Chicken and Jackfruit Curries with Wattalapam

This was our last Sri Lankan meal and it taught me the importance of reading the recipe and labels on cans of food.

First up, the chicken curry. It was chicken, it was curried, it was good. There was nothing remarkable about making it or eating it. That’s not to say it wasn’t tasty, all of us enjoyed it, but it wasn’t anything we hadn’t had before.

Now the jackfruit curry, that was something different. The recipe had a picture of what the dish was supposed to look like and I normally pay close attention to those pictures because I use them as a guide. Most of the time my attempts fall in the “Close enough” range but there have a few times they’re in the “Where did I go wrong?” column. I hate those times.

I think you know where I’m going…

The recipe called for three cans of young green jack fruit. I’d seen cans of jack fruit in a few stores so I knew I wouldn’t have a problem finding them and when I went to the Indian market, I luckily grabbed the last three cans they had. I was feeling pretty good about myself at that point. Then I started cooking. As I opened the cans of jack fruit, I saw that they were in syrup. I looked at the recipe and didn’t see a mention of syrup (typically it will tell you to drain the syrup or not). That should have been the first signal something wasn’t right. I drained the jack fruit and continued along my merry way. After a half hour, I checked the curry because the recipe said it would turn a dark brown color; it had not changed color. I put the lid back on and went back to doing whatever it is I do when waiting for food to cook (hide from my kids in the kitchen and read Jezebel). Another thirty minutes later and it still wasn’t dark brown but at that point I didn’t care because I was hungry and I thought maybe it hadn’t turned dark brown because I wasn’t using a pressure cooker like the recipe suggested.

James and I sat down to eat and dug in. I believe the word he used for the jack fruit curry was “Interesting.” Food that is “interesting” is almost never good. I tried it. It wasn’t bad…Okay, so it really didn’t taste bad, it was just sweet. I thought it was weird that a curry would be so sweet and that this would be eaten as a dinner meal because, really, it was sweet! I pulled up the recipe on my phone, looked at the pic, looked at my plate, “Where did I go wrong?” I re-read the recipe and there it was “Young green jack fruit.” My cans were just jack fruit. I did a bit of research and yeah, there is a big difference between jack fruit and young green jack fruit. Young green jack fruit is often used as a meat substitute and has the texture of chicken; my jack fruit had the texture of an apricot. Actually, it also tasted like apricot. I mentioned this to the girls’ teacher the next day and they were like “Yeah, you used the wrong kind of jack fruit.” They then brought out a can of the right kind and right on the label, it clearly said “Young green jack fruit.” Lesson learned.

Finally the wattalapam. When I told the teachers I was making this, they were really surprised and, honestly, I think they were wondering if I’d be able to pull it off. Apparently this is a dessert that is reserved for special occasions like weddings. All of them exclaimed how much they loved it and one said she’s never even made it because it’s so difficult. Challenge accepted! When I initially read over the recipe, it sounded like flan so having just made a coconut flan during Colombian week, I knew I’d be able to pull this one off. And I would have (if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids!) if I’d had read the entire thing. I mean, I did pull it off, I just had to wait until the next day to eat it because I didn’t read the very last sentence in the recipe that it had to be chilled for several hours. It had the same consistency of flan but was richer, if that’s even possible. It had a slight licorice taste to it, I’m thinking because of the jaggery, but it wasn’t overpowering.

By the way, the teachers loved it! They said it was fantastic and applauded me 🙂

Recipe, Recipe, Recipe

Shrimp Curry with Yellow Rice and Wambatu Moju

So I didn’t catch up on my blog posting over the weekend…In my defense, it was a holiday but mostly I was too lazy to walk into the office and sit at the computer. I’m going to stop giving myself a deadline on posting because there is just too much going on and I don’t need one more thing to feel guilty about. You’re welcome, me!

This was our second Sri Lankan meal and my favorite. I was little nervous about this one because of the shrimp. I know I’ve mentioned many, many times about how apprehensive I am about cooking with fish so I won’t bother getting into that again but know, I was worried. The recipe called for tiger prawns but I didn’t bother looking for them because Gulf shrimp is sold at my nearby HEB and that meant one less shopping excursion through Austin. It seems like my laziness paid off because I was recently reading about shrimp farming and I came upon this eye-opening, if not kind of depressing, article about tiger prawn farming. Keep in mind, the article is thirteen years old so things might have changed since its publication (I didn’t bother researching if it has because, lazy) but I do know that Gulf shrimp farming is sustainable and it’s a few hours away so, yay! Good for the environment and I’m supporting Texans! This curry was sweet and just a tad bit spicy but I loved it! I actually made it the following week but substituted chicken for the shrimp and it was just as fantastic so if you’re not into seafood, just know you have options.

