so I could be talking to guests as they arrive — but if you’re not used to deep-frying, it can be intimidating. Maybe next time, I should find a party guest in advance willing to deep-fry for me, or be sure Kevin won’t be busy with other things then. A lot of this requires delegating, which is complicated by the delegated folks’ needing the skills for it.

In twenty years, perhaps I will have trained a little coterie of locals in the subtleties of rolling cutlets and assembling rolls. Kat’s mackerel cutlets were rolled perfectly this time — honestly, she’s neater than I am. And Michael P. brings his scientist background to the ribbon sandwiches — the fillings were so finely distributed, they looked completely professional. Somehow, it all comes together in the end.

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Mango-Cardamom-Saffron Tea Cakes (vegan)

(makes about 45 tea cakes)
 
Dry ingredients:
1.5 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. cardamom
 
Wet ingredients:
1.5 c. mango puree
1/3 cup oil
1/2 c. white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch saffron threads
 
1. Pre-heat the oven to 350F, and butter & flour a tea cake pan (I use the spray, Baker’s Joy, which makes it so easy.)
 
2. Mix the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, then combine and whisk to a smooth batter texture by hand. (Don’t over-mix.)
 
3. Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake 12-15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (My pan holds 30, so I do one-and-a-half batches.
 
Serve hot — particularly nice with passionfruit curd, clotted cream, or pineapple-chili jam. Although my kids just gobbled them down straight up. (At some point, I think I may try this as a jelly roll with the passionfruit curd and cream.)
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Mango-Lime Pineapple Fluff

2 1/2 tablespoons (1 Knox packet) unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup water (divided use)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 c. mango puree
1/3 c. lime juice
8 oz. Cool Whip
1 cup chopped pineapple
orange food coloring (optional)
1. Place ½ c. of cold water in the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Sprinkle the gelatin on top of the water, and stir to distribute the gelatin. Allow it to stand while you prepare the sugar syrup.
 
2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and ½ cup of water. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then insert a candy thermometer. Cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees.
3. Once it reaches 240 degrees, remove the pan from the heat. Turn the mixer to low, and while the mixer is running, slowly pour the hot syrup into the mixer bowl over the gelatin. Be careful, as the syrup is extremely hot.
 
4. Gradually increase the mixer speed to high. Continue to beat the marshmallow until it has tripled in volume and is extremely shiny and thick. This process will take approximately 12 minutes.
 
5. Once the marshmallow is done, add the room temperature mango puree and continue mixing until it is fully incorporated. (Add food coloring, if desired.)
 
6. After the puree and coloring is incorporated, turn off mixer, and stir in chopped pineapple.
 
7. Fold in Cool Whip and turn into a serving dish. Enjoy!
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Quinoa / Red Rice with Tandoori Chicken, Lime-Masala Mushrooms, Roasted Red Peppers, Chopped Green Chilies, and Honey-Lime-Yogurt Drizzle

These fancy bowl things have long names. Another yummy experiment, and only about 30 minutes to make (assuming you pre-marinated the chicken in a tandoori-spiced yogurt earlier in the day).

Pre-heat your grill pan, then start the chopped mushrooms sautéing in a separate pan in butter, masala powder, salt and lime juice. Five minutes in, the grill should be hot, and you can turn the mushrooms down to simmer while you roast the peppers and then grill the chicken (3 minutes each side on high). Chop some chilies and mix up a drizzle while the chicken’s finishing cooking (3 more minutes each side, on low, covered), and you’re good to go. (The chopped chilies could be served on the side so people can spice to taste; I love chomping into them.)

I have to be honest, though, chicken breast doesn’t excite me. It’s just a little dry, even when you marinate it in overnight. But the roasted peppers, sautéed mushrooms, and yogurt drizzle did do a nice job balancing that, esp. with a little lemon squeezed over the top. Personally, I like breast better when it’s chopped in more of a chicken salad sort of thing, so it stays really moist. But truly, if I made this particular dish again, I’d use chicken thighs instead.

