Grilled shrimp spread

This was ALMOST very frustrating. I grilled these beautiful jumbo shrimp with chili-salt-lime, thinking I’d make a sort of mango-shrimp salad with them. The shrimp themselves were fabulous; I ate three of them straight off the grill pan because I just couldn’t resist. But when I chopped them up and combined them with chopped mango, the result was v. disappointing. The mango was quite green, and somehow the end version was just meh. I hate eating meh food. It was late by then, so I went crabbily to bed, complaining to Kevin that I’d ruined the shrimp.

But in the morning, I took another stab at it; I pulled the chopped shrimp and mango out and put them in the food processor, figuring I’d aim for more of a spread, rather than a seafood salad. I added some mayo and processed a bit — better. But the seasonings seemed off — it needed more lime, more salt, and something sweet. Mango jam to the rescue — mango chutney would’ve been even better, I suspect, but I was out of that, and I had a bit of the jam left.

I don’t have a picture of it, but the end result was respectable enough that people at brunch were complimentary and asked me what was in it. Whew. Rescued! This is the result of 20+ years cooking, you know — ten years in, I don’t think I would’ve had a hope of knowing how to fix this dish, which would have been very sad!

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Ginger-Garlic Chicken Salad

This ginger-garlic chicken salad was the biggest success of the bagel experiments — I would totally serve this either on a bagel (it was great on sesame) or wrapped in lettuce. Or honestly, just straight up on its own, or in a sandwich with a hearty French bread, etc….

Ginger-Garlic Chicken Salad, with Cashews and Cranberries

1. Make my regular ginger-garlic chicken (see Serendib Kitchen website for recipe).

2. When it’s cool, run through food processor with some mayo (maybe 1/2 – 1 c.?), careful to pulse and leave some shreds, rather than turning it into puree. Transfer to big bowl and clean out food processor bowl and blade.

3. Chop cashews in food processor, and then combine with chicken.

4. Add dried cranberries and stir to combine. (Sultanas would be more traditional, but I love both the color and the tang of the cranberries. V. autumnal!)


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Daly Bagel Collaboration Brunch

Amanda Daly took some great photos at our Collaboration Brunch today.  So good to get some of her bagels; it’s been too long!

(I, um, may have eaten three so far today, and am eyeing a fourth….)

I was too busy talking to folks to take many photos — a great group for today’s Daly Bagel brunch, and a particular shout-out to my high school friend, Carmela Diosana, all the way down from Madison.  Great to see you again and delighted to pass your Feast of Serendib orders to you!

Lovely brunch all around. Much fun foodie conversation!

For today’s brunch, Karina had suggested a kithul treacle & strawberry shmear, which we’d seen at a fancy hotel in Sri Lanka that had a bagel bar in their Western section. That gave me an idea — I had some sugar pumpkins that had come in our imperfect produce order, that I hadn’t figured out what to do with yet. So I split one in half and roasted it, then scooped that out and combined it with whipped cream cheese and kithul (palm) treacle. Makes a great bagel shmear, as it turns out — I had mine on an Amanda Daly chai bagel. Mmm….

My standard Sri Lankan curried salmon + cream cheese = yummy curried salmon shmear with a little bite to it. The shmear bites back. 


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Having fun prepping for the Daly Bagel brunch benefit

Having fun prepping for the little Daly Bagel benefit brunch tomorrow. Amanda Daly and I are doing a little fusion bagel + Sri Lankan brunch (10-12 on Sunday), and I’ve been working on the menu. (Ticket link in comments — a few more spots available, until midnight tonight. $60 each, and you’ll be helping open up Amanda’s bagel shop!)

It’s super-interesting thinking about what Sri Lankan flavors would go well with bagels.  Amanda’s bringing chai bagels, also plain and I think sesame.

