Lunch today — I’d ordered seafood paella from a local restaurant a few days ago, excited to try it. The last time I had paella was on the beach in Mexico, and it was so good, and I miss beaches. So travel through food, yes? One way of getting through sheltering in place.
Unfortunately, the paella was…not great. I mean, it was fine? But not DELICIOUS. And I wanted delicious. Also, it was mostly rice with a little seafood, and I’m not sure how traditional that is or isn’t, not being a paella expert, but I wanted mine to be more seafood with a little rice.
So I messed with it. I diced an onion and some bell pepper, sauteed those in a good amount of olive oil with salt and pepper and smoked paprika and garlic powder. Added in a little wine and some already cooked shrimp I had on hand. Stirred in the restaurant paella, and then a good amount of lemon juice. (I like tang). Tasted, wanted more spice, ground in a little more fresh black pepper.
Reader, it was delicious. Anand came over and tried some, and then served himself a huge helping, so that was an extra win — I wasn’t expecting him to go for paella, but he does like rice, so I should not have underestimated him, I guess. . It’s not the same as being able to go dive into the ocean beforehand and work up a big appetite, but for now, I’ll take it. Vacations will come again.
Do you like capers? Pickled redbuds are very similar, but with a faintly floral taste (a little like a sweetpea at first, then tangy), and a lovely color.
1 c. redbud blossoms
1/2 c. vinegar
1/2 c. water
1/2 t. salt (ideally kosher or other non-iodized)
1. Gather redbud blossoms (in bud will work a little better for pickling than fully bloomed) — they come easily off the tree. Rinse blossoms and pick off stems; they’re easy to remove in clusters, so this won’t take long.
2. Combine vinegar, water, and salt; stir to combine.
3. Fill a clean jar with blossoms and cover with brine; add a little water if necessary to completely fill. Screw on top; all blossoms should be submerged in liquid.
4. Leave at room temperature for three days, away from direct heat and sunlight.
5. Transfer jar to refrigerator; it will keep for a few weeks. Enjoy pickled redbud wherever you would use capers.
(30-45 minutes + soaking & fermenting time, makes 25-30)
Kundu thosai are round lentil & flour ‘pancake balls,’ similar to Dutch poffertjes, Danish aebelskiver, or Japanese takoyaki in approach, and they can be made in the same kind of pan. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they came to Sri Lanka by way of Dutch colonizers, though you’d need to consult a food historian to be sure!
Poffertjes use a pan with smaller (and more) indentations than aebelskiver — depending on your pan, you may need to adjust cooking time appropriately for your kundu thosai; larger balls will take a few minutes longer to cook through.
They’re typically made with leftover thosai batter, but you can certainly just make kundu thosai straight up. Remember to start at least a day and a half before you plan to eat them, as there’s a soaking lentils 6-8 hr step and a fermenting batter 6-8 hr step. They can be made with rice flour (traditional), wheat flour (softer), or a combination of the two.
Savory versions are sometimes dressed up with a little onion and chili (raw or sautéed briefly), and sweet versions add in jaggery, cardamom and fresh coconut. Do note that the sweet versions are still using fermented batter, so the sour-sweet flavor combo may not be what you expect; I have to admit that my kids have not quite decided if they approve or not!
Savory kundu thosai served with a little coconut chutney is a pretty perfect breakfast for me, and the lentils give a great healthy boost to your day.
1 c. urad dal / black gram / ulunththu, skinless and split
1 c. flour, divided
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
water to make batter
Savory variation: 1/2 – 1 c. chopped onions and 1-3 chopped green chilies
Sweet variation: 1/4 – 1/2 c. jaggery or brown sugar, 1/2 t. cardamom, and 1/2 c. fresh coconut
1. Soak black gram for 6-8 hours or overnight (I would usually start this the afternoon before I planned to serve them, so starting Saturday afternoon for Sunday brunch). Grind finely using a grinder or food processor, to a thick paste — add a little water if needed for smooth grinding.
2. In a frying pan, toast 1/2 c. flour on high heat, stirring constantly, until light brown (5-10 minutes).
3. Mix toasted flour, remaining 1/2 c. flour, baking soda, salt. Add in ground dal and sufficient water to mix and create a batter. You’re aiming for a pourable batter, a little thicker than pancake batter; stir in water 1/2 c. at a time until you get the consistency right.
