Tahini heaven with an assist by Feta

This tastes like everything. A salad. A main course and yes even an ice cream sundae in bits and pieces.

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Sundae Salad starring Tahini dressing and Feta

Every kitchen must have a bottle of tahini going. Some doenjang in the fridge not to mention several favourite vinegars and at least a few kinds of seeds. Every cook must be able to properly roast a chicken regularly with no effort. Thus a steady supply of leftover cold roast chicken. As to good veg what can beat broccoli eh?

The taste of mysteriousness in tahini, the ice creamy taste that apple and honey brings combined with the saucy sense you are eating a good meat roast with two veg thanks to the chicken and yes, veg.  I oughta call this Sundae Salad. Kept taking me back to one of the earliest Sundae experiences from my youth in Colombo. The knickerbockerglories at Zellers in Bamba near our school. Some of my early and sweetest food related memories. With everything from nougat, a jammy cherry-like thing on top, toasted cashews ground up, toasted peanuts, some fruit, and so on and so forth all in air-conditioned Colombo comfort. If Halo Halo were a salad this might perhaps come close but then you might want to debate me on that.

Why it even hand hints of bagel. Toasted poppy seed topping. That’s what. By accident one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Been longing for a tahini dressing fix and happened to have perfect roast chicken (not that dry stuff), steamed broccoli and a day full of distractions with a long neglected piece of pork shoulder in the bottom of the fridge. A hot day (and now threats of severe thunderstorms and notice Ontario’s first Tornado happened today, or was it yesterday). The delicate little flowers on the tree outside in bloom like a great big bouquet and Marisa Lazo got easy bail. Rightly so. Lots of excitement around and spring allergies abound. I’m thinking thank heavens Marisa Lazo did not decide to climb a crane today because I’ve so far noticed high winds, rain, possibly lightening coming soon. A good day for a salad eh?

As to the dressing the core of the story is tahini. Made smokier with doenjang and a little smoked paprika. The dressing supplemented by lemon juice, sesame oil and consistency adjusted with water. Grace Hot Sauce gave it an edge and the vinegar a hint of tang. The mystery ingredient is grated ancient apple that has been sitting in the bottom of my fridge possibly since January. Ha ha. Appears it lost something and gained something over time. Honestly. No onion by the way. It would be too harsh and definitely sacrilegious.

Here goes. No strict recipe but general idea appears below. Try to match it or feel free to improvise and substitute. This is a keeper for me with hot days to come soon. Amounts are approximations and likely this could easily be the only square meal one might need once a day; and definitely happy-making.

Ingredients for Tahini dressing

About 1/3 – 1/2 cup tahini well mixed so it is not just oil

About 1/4 cup lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons of microplaned ripe sweet apple (skinned) (or pureed)

1-2 tablespoons of sesame oil

1 teaspoon of honey or more to taste

1/2 – 1 teaspoon doenjang (or miso in a pinch)

1/2 teaspoon Grace Hot Pepper Sauce (or your favourite vinegary hot sauce) or more to taste

1 – 1 1/2 teaspoon or more to taste of Ceylon Coconut Vinegar (or malt vinegar if in a pinch)

1 small clove garlic, microplaned into a fine ground light mush

A pinch of smoked paprika

Ingredients for salad

1 1/2 to 2 cups steamed broccoli florets, chilled. Then sliced thin lengthwise into fork-sized pieces

About a cup of cold cooked roast chicken cut into 1/2 or 3/4 inch cubes. Make sure it is not dry or overcooked.

1/2 cup cubed cucumber cut into 3/4 inch cubes

1/2 cup cubed ripe tomato

1/4 cup seeded green pepper cut into bite sized pieces

a little cold water to adjust consistency

salt and pepper to taste

Topping for Sundae Salad

About a 1/4 cup of largely crumbled feta

About two tablespoons of toasted pumpkin seeds (toasted under broiler and cooled)

About a tablespoon of toasted poppy seeds (just put under broiler for a minute or two till it starts to hint at smoke). Leave to cool.

Method

First the salad dressing. Place all ingredients in bowl and whip it together with whisk.  It should be a creamy consistency, like heavy whipping cream. If it is too thick adjust consistency by adding cold water in drops. Taste for seasoning and adjust acid, heat and sweetness as well as salt and if needed pepper. If you want to do this in a food processor, go ahead. Still I feel the garlic and the apple should be pureed or microplaned just before using so it’s a smooth fine ground fresh mush.

Lightly combine vegetables and chicken in a bowl. Add enough salt and pepper and adjust seasoning. Using half the vegetable chicken mix, place in two serving bowls. Dribble generously with dressing then half the nuts and poppy seeds. Add rest of salad ingredients and dribble more dressing. Then top with feta and remaining nuts and poppy seed.

If there is excess dressing, refrigerate in sealed container for a few days. But likely you’ll want more dressing as you mow through your Sundae Salad.

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Serves two as a light meal or one very very hungry person.

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Sardines comfort after terrible Day One at India v Australia in Bengaluru

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Given their small size everthing is crisp and you eat them like chips. Crunchy. Fishbutty anyone?

I taste kiri hodhi in sauce Bearnaise. Should I call it Baranasi Source? I taste pol sambol in Grace Hot Pepper Sauce.

So when I ran into a bag of frozen sardines at No Frills for $3.50 memories of childhood treats of fried fish, pol sambol and fresh bread from the bakery up the road came flooding back. Outside the weather was brutal. The type where your ears freeze and fall off and dogs carry them off for TV snacks. Yet. Buses still ran. I was out of toilet paper. The trip had to be made. I could’ve easily chickened out Friday night after work and headed straight home. But a great big No Frills I’d never been to was around the corner. Those big huge ones you usually find closer to the City’s edge where the aisles are huge and the stocks are vast. For example, the No Frills at Dufferin Mall though it’s not at the city’s edge. It’s there to make sure all the Italian nonas, Portuguese and Chinese mamas are made happy. A deli, great veg. Good butcher section. Fresh fish. It’s a fiesta going to that place. And way cheaper than Loblaws. Those thieves. The one I went to at week’s end on Friday night was not up to that level but still it was strollable and any respite from stepping out into subarctic vortex-like chill was salvation.

Back to sardines. Little ones no more than 2-4 inches long. The best for me. Flash frozen while still jumping on the boat. Fried fish, bread and pol sambol is mothers milk to me. Not had often but cravings take me there. A treat my mother made for me. Just for me. Not with sardines but with Salayas a.k.a. Belt Fish in Chinatown. A very bony fish with sweet tasting flesh best had with a crusty loaf and pol sambol doused with fresh lime juice. She’d make it for me before heading out in the morning to teach and sending me off to school lighting up my day as I walked into daily confusions. Back to sardines in the  hear and now.

Stocked up with toilet paper and fish at No Frills. The berries were just not worth having. Puny and pricey. Ridiculously pricey. The bus did not take long so dogs couldn’t have a treat of my frozen earlobes. Got home. Threw the bag of fish in the freezer and hit the sack to catch some sleep before the massacre to come via live-stream from Bengaluru at 11:00p.m. After Pune we’ve all been worried if India had lost it’s way. On Saturday night in EST it had. Fortunately I kept falling asleep through the night so the horror was seen through a snow globe of sleep and weary limbs. Yes in Pune Kohli was out for zero. He did twelve times better Saturday in Bengaluru. He was out for 12. And all of the Indian team have 189 to show for it. It’s subarctic outside. The neighbour is spewing cheap dope smoke through the wall and the window is open so I don’t smell that shit. I hate my life.

I keep waking up all night long on Day One. Throughout the night hearing Ravi Shastri still sounding all upbeat. Why can’t they sound funereal. To match the proceedings. That’s what kills me these commentators. Always upbeat. Drives you to drink at 4:00a.m. you know. As in a nightmare saw the last wicket fall. And in a continuing nightmare Aussies are 40 and no wickets fallen at end of Day One. Hell. That’s what you call a rough night at cricket with or without drinking. The salvation was sleep at 6:05a.m. on Saturday.

Still little sleep to be had and up at 10:30a.m. with sparkling light through my huge windows. A clear blue sky harassing sleep and still frigid out. Very frigid. Violently so. Makes one thankful to be inside. I wanted more sleep but wanted comfort more after last night’s hell. Best to mix some dough and get more sleep. One thing led to another. A basic focaccia was made. Fish was fried and sandwiches were had. Papers were read in bed. A holiday was taken away from the world. Fried sardines on fresh bread with dousings of Grace Hot Pepper Sauce.

Pics: Time travel to Kotahena circa 1970 by way of fish, chillies and bread. The horror of an awful Day One in Bangaluru was temporarily forgotten. Click on photos for gallery with captions and guidance on frying fish.

So. How to fry fish. Small fish especially. Or any fish cut up. In Portugal sardines run from May into as late as December. Here in Toronto if you live anywhere near little Portugal you’ll smell them grilling as the weather warms making you crazy. The fatter the sardine the better is what I’ve heard. That’s how the Portuguese allegedly do it. Which is fine enough.

