Personal Resolution: Eat Healthier

One of my personal resolutions is to cook healthier for my family this coming year, because in the mad rush of the last few months, we’ve relied too much on pasta and peanut butter sandwiches for them. (Not to mention all the holiday sweet-making…)

So I started off on that plan today, making chicken soup (mulligatawny-style) with lots of vegetables, plus roasted brussels sprouts, for dinner. Both graced with bacon, so it’s not as if the kids are being deprived of flavor! And the roasted sprouts were so sweet and delicious. I sliced some bell pepper too, which thankfully both of them like; we’ve relied on that for filling out their meals for months now.

But the end result is that the children have yummy food that they are suspicious of, and even though Kev chopped the onions for me, I’m more tired than if I’d thrown bowls of pasta or peanut butter sandwiches at them. This is a patience game, teaching them to like a broader range of food. I have to give it to them a few times, let them taste it and get used to it, before they tend to start liking it.

Now they’re old enough that I can start handing over some of this cooking to them too, which is good, but teaching them also takes more effort than just making the food myself, so there’s that. Kevin would’ve made dinner if I’d asked (or even if I hadn’t asked, but had just gone to bed and pulled the covers over my head); he takes care of their dinners as often as I do, or possibly more. But he’s just as tired as I am.

Jed went back to California this afternoon, and I won’t see him again until early March, when I’m in Walnut Creek as an Honored Guest for FogCon (and then I’m back a little later, visiting my in-laws and Alex Gurevich for spring break). He did a load of dishes and broke down some boxes before he left. I’m already feeling the lack of a third adult in the household. Also, I miss him lots and lots, and I’m sad. Two months is too long. BAH.

Going to put on Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition and finish catching up on it, while putting away my laundry. Kev would keep me company, but I am grumpy and antisocial right now, so have asked him to stay downstairs and just make sure the kids finish eating enough dinner even if he has to give them peanut butter sandwiches, put away the food, and deal with the dishes.



Vadai and Prawn Vadai (Recipe)

A little more deep-frying for the Christmas party — vadai and prawn vadai. Vadai are both vegan & gluten-free, so a terrific party item. Very popular at our shindig, all eaten up fast, and a great option for vegans. I try to fry all my vegan items first, both so the oil doesn’t get flavored with meat or seafood, and because vegans have more limited options at my parties, so at least they should get to eat first…it’s only fair!

These are easy and quick to make — I bought shelled and deveined prawns to make it easier, and had Kevin throw the lentil batter together in the food processor. (As I said in the recipe, you can leave the shells on, but I wasn’t sure all my guests would be comfortable with that, so I went with the shelled option.)

The big prawns are a little tricky to have stick (some fell off!), but if you press them down well, you’ll be fine, or you can use smaller prawns. Big ones do look impressive for parties, though. 

Just remember to allow time for soaking the lentils — I got up on the morning of the party and set them to soaking first. These are mildly flavored, so serve them with some nice spicy MD sauce — we did red and green. Delicious. (If you’re not going to do sauce, you might want to add a little more salt, maybe 1/2 – 1 t.)


Plain or Prawn Lentil Patties / Kadalai or Iraal Vadai
(45 minutes, plus 2 hours lentil soaking time, makes about 24-30)

When you go visiting in Sri Lanka, your hosts will often insist on quickly frying up some vadai for you, accompanied by hot, sweet, milky tea. You can protest once, for politeness’s sake, that they shouldn’t go to the trouble. Then say yes.

Vadai typically don’t refrigerate and reheat well; they’re best served hot, right after frying, but are also tasty at room temperature. Vadai are a perfect mid-afternoon snack with tea or coffee or mango-passionfruit juice; they also make a terrific picnic or road-trip food.

1 cup split red lentils / masoor dal
8 oz prawns (if using)
1 large onion, chopped
3 green chilies, chopped
3 dry red chilies, broken into small pieces
1 TBL ginger, minced
3 garlic cloves
1 dozen curry leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp salt
oil for deep frying
rice flour if needed

1. Soak lentils for at least two hours. (Can be done overnight.) Drain.

2. Wash and devein the prawns and set aside; you can shell them if you prefer, but usually you just eat the crispy fried shell too.

Note: Typically, people often prefer a more coarse texture to their vadai — for that, set aside half the lentils and/or the chopped onions before the next step, and just mix them back in after grinding, to preserve more texture. I’m a bit of an outlier that I like my vadai to be more finely-textured.

3. Add the lentils to food processor with other ingredients; grind coarsely, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula once or twice so they’re well blended.

4. Set oil to heating. While it heats, mold the mixture into small balls (if the dough is too wet to mold, add rice flour 1-2 TBL at a time, until it reaches a workable texture). Flatten them into patties.