4. Set aside batter in a warm place to ferment for 6-8 hours or overnight. (If you’re in a cool climate, a good option is an oven that’s been warmed up and then turned off.) The batter should rise and likely double in bulk, so be sure there’s enough room in your bowl for that; you may want to put something under it to catch any spills.
Ready to cook! (If you haven’t made coconut chutney yet, pause and make that now, so that it’s ready when the kundu thosai start coming hot out of the pan.)
5. Stir batter (it will deflate). Heat molded pan on medium heat and add a little oil to each indentation. When oil is hot, add a spoonful of batter to each. Use a skewer, fork, or chopsticks to turn the kundu thosai to cook on the other side. (In Denmark, knitting needles are traditional!)
6. Remove from molds when cooked through, a few minutes each; serve warm with coconut chutney (recommended). You can also serve with other chutneys or with curry.
SAVORY VARIATION: Chop some onion, green chili, and curry leaves; sauté in oil for a few minutes if you like, or leave raw. Stir into batter.
SWEET VARIATION: Add some jaggery or brown sugar, ground cardamom, and fresh grated coconut to the batter. Note that they’ll look darker as they come off the pan, due to the caramelizing sugar in the batter.
When I was working on the keerai (spinach) pittu recipe last week, I needed a curry to go with it. Jed was still visiting then, so I went for something vegetarian — I was also trying to use up various tired veggies in the fridge. This is a really basic approach to a default Sri Lankan vegetable curry. (It’s usually referred to as a ‘white’ curry there, because it doesn’t contain red chili or turmeric, though it’s actually more of a light tan.)
Step 1 — Chop onions (always step 1 for curries). If you’re feeling energetic, add in some chopped ginger and garlic. Heat oil and sauté with mustard seed, cumin seed, and salt until onions are golden-translucent. Add pepper if you want; if you like fenugreek or fennel seed, feel free to stir some of those in too. (If you put in lots of fenugreek, which is a galactagogue, white curries are traditional preparations for nursing mothers.)
Step 2 — Sauté. Add in whatever veggies you like, based on cooking time — root vegetables cut small and added at least 10 minutes before softer veggies like bell peppers or eggplant. I had some green chilies, tired shredded carrots, chopped sugar snap pea pods, curry leaves, and I’m not sure what else got tossed in.
Step 3 — Add some water and simmer a bit ’til veggies are cooked through. Taste and see if you’d like a little lime juice for balance — I usually do. You could stop and eat it at this point.
Step 4 — If you’d like it a little more rich (recommended), add in a can of coconut milk (or cow / goat / etc. milk is fine too) and simmer, stirring, until well blended. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Step 4 — For added heft, boil some eggs, slice in half, and slip those in too. Yum.
Okay, and here the recipes still to finalize, I think. Coming soon! Although there are 24 here, and only supposed to be 15 or so, so some may be cut — if there are recipes here you’d particularly like to see, let me know!
* jaggery rice– serve with plantains
* kundu thosai
* kurakkan (millet) roti
* hal piti roti (onion-chili bread)
* steamed roasted appams
Soups and Gravies:
* dhal rasam
* fenugreek gravy
Savory Fruits, Flowers and Vegetables:
* whole eggplant fry
* kaliya curry (Muslim dish, eggplant, plantain, and potato)
Spending a little time this morning trying to figure out what I want to include in Vegan Serendib. I’d really like to finalize the table of contents by the end of April, and I think that’s do-able. The plan was to remove all the meat and fish and egg recipes from Feast (about 40), and replace those with 40 new vegan recipes from Sri Lanka.
The problem isn’t finding those — the problem is narrowing down which ones to include. So far, I’m pretty happy with all of these, which means I probably have room for about 10-15 more. I kind of lost track of my test cooks last fall when things got busy (I blame the pandemic and switching to online teaching), so I need to ask people to start test cooking recipes again.
I kind of love that the Vegetables section has expanded to Savory Fruits, Flowers, and Vegetables. There’s a rose & hibiscus salad coming, for example.