Balapitiya where my father hails from down south is also a town where many fisherfolk inhabit or did when we used to go there as children. Mendis, Zoysa, Silva are the names. Portuguese derivatives or direct descendants one may argue, or not. Those mad seafaring folk. Remnants of the  Portuguese colonizers. These wild seafaring cousins of mine and allegedly of Sinhala Buddhist clans. A type of small Tuna is very famous in that area. Balaya. Though my father’s family wouldn’t dare kill a fish (though they ate them from the market) and no meat was ever cooked in their home my father grew up to be an avid angler and hunter. I can say I know a thing or two about good fish.

Small sardines or similar fish, be it anchovies, herrings or small fish from the same family are beloved. Often deep fried. Basic seasoning that goes into it is a liberal amount of turmeric powder, fresh ground black pepper, fresh ground dried red chillies with sea salt (or use kosher). This is the general recipe for all fish that is fried in my family. And as soon as it comes out of the deep frying pot you drain it on newsprint or paper towels. Season some more with salt in case it needs that. Douse it in fresh lime (there were no lemons in the Ceylon I grew up in). When frying small fish the entire point is to make it crunchy so the entire fish and bones is edible. The same treatment is given to chunkier and larger fish. These small fish are ideal as small fish go so you can eat the entire fried fish, bones and all. However the Portuguese sardine tradition seems to go for the fattest sardine. But what do I know.

Fried sardine sandwiches – Makes about five sandwiches which will serve two to three unless you are really really hungry and depressed after a bad night at cricket.

Ingredients:

About 10-15 very small sardines (each about 4-5 inches long)

Oil for deep frying

Teaspoon or more Turmeric powder

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Dry red chillie flakes

Sea salt crystals (or in powder form)

Grace Hot Pepper Sauce (or similar like Tabasco) – alternatively use fresh Lime/Lemon juice

Good crusty loaf of bread for about five sandwiches. Or fresh focaccia. See link to recipe below.

Margarine or butter.

How to: For about five sandwiches I used fresh baked focaccia which gives the sandwich some heft. Use any good crusty bread cut into thick slices. You will need three to four fish per sandwich. As an introduction all you need is liberally buttered bread, seasoned fish as described and then deep fried, Grace Hot Pepper Sauce or similar. Or just use fresh lime/lemon juice. If no hot sauce you can up the dry red chillie seasoning. I’ve become very fond of the Grace Hot Pepper Sauce option because you simply splash it on and it’s perfect. I’ve come to like it even better than the lime/lemon juice on fish. Also saves the trouble of citrus remnants sitting around in the fridge. Not to downplay importance of citrus juice on fried fish or any fish but this works. Trust me.

First preheat oven to 350F.

If using frozen fish make sure they are singly frozen. Place in bowl in cold water and they will defrost. Keep changing the water every ten minutes or so and ensure it’s really cold. Takes about 20 minutes at most. As they defrost carefully remove the scales using your thumbnail. Don’t break the skin beneath the scales. Gut the fish using tips of fingers by pulling out the gills and intestines. Rinse in cold water. Drain and dry gently using paper towels. Place in a dry bowl.

Add the seasonings to cleaned fish. First roughly grind up the dry red chillie flakes with salt in a small mortar and pestle. The salt will act as an abrasive to make it easier. Not to powder it but a rough grind so there’s still texture. Add it to the fish along with turmeric and fresh ground black pepper. Lightly mix with fingers.

Ensure oven preheated to 350F.  Get yourself an oven proof tray to keep the fried fish hot and place in oven. Once oven is ready heat oil to 375F in a deep pot. Fry in small batches of no more than four or five fish. Fry till crispy and brown. Drain on paper towels. Don’t over fry then it gets too stringy. As soon as the oil is drained (a minute or two) transfer to tray in oven to keep hot and keep frying till you’re done with the entire batch. Transfer to oven as they drain.

If using focaccia cut into sandwich sized rectangles where 3-4 whole fried fish can fit in. Or slice a good crusty loaf and butter the slices. Lay about 3-4 fish per sandwich laying it flat on one slice. Douse fish with hot sauce. If you don’t have hot sauce fresh lemon or lime juice will do. If no hot sauce make sure to increase the amount of red dry chillies in the seasoning. That is unless you are not keen on it being too hot.

Eat while the fish is still hot in between the slices. Would be great with drinks or a big pot of tea on a lazy weekend with the newspapers.

Focaccia recipe via New York Times: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1014533-whole-wheat-focaccia

You can use any oil. For this I used sesame oil (the South asian type not the Chinese oil which is too strong).

Pics and recipe by Renuka Mendis.

Toronto, March 5, 2017

Tricks with Yorkshire Pudding made in Ceylon, circa 1927

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Yorkshire Pudding recipe from the Ceylon Daily News Cookery Book. At page 56.

Are you mad? You might say. Yorkshire Pudding in Ceylon? What. Still in the colonial age? Actually not quite. This recipe comes from the Ceylon Daily News Cookery Book, first published in 1927. Since I could walk and talk this is the only cookbook that was at home and referred to often whenever guidance was needed. Not for roasting meat and eating strange puddings with it but for ghee rice, lamprais, milk toffee, high-trad sweetmeats, more rice and almost all the curries. A fascinating amalgam of  issaraha kaema and passa paththe kaema. What? No matter that’s another story. Point is the recipe posted above is not representative of the entire cook book. It was an amalgam of all the food you might want to create. From soups to nuts. Tamil, Malay, Sinahala and Kandyan recipes. Various toffees and even a fascinating section for Invalid Cookery. Jellies for when you are sick et al.  I have pored over this magical gem of a book since I could start to read and it is beloved in many a Sri Lankan home. Later as the family grew my mother’s expanding collection of recipe sources in Women and Home, a British magazine which got mailed to her and those she collected herself in her own handwritten recipe book supplemented our access. Every day during the week there was Housewife’s Choice on the radio where recipes were read out and my mother quickly managed to write down as it was read out too fast by the announcer. When the need for birthday cakes turned up she took  cooking classes where mostly Western fancy food was taught and those too have ended up in her recipe book. Back to Yorkshire.

I must have been in my teens when I tried this recipe. Once. I was not impressed. This was before the days of muffin tins or bun tins. I did not get the point of it at the time. But I tried and it was edible. I would have far preferred a fresh baked slice of bread from the bakery up the road. Because the recipe did not tell you about preheating the generously oiled baking tin to smoking; we missed out on the golden crusty glory that Yorkshire Pudding truly is. Then I forgot all about it.

In the early eighties when I set up house and wanted the mysteries of flesh fully unraveled I came across a Yorkshire pudding recipe once again but in a different book. Step by Step Guide to Meat Cookery by Audrey Ellis. Though once again not bothered with until I ended up in Canada. Meat was more plentiful and ingredients more accessible for a broader and varied culinary existence. Eggs were cheap and milk was cheaper. Most of all meat seemed more affordable. Especially beef. I probably had forgotten about both the meat cookery book and the old recipe from home for Yorkshire pudding by then.

Soon after I set up home here in Toronto, and almost by accident as I was reviewing what I call the Meat Cookery Book I came upon this recipe in the Audrey Ellis Book. It’s easy to miss as it is only mentioned in passing in a paragraph. By then I had accumulated at least one muffin tin and this is the perfect Yorkshire pudding recipe for me. I load the tins with lard or oil (almost a centimeter) and heat it up to high heavens before adding the batter to it. This is the key to the crispy wonder they become. The ubiquitous twelve a tray muffin tins really make this easy work. So make sure you have one (or two). This, in my books is the best recipe to accompany roasts that it has almost become sacred around here. It’s simple and basic but crisp and tender. It’s nothing fancy. The recipe makes a little under dozen small individual ones. I’ve come across recipes for huge ones on the internet but these are perfect. No other recipe will do and I now have a long relationship with this one and will not let go.

Yorkshire Pudding (Recipe  Adapted from Step by Step Guide to Meat Cookery by Audrey Ellis. Recipe at Page 10 hidden away in a paragraph.)  Makes about 10-12 small puddings which should serve two to four people easily as accompaniment to Roast Beef with usual trimmings and gravy and a good red.

Ingredients:

2 oz. (1/2 cup US) all purpose flour

pinch of salt

1 egg

1/4 pint (US 2/3 cup) milk or a mix of milk and water

In a large bowl whisk the flour with the salt using a balloon whisk so salt is fully incorporated. Or you may prefer to sift the flour into the bowl with the salt. Make a well in the centre and add the egg. Also pour the milk/water to the well. Using a wooden spoon or the whisk first combine the egg with the liquid and slowly draw in the flour surrounding the well. Go slow at first so there are no lumps. I feel a whisk does a better job of de-lumping in the early stages.

