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.
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
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.
Doesn’t this look yummy? It’s a Sri Lankan veggie poriyal, but it is mostly using up leftovers! (I hate waste.)
1. Take pea pods and carrots leftover from the previous night’s party dip, where they’d been served with hummus. Chop up.
2. Take the kids’ leftover steamed broccoli, dull and unappealing. Chop up.
3. Chop one onion and sauté in a few T oil or ghee, with 1 t. mustard seeds, 1 t. cumin seeds, 1 t. salt, and 1/2 t. numeric.
4. When onions are golden, add raw veggies and saute a few minutes, then add steamed broccoli and saute a few minutes more. Serve hot!
Happy Pongal! Pongal is a four-day-long harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka (this year it’s Tues Jan 15 – Fri Jan 18) — when crops like rice are harvested. Yes, it’s a little goofy celebrating it in Chicago in midwinter, but any excuse to celebrate, right?
I haven’t made pongal (rice & lentil porridge) before, but I think it came out pretty well. A quick, simple, one-pot dish, packed with protein, that would be even better accompanied by a nice curry –– eggplant, perhaps? Coconut chutney and sambar are traditional accompaniments.
20 minutes, serves 4
1 c. rice
1 c. moong dal
4 c. water
1/2 t. salt
2 T butter or ghee
1/2 c. cashews
1/2 c. sultanas
1 t. cumin seeds
8-12 fresh curry leaves
1-2 green chilies, chopped, optional
1. Add rice, dal, water, and salt to a pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and let simmer 15-20 minutes, until cooked.
2. While rice is cooking, heat butter or ghee, sauté cashews, stirring, until golden. Add cumin seeds, sultanas, curry leaves, and green chili if using, stirring for a few more minutes. Mix into cooked rice & lentils and serve hot.
Other standard ingredients: chopped ginger, pinch of asafoetida, turmeric, black peppercorns (whole or crushed).
Somehow I got it into my head that I had time to make both gummy bears and cake with Kavi and her friend Emma after school, before I had to get ready and go to a dinner. That was a lie. Gummy bears take hours to set, it turns out, so I didn’t even attempt them, which was good. Another day. I managed the cake, but in a slightly frantic manner, and I got some things wrong. Oops.
For one, I hadn’t taken the butter out to soften in advance, and when I tried softening it in the microwave (which you *can* do if you are very very careful), I melted it too much, so I basically had oil. Now, you can make a cake with oil, but that makes more dense, less fluffy. That was fine for the bundt pan I ended up using, as it turned out!
I also hadn’t looked at the recipe in advance, which was one that was supposedly for Sri Lankan birthday ribbon cake — it’s no one’s birthday, but I’d promised to make a cake with Kavi and this seemed like a good one to learn to do, because my mother’s homemade birthday cakes from childhood were delicious. I was tempted to try to make Swedish princess cake (GBBO is a bad influence), but I sternly told myself not to be ridiculous. (Another day. Shh…)
Looking at the Sri Lankan recipe, it mostly seemed like a pretty standard yellow cake recipe, except that some versions called for ‘thick milk’ and frantic googling turned up various options, such as ‘curdled,’ which seemed very wrong, or ‘clotted,’ which was possible but unlikely. It also might have been evaporated milk or condensed milk, both of which are used in Sri Lankan dessert-making a lot, but there’s a big difference between them! And if I hadn’t been in a hurry, I could have just checked with my aunties, but I didn’t have time. So oh well, I used the recipe that skipped that element — in fact, it skipped milk entirely — but now I’m wondering whether it would have been better with. (Not condensed milk, I think, because it’d be much too sweet unless you also reduced the sugar.)
The finished cake ended up tasting pretty much like a classic yellow cake, I think. (1 c. butter (except actually oil), 1 c. sugar, 4 eggs, 2 c. flour). Traditionally, you’d divide the batter, color it pink and green (why pink and green? I don’t know!), pour it into two separate 8 or 9 inch cake tins, bake, and then assemble with white buttercream frosting between and on top, decorating as desired. Happy birthday! (If you google ‘Sri Lankan ribbon cake,’ lots of examples will pop up.)
But I didn’t particularly want to make frosting — honestly, this cake doesn’t need it. The kids have been totally happy just devouring slices as is. And I had a new bundt pan that I was dying to try. So I figured what the heck, let’s do it marbled instead, and just dust it with powdered sugar.
(The powdered sugar is a lie in that first photo, because I had to run out the door, so I dusted it and took the photo when the cake was just out of the oven, so of course, it took 2 seconds before the sugar was all absorbed and disappeared. Cool cake first! But it does look pretty, doesn’t it?)
Came out great, and the kids had fun with the slicing reveal! (See next video.) Anand was disappointed that there was no chocolate, so the next time we do a marbled cake, I’ve promised that we’ll do one that’s half chocolate. (What I really want to do is half chocolate, half mango-passionfruit, but I’m not sure he’ll go for that. We’ll see.)
This is a yummy cake, but I admit, I kind of want to do it again, in traditional layered style instead, and actually use thick milk — if someone Sri Lankan can tell me what that is, please?
I’m thinking a ribbon cake in pink, green, and yellow will be perfect for Easter, and for that one, we can slather on the buttercream frosting and decorate the heck out of it too. Putting it in the calendar so I don’t forget!
1 c. butter (room temperature)
1 c. sugar
2 t. vanilla
2 c. flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Beat butter and sugar until soft and creamy; add eggs one by one. Add vanilla and mix well.
2. Sift flour with baking powder and salt. Add flour gradually and mix well.
3. Divide the mixture into two portions and color lightly in pink and green.
4. Grease and flour a bundt pan (Baker’s Joy spray makes this easy). Spoon the colors in (or as we said yesterday, ‘glop’ them in), alternating. (If you like, you can take a toothpick, fork, or skewer and swirl for more of a ribboned effect.)
5. Bake for 35-40 minutes until toothpick comes out dry. Let cool 5-10 minutes, turn out onto a wire rack, let cool completely, dust with powdered sugar, and serve. Lovely with tea.
Peppermint marshmallows, two ways. I asked Kavi which she liked better, and she couldn’t decide — the peppermint swirl ones are more intensely peppermint; the chocolate-peppermint ones actually have more peppermint (same marshmallows, plus bits on top), but the dark chocolate has a strong enough presence that the overall effect is less peppermint-y.
There is something pleasantly meditative about making sweets late at night, even if you burn the first batch a little. I forgot that my burners are misaligned and run hot (long story), so that even when I’m using my own recipe, I need to notch everything down a little — when I say ‘medium-high,’ I mean ‘medium’ on my own stove.
But it’s okay — milk toffee with cashews is still delicious even when it’s turned into dark caramel-cashew pralines. I wouldn’t serve it to Sri Lankans expecting our milk toffee, but otherwise, we’re good.