5. For plain vadai, gently slip into the hot oil and deep fry both sides, until crisp and golden brown. (My husband doesn’t like seafood, poor man, so I make the plain vadai first, so as not to flavor the oil, and then the prawn ones after.) For prawn vadai, press a prawn into each patty and gently slip into the oil. (If you use large prawns, it’ll be difficult to keep the round shape of the patty, but personally, I’m fine with a more irregular patty if it means big, beautiful crispy prawns.)

6. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Serve hot or at room temperature; they can be eaten straight up, but I like to add a little mint-cilantro chutney or mango pickle. They’re also commonly served with other chutneys, pickles, sambar, or yogurt.


Report Back on Deep Fryer: Notes

I promised to report back on the new deep fryer, and overall, I’d say I’m very glad we got it. We don’t deep fry regularly for our family, but we do it for parties, and we have parties often enough that this will get sufficient usage to make it worthwhile for us. Deep frying is key for Sri Lankan appetizers, or ‘short eats.’



a) keeps oil at the right temperature, so you don’t have to keep fiddling with turning the heat up and down to try to maintain it as you add / take out food

b) as a result, everything browns evenly to the same color, which I’ve *never* managed before!

c) I feel like I can actually walk away — if I know that browning the meatballs at 374F takes 5 minutes (I don’t know that for certain, because I was distracted and not timing things during party prep, but it’s about that, and I’m sure I’ll fine-tune it with a few more parties), then I can put them in and walk away and go fill the punch bowl or whatever, which is super useful; I never felt confident enough doing that when stovetop deep frying



a) the first batch, I put them in the tray (as pictured), and then lowered them all into the oil together. Don’t do that — the bottoms will stick to the mesh tray. And in fact, the instructions say you should only do that for breaded items, and I forgot. Oops. What you should do is put the tray in, then use a spider (this model comes with three of them, in different sizes) to drop (lower) the items quickly into the oil (careful not to splatter yourself). Then use the tray to lift them all out together, and tongs to lift the pieces out of the tray

b) I *also* managed to make them stick twice, because I rested the tray on a paper towel (as pictured). Don’t do that — especially if any are broken on the bottom, you’ll glue the meatballs / tray to the paper towel. For later ones, I just rested the tray on a plate, and then removed the meatballs to a separate paper-towel lined plate.

You can see the first batch on the left, and the second, non-stuck, batch on the right. 

c) When pouring the oil out at the end, Kevin didn’t realize the lid wasn’t on securely, so we had an oil spill that necessitated clean-up. I think that was just our set-up mistake, though. Pour out the oil slowly and carefully, and you’ll be fine.



Really was as easy as they claimed — save the oil container you used, let the automatic filtration filter the oil into it (or you can leave it in the bottom tray and store in a cool place, if you’ll be frying again soon). We weren’t planning to, so we used a funnel to transfer it to a large storage bottle and stuck that under the sink. My mom always kept big corn oil containers under the sink with used oil, specifically for deep-frying only; I think you can use it a few times before it’s time to toss it.

And then all the rest of the pieces, except for the heating elment, go in the dishwasher. They only just barely fit in mine, and we had to do it in two separate loads (filling in with other post-party items), but they did fit, and came out oil-free. The heating element, you wipe down with a damp sponge and let dry, very easy. Pack up and store until needed again.



Obviously, you need to be able to afford the storage space, if you’re not going to be using it regularly, but we do have room in the basement, so that’s where it goes, and I’m glad we got it. I picked this model (T-Fal FR8000, currently $83.99 on Amazon) after reading a lot of reviews, and I’m happy with it for our needs. Link in comments!


(And hey, if any kitchen tool manufacturers (small or large) are reading this and want to send me free stuff to try and honestly review, I’m happy to talk to you…I love gizmos and gadgets.  Also fancy ingredients, pretty decor items, etc. and so on…)


First of the Party Pics: Nargisi Kofta

Finally have a little time to go back and post our holiday party pics — these are nargisi kofta, aka Scotch eggs, made with quail eggs so they’re appetizer-sized. They were VERY popular, and I should’ve made at least twice as many — I’ll know for next time! If you actually manage to have any leftover, they also make a great day-after-party sandwich, on bread or naan with a little red MD sauce. 

Note that I was doing them in a hurry (never cook in a hurry if you can avoid it), so forgot to do the trick to center the yolks, and regretted it! This recipe gives you the sauce too, in case you want to curry them and serve them at dinner with rice or naan.