Anyhow the “well” in the middle technique is a basic batter skill that you already know about; very likely. It’s also how crepes are made.

You will end up with a smooth batter with tiny bubbles in it. Cover and let it rest for about an hour or even a bit more if you are too busy cooking up a storm.

Oil a 12 tin non-stick (ideally) muffin pan with lard or cooking oil. I usually also make sure to leave about 1/4 cm of oil in bottom of each pan. Preheat oven to 425F and place rack in middle. Heat the oiled muffin tin till it starts to smoke. Remove from oven and divide the batter equally into each of the tins. (Sometimes I only fill about ten tins). Best to use a 2 cup measure with a spout to pour the batter as it gives you more control that way.

Bake for 12 – 15 minutes till crisp and golden brown. Keep an eye on things after 12 minutes so they don’t burn. (It might smoke a bit). I recently learned a trick where you make a slit in each pudding in the last 5 minutes of the cooking time and you put it back in the oven so it does not fall when it comes out of the oven. Also makes the entire confection even crisper which I loved.

Serve straight out of oven and piping hot. It’s important to time this and plan in advance so it’s ready to go minutes before serving with the rest of the meal. Perfect with a good roast beef, veg and gravy. The classics. You can easily let the batter sit outside at room temperature for an hour. If you need more time let it sit in the fridge and bring it out about an hour prior so the batter is not too cold when baked.

Over time I’ve also loved to make these Yorkshire puddings for midnight snacks.  They are marvelous with butter and Marmite. Not habitually but a wonderful go to  treat if you are pulling an all-nighter or watching cricket coming to you from the other side of the world which usually happens while most people are asleep in EST.

Which brings me to the real tricks. And now I digress. Perhaps you will forgive me for not posting a photo of the basic puddings because what I really wanted to talk about was this. Here goes.

Twitter is a dangerous place. As I stayed up all night reading I kept getting distracted pining for late night snacks to go with a good read. What to do. You go on twitter and run into pornographic photos of golden brown Yorkshire puddings rising in the oven making matters worse. Surely I should just have a little yogurt and carry on reading. Or should I perhaps whip up some gougères with a little cheddar (this is at about 2.30a.m.) or isn’t Yorkshire pudding simpler. Whip up some batter and into the oven. Keep reading and out it pops straight into my tummy. Late night yorkies with butter and Marmite. The last one saved to have with a little strawberry jam for desert. This is an entirely other Yorkshire pudding experience which is not conventional. No roast meat involved and usually done in your night clothes while the world sleeps. Can we call them Yorkies then because that’s what we call them around here.

The thin crispy outside is unique in the realm of crispy treats and your teeth sing biting into it cracking up it’s crisp cover. Soft creamy insides are heart melting and sinfully good yet sweetly comforting. Most of all it’s all so irresistible in the wee hours of the morning when you’re a little peckish. My taste buds bamboozled wondering if it’s gougères with cheddar or plain Yorkies. But wait, surely there’s a way to add cheddar to Yorkies batter to make a treat. Who wants to be stirring a pot of desnse choux pastry at 2:30a.m. when batter is easier. Is it possible? Does the science permit it?

That is how in the wee hours I took a break from reading about a foetal Hamlet’s shenanigans (or more from his mother to be precise) and did a quick google search for “Yorkshire pudding variants.” Try it. It’s madness out there. Eight ways to flavour your Yorkshire pudding batter. And so it goes. Why didn’t I ever think of it all these years. Decades. Not even a toad in the hole. Uniquely reserved for roast beef and for last resort late night snacking. The only variant allowed was adding some butter and Marmite on it. Tradition you see. But that night in the company of said foetal Hamlet by way of a certain Mr. McEwan, a little drunk, I broke with tradition.

Of course I know toad in the hole is related. Same thing with a sausage in it. Yorkshire pudding though is a bit too sacred to muddy it with nonsense like some people have been doing of late with hoppers. Colouring it with beetroot to make it look red like red velvet cup cakes, using it as a salad bowl etc. I like consistency in things that have worked for a long time. Things like hoppers, pol roti and definitely Yorkshire pudding.

Despite all the strictness and rules I surprized myself when a slew of recipe ideas talked of throwing a little pesto into the middle of the batter, or a little grated cheddar. Why waste pesto on this. Pesto belongs with pasta and even better in the lustiest sexiest oozing grilled cheese (more on that later except to say it’s homemade bread, mozzarella and a little more of some extremely pungent cheese or the other for depth along with a thin layer of pesto). Since I had some feta floating about in a jar of brine since New Year’s might as well use it, I said to myself. Mushed it up with a little fresh mined parsley. A touch of chilli flakes for heat. Once the batter was in the pan (in little muffin tins) I plopped about a teaspoon each of the feta mixture right in the middle of each pan and baked it as normal. Don’t over-brown it because it will take away the flavour of the feta and parsley. So it’s a bit of a fine balance in the last minutes of baking time. Mine should have come out about two minutes before and is a touch too brown yet scrumptious.

This is also a tiny birthday present for my Yorkshire pudding friend, Saskia. She notices these things and jumped on it when I posted a photo of these Feta Yorkies in some other social media joint and it also happened to be her birthday. I promised to write this up that day but you know how it is.

So this is to February girls. And to Yorkshire pudding. I’ve already posted what I first encountered in our beloved Ceylon Daily News Cookery Book as well as the true recipe for Yorkshire pudding which is the base for the variants below. What follows are two variants. Feta. Cheddar.

When you add things to the batter it does not rise into giants nor is it too rich so expect that. It’s not like this is Tim Hortons. The recipe I use also does not have too many eggs and is very basic which makes the perfect canvas for the flavours, or indeed to sit side by side with a roast. On the issue of too many eggs. I’ve seen many different recipes on line but I believe too many eggs makes it too rich under any circumstances. Why over-egg the pudding.

Parsley Feta Yorkies. Cheddar Yorkies. Perfect for a late night snack or if you’re burning the midnight oil. Or make it for a party straight out of the oven and serve with something bubbly or that ever obliging Vinho Verde. It will be sensational.

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Cheddar Yorkies

Cheddar Yorkies – Makes a meaty dozen

Double recipe of Yorkshire pudding batter.

1/2 – 1/3rd cup of good quality old cheddar, grated using medium holes.

Prepare batter. Cover and let batter rest for about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425F. Prepare the muffin pan as instructed, preheat and fill the muffin tins. Immediately, working quickly and fast add about a teaspoon (divide your cheese to roughly twelve portions) of grated cheddar into the centre of each tin. Bake for 15 minutes watching to make sure they do not over-brown or burn but do not disturb the oven for the first 12 minutes or so.

In the last 3-5 minutes of baking remove the tin and make quarter to half inch slits to let out any steam using a sharp knife and immediately put it back in the oven for a further 3-5 minutes being careful not to let it over-brown.

Bake until golden brown. Remove to a tray lined with paper towels and eat immediately while still hot.

Optional: You may use this recipe without doubling it. You will get smaller and crisper cheddar Yorkies and will have to shorten the baking time a little. I prefer not doubling it.

Parsley Feta Yorkies here from my night with Nutshell:

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Parsley Feta Yorkies – Makes a dozen

One recipe of Yorkshire pudding batter. Do not double.

1/2 – 1/3rd cup of good quality Greek feta, mushed up and broken using the back of a fork.

2-4 tablespoons of fresh minced flat leaf parsley (Italian parsley) or to taste

Dry red chillie flakes to taste

Prepare batter. Cover and let batter rest for about 20-30 minutes.

For filling: Mix the feta with parsley and chillie flakes.

Preheat oven, prepare the muffin pan, preheat as instructed and add fill the muffin tins. Immediately, working quickly and fast add about a teaspoon (divide your feta mixture to roughly twelve portions) of grated cheddar into the centre of each tin. Bake for 15 minutes watching to make sure they do not over-brown or burn but do not disturb the oven for the first 12 minutes or so.

In the last 3-5 minutes of baking remove the tin and make quarter to half inch slits using a sharp knife and immediately put it back in the oven for a further 3-5 minutes being careful not to let it over-brown.

Bake until golden brown. Remove to a tray lined with paper towels and eat immediately while still hot.

Renuka Mendis, Toronto

February 25, 2017.

References:

Deutrom, Hilda. Ceylon Daily News Cookery Book. Revised Fifth Edition. Lake House Bookshop. 1964. (at page 56).

Ellis, Audrey. Step by Step Guide to Meat Cookery.  UK Edition. The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited. 1974.

McEwan, Ian. Nutshell. Alfred A. Knopf Canada. 2016

Gazpacho Impromptu

 

 

Tomatoes are lush and ripe around now and those winter nightmares of plastic red orbs are a distant bad dream. And at ninety-nine cents a pound nothing to thumb your nose at.  And why sweat over a hot stove when a cold soup will do for lunch. Not quite the authentic version or process involving mortars and pestles, but still quick and easy and tastes divine. Makes sure your ingredients are good and fresh.