 

(As a side note, while the bowl looks very pretty like this, it would be easier to eat if you cut the chicken and bell pepper into smaller pieces. And that slice of grilled lemon on the top is purely decorative!)

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Quinoa & Red Rice Bowl with Mackerel Curry

I’ve been experimenting with alternatives to white rice, and alternatives to the traditional Sri Lankan way of eating rice, which is a big plate of rice with a little curry on top. That’s reasonably frugal, but also pretty high in starch and low in fiber (things I pay attention to as I get older and my metabolism slows down).

The problem is that it just doesn’t work to simply reduce the amount of rice and add in quinoa, because you can’t eat it the same way, rolling up the rice and curry into satisfying little balls with your hand and popping them in your mouth. The texture is wrong, the rice and curry won’t hold together in those proportions, etc.

So I figured maybe there was something to this quinoa bowl thing that’s so popular right now, and maybe if I tried to compose a Sri Lankan bowl, that might work better. The red rice + quinoa (cooked in a mix of chicken broth and water) on its own was a little dry, esp. after the first day, so I knew I wanted to add plenty of unctuous rich flavor. Fried egg was an obvious contender (egg hoppers are classic Sri Lankan food, and so delicious), and mackerel curry is nicely traditional (and deliciously spicy). Avocado lent another creamy element, and a cool balance to the heat, and a crisp kale-coconut-onion-tomato sambol was the perfect vegetal accompaniment.

I wasn’t even hungry, but dear reader, I DEVOURED this bowl, and was tempted to fry another egg and go back for seconds. Experiment: wildly successful. (Bonus, this would be easy to pack up and take to work to eat with a fork in the office.)

Tomorrow, maybe I’ll try it with beef curry, for poor Kevin, who doesn’t appreciate fish. Pretty sure that will also work great, keeping all the other elements the same. (A little seeni sambol added in wouldn’t hurt either…)

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Spring Sale!

I’ll be making Sri Lankan marshmallows with Kavya this week, and sending them out as part of a spring book sale. Will run it for just the first week of April, so if this sounds appealing, get your orders in quick!

Spring Books Into Flowers Sale!

In spring, a person’s thoughts turn to dreams of flowers, and how better than to sell a few books and artisanal hand-made Sri Lankan sweets and dark-roasted curry powder? I’m clearing out a bit more of the basement book stock — U.S.-only, I’m afraid, due to food regulations and shipping costs. Happy to sign / dedicate any books, of course!

– Bodies in Motion (Sri Lankan immigrant stories) hardcover: $15
– A Taste of Serendib Sri Lankan cookbook: $10
– Torn Shapes of Desire (erotic fiction and poetry: $10 (TS is out of print, so when they’re gone, that’s it…26 copies left)

– Cashew milk toffee (3 pieces): $12
– Chai spice truffles (2 pieces): $8
– Chili-chocolate truffles (2 pieces): $8
– Vanilla-rose marshmallows (2 pieces): $8
– Mango-lime marshmallows (2 pieces): $8 (note: experimental!)

– 2 oz bag homemade curry powder: $5
– 4 oz bag: $7

+ Shipping & Handling: $5 / order

Comment below or e-mail mohanraj@mamohanraj.com with the subject line SPRING BOOKS to reserve your copies; I’ll take orders as they come in. Please note which books you’d like signed, and if you want just a signature, or dedicated to someone.

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Transliterate

Putting my dad to work — he kindly went through the TOC of the new Sri Lankan cookbook and corrected all my transliterations. I got a *few* right…

In my defense, the issue is that there are gazillion ways to transliterate Tamil words, and if you just google, you’ll get a lot of variations. Especially since some of the letters just don’t exist in English — three variants of an ‘l’ sound, or a ‘ng’ sound, for example. But my dad is something of a purist and a scholar about Tamil, so this way, we get pretty close to how it would sound in Sri Lankan Tamil.

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