Eggplant Curry / Kattharikai Kari

(30 minutes draining time + 30 minutes, serves 6)

My mother’s eggplant curry was always a huge hit at Sri Lankan dinner parties, and is particularly popular with vegetarians.

1 lb eggplant, roughly 1-inch cubes
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 onions, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup oil or ghee
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 dozen curry leaves
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp Sri Lankan curry powder
1/2 cup coconut milk

1. Prep eggplant — rub with turmeric and salt and then set in a colander to drain at least 30 minutes, which will draw out the bitter water. Blot dry with paper towels.

2. Sauté onions in oil on medium-high, stirring, with cumin seed, black mustard seed, and curry leaves, until golden.

3. Add eggplant, sugar, and curry powder, and sauté for another ten minutes or so, until eggplant is nicely fried. (Add more oil or ghee if needed.)

4. Add coconut milk and simmer for a few minutes until well blended. Serve hot with rice or naan—particularly nice for a vegetarian dinner with lentils as the main protein.

Variation: Eggplant and bell pepper work well together in this dish; just add chopped bell pepper about five minutes into frying the eggplant for a nice sweet element to the dish. Sometimes I make a nightshade curry, adding potatoes and tomatoes as well — small cubed potatoes would go into the onions first, then eggplant and spices, then bell pepper, then tomato, with a few minutes between each addition.

NOTE: I was wanting something a little spicier, so this time I added some chopped green jalapeños when I added the eggplant. Yum.

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Tempered Lentils (Paripoo / Dal)

(60 minutes, serves six)
 
Lentils are a staple dish in Sri Lanka—across the country, people eat what we call paripoo daily, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s terribly good for you, very affordable, and also delicious. I used to dislike lentils, or I thought I did, but it turned out I only disliked my mother’s version (which everyone else loved, so I blame my being a slightly picky kid). I was converted to lentils through my adult discovery of Ethiopian food, a cuisine which cooks the lentils to a soft porridge-like consistency; now I am quite fond of them. This recipe is adapted from Charmaine Solomon’s The Complete Asian Cookbook.
 
2 cups red lentils
1 can coconut milk, plus 1 can hot water
1 dried red chili, broken into pieces
a pinch of ground saffron
1 tsp pounded Maldive fish (optional)
2 TBL ghee or oil
2 medium onions, finely sliced
6 curry leaves
1 stick of cinnamon
three strips of lemon rind (about a quarter lemon)
salt to taste (about ¾ – 1 t.)
 
1. Put lentils in a saucepan with the coconut milk, chili, and saffron (and Maldive fish, if using). (If you don’t have red lentils, you can use a different variety, but it will notably change the flavor.) Fill the can with hot water and add that as well; this will ensure you don’t waste any coconut yumminess. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until lentils are soft, about forty-five minutes. Stir periodically and add more water if needed; it’s fine if the bottom starts to stick a little—just scrape it up.
 
2. In another saucepan, heat the oil and fry the onions, curry leaves, cinnamon, and lemon rind until onions are golden-brown.
 
3. Reserve half the onions for garnishing the dish and add the lentil mixture to the saucepan. Stir well, add salt to taste, and cook down until thick, like porridge. Serve with rice and curries.
 
Notes: Some people like their paripoo more watery, but I think they’re just wrong. Still, cook to your preference. I tend to leave the Maldive fish out, since I often make this dish when I’m cooking for vegetarians, but it certainly is more traditional (and I think tastier) with the fish added.
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Cauliflower ‘Rice’

The experiments continue — tried cauliflower ‘rice’! I wouldn’t say I like it as well as rice, but it’s pretty okay, esp. if sautéed with a bit of ghee first, and served with a nice chicken curry and kale sambol. Feels more culturally appropriate for Sri Lankan food than shirataki, certainly.

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Thai Yellow Curry with Shirataki Noodles

Experimenting with tofu shirataki noodles (shirataki is made of yam, and is extremely low-carb, low-calorie, and gluten-free); here I added them to a simple Thai yellow curry.
 
Take one can Maesri yellow curry paste, add one can Chaokoh coconut milk, heat in a large saucepan on medium high heat. Stir in a t. of brown sugar and a T of fish sauce. Add two frozen tilapia filets (no need to thaw), one can drained bamboo shoots, and half a pound of trimmed green beans, simmer until fish is cooked through, 10-15 minutes. That’s your basic curry; use the protein and veggies of your choice.
 
Usually I’d serve this with white rice, but I’m trying to eat a little less white rice these days (sob!), so experimented with shirataki noodles. Follow the instructions on the package — rinse noodles well and drain, toss in boiling water for 3 minutes, drain again. Then stir the noodles into the curry and serve hot.
 
I’d call this a qualified success. It doesn’t taste as good as eating the curry with rice or the kind of noodles you’d use for pad thai; the shirataki noodles retain more bounce / tooth to them, so just don’t blend into the dish as well. But that said, they’re very neutral; I ate a big plate of this and was reasonably happy with it, and will be happy to eat more tomorrow as leftovers.
 
At something like 20 calories for the entire package of noodles (of which I ate perhaps a third), it’s at the very least a good option to know about if you’re being careful about calories or carbs, or need to eat gluten-free.
 
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Sri Lankan Beef and Potato Curry

Beef and Potato Curry / Mas Kulunga Kari

(1 hour, serves 6)

This was my favorite dish growing up, the one my mother always makes for me when I come home, and the first Sri Lankan dish I learned to cook, when I called home desperate from the dorms, begging her to teach me how to make it over the phone. It’s also the first Sri Lankan dish my husband, Kevin, learned to cook — I came home once from a long plane flight, walked into the house, smelled the scent of this curry, that I hadn’t even known he had learned how to make, and promptly burst into tears. Enjoy.