 

 

Ingredients:

2 to 3 large ripe regular tomatoes (juicy) roughly cut up (with juice and skin and all)

Peeled large English cucumber cut in large pieces

1/4 to 1/2 a large green bell pepper, seeded, ribbed and rough chopped

Half a bunch of fresh Italian parsley thoroughly rinsed

Fresh mint to taste (entirely optional) thoroughly rinsed

Half a small red onion peeled and cut up

Two large cloves of fresh garlic or to taste

About 5-15 walnuts or whole almonds or cashew nuts

1 whole dried chili (arbol or similar type)

A few glugs of half decent olive oil (about 1/4 cup or less)

Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar to taste (two tablespoons more or less)

A dash of hot sauce (Grace Hot Pepper sauce works perfectly. Or Tabasco will do)

About 1/8th teaspoon of smoked paprika  (use a good brand like La Dalia)

Salt to taste

 

This is a raw dish. It is imperative your ingredients are well rinsed. Anyway it’s a rule around here even if things get cooked.

 

First make sure to always thoroughly rinse all vegetables and herbs before prepping (and in case of onions and garlic after peeling) them. Once prepped place all vegetables in a high speed high powered blender along with the rest of the ingredients.  Go easy on the salt, vinegar and hot sauce.  (If you don’t have a high wattage blender, then get one.)  Cover and blend on low and increase speed so everything is a rough smooth liquid. If you are using a high powered blender it will take a minute or less.

Check for seasoning and consistency. The vinegar should lend a slight tang, not a salad dressing tartness. You’ll barely taste the chili and hot sauce. They’re only meant to lift up the soup and not to make it hot. If it is too thick add more cucumber and/or tomato. I like it in a milk shake consistency so you can watch football while sipping it off a straw. Or you may add just cold water if too thick. Make it good and thick. Then it’s fun to plop some ice cubes in it too. Refreshing!

You may also add a slice of day old bread (good bread, and not wonderbread please) to the vegetables when blending. Idea is the vegetables give it body and taste while the olive oil blends with the tart tomato giving it a touch of emulsification. The nuts and the bread add a fleshy ceraminess and rounds it off.

Make it as liquid or thick as you like.  This is an entire lunch in a glass with ice in it. On a hot day it’s perfect.  Or chill the soup overnight and  you may serve it in a nice bowl with or without ice. If you want to look posh drizzle some olive oil on it and sprinkle some fresh chopped flat leaf parsley. Just a little.

From the first seconds in blender to the consistency of milkshake. You don’t need to completely blend it to oblivion either.

 

So there you have it.  How you get to lazily enjoy all those ninety nine cents a pound tomatoes that are at the greengrocers and markets this summer. And no hot stoves either.

 

Renuka Mendis

Toronto, June 26, 2016

115 Degrees Fahrenheit

mango.bliss

Sweet tender mango and warm fresh delicate just set yogurt made at night while the world slept; the combination of a perfect mango’s sweet sensuality and the innocence of milk made more resonant in its newly jellied form.

You wanted to know how to. So here it is. First of all get yourself a food thermometer.  I know many make yogurt without one but that is the secret for success around here.  You will never go wrong. And anyway it is a useful tool to have around the kitchen.  As to the rest here you go.

What you need:

4 Litres Whole Milk (you can use skimmed or in between or add cream for richer yogurt)

4 tablespoons unflavoured yogurt (formula is 1 tablespoon per litre of milk)

Special equipment:

Food thermometer

Wide mouthed glass jars with lids

A balloon whisk

A glass cup measure for filling jars

A cup to rest the thermometer between checks

A heavy bottomed sauce pan

Oven with pilot light

Important Temperatures to keep in mind:

Milk holding temperature – 160F – 180F

Inoculation temperature – 115F

Ambient temperature to rest the yogurt – 110F

Something about ambient temperature.  The ideal temperature for yogurt to set is 110F more or less.  How this works for me is if I leave the light on in my electric oven it hits that temperature.  It should not be too much higher than that.  The yogurt takes between 5 – 6 hours to set.  The longer it sits from the moment it sets the more tart it becomes.  If you don’t like yogurt tart remove the yogurt as soon as it is set.  You will know it is set because when you tilt it the whey will separate from the solids.  For the first time suggest you give it about seven hours and you can experiment with your next batch.  I tend to like it un-tart so I remove it as soon as it is set.  Just set warm yogurt is pure magic.  Especially with ripe mango.  Anyway, back to work.

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First sterilize your jars …

First sterilize your jars, lids, whisk and the cup measure in boiled water for 15 minutes. Then remove with tongs and drain on a tray lined with a clean kitchen towel. If your jars and equipment are not sterilized your yogurt might not set due to bacteria. Don’t skip this part.  Also make sure your working areas are super clean and same with your oven.

Now heat the milk in a heavy bottomed non-reactive pan stirring all the time.  Bring to between 160F – 180F and keep it at that temperature for 20 – 30 minutes.  Make sure to keep stirring and adjust heat to ensure it does not go outside this temperature range.  If you don’t stir a skin will form on top which is not a good idea.

After 20 – 30 minutes place the pan in an ice bath or cold water bath and bring temperature down to 115F.  115F is the magic temperature at which inoculation can occur which will make sure the culture you add to the milk will multiply and magically transform milk to yogurt.

As soon as the milk reaches 115F remove from the cold water/ice bath and add the yogurt and whisk it in.  Promptly transfer the milk to the jars using the measuring cup.  Cover the jars with the lids and place on a large tray in oven which should be at 110F.  Cover the bottles with a kitchen towel.

After 5 – 6 hours your yogurt will be set.  Sometimes it may take a little longer but not a lot. As I said if this is your first time just do it before you sleep and it should be set when you wake up in the morning but it will be a little tart.

I think yogurt is lovely when super fresh and warm.  But in order to store the yogurt place them in a cold water bath till room temperature.  Then refrigerate.  They keep easily in the fridge for a month without any problem provided you don’t open the lids.  Once they are open they are still good for two to three weeks.  Always keep refrigerated.

DSCF2962Until you get the hang of it after making a few batches; it’s best to use large mouthed jars.  These are small jars I make for single servings.  I leave a bunch in the office fridge; end up being my breakfast often.

And the best part.  You get to use the yogurt you made for your next batch as the culture.  Just use one tablespoon for each litre of milk.  Best of luck. This has become a beloved ritual for me.  I no longer buy yogurt.

Tips:  Sometimes I add about a tablespoon of rose water into a jar (1 litre) to give it a rose flavour.  Although I’ve never done so you could also sweeten the yogurt by adding sugar to the milk and other flavourings.  I am happy with plain yogurt and I jazz it up with some fruit preserves or fresh fruit or sometimes just some toasted oats.  Ripe perfect apricots and mangoes, fresh, are divine with just set yogurt before it gets tart. It is paradise.  Sometimes when I need something fancy I just get out the yogurt and have it with a little sugar and plop a few drops of rose water in it.  Needless to mention all the savoury possibilities for salads and things.  Chop up a cucumber and a tomato.  Throw in some yogurt and some chopped mint and/or dill.  There’s a summer salad for you.

Renuka Mendis, in Toronto, August 31, 2015.

Of Milk Rice and Fish Heads from Parliament Street

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Kiribath is such an amazing treat. Just add extra water in some good rice and cook it well and add a little light coconut milk with enough salt to taste. Cook it down until it is a happy mush with the grains somewhat still in tact and spread it out on a plate like a cake and cool it. Cut it into pieces and bob’s your uncle.

I’ve eaten ridiculous quantities of Christmas cake that kiribath was certainly not on the agenda though a lot of people seem to think not to make kiribath on January 1st is really pushing your luck. But heck my waistline is in great peril. Still. I’d been pining through all the Christmas cooking which incidentally is not really Sri Lankan but more western oriented, yes pining for a good spicy fish head dish. A Portuguese fish head soup may be or a Korean fish head soup or an impromptu something or the other with lotsa spice. In some places in the world fish head is a delicacy because that is where the flesh is the sweetest. It is true. If you don’t know that then sorry I guess you need to try it or else forever hold your tongue.

Kiribath in some Sinhala homes are made on the 1st of every month for good luck. It is made on New Years and on special days. Again for good luck. At exam time many mothers make kiribath before one marches out to slaughter at the O Levels or A Levels. So much luck bags of it I really don’t know what people do with all the luck they harvest making all that kiribath. Sometimes Amma made too much. And she’d plonk it on the table with the rest of the food; usually just curries those days. But always welcome. Kiribath. Usually kiribath is not eaten with a curry but with Jaggery (sweet palm sugar) or a hot relish type condiment– Lunu Miris. Never with gravy etc. But if there were leftovers they got served up as if it were regular rice. Except it is not regular rice because it has coconut milk in it and it is not loose like just rice but more like a rice cake. Kiribath with fish curry from those unusual times when there was an excess of kiribath; and fish cooked in a spicy coconut milk sauce with Kiribath is an amazing combination. Not that it is on the menu when the kiribath is first made but it is just offered with whatever meat or fish curry that is left over in the kitchen.