Eggs in Meatballs / Scotch Eggs / Nargisi (Narcissus) Kofta
(2 hours, serves 6)

This elegant dish made its way down to Sri Lanka from India, where it was a favorite in the Mughal court. Known as Scotch Eggs in Europe, the British store Fortnum & Mason claims to have invented this dish in 1738, but given how prevalent kofta are throughout South Asia and the Middle East, it seems more likely that the dish travelled from East to West, rather than the reverse. They take their name from the white-and-yellow varieties of narcissus flowers (a.k.a. daffodils).

Nargisi kofta lend themselves to different variations — you can use chicken eggs or adorable little quail eggs, you can use lamb or beef, you can gild them in saffron for a fancier presentation and a subtle added flavor, you can fry them and take them along whole on your picnic, or you can slice them and serve them in a curry sauce, rich with tomato, yogurt, and cilantro. All the options are good!

14 quail eggs or 7 chicken eggs
1 lb twice-minced* lamb or beef
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Sri Lankan curry powder (or garam masala)
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 cup water
3 TBL chickpea flour (may substitute regular flour)
oil for frying
1 tsp saffron powder for gilding (optional) (grind threads to make powder if needed)

Curry sauce:
2 TBL ghee or oil
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ginger, minced
1 tsp Sri Lankan curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 – 1 tsp cayenne
1 15 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1/2 – 1 cup yogurt
Fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, to garnish

* Your butcher can twice-mince the meat for you, or you can do it at home in a food processor; I recommend chilling the bowl and blade first. Your goal is a fine, even mince, with the fat distributed well through the meat.

1. Boil 12 quail eggs (or 6 chicken eggs). (If you stir them constantly for the first five minutes of simmering, that will help center the yolks, making for a prettier presentation.) Let cool, then shell and set aside.

2. Combine meat in a saucepan with onion, garlic, ginger, salt, curry powder, turmeric, and water. Stir well and cook on medium, covered, until meat is well cooked, about 20-30 minutes. (If there is a large amount of oil, you may want to skim some off at this point.) Add flour and continue cooking until all the liquid has been absorbed. Let cool, and mix with your clean hand until very smooth.

3. Beat remaining egg(s) and mix in saffron. Mold meat mixture around hard-boiled eggs (I find that one meat-enclosed quail egg just fits into my small hand). Dip kofta in beaten egg and fry in hot oil until golden brown; drain on paper towels. Cut in half and serve hot — or reserve while you make sauce.

4. Sauté cumin, mustard, onions, ginger, and garlic in oil until onions are golden. Add curry powder, turmeric, cayenne, and stir for a minute. Then add tomatoes and salt, and cook on medium until well blended and sauce textured (about 15 minutes). Add yogurt to taste. Serve hot with sliced-in-half kofta, garnished with cilantro. Delicious with rice or bread.


Cooking Video with Jed

So, as part of the Kickstarter, I promised to do some cooking videos. I’m working on them now — I recorded one with Kavi yesterday, making bombatoast, and one with Jed today, making beet curry. Kavi’s going to show me how to edit them (at least the basics), and we’ll get them up soon. But she’s also making a TikTok of today’s.

So far, she’s cut 48 minutes of teaching video down to 6 minutes of teaser, which is what I have here. Jed points out that 6 minutes is too long for a teaser, which yes, I know.  This is also probably somewhat different content than what’ll be in the edited video, because a TikTok isn’t actually about teaching. So some of this may not make it into the final teaching video.

Next Kavi’s going to try to cut it down to maximum 1 minute, because that’s the top limit of how long a TikTok can be. I haven’t even watched this yet, but I thought I’d post it, as part of documenting the process.


(Kavi is watching me type this and says: “That’s a long post!” I said I knew. She said, “Are people really going to read all that?” I said yes. She said, “If this were on Instagram, people would see this and just tap on by!”)

((Now she says, “Really? You’re adding *another* paragraph?))

(((“Hey, Uncle Jed! She’s adding a *fifth* paragraph!” Jed says, “That’s practically tiny for a Mary Anne post…”)))


Decorating Together

We were very tired last night, but we wanted to do something Christmas-y with the kids, so the kids put on their new Christmas pajamas (traditional Christmas Eve present), cut open a tube of cookie dough, and pulled out the sprinkles and M&Ms. Too tired to even make royal icing! The end results were mostly not beautiful, and honestly only marginally tasty, but it was fun decorating together, which was the point.


Banana Bread Gets Fancy

Banana bread gets fancy.  Made in a bundt pan, sprinkled with powdered sugar, plenty of dried cranberries and crystallized ginger stirred into the batter, and graced with fresh chopped strawberries and raspberries.

My recipe for chai-spiced banana bread is here:

#serendibkitchen — in Oak Park, Illinois.