3-5 medium onions, chopped fine

2 TBL ginger, chopped fine

4-5 garlic cloves, sliced

3 TBL vegetable oil

1 tsp black mustard seed

1 tsp cumin seed

1-2 TBL red chili powder

3 lbs chuck steak, cubed, about 1 inch pieces

1/3 cup ketchup

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder

1 heaping tsp salt

3 pieces cinnamon stick

3 cloves

3 cardamom pods

1 dozen curry leaves

1/2 cup milk

3 medium russet potatoes, cut into large chunks

2-3 TBL lime juice

1.  In a large pot, sauté onions, ginger, and garlic in oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seeds until onions are golden/translucent (not brown), stirring as needed. Add chili powder and cook 1 minute, stirring. Immediately stir in ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, curry powder, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and curry leaves.

2.  Add beef and stir on high for a minute or two, browning the meat. Add milk, stirring. Cover, turn down to medium, and let cook half an hour, stirring occasionally.

3.  Add potatoes, stir well, and cover again. Cook until potatoes are cooked through, adding water if needed to maintain a nice thick sauce (and to keep food from burning), stirring occasionally. Add lime juice; stir until well blended. Serve hot with rice or bread.

 

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Sri Lankan Carrot Curry

(20 minutes, serves 4)

3 medium onions, chopped
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 T ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 Thai green chilies, chopped fine
1/2 tsp black mustard seed
1/2 tsp cumin seed
six large carrots, sliced into thin coins
1 rounded tsp salt
1 cup coconut milk (can use milk instead, but be extra careful not to curdle)

1. Sauté onions in oil on high with mustard seed, cumin seed, and ginger until onions are golden. Add garlic, carrots and salt. Cook on medium-high, stirring frequently, until carrots are cooked through.
2. Stir in coconut milk and turn heat down to low; simmer until well-blended, stirring constantly. Serve hot.

NOTE: You’d typically also add in half a teaspoon of turmeric with the salt, but I honestly forgot this time, and it was still good.

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Beef Curry + Carrot Curry + Shirataki ‘Rice’

This may be the most iconic flavor combo of my childhood — beef curry with carrot curry on rice. I think my mom made it close to weekly, and the two flavors go perfectly together — the savory spice of the beef with the sweetness of the carrots cooked in coconut milk.

When I eat it, part of me is twelve years old again, sitting at the kitchen table at dinnertime with my little sisters, reading a book. (I was a terrible conversationalist at family dinner. Mostly still am.)

(Not pictured with actual rice — was trying out shirataki.  Shirataki, marketed here as ‘Miracle Rice’ would be an okay substitute for noodles, I think.   It basically has no tooth, though, so if I were desperate for no-carb, almost no-calorie, rice-like thing, I might have some, but I definitely like rice + quinoa better for a lower-carb than plain white rice option.  Or if I really felt like I wanted a big bed of white ‘something’ to put under curry?  I am more than a little weirded out by the almost-no-calorie food concept, though.)

 

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Tilapia with Quinoa & Rice

Five minute dinner — well, mostly because of leftovers and accompaniments. I had some rice + quinoa leftover from yesterday, and a little kale salad, and of course, I try to keep myself stocked with coconut sambol and seeni sambol in jars in the fridge.

So all I had to do was throw a tablespoon of butter in a hot pan, add a few tilapia filets, grind salt and pepper over them, flip them over a few minutes later, grind a little more salt and pepper on the other side, and when it was cooked through, serve with the rest of the food. Delish. The tilapia, seeni sambol, and rice/quinoa combo by itself would have been great — the other elements added pleasant fresher notes.

 

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Spicy Chicken with Carrots and Sultanas

(2 hours, serves 6)

This came out SO GOOD. I adapted this from an America’s Test Kitchen Moroccan tagine recipe, amping up the chili powder to my taste, reducing the sweetness, increasing the tang, and switching out sultanas for apricots. The result is somewhere halfway between Sri Lankan and Moroccan food, and absolutely delicious served over couscous. My daughter loved the chicken (though she is not yet a couscous fan). It only has about 30 minutes of active cooking; after that, you’re mostly just letting it simmer while your home fills up with incredible aroma. Clementines for dessert finish this meal off nicely!

4 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
salt and pepper
2 T olive oil
1 large onion, diced small
peel from half a lemon, cut into strips
1 t. chili powder
1/2 t. cumin powder
1/2 t. ginger powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
2 c. chicken broth
2 carrots, peeled and cut into diagonal chunks
1 c. sultanas
3 T lemon juice

1. Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper (about 1 t. each). Heat oil in extra-large frying pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add half of chicken and cook until well-browned, about five minutes per side; transfer to large plate. Repeat process with second half of chicken. Pour off all but one tablespoon of fat from the pan.

2. Add onion and lemon to pan and cook, stirring, for about five minutes. Stir in spices and cook a minute or two ore, then add broth, scraping up any browned bits. (If you wanted to add a cup of white wine here, it wouldn’t hurt.)

3. Add chicken to pan along with any accumulated juices and bring to a simmer. Reduce hat to medium, cover, and cook twenty minutes.

4. Stir in carrots, return to simmer, and then re-cover and cook on medium-low for another 40 minutes, until carrots are cooked through.

5. Transfer chicken to a bowl tented with aluminum foil and let rest while finishing your sauce. Skim off any excess oil. Discard the lemon peel, stir in the sultanas, and cook about five minutes. Add lemon juice and return the chicken and any juices to pan, simmering a few minutes more to combine. Serve hot over couscous or rice.

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