This is from long ago and my mom has not made kiribath for me since the late 70s except on the odd visits after I left home.  And she’s now long left this earth.  But I remember the taste of it all. I’ve been pining for this in the back of my mind. I had purchased a few fish heads by feigned accident from Ambal Trading when I went down there to pick up something else on the 30th. Curry leaves. You know how it is. One thing leads to another and god knows where one ends up.

Usually when you make a fish curry you end up with the gravy going all watery which is a huge drag. So I tried a few tricks and it worked so that the gravy was thick thick thick and heavier than whipping cream.  And the lemon rind at the end was not something my mom did.  Nor did she do the fry up which I think is more a Kerala style and ditto with the sambar powder.   Main thing is to keep the gravy from getting watery and not to overcook the fish remembering these are fish with bones. The fact that it is made of fish heads adds ridiculous amounts of flavour and you get to suck on the bones and even chew the juices out of them. You know what they say. You are never lonely when eating spaghetti. But try fish head curry. Lonely. No chance.

The fish heads cost me $4.50 at Ambal Trading which is ridiculously cheap. And even better. Kiribath and spicy fish head curry go together with cava like a horse and carriage. For left over bubbly from 31st night. Happy all round.  It all turned out slightly different from what mom made but divine nevertheless.  Make some.

You need:
About 4lbs of Seer (King Fish) fish head with gills discarded and head cut into about 1 inch pieces. Do not throw anything. (The fish monger will do this for you).
The cream of a can of good coconut milk. (Chill for about an hour and without shaking open the can and carefully spoon the cream and put into a separate container. You can use the watery residue in something else).
One small onion sliced.
Three or four green chillies sliced.
Four large garlic cloves. (2 sliced and 2 grated).
1 inch piece ginger (half finely minced and the rest grated).
Four sprigs fresh curry leaves.
1 or 2 teaspoons black Mustard seeds
3 tablespoons cooking oil
One cardamom pod bashed
2 x 1″ pieces of Ceylon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon Paprika
1 heaping teaspoon turmeric
About 3 or 4 red dry chillies roughly banged up in a mortar and pestle so they are in rough flake-like pieces (it’s ok if the seeds are whole)
About a teaspoon or two of fresh rough ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sambar powder (get from Tamil shop)
Fenugreek seeds (1/4 teaspoon)
Salt to taste
Three pieces goraka (get it from Tamil shops or Sri Lankan on line grocers)
Juice of one lemon including the rind of a lemon freshly grated. (grate at end straight into the curry)

Thoroughly wash goraka (careful sometimes it has sand on it) and put in about a cup of boiling water and bring to a medium simmer and cook for about 30 – 45 minutes watching so as not to let it dry out. Idea is to simmer so the flavour gets out into the water and you end up with about ½ cup of sour water.

Thoroughly rinse the cut up fish. (Be careful don’t cut yourself on the bony bits and sharp ends. Some of teeth can be sharp). Drain well and if you can even dry it with paper towels carefully. Place in a very large bowl. Add the turmeric, paprika, black pepper and dry chilli pieces to the fish with salt. Add the grated ginger and garlic and half fenugreek seeds. Toss with a spoon or spatula gently to cover most of the fish. Cover with plastic and keep in fridge about 30 minutes.

Gather the stuff for the temperado (fry up):
Half the curry leaves. Half the onions. Fenugreek seeds. Sliced garlic and minced ginger. One piece cinnamon. Sambar powder and mustard seed.

All the remaining ingredients except for lemon and coconut milk should be put into another small bowl as it will go in after the fry up.

In a large sauce pan heat the oil and when hot fry the mustard seeds. They will pop. Use a splatter shield or it could burn you. Add the rest of the fry up ingredients and once the onions are near brown turn off fire and remove pan from heat. Add the sambar powder and quickly stir for about 10 seconds until fragrant.  Place back on medium heat and add half of the fish and gently stir so it get’s singed a little. Add the rest of the fish and do the same. Now add the remaining ingredients except for lemon and coconut milk. Also add the goraka water and the goraka pieces. Make sure the fresh ingredients (like onion etc.) are below the fish pieces. Now add about a cup of the thick coconut milk. No need to mix. It will not cover the fish but the fish will render liquid as it cooks and mingle.

Cover and on medium to high heat bring to a near boil then reduce to allow fish to render liquid and it will then mix with the coconut milk and the liquid should come to nearly the top of the fish. Gently shake and mix from time to time and cook for about 15-20 minutes on a high simmer. Taste for salt. Make sure the fish cooks gently all the time no higher than a high simmer otherwise it may get too mushy if the fish breaks up too much.  Remember too much friction is the enemy of fish most days.

Important to remember that it is the thick coconut cream that prevents the gravy becoming too watery.  Also remember not to overcook the fish but just right so the bones are just cooked through.

At the end grate the rind of a lemon into the gravy and add the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning for salt and lemon/sour. The sauce will be very thick. Slightly thicker than whipping cream. Serve with Kiribath. How to make kiribath? Well it is all over the internet. Go check.

Happy New Year!

By the way:
Choice of fish. Grouper head and red snapper head is great for this too. But make sure the scales on the head are totally removed by the fish monger before cutting it. The cut up head goes into the curry skin and all. But no one wants fish scales in their curry. No sirree.

Heat: This may be spicy for some so feel free to vary the pepper and chillies. But the whole point in the dish is that it is hot and tangy.  If you love it hot add your hottest freshest deadliest chillies as much as you can take instead of the quantities mentioned in ingredients.  It will be sublime.  (This is a big secret and enjoy the heat.)

Out on a limb with brinjals and BBU

 

What I think is brinjal moju which is listed as simply Moju in Doreen Peris’s book.* I made it without the dry fish or karawala with some slight and not so slight adjustments. Until I am lectured to and hectored and corrected I shall call this brinjal moju.

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On brinjals. I belong to an age where we were taught home science in school. Yup. They used to do that. Sewing. That too. Not that I have anything against teaching the necessities of day to day life except that the subject was only taught to girls; and boys did not need to know. That’s what I know. May be there were a few minor exceptions. I don’t know of those. There still is this crazy idea that cooking and sewing can only be done by women and girls and men or boys need not know a thing about it. Strange that. I thought you could teach a puppy any trick. Oh never mind.

At Good Shepherd Convent upper school started at Grade 6 and suddenly home science became a subject. A bit like a semi-grown up playing house kinda thing. There you learned how to make a bed god forbid; but not how to lie on it. As to sewing, hems were made on squares and the stitches had to be clean and virtually invisible. Talk about a tall order. At that time who knew that this was part of the great conspiracy but whatever. But back to brinjals.

The first thing they taught us to cook in home science was brinjals badala uyala and cheese balls. This may be part of my addled mind but before the cooking could start we had to have mastered how to make an apron and one wore it to the cooking class. You got into serious trouble if you forgot your apron for the home science class. Duly aproned we learned about balls and brinjals. The cheese balls involved boiled potatoes and grated kraft cheddar cheese to make them cheesy which were then breaded and deep fried. Something I never made again except perhaps once. I I recollect it really did not stand up to cutlis. Why bother to boil potatoes and go through the whole drama of breading and frying ra ra when you might as well make cutlis and what a waste of cheese dammit. Those expensive and precious blue tins of kraft cheese were there for only two purposes. 1) cheese and cheesebits; 2) cheese sandwiches. Not big sliced hunks of cheese sandwiches but those you made with grated cheese and sliced hot green chillies in soft chewy slices of bakery bread buttered with globe brand butter. Cheese balls my football. But I digress again not unlike Greece looking for the long way home (thank you Teju Cole).

Brinjals badala uyala stuck in my heart in the home science room at GSC. An early loaded food memory of sorts. But never mind the feminist conspiracy theory I still make a killer BBU and so does Arjuna despite ever having gone to a home science class. He learned it from love. Any time it is made I put my heart and soul into it which is never a hard thing for me when it comes to good food but this somehow gets a little bit more love. First loves of sorts.

 

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Arjuna’s brinjal BBU; not from a book but how his mom made it

Now dishes made with brinjals that are fried come under different names but I no longer know what is what and the only thing I know for sure as to a label is the brinjals badala uyala. At GSC our teacher left out an important bit. She simply called it brinjals badala uyala leaving the dish thus unnamed but hereinafter to be known as BBU. Then there’s brinjal sambol, brinjal pahi, and brinjal moju in the grand pantheon of brinjals that are thinly sliced or cut lengthwise and then liberally rubbed with lashings of salt (or salt water in the days of coarse salt from the sea) and finger staining turmeric and then deep fried; after which more unspeakable things are done to them. Yah. At the end of the day fried brinjals are fried brinjals and it has no equal. Especially when the brinjals are good and piping fresh and not too big so that each piece has some skin on. The question whether my BBU is moju or pahi still remains unanswered. Amma never used words like moju or pahi you see so blame it on my bad upbringing.