I loved the curry but I could not get enough of the wambatu moju, which was eggplant. The recipe called for sprats, which are little fish, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I asked the owner of the Indian market I frequent about them and he described them as salty so when I made the dish, I added a bit more salt and just a couple of drops of fish sauce. I don’t know if it made a difference or not but it didn’t make me hate it. It came out tangy and I think that was because of the green chilies. It’s been my experience this year that green chilies are what happens when a lime and a pepper mate (because that’s totally possible) but they really are a little sour and spicy. I have yet to encounter another pepper that does that.

I had the leftovers for lunch the next day and they were as yummy cold as they were warm. I don’t remember if the girls ate this or not but I’m pretty sure they didn’t. The baby is starting to follow in the four year old’s steps and pushing things away. She still eats a lot more than the four year old but if the older one shows disgust at something, the baby follows. Great.

Recipe, Recipe

Roasted Coconut Pumpkin Curry and Yellow Rice

I’m slowly catching up with the blog and am now only two weeks behind! Progress! Thankfully this week is Thanksgiving and I’m only cooking twice for the blog so I should be all caught up by this weekend. Or maybe next weekend. Or maybe never.

This meal was prepared for the first night of Sri Lankan week. Sri Lankan food probably isn’t on a lot of people’s radar and up until four years ago, it wasn’t on ours. What changed four years ago? The oldest started attending a Montessori school run by four Sri Lankan women. It’s not like all of a sudden we were immersed in their culture or anything but we became more aware. Such is the beauty of meeting people from different backgrounds…take note new administration!

Every Thanksgiving they prepare food for the parents to take home and I always look forward to that meal. The first year it took me by complete surprise and I was beyond giddy to try what they had prepared. At the time I was working in south Austin and usually had an hour plus commute home so James would always pick the kid up from school. He called to tell me that when he picked her up, they had a buffet out and had told him to take as much as he wanted. I remember him saying he only took a couple of pieces of chicken and I exclaimed “WHY?! That chicken sounds amazing!” I was very upset and I hadn’t yet seen the food.

Side note: I was already pregnant with the baby so, you know, I was emotional and hungry.

Side-side note: I’m no longer pregnant but I’m still emotional and hungry.

I still remember that meal. It was a chicken curry, yellow rice, samosas, a veggie salad, and some sweet cakes. I loved that rice! I LOVE that rice. I look forward to it every year and always mean to ask for the recipe but never do.

Well, I found it! And I made it! And it was not as good as the teacher’s!

My yellow rice was good but it was missing something. I didn’t add the cashews or raisins because I forgot them but I don’t think that’s what affected the flavor. The cashews and raisins mostly add texture and I typically remove the raisins anyway. The recipe called for pandan leaves and I couldn’t find any so I think that’s what was missing. I know where to get pandan leaves, I cooked with them during Thai week, but I was being lazy and didn’t want to make an extra trip to the Asian market. Unfortunately my rice paid the price for my laziness. So it goes.

The curry, however, was spectacular and made up for the not so great rice. I don’t have a lot of experience cooking with pumpkin aside from making pumpkin pie and pumpkin empanadas so this was new territory for me. I mean, both of those items call for canned pumpkin but I’m not even sure if that can REALLY be considered pumpkin. I’ve cooked with many kinds of squash so I don’t know why I was nervous about cooking with pumpkin; I guess it was just fear of the unknown. You would think that by now I would be a lot more confident in the kitchen, and I am compared to how I was in January, but I still doubt my abilities. I need to get over it…Anyway, I was a little disappointed that the coconut flavor wasn’t stronger but that’s the only complaint I have about the dish.

The girls didn’t eat the curry but they did eat a lot of rice. The love they have for rice never ceases to amaze me and it also tugs at my heartstrings. I, too, adore rice so seeing how much they enjoy it is like watching genetics in work. You could argue that looking at their faces is like watching genetics work but they look more like their father than me. Although, sometimes, in the right light and with the correct scowl, it’s like looking in a mirror.

Recipe, Recipe

Doro Wot, Azifa, and Ye’Abesha Gomen

This was our last Ethiopian meal and the one I was most looking forward to because I love me a wot! Wots (or wats, I’ve seen it spelled both ways) are basically stews but what makes them different from others is a very long sweating of large amounts of onions in nit’r qibe, a spiced butter. I didn’t have nit’r qibe and I didn’t want to go through the effort of making it so I just used ghee and added some extra spices. I don’t think it affected the taste though because it came out ah-mah-zing! I don’t remember my exact feelings but I do remember that we didn’t have any leftovers because we ate everything.

Everything.

The girls even ate the collard greens in the ye’abesha gome and the lentils in the azifa. The baby especially couldn’t get enough of the lentils and I believe she had multiple bowls. Huzzah!

The only downside to this meal was that we didn’t have any injera to go with it. I didn’t use it for two days and I didn’t think it would affect it much because by then it would have been fermenting for four days. On the fourth day I unwrapped my bowl of batter and found that a tiny bit of mold had grown on top of it. I didn’t bother looking up if this was normal because typically mold growing on things is not a good sign. Also, I’d had a run-in with mold and an attempted sourdough starter in the not too distant past so I was still recovering from that episode. Mold in a sourdough starter is not good and you have to throw out the entire starter if it grows on it so with that in mind, I threw away about two cups of injera batter. I later learned that a bit of mold on injera batter is not the end of the world and it can be removed and you can continue on your merry way. The more you know.