So far, I’m thinking:

a) green chili, onion, and vegetable frittata
b) curried salmon spread
c) Sri Lankan-style grilled jumbo shrimp (nice on a bagel sandwich with a little whipped cream cheese and some sliced tomatoes and red onion, maybe a little avocado?)
d) kale mallung (like a salad) with coconut, lime, and pomegranate seeds
e) curried chicken salad with mango and cashew
f) passionfruit & cream cheese spread (which I think might also be nice for tea sandwiches) — with a little mango w/chili and lime on the side, in case you’d like to add that

And then I’ve got some apple cider with ginger to mull, some mango kefir, and a little Sri Lankan arrack to add to the eggnog (if you like) because it’s the holiday season, after all. And Amanda was going to bring mango juice and prosecco.

I’ve just finished a batch of milk toffee too, so will put that out with the mulled apple cider marshmallows. Good? Good. 

Now I need to think about what guests will get in their goody bags. I’m thinking some recipe postcards, rose & sandalwood bath salts, some jasmine & lime soaps, and batches of homemade curry powder, of course!

Plus $5 off if they’d like to buy a cookbook too. 


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Cinnamon-Tossed Mulled Apple Cider Marshmallows

Cinnamon-Tossed Mulled Apple Cider Marshmallows

Kavya has a new favorite marshmallow! For a long time, passionfruit marshmallows topped her list, but yesterday, they were unseated unceremoniously by the flavor of the season. 

(I like these a lot, but passionfruit is still the queen of my heart.)

1 c. apple cider
1 stick cinnamon
6 cloves
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1/2 c. water
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
butter (for greasing the pan)
cinnamon powder for dusting (a few T)
powdered (confectioner’s) sugar (about 1/2 c.)

1. In a small pot on the stove, heat cider with cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and simmer 10 minutes or so. Remove 1/2 c. for marshmallows, sieving out any whole spices; drink whatever remains. (Can be done in advance — in my case, I mulled a bigger pot of spiced cider to enjoy straight up on a cold day, and just set some aside for marshmallows.)

2. Empty gelatin packets into bowl of stand mixer (whisk attachment), with 1/2 c. mulled cider. Stir briefly to combine.

3. In a small saucepan (a bigger one will be heavy and hard to hold steadily at a later stage) combine water, sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Cover and cook over medium high heat for 4 minutes. Uncover and cook until the mixture reaches soft ball stage (240 degrees if you have a candy thermometer), approximately 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from heat; if it continues, it will swiftly turn into hard candy.

4. Turn mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. (Be very careful with the sugar syrup, as it is scaldingly hot and will burn you badly if it gets on your skin.) Once you’ve added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high.

5. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 minutes. Add food color if desired — if not, they’ll be white.

6. While it’s whipping, butter a large 9 x 12 pan. Prepare an oiled spatula. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly (and swiftly) with the oiled spatula.

7. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon and dust the top with enough of the powdered sugar to lightly cover. Reserve the rest of the powdered sugar for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

8. Turn onto a board, cut into squares, and dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining powdered sugar, using additional if necessary. May be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks, or frozen.


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Sri Lankan food without coconut

What if you want to try Sri Lankan food, but are allergic to coconut? At some point when I have free time (hah), I’d love to create a section of the Serendib Kitchen website that suggested adaptations. (Stephanie, add to queue?) Vegetarian / vegan, allergies, low-carb / keto, etc. For example, yesterday I was cooking dinner for 30 students, for my colleague Anna Guevarra‘s food and culture class, and there were a few restrictions we had to work around:

We had:
– a vegetarian (so I just kept it all vegetarian, super-easy to do well with Sri Lankan food)
– a cashew allergy (so we skipped the cashews toasted in ghee for the rice pilaf, and it was still good with saffron, rose, and sultanas), and
– a coconut allergy.

Now THAT one is tricky, as I’d learned back when I was cooking for my roommate Cliff Winnig, also allergic to coconut! (And nutmeg, and nuts — he says he had a lexical allergy…) We could just leave the coconut out of the kale mallung, bumping the sugar up a bit to compensate for the sweetness. It’s still tasty and worth making, but honestly, it’s not as good as it is with coconut, and so far, I haven’t come up with anything that would really work as a substitute.