In my tiny household when we do the badala uyala brinjals thing we call it eggplant. Oh I forgot to explain brinjals is another word for eggplant but Sri Lankans like to call them brinjals. As to the terminology of brinjals versus eggplant that is for another day. In the curry context there is no need of clarification usually but if clarification is needed when eggplant is on the menu – brinjals fried and cooked – is what comes up; a literal translation of the Sinhala expression. The words moju or pahi are never uttered around here.

When I was planning a menu recently and discussed with my cousin the possibilities given she had inside information as to preferences of those on the guest list brinjal moju came up. Some investigations from said cousin as to how her mom made it bore little fruit. Did it have vinegar or did she use tamarind, did she use dry fish in it etc. were greeted with a curt “ahem no clue.” And thus I ran off on a junket of my own as to what goes into a proper moju. Seems the term moju may be interchanged (inaccurately? thus this ruminatory rant) with pickle. Sambol is straight forward and that I know. But is moju the same as pickle in context of brinjal moju? And what the hell is pahi? Is that the proper term for BBU? If not what is the proper term for BBU and so on and so forth.

Despite having gone through all three of my Sri Lanakan cook books to figure out the difference I was still no closer to the truth here. A quick look on the web only made matters worse as to the actual terms used. Don’t trust the web.

So I’ve come to the inconclusive opinion just as bad or good as any football world cup referee’s decision that brinjals badala uyala (fried and cooked) must be brinjals pahi; and brinjals moju is brinjals pickle. And now to confuse things even further moju is usually made with brinjals and yes, fried dried fish or karawala. So technically brinjal moju without karawala in it is not really brinjals moju. However given that karawala was not on the list I think I may have made brinjals moju with a little help from Doreen Peiris bless her heart. Or is it a pickle?

So let the great brinjal debate begin. As to the sewing; that is for another day.

 

 

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Use smaller brinjals and stay away from the huge ones so each piece gets some skin on.

 

 

Recipe:

3 lbs smallish brinjals (eggplant).
Turmeric powder and sea salt (the fine powdered type) for seasoning brinjals
½ – 1 lb Sri Lankan shallots from the Tamil shop if you are not in Sri Lanka, peeled.
Fresh Green Chillies – About half or same quantity in volume as the peeled shallots.
Oil to fry – lots. Not olive oil but oil with neutral taste or coconut oil.

2 tablespoons of Ceylon type mustard seeds
½ to 3/4 cup of Ceylon coconut vinegar
about 1 inch piece of fresh ginger
3 – 6 medium cloves of garlic peeled
chilli powder to taste and about 1/4 teaspoon or to taste of chilli flakes
A sprig or two of fresh curry leaves
A tablespoon of sugar

A few hours or more of your precious time.
A big deep pan to fry in safely.
Splatter shield just in case things splatter.
Kitchen paper towels.

Method in my madness:

Soak mustard in vinegar the night before and ideally seal with plastic wrap in case you have fruit flies or leave uncovered if safe. Alternatively cover and leave in fridge. Bring to room temperature before using.

Find brinjals that are not too long and not too fat and avoid the huge ones. Wash brinjals and remove the tough stem and cut them lengthwise into wedges about 3/4 inch at its widest. If they are too long feel free to cut them in half so each piece is about 5″ – 6″ max approximately. Breadthwise it should be no longer than 1 – 1.5 inches. Place in a large bowl as you cut and keep throwing some turmeric and salt to season as you go and mix gently. Leave aside for about an hour. Be careful not to over salt.

Peel the shallots then rinse well and drain and place in separate bowl. Wash the fresh green chillies and drain and make a slit (do not cut all the way) about halfway down the middle lengthwise with tip of sharp knife. Prepare the garlic and ginger and rinse and set aside the curry leaves.

Fill large deep sauce pan with about 2″ to 3″ of cooking oil (not olive oil). Bring to high heat (almost to smoking). Take a few handfuls of the brinjals and place in a bowl and quickly wipe with paper towels to remove excess liquid and carefully fry in batches. Adjust heat once the oil gets hot and deep fry somewhat slowly so they cook and turn nearly golden and crisp outside. Usually about 10 minutes per batch. Do not crowd the oil as this will result in the eggplant absorbing too too much oil like a sponge.

Drain in colander as you fry. Taste a piece from the first batch for salt. If it needs more salt add more to the rest of the raw brinjals and sprinkle the fried brinjals with a little salt to taste. You can keep doing this so each fried batch is properly seasoned. Fry all of the brinjals in batches.

Once brinjal is fried; fry shallots in batches and ensure some salt is added before frying. Follow with the green chillies and that too must be salted before frying. Add to colander as you fry.

Blend the vinegar and mustard in high speed blender and add ginger and garlic and chilli powder and chilli flakes and sugar. Be careful about not putting too much chilli as it may not be to your taste but the chilli flakes are important as it adds to the flavour. Remove to a bowl. Taste it for salt and adjust or add keeping in mind the salt content of the fried vegetables.

Place about 2 – 3 tablespoons of the oil (in which the vegetables were fried) in a large non reactive sauce pan that could easily hold about thrice the quantity of the fried vegetables. When hot fry the curry leaves till the whole house is fragrant then take off flame and add the vinegar mustard mixture and cook over a medium flame for about five minutes. Adjust flame to low so the sauce does not over boil. It should cook at a high simmer and then reduced to a simmer towards the last few minutes and it will thicken. Remove from flame and add all of the fried vegetables into the sauce and very gently incorporate the mustard sauce without breaking up the vegetables. Try your best to keep the vegetables in tact so it does not become a mushy mess while incorporating the sauce. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt. The vinegar and mustard flavour will be obvious but counteract beautifully with the eggplant.

 

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The vinegar mustard dressing cooking and thickening.  From liquid to creamy.

Let the brinjal cool to room temperature. Store in a glass jar or non-reactive dish covered in fridge for a few weeks.  Make sure vessel and cover is non-reactive to acid etc.  I like serving this at room temperature with rice and curries. Would go well in a sandwich filling on its own or with left over roast lamb or curried meat.

This quantity generously filled a 1.5 litre dish and easily made a dozen servings. Kept well for thee weeks in fridge. Time for another big batch.

 

*A Ceylon Cookery Book, A practical guide by Doreen Peiris. 6th Edition. (no publisher is named but Printed at D.P. Dodangoda & Co. Moratuwa). 1983. At Page 65.

looking for kankung on the kelani bridge

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Structures. Whether built by nature or by humans when they are magnificent for a few moments you forget the vagaries and the terrors of the day to day. Its inescapable power and effect takes over to the exclusion of all. Some bridges have that effect on me. Especially the bridges of my memory. The Kalutara Bridge, the Kelani Bridge and in its unique way even the Elephant Pass Bridge which one crossed on the Yal Devi. The bridge across the Nilwala in Matara where the kimbula swam with her baby and usually crossed at night as in a dream on trips from Yala and Kataragama and hardly noticed in the rush to get there. The abandoned truss bridges one finds running parallel to a better road on a more concrete bridge. The combination of a geographical transition and suspension does its trick heightened by the possibility it might all come crashing down in an instant. The old Kelani Bridge being the most accessible to the day to day of my memories.

There were and still probably are two Kelani bridges — the new bridge and the old bridge. The new bridge made of mostly concrete and cement with little steel to be seen and the sides of the bridge screening out much of the view unlike the old steel truss bridge with its geometric frames in sections leaving huge naked gaps through which one may fall straight into the river in the event the road or the railway track tipped sideways.

The old Kelani Bridge has such a sense of occasion and grandeur where it crosses the wide Kelani river at Grandpass in Colombo. On most trips out of town to Negombo, Kelani temple, to dear friends in Ja-Ela or if I took the bus with my mother to her school at Kelaniya; crossing the old truss bridge was always a thrill, craning my neck to look at the rolling muddy waters, the sand harvesting barges, and most of all the verdant green patches like little green handkerchiefs in different shades of jade that were way way below bridge level. The keera kotu where mukunuwanna, sarana and kankung grew. These patches of green seemed an unreachable and distant green paradise because they were far far below where the road was built and I always wanted to find my way there to touch them but never did.

I was told the sakkili people tended the verdant patches by the river. Cultivated to feed Colombo’s demand for mallung and kola thel daala or sarana kirata. The best leafy greens were brought right to our doorstep by these women who carried them on their heads with the greens all arranged in a woven reed basket, a wattiya. The women wearing saris with no blouses which never shocked me. They also wore heavy brass jewellery in their ears which made their ear lobes dangle close to their shoulders and their mouths were red from chewing copious quantities of beetle leaf with chunam. When I was little I wondered if the heavy jewellery was gold. Depending on which bundle of keera you bought the price was anywhere between ten to fifteen cents. As time went on I recall the price going up to 25 cents. Any good kitchen always produced a side dish of greens with every rice meal. These greens grew in somewhat waterlogged soil found in the flood-prone areas by the Kelani river where no one but the poorest and the most destitute lived in shacks. When the river flooded their fragile homes flooded too. Children lived in them and I could see from the bus little girls in tidy white uniforms being readied for school and their hair being braided on fragile doorsteps.