So while our week in Ethiopia didn’t start off so well, it ended on a pretty high note. I mean, the four year old ate greens! Voluntarily! That’s a pretty big deal! We had Chinese food for lunch today and as she was eating her eggroll, I saw her pull out of every piece of green onion she could find. I didn’t mention the fact that she was still eating a good amount of cabbage because, why kill the dream? She clearly hates anything green but in that one moment during Ethiopia week, she ate it and it was wonderful. I will forever hold that moment in my heart.

Recipe, Recipe, Recipe

Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Curry

By the time I prepared this meal, my injera batter was two days old so I was hopeful that whatever needed to happen would happen and my injera was would be bomb.com.

Well, it wasn’t necessarily bomb.com. Everything was there, ready to go live, but it was still in the test phase. This injera was an improvement from the previous day in terms of sponginess and it was less sour but it still tasted off. It was just very, very tart and I didn’t really enjoy eating it by itself. Normally I can munch on injera alone, I don’t even need to fill it with anything, but my injera definitely needed some filling.

And this filling was great! James actually chose this recipe and I was really pleased with the curry. I don’t have a lot of experience cooking with sweet potatoes so I always take an opportunity to do so. Most of the work for this meal came in cutting up the veggies and then once they were in the pot, I got to party in my kitchen! Of course that means I just stood in the kitchen and hid from my kids.

Thankfully this meal worked out because I would have be sad two days in a row and that would have been terrible. Hahaha! Oh, when I thought being sad two days in a row over food was the worst it could get!

Recipe

Kik Alicha, Timatim Firfir, Beet-Potato Salad, and Injera

I know, it’s been a WHILE since I last posted, four weeks to be exact. Sorry! We had a lot of social obligations, then Halloween, my birthday, the election… Life has been hectic and I have not had the time nor energy to sit and talk about food. There has been a lot of good, actually a ton of good, and bad in the past month and this project took a backseat to more pressing issues. It’s really hard to get excited about food when there are bigger things to focus on. I’m not going to get into it because I think there has been enough talk in the past week. I will say this, I feel like we need to accept where we are and focus our energy on making the best out of it. We can’t change what has happened but we still have the ability to change the future. Focus on that. Focus on what you can do. Get out there and do it. We’ve all heard the wake up call so now it’s time to sit up, put your feet on the ground, and make the Devil say “Oh shit, she’s up!”

So we ate Ethiopian food four weeks ago! Ethiopia was one of the weeks both James and I were really excited about. We were introduced to it a few years ago when we had dinner with some vegan friends. What we both remember from that first meal was the injera, which is a sourdough flatbread. Our friends warned us beforehand that we might not like it because a lot of people are put off by the bitter flavor but luckily James and I are both bitter people (I’m kidding, sort of). The injera was our favorite part of the entire meal and it has remained one of our favorite things to eat. Making injera isn’t fast. The batter has to ferment for at least three days but you can technically start using it after one day. Making my injera was delayed a day because I’m an idiot. When doing my grocery shopping, I grabbed a bag of teff seeds; teff flour is what is used to make injera. It is a a grain that is similar to millet and quinoa and is high in fiber and iron. The problem was I needed teff flour, not seeds. And even though I read “teff seed” on the package, it didn’t register. It registered after I poured the entire package of seeds in a bowl and mixed it with water. Finally the light bulb went off and I literally said to myself “Dummy. You need flour, not seeds!” and I smacked my forehead. So I had to go back the next day and buy flour. Watching it sit on my counter top was painful because I just wanted to cook with it right away and I am not a patient person. When it finally hit the 24 hour mark, I was so excited! The cooking technique was very similar to making the dosas and we all know how I aced that (brushes off shoulders) so I knew I had this!

I did not have this. I mean, it was fine but the flavor was not the same as what I’ve eaten. My injera wasn’t as spongy and it was kind of grainy. I was sad but I figured it wasn’t as great because it needed more time to ferment. So it goes. I moved on and prepared the rest of the meal.

Yeah the rest of the meal wasn’t much better. The kik alicha was good, even though I substituted white urad dal for the split peas. It was very creamy and buttery and it was similar to another dal we had during Nepal week. The timatim firfir was just onion, pepper, and tomato in olive oil and lemon juice. It really didn’t absorb any of the berbere seasoning and it was pretty acidic. And then the beet-potato salad…ugh. Like the timatim, it was just a sum of ingredients. There was nothing special about it, we just ate boiled potatoes and beets.

So obviously this meal was a fail but I had hopes for the next day’s meal. I can’t remember if the girls ate it or not but I want to say no. Because we didn’t even like it. So it goes.

Recipe, Recipe, Recipe