Fish Cutlets

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The first time I tried fish cutlets I thought I’d accidentally set my mouth on fire. I hadn’t yet acclimated to Sri Lankan levels of spiciness (read: extremely spicy) and I was expecting cutlets similar to, you know, Iranian kotlet. The next thing I knew I was downing ice water in a futile attempt to revive my taste buds.

Fast forward a few years and I can pop these cutlets like no one’s business. They’re delicious, and lucky for you, dear reader, you can adjust the chile level according to your own preference. Fish cutlets are easy to make and are perfect as an appetizer. I like to serve them alongside Iranian yogurt with cucumbers and mint (mast-o-khiar) as a cooling dip.

Sri Lankan fish cutlets


1 potato, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus additional for frying
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 inch piece ginger, minced
2 green chiles, chopped
1 sprig curry leaves
1 can tuna
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon ground fennel
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt to taste
1 lime, juiced
1 egg, beaten
2 cups breadcrumbs

1. Boil potato in water until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain.

2. Heat two tablespoons oil in a pan. Saute onions until translucent. Add garlic, ginger, green chiles, and curry leaves and saute for 5 minutes, until lightly browned.

3. Add tuna, potatoes, cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, fennel, turmeric, black pepper, and salt. Mash potato with the back of a wooden spoon while tossing ingredients in pan. Add lime juice, saute for 3 minutes, and set aside to cool.

4. Using your hands, form filling into 2 inch-size balls. Beat egg in a bowl and dip balls into mixture. Spread out breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl and coat cutlets with breadcrumbs.

5. Heat oil in a deep pan to 350 degrees. Oil should be deep enough to shallow fry the cutlets. Fry cutlets until golden brown, turning occasionally to evenly brown. Remove cutlets with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve warm or room temperature.

Sigeumchi Namul (Korean Spinach Banchan)

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The best sigeumchi namul I ever had was during a hurried ten hour stopover in Seoul. My sister and I had just spent a week in Hanoi and were on our way back to San Francisco. Exhausted, we were determined to see — and eat — as much as we could during our day long excursion into the city. Our banchan spread during lunch in a nondescript Insadong restaurant included this spinach banchan. Jet lagged and half asleep, the bright, fresh greens perked me up and fortified me for the precious few hours we had in the city. The rest of the meal was just as good, but that’s another story.

Whenever I eat this simple but delicious spinach dish, I’m transported back to that rainy day in Insadong. This mild banchan comes together in less than 15 minutes. Perfect for when you’re exhausted but hungry.

Sigeumchi namul (spinach banchan)

1 pound spinach, trimmed
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

1. Fill a saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add the spinach and blanch for 1 minute, then drain in a colander and rinse under cold water to cool. Drain and squeeze out excess water, then chop into 1-inch pieces.

2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl. Add the spinach and toss to coat. Serve or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Korean Potato Pancakes

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I grew up eating kotlet, the ubiquitous Iranian potato and meat cutlets that make every picnic (or elementary school lunch) complete. The crispy-on-the-outside and soft-on-the-inside patties were full of wholesome ingredients but almost decadent enough to feel like I was eating French fries. Almost.

These salty, starchy Korean potato pancakes evoke a similar feeling. And just like kotlet, they pack well for on-the-go lunches or picnics. I serve them with a dipping sauce of soy sauce and vinegar for an extra tang.

Gamjajeon (potato pancakes)


1 pound russet potatoes, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
2 green onions, sliced
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds

1. Coarsely chop the potatoes and put in a food processor. Add the salt and water and process until pureed.

2. Scrape the potato puree into a mesh strainer and set over a bowl. Press down on it gently with a spoon and let stand for 1 minute to allow the starchy liquid to drain into the bowl.

3. Transfer the drained potato puree to another bowl and let the starch in the drained liquid settle to the bottom of the bowl, then pour off the liquid and scrape the starch into the potato puree. Add the green onions and mix.

4. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add vegetable oil to the pan and gently drop heaping tablespoonfuls of the potato batter into the pain and spread into 2-inch discs with the back of the spoon. Cook until the bottoms of the pancakes are lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook until the other sides are crisp and golden, about 3 more minutes, adding more vegetable oil as necessary. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining batter.

5. To make the dipping sauce, combine soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame seeds in a small bowl. Serve the sauce with the warm pancakes.

Sri Lankan Chicken Curry

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I find myself comparing Sri Lankan food to Iranian food all the time as I learn to cook the former. It’s so similar and yet entirely different. Chicken curry is typically associated with South Asian cuisine, but Iranians have khoresh-e kari, a Persian curry that is milder than its South Asian counterparts.

I wondered about the origins of that khoresh as I learned to cook this curry. How did curry make its way to Iran? How did it make its way to Sri Lanka? Where did curry originate? Wikipedia says curry was adopted and anglicised from the Tamil word kari meaning “sauce”, which is usually understood to mean vegetables and/or meat cooked with spices with or without a gravy. I’m fascinated by food, migration, and its intersections.

But back to this chicken curry. It’s easy to cook and reheats wonderfully. Served alongside rice and some pickled vegetables or yogurt, it makes a satiating meal.

Sri Lankan chicken curry


3 pounds skinless bone-in chicken thighs
3 tablespoons roasted curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2-inch piece ginger, chopped
1 or 2 sprigs curry leaves
3-inch stalk lemongrass
3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

1. Place chicken in a bowl with curry powder, cayenne powder, and vinegar. Mix well and set aside for at least 2 hours and up to overnight in the refrigerator.

2. In a large pot, heat oil. Add onions, ginger, garlic, curry leaves, lemongrass, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. Saute until onions are golden brown.

3. Add chicken pieces, stirring occasionally until chicken is browned.

4. Add 1/2 cup water to the bowl that contained the chicken and mix to catch any remaining marinade and add to the pot. Lower heat to medium, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, being careful not to burn the chicken and adding a little more water if necessary.

5. Stir in coconut milk and salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

6. Stir in tomato paste and simmer for 2 minutes.


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Parippu is to Sri Lankan cuisine as adasi is to Iranian cuisine. They’re both lentil stews, but the difference is all in the seasonings.

I grew up with adasi, redolent with garlic, onions, turmeric, and angelica powder. These days, I’ve developed a taste for parippu, which soaks up the flavors of coconut milk, lemongrass, curry leaves, and chiles. This is comfort food at its finest. Best of all, it tastes even better the next day.



    1/2 pound red lentils
    2 cups water
    1 onion, chopped
    2 green chiles, sliced
    2 cloves garlic, sliced
    1/8 teaspoon pandanus/pandan leaf extract (optional)
    2-inch stalk lemongrass
    1 cinnamon stick
    1 cardamom pod
    1 clove
    1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
    1/2 cup coconut milk
    1 sprig curry leaves
    1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
    2 dry red chiles

1. Wash and drain lentils.

2. Bring water to a boil in a medium pot. Add lentils, half of the onion, green chiles, garlic, pandanus extract, lemongrass, cinnamon stick, cardamom pod, clove, and turmeric. Cover and simmer until lentils are soft, about 25 minutes.

3. Add coconut milk and salt. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. In another pan, heat oil for tempering. Saute onions and curry leaves until onions are translucent. Add mustard seeds and dry red chiles. Fry until mustard seeds begin to pop, about 1 or 2 minutes. Pour over lentils and mix well.