We had a few sakkili women who came regularly to our compound to do the dirty work that no one else wanted to do but which still needed doing; and they were paid a tiny fee for their services. Often we gave them our left over food which no one else wanted to eat. Mudira’s wife was one of my favourite persons. She cleaned our gully, the drains, the bathroom and lavatory. She scrubbed and washed the garbage can which in those days was used with no garbage bags or even patas putus bags to line them. She was tough and walked a tight rope eking out a living doing menial labour but still managed to keep strong boundaries. There was a line you could not cross with her. A line of authority that only I saw because I too was invisible. She gratefully took any old left over rice just on the verge of becoming inedible; happy to take home with her so we did not have to throw out more food. And old rice has a way of rotting in Colombo’s hot humidity turning it into a putrid hash in days when refrigerators were a luxury and the antique that was in our home was broken down most of the time. Mudira’s wife was a karupi or a sakkili but we never referred to her as that sakkili woman. She was Mudira’s woman instead. Tall, dark, strong, handsome just like Mudira who was more handsomer than most men and he only beat his wife when he had spent too much time at the local toddy tavern where a lot of sakkili men; and women; hung out at the end of their labours. Mudira was one of the strongest and nicest men I’ve come across again with the same reserve as his wife’s and could be relied upon to do the dirtiest jobs. A local family owned the toddy tavern and got ridiculously rich on it was the story going around in Kotahena. No one messed with them and they were mostly unseen; their women coddled and sheltered princesses driven around in nice cars wearing nice saris and nicer jewellery. They lived in even nicer houses. They were hated because of the toddy tavern which was seen as an eyesore by the purportedly respectable families of Kotahena. Once there was even a referendum to close down the toddy tavern and now in retrospect I wonder where Mudira’s people would have gone for their night’s libations after cleaning our septic tanks during the day.

But I digress. Mudira’s wife had no name. It never occurred to me to ask. Long ago one did not know there was an alternative to the status quo in some places. I still think about them. They were a presence in my life growing up because Mudira was like a prince and he was always courteous; and big and strong. He had the loveliest smile. Mudira’s wife might have made a fine prime minister. Mudira’s wife was always pleasant but never talked too much and never cow towed. She had that kind of stature. I still see their son in my mind’s eye; then a strong toddler taking after his parents and he often came around with them when his parents came to do things. Or when they came by to pick up left overs which we packed in old milk powder tins. And once they had been to our house and scoured the drains, the gully, the garbage can, the lavatory, the bathroom, somehow life always seemed immensely more liveable. The way they scrubbed everything in an intense flurry using a tightly tied up bunch of short coconut ekels made me feel taken care of. My grandmother referred to them as the sakkili people. To call a non-sakkili person a sakkili or a karupi was usually an insult to mean you were the lowest of the low. But growing up any visit by these people be it the person who cleaned our garbage cans, or the woman who sold us our greens; they were a sign of stability for me to remind me that some things were working as they ought to in this adult managed world. They could be relied upon. Mudira was a pillar in our community but at its lower levels so to speak. If anything needed to be done like a difficult job in the garden or the drains; the cleaning of the septic tank; dirty dirty work; you could count on Mudira. But the women were always nameless.

Amma sometimes called our bringer of greens keerakaraing or sometimes we called her the keera woman. She regularly appeared at our gate and stood there. The dogs barked and she kept a safe distance and waited for the lady of the house or one of us to appear. She’d then come in through the gate and her wattiya basket squealed and creaked as she heaved it off her head and placed it on the red cement floor of our front verandah. She was so strong despite her petite build. In those days she brought mostly two types of greens. Mukunuwanna and kankung. Mukunuwanna makes wonderful mallung but just like other bundles of greens one had to carefully hand pick and pluck the good leaves and stems and discard the dried out and rotten slimy bits. Then you washed them and thoroughly shook off the water and gathered small bunches of them to finely cut with a sharp knife. The finer the better. No one would marry you if your mallung was not finely cut was the lie that was being propagated at the time.

On days that Amma did not buy mukunuwanna the other choice was kankung. Most greens were either made into a mallung with coconut or made thel daala. While I loved eating these greens; whenever a bundle of mukunuwanna or kankung was put in front of me to pick over and clean and then to cook them; it was always one of my least favourite sights. This meant seemingly hours spent picking, cleaning, breaking and washing so you ended up with the best bits and with little time to do more interesting things like sit in a corner and read and listen to the little people speaking and singing from inside radio. Sometimes if you were lucky only half the bunch was unusable because the stems were too tough or rotten or the leaves were dried out and yellow. Often these bunches were bundled in such a way to hide the unusable parts and to show off the more verdant aspects of the bunch. A chance one took whenever you bought the day’s greens. Amma had her favourite keera women who she was sure always gave her better greens with less to discard. But there was always a lot to discard after a long time spent picking over the greens. And one bunch was hardly enough for a household of eight to ten mouths needing to be fed.

In those days most of the time that was spent in preparing food was spent not actually cooking it but in the preparation of it. Ensuring what went in the pot was clean and good took a long time. Not rotten, not dried out, not past its prime and to ensure there was no dirt, sand or grime that ended up in the pot. It is not that much different today when you go to the Nugegoda market to buy greens except that the variety of greens have broadened immensely and the women who sell them are Sinhalese last I saw. I wonder where the keerakaraing went and where Mudira’s people are. I asked my niece in Colombo on an online chat the other day about the sakkili or karupis and she told me that she had never met one but that her mother had told her about the work they did in our old house in Kotahena.

When one leaves home you miss these everyday things like mukunuwanna mallung and kankung thel daala. You forget the tedium of all the seemingly wasted hours of your girlhood and youth relegated to picking over keera. In Sri Lanka some call greens palaa the Sinhala term for greens; and I still call it keera because that is what my mother and my grandmother called them growing up. I went for years without kankung or mukunuwanna until I discovered kankung in our local Chinatown here in Toronto well over a decade ago. Kankung is always more expensive than most other Chinatown greens. Consequently I only buy it when I am brave enough to splurge or when I am pining for something from home so badly that I throw all caution to the wind.

The way I was taught to make kankung theldaala however has often resulted in failures of soupy outcome with too much liquid requiring lengthy keera abuse over a hot stove to boil down the excess. My cousin’s wife taught me how to make it. You clean the greens and put it in a pot with all the ingredients. No liquid is added except for a little tamarind mixed in water; and a little oil for it to somewhat fry in at the end when the liquid has dissipated. On lucky days I have less liquid but most days the kankung ends up swimming in a pool of excess liquid. These greens are indeed mostly water more so than the sturdier kale or collard. Its no wonder that all the liquid seeps out especially when the pot is covered which one must do so as not to dry it out. However a good kankung thel daala is a dryish dish of wilted and spiced up and slightly tart greens cooked somewhat slowly in its own liquid and a little oil resulting in crunchy tasty greens that go beautifully with rice and other curries.

So it was quite the revelation to me when I discovered while skimming over an old cook book* purchased for seventy-five rupees in Colombo perhaps over thirty years ago; a kankung thel daala recipe which seems to have overcome this waterlogged problem. Here is my version of it with very slight tweaking. A whole new world awaits.

By way of explanation “thel daala” is to cook covered, a vegetable or greens in a little oil and in its own liquid mostly; not to boil but cook gently in its own steam and some oil until most of the liquid is dried out and the vegetable or green is cooked till near tender and then it simmers in a covered pan in the residual oil so it is crisp on the tooth yet tender; not crispy crunchy but just a slight crunch with texture. The term “thel daala” is unique. It does not translate to devilled or to sautéing either. I still believe a proper thel daala is done in the way that I was taught but this recipe is a solution to the problem of excess liquid though the process is somewhat unorthodox which does worry me a little. Incidentally when I cook dandelion leaves in the manner I was originally taught to make kankung theldaala it works beautifully.

And the further good news is that the kankung you get from the local Chinatown here in Toronto is so good in quality there is very little to discard; and the time spent picking over the greens is minimal though it is always good to leave yourself some extra time. What was once utter resentful tedium has now become a heart soothing ritual of comfort for me.