But for the dal (lentil curry), it proved surprisingly easy to compensate for lack of coconut milk. I started with using cow’s milk instead, but as I asked the students, there’s still two major elements missing that we’d want to add back in. After a few moments, they correctly identified them.

Want to try to guess before reading further?

(The pictures may have given you hints!)

1) Sweetness, since coconut milk is sweeter than cow’s milk. We added in a little sugar, in the form of grated jaggery, and that worked very nicely to bring out the sweetness of the onions and help balance the dish.

2) Fat! Coconut milk has notably more fat than cow’s milk, and while the lentils were still tasty on their own, stirring in a stick of butter towards the end of the cooking time gave them that lusciousness that has you coming back for seconds and thirds. 

I’ve heard that the latter is actually a common restaurant technique when making sauces (maybe a French thing?), to stir in a stick of butter towards the end. I don’t indulge in that normally, and honestly, I don’t even want my daily dinner food to be that rich.

But in this case, a stick of butter stirred into a big double batch of lentil curry, feeding 30 people, was the perfect addition.  Mmm…


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Kavi helping with marshmallows

Sigh. Got lots done, but did not finish the Wild Cards story. I *hate* asking for another extension, but I have no choice. BAH, HUMBUG. Super cranky about that, esp. as the next few days are busy enough with teaching and meetings that I probably can’t get back to it until Friday.

On the plus side, I did draft a food essay and send it to workshop, the first floor is clean and organized again, and Kavi is now tall enough to reach down the marshmallow ingredients for me. She’s been helping to make a batch of passionfruit marshmallows that I need for tomorrow. She thinks she might be an inch taller than me now. Eep.

But I’m going to send her to bed now, because while mixing gelatin and passionfruit is something she can do, I don’t want her dealing with hot sugar syrup yet — esp. not when we’re both tired. At this point, I can ALMOST make marshmallows in my sleep…

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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!


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.


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.


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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Marshmallow-rocky road experiments!

I’ll have to make this again so I can write it up into a proper recipe, but here are the marshmallow-rocky road experiments. I made three different varieties; the clear favorite was the ruby chocolate with passionfruit marshmallows and dried mango. Mmmm….so good! I served these at the Feast packing party, and they were quickly devoured by my hardy volunteers.

Rocky road is so simple to make, and great to use up leftover bits of nuts and fruit and mango. Melt chocolate on half power in microwave, stirring every 30 seconds after the first minute, so as to not burn it. When it’s melted, stir in whatever bits you like; you can keep adding until it’s mostly bits with a thin coating of chocolate. Spread on a sheet of parchment paper, stick in the fridge and let it cool. Snap apart (this part is fun) or cut into squares (which is cool for showing the cross-sections), and serve.

I wish the new ruby chocolate was more widely available; right now, I mostly have to order the bags of chips online, though sometimes I can find a bar in a grocery store. I love its fruity tang; I think it might be my favorite chocolate now.

The other versions were good too, but in retrospect, I think the dark chocolate + cashew version would’ve been better with a sprinkling of flake salt over the top, and possibly a bit of cayenne mixed in. Ditto salt on the ruby chocolate and cashew, though I wouldn’t use the cayenne for that.

I could barely taste the dried coconut in one batch of ruby chocolate rocky road, so not sure it’s worth adding unless you use more / bigger pieces. Ditto the candied ginger in the dark chocolate actually, which surprised me — just need more, I think. MOAR GINGER.


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A starred review from PW makes me feel like I did something right

Even though I’m light-headed and sick (just a bad cold, I think, will hopefully be back to normal tomorrow), there’s a little voice in the back of my head singing, “They liked my book! They liked my book!” That’s going to carry me for quite a while, I think, and beat back the imposter syndrome.

A starred review from PW — I’ve never gotten one of those before, even for Bodies in Motion, which was my big ‘serious’ book, the one that got translated into six languages.

Makes me feel like in all the flailing around of the last few years, trying to figure out what I should be working on, I did something right. Food writing is one of my big things, apparently. Who knew? 

(Yes, probably everyone knew. I know! I’m going to go through my fiction sometime soon and pull out cooking & food paragraphs from all the books, just for the fun of it.)

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