I did grow up long before I left home to clean the gully, and scrub the drains, the toilet and the bathroom and a lot more though I never had to clean a septic tank; not yet. I still remember those women and some men that lit up my girlhood and early youth with their presence whenever they came to our house to do the dirty work that we did not want to do at sometime in our lives. I remember how hard their lives were. I remember how the excess food that we did not want was so easily gotten rid of on them and I sensed that something was not right with that equation. I remember their children. I remember the grace with which they seemed to welcome and endure their existence; something I ought to learn from. Where are they now and where are their children and their children’s children. Do they still clean the drains and gullies of people with houses so they can feed their children? And where are the keera women? I’d give a kingdom to hear the music of her creaking basket heavy with the weight of bundles of keera being set down on our front verandah. And what was Mudira’s wife’s name? Does anyone know? I wish I could talk to her now.

 

 

Kankung Thel Daala (Serves 2 – 4)

Stage 1

1 large bunch of kankung (about 1 to 1.5 lbs)
1 teaspoon chilli flakes (hot) or to taste – then ground up to a rough powder in electric spice grinder
1/3 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 to 2 tablespoons maldive fish roughly broken (pounded or ground in electric spice grinder) to small pieces; but do not powder
2 – 4 fresh green chillies including a ripe red one sliced diagonally
A sprig of fresh curry leaves or just the leaves.
A walnut sized ball of fresh tamarind soaked in hot water in a small cup/bowl.
salt to taste

Stage 2

2 – 3 tablespoons coconut oil or other neutral tasting cooking oil
1 or 2 sprigs fresh curry leaves or just the leaves
½ cup to 3/4 cup of thinly sliced Ceylon shallots; or other sliced shallots.
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 or 3 whole dried chillies broken to a few pieces.

Note that in original post I overlooked including 1-2″ piece of Ceylon cinnamon to the Stage 1 list.

Rinse all fresh ingredients and set aside. Slice shallots and set aside.  Soak the tamarind in a small cup/bowl and cover with just enough boiling water to soak it. Once it is somewhat cool mix softened tamarind with fingers and squeeze in water to dissolve and then set aside for about ten minutes to settle the sediment. Then strain liquid being careful not to let any sediment come through. Reserve liquid and discard the residue.

Pick over the kankung carefully and discard any tough stems or stem parts by breaking them. Pick off any dead or wilted leaves or stems so you are left with fresh green and tender stems and leaves. If the stem snaps easily with a plop sound it is good. As it goes to the thicker end of stem they get tougher depending on the bunch. Do not use the thicker tougher parts of the stem.

Wash thoroughly and drain. Break the stems into about 2 or 3 inch pieces with leaves intact. At this stage you may dry the kankung in a salad spinner. The salad spinner sounds like more work but may be worth it because you are left with much less water.

Place spun and/or drained greens in a suitably sized pan just enough to fill it up. Now add all ingredients in Stage 1 to the greens along with the prepared tamarind water which you should pour over the greens once it is in the pan.

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Cover with a tight fitting lid and bring to boil and immediately lower to a simmer. Stir, cover and cook till all the liquid is nearly dried out being careful not to let it burn. It will take anything from 7 – 15 minutes or so depending on amount of liquid. The greens will be wilted and now take them off the burner. Using this method there should be little to no liquid left. If there is still obvious liquid then uncover and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, being careful not to let it burn.

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Kankung at end of Stage 1 with barely any liquid left.

Use a wok or similar vessel or a large skillet as we move to Stage 2 ingredients.  Ensure your your wok is non-reactive to acid due to tamarind content.  Be careful and use a splatter shield because the oil will splatter. Heat the oil in pan or wok. Fry the curry leaves and in a few seconds add the fennel seeds and broken dry chillies and when they start to pop and toast add the sliced shallots and fry them.

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At outset try to gauge the amount of oil you might need depending on the amount of shallots you plan to use. Once the shallots are fried and near golden and some of them are starting to crisp up add the greens mixture and stir frequently over a medium heat till the greens are crisp and any liquid is almost dried out. Check for seasoning and adjust for salt and tartness. You may add lime juice at the end.

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Kankung good to go.

 

 

 

 

The quantities mentioned in this recipe are somewhat malleable. The type of chillies and quantity used will make the dish more or less hot so be careful if you do not tolerate chillies to be judicious as to how much is used. The greens once cooked will reduce to about half and that too depends on each batch you buy. Thus one has to have a few trial and error episodes to get this to a somewhat predictable method. Also there is usually less liquid in the kankung I remember and much more in the Kankung I buy in Toronto and probably they must be slightly different species. A word on pronunciation. Malaysians say kankung just like Sri Lankans. For pronunciation go to –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57gnA_JSxoI

*A Ceylon Cookery Book, A practical guide by Doreen Peiris. 6th Edition. (no publisher is named but Printed at D.P. Dodangoda & Co. Moratuwa). 1983. At Page 44.

Ham bacon and pumpkin chutney or; can you read cursive?

Growing up I never developed a taste for what was generally sold as ham in Colombo but bacon was another story entirely. On occasion my father would bring home the bacon literally; purchased frozen usually at the pharmacy on Bonjean Street around the corner from our house or from Forvil House up the road. The pharmacy sold medicines and cough syrups but also had fancy goods and in its fridge and freezer – bacon, ice cream, butter, etc.

The words “ham bacon” implied people with means. Luxury foods given they were far more expensive than regular meat or other proteins such as daal. Also their western origins added to the fancy provenance. Reference to ham or bacon was usually a strange “ham bacon” always said together. Perhaps I never was drawn to Colombo ham because my father never brought it home. Guess he too never liked it. Although bacon was not an every day occurrence at home whenever it appeared it was always a welcome treat; sometimes with eggs. Eggs; the other Colombo luxury. I remember when eggs were still fifteen cents each in Colombo. Then they went up to twenty-five cents and last I recollect was thirty-five cents and may be then I left the country. Now the cost of an egg is in rupees and probably around Rs.20 per egg.

Even at twenty-five cents Sri Lankan eggs were a luxury; but never failed to comfort. And when friends who farmed gave us trays laden with eggs when we visited them and if it was still not yet the end of the month when money was tight bacon appeared. Made me think “aah, daddy’s rich” long before I had ever come across the song. And off came the flimsy dented aluminum pan from its nail on the kitchen wall; for the eggs and bacon to be fried; and good bakery bread with butter. In those days we simply sliced bread and there was no toast. Toast was only for when you were sick and then it was made on the stove top on the same flimsy aluminum fry pan.

Bread, bacon and eggs. Sunny luxuries. Bacon from Goldi or Elephant house was standard in those days long before today’s newer brands were ever dreamed of. Today from where I am bacon is easily affordable but it does not taste like the Goldi or Elephant House bacon from the days when an egg cost twenty-five cents in Colombo or even fifteen. My father never bought ham. Not the raw ham of raw pork we today refer to as raw ham but I refer to the cooked pink ham that was the ham of yore in Colombo; and not like the charcuterie that I am fortunate to have access to in the West from prosciutto to Parma ham to Serrano ham. The main dish for breakfast was come to think of it – bread. Butter was the vehicle that made anything that went with it even better. There was Globe butter which was Australian if I remember right. Always tasted better than the Milk Board butter that came along later. This is long before Anchor butter was heard of and then god forbid; Astra margarine. And bread came fresh and wonderful from the bakery up the road long before the hard times of the Sirimavo days when bread was rationed to a quarter pound per person; and the weevils were free.

My secret treat was tomato sandwiches. Bread lots of butter and a nice tomato sambal which then got thrown between slices of bread – and I could not stop eating them. I’d take half a loaf for lunch to school and tomatoes were also a somewhat expensive item come to think of it. But somehow not as expensive as eggs or bacon.

When there was nothing to make sandwiches with I sometimes simply filled the sandwich with amma’s pumpkin chutney which she made when short eats like Chinese rolls or cutlets were made. Though it was just a chutney its tang and sweetness went well with bread and butter and it was immensely satisfying. Of course I had never heard of bread and butter pickles then but when I came across them after I moved to the west decades later I immediately thought of amma’s pumpkin chutney and how I used to come home from school and look for food; and then find some bread, butter and if Amma’s pumpkin chutney was around simply slathered some on between two slices of buttered fresh bread; to while away my mid-afternoons after school on hot Colombo days.

So to get back to ham bacon and bread; forget bacon forget ham all you need need is some of amma’s pumpkin chutney and here is the recipe written in her fair hand.

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rose water blues

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the teapot on the window ledge
moon drunk
believing;
she only looked at her
unknowing;
that someone filled the teapot with port
thinking;
it was tea.

the teapot drunken
so in love with the moon
gazes skyward
not knowing;
there’s no one here
to spoonfeed
roses by the galleon
no kiss to distill
a million hindi film songs

knowing
there will be no flowers
again;
today;
and tomorrow;
the next tomorrow;
and the next;
a law of physics.

the tea pot wonders flippant
but why! she laced the cream with roses
and whipped it into a frenzy

sitting quietly spartan
bowl in hand puritanical
shriveled berries startled by the buxom plump
spooning cream
tasting kisses forever gone
in clouds of tender cream
and the tongue remembers rose water
a whole book
a safely distant love.

Renuka Mendis
February